Our new director of water resources and senior counsel shares how his work will support conservation across the Colorado River Basin, Chesapeake Bay watershed, and headwaters and wetlands nationwide
In the summer of 2014, still fresh out of law school, I took two pivotal trips from the muggy confines of Washington, D.C., to the American West.
The first of those trips took me to New Mexico to meet with local conservation organizations working to stop a diversion project that would drain the headwaters of the Gila River—a region that Aldo Leopold convinced Congress to protect as the nation’s first Wilderness Area. On the second trip, I found myself on a raft floating down the canyons of the Upper Colorado River for the first time. It rained, and it was cold, but these experiences cemented a desire to focus on conserving our country’s Western rivers.
Looking back on those trips, I remember being in awe of the Western landscapes I saw. The vastness of the mountain ranges and red hues of the soil were alien to someone who grew up along the lush, green banks of the Shenandoah River.
Perhaps most striking to me, however, was how small the Gila River is compared to Eastern rivers such as the Potomac or Hudson—especially considering that the Gila is a major tributary of the Colorado River. That comparison, however, underscores the outsized role of Western rivers in the semi-arid to desert landscapes of the left half of the country. Although comparatively small in terms of volume, Western rivers are the hardest working rivers in the country and support a wide range of ecosystem services and benefits. This includes providing critical wildlife corridors and winter range for a variety of species, like elk and mule deer.
The Colorado River, in particular, provides water for approximately 40 million people in the southwestern United States and Mexico, irrigates nearly 5.7 million acres of farmland, and is the lifeblood for 22 federally recognized Native American tribes. According to an Arizona State University study, the Colorado River supports $1.4 trillion in economic output, $871 billion in wages, and 16 million jobs annually. It also underpins countless hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation opportunities that are under threat while the river faces drought and climate change.
At the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, I’m looking forward to sharing stories of hunters and anglers and their connection with the Colorado River, while building a coalition of outdoor recreation partners to advance conservation in the face of these challenges. The TRCP is hard at work encouraging Congress to support critical investments in modernizing Western water infrastructure and nature-based solutions that enhance climate resilience and sustain healthy habitat for fish and wildlife.
As part of the 2018 Farm Bill, the TRCP was instrumental in securing important victories for the Colorado River, including expanding eligibility for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to include watershed-scale conservation and restoration projects and ensuring drought resilience is a key priority for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The TRCP Center for Water Resources will also continue to play a leading role in pushing for more durable protections for waters and wetlands critical to fish and wildlife habitat under the Clean Water Act. The current administration is in the process of developing a new rule that will replace the Navigable Waters Protection Rule, which removed federal protections from 18 percent of the nation’s streams and as much as 50 percent of remaining wetlands.
I will also be working with TRCP’s Pennsylvania field rep to build a local coalition of sportsmen and sportswomen to sustain critical conservation funding for natural resource management priorities, such as improving water quality and wildlife habitat and strengthening state stream protections for coldwater fisheries.
Overall, I’m eager to be working with the TRCP and its partner community to advance innovative policy solutions to a myriad of challenges facing our nation’s rivers and streams and sustain these resources for future generations. I look forward to keeping all of you up to date on our progress.