According to the Bureau of Reclamation Near-term Colorado River Operations Revised Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement,1 “… the Colorado River Basin is currently experiencing a prolonged period of aridification caused by climate change, with extended periods of drought and record low-runoff conditions.” The root cause according to this statement is “climate change”, and that is a fact, but: A) What caused this specific climate change? B) Do we have the ability to address and reverse this specific climate change?
This report just accepts this climate change. It does not address the questions. It works from the point of view that this climate change exists and cannot be altered. The truth is that the cause of this climate change can be identified, and once identified it can be addressed. I challenge the Bureau of Reclamation to investigate this path.
A) The Cause.
Simply stated, the cause is misuse of the natural resource provided by the Colorado River. Humans have robbed nature, drained the river dry, taken all of its essence, and returned nothing back to nature. Nature will not be abused without punishment for its abuser.
Here Is What Happened.
Beginning around 1940, humans took all the water out of the Colorado River. In doing so they turned a 3,000 sq-mi, green, verdant, delta region into a 3,000 sq-mi, brown, dry, dead desert. This is local climate change, and this ecological disaster comes with unintended consequences.
Colorado River Delta, Baja, MX.
Lost because of this change is the moisture above the previously verdant land. This atmospheric moisture was the first piece of a hydrologic cycle, one of the hydrologic cycles which feeds the headwaters of the Colorado River. Over the years following the disrupted river flow, as this nice green place dried up, the atmospheric moisture did not blow north to hydrate Laguna Salada.
Laguna Salada, Baja, MX.
Laguna Salada is an inland sea which is flanked by the Sierra de Los Cocopah and the Sierra de Juárez mountain ranges. In the years following 1940, as the delta was turning to dust, Laguna Salada began to diminish. Laguna Salada is hydrated in two ways. The first being the diminishing atmospheric moisture received from the south. The second being directly fed from the Colorado River overflow, but with the river no longer flowing past Mexicali, MX, there is nothing available for Laguna Salada. Beginning in 1999, except for intermittent tidal flows, Laguna Salada is dry. Lost is the fishing grounds for the Cocopah Indian Tribe. Lost is the evaporated atmospheric moisture from Laguna Salada, which no longer blows north into the Imperial Valley and its Salton Sea.
The first domino was the local multi-year drought in the Colorado river delta. It was the first in a series of domino-droughts. Without the delta’s moisture, the next domino was the local drought in the vicinity of Laguna Salada. From here the dominos fell to the north, creating a cascade of droughts which created the mega-drought.
Salton Sea, Imperial Valley, CA, USA.
The Salton Sea is fraught with problems, most of which could be eliminated if direct seawater import was established. The Salton Sea’s heyday was in the 1950s, but after that it has experienced multiple problems resulting in its diminishing in size, a foul aroma, and polluted hypersaline water. The water level of the Salton Sea has diminished because of a lack of atmospheric moisture from Laguna Salada, reduced inflow from farm irrigation overflow, and diversion of water to LA. The reduced surface area of the Salton Sea has reduced its evaporated atmospheric moisture, which has encouraged the mega-drought.
The Great Basin, USA.
The Great Basin is a unique place in the southwest USA which includes parts of over 5 states with its center covering Nevada. This is an arid land; it has a moisture deficit. Its moisture enters from the west and south. Its west edge is along the Pacific Ocean, but the ocean’s moisture is mostly blocked by the Sierra Nevada with its rain shadow effect. The southern edge allows some moisture to enter the Great Basin from the Imperial Valley region of California, but the mega-drought has reduced that moisture flow greatly in recent years. The Great Basin is becoming drier, which is evidenced by the Great Salt Lake diminishing. A portion of the moisture outflow from the Great Basin feeds the headwaters of the Colorado River.
Colorado River Headwaters.
We finally reach the headwaters of the Colorado River. These headwaters are fed by mountain precipitation in the form of snow and rain. This snow and rain come from the atmospheric moisture of more than one hydrologic cycle. One of these cycles comes from the Great Basin, but this hydrologic cycle has been broken. Because this hydrologic cycle is broken there is less moisture delivered as rain and snow to the headwaters of the Colorado river, which thus delivers less water flow into the Colorado River.
A) The Cause. – Summary.
By draining the Colorado River dry, by creating a desert where once was a wetland, by allowing Laguna Salada to disappear, and by allowing the Salton Sea to shrink; the hydrologic cycle was broken. The broken mega-drought is causing a climate change in the entire southwestern USA, which is delivering less water to the headwaters of the Colorado River, which reduces the flow of the Colorado river, which is causing the depletion of the Colorado River reservoirs. The unintended consequence of diverting the freshwater out of its watershed is this ecological disaster which will not right itself in the foreseeable future without intervention.
B) Are We Able?
There is something humans can do to address and reverse this specific climate change. We can add moisture to the Great Basin and reverse the moisture deficit. We cannot affect the atmospheric moisture inflow, but we can add water into the basin. Remembering that moving freshwater out of its watershed comes with unintended consequences, that must be avoided. Instead, we can move saltwater without repercussions. If we use a water path which includes the Colorado river delta, Laguna Salada, and the Salton Sea we can mitigate some of the ecological damage we have wreaked on nature.
Refill Laguna Salada.
We can reverse the flow of the existing Coyote Canal. This will infuse some moisture into the Colorado River delta while using gravity flow to fill Laguna Salada.
Refill The Salton Sea.
We can extend the Coyote canal from Laguna Salada into the Salton Sea. This needs to be a metered canal to prevent overfilling the Salton Sea.
Bring Water Into The Great Basin.
No matter what path is chosen for the seawater it must cross the mountains to enter the Great Basin. The route suggested here brings with it benefits to other places as the water moves from inland sea to inland sea. Using this path will keep these inland seas fresh, saving them from becoming terminal salt ponds. Pumping the oceanwater into Death Valley is the most logical place to put it. Death Valley is the low point in the Great Basin. Any moisture put into the Great Basin will eventually reside in Death Valley. By depositing the saltwater into Death Valley, it places the salt in the place where it will ultimately settle. Bringing saltwater into Death Valley will instigate a water cycle within the Great Basin which will encompass the whole of the Great Basin and will eventually convert this desert into arable lands.
How To Pay For This Water Transfer?
The users of the Colorado River water have been receiving the water at no charge for decades, and we all know that nothing is free. The cost that has been paid is the broken hydrologic cycle. Bringing ocean water into the Great Basin will be costly. Yet not doing it will condemn the southwest USA to decades more of this drought so that it will become the new normal. This cost of the water transfer can be paid by a fee charged to all who extract Colorado River water. For each gallon they extract, they are charged the cost of pumping a gallon into Death Valley. By implementing this fee, the oceanwater can be placed in the Great Basin and the water cycle can begin to heal. With the Great Basin rehydrated, moisture deposited into the snowpack in the Colorado mountains will return to its full potential and the Colorado River will return to full flow. Other rivers fed by the same snowpack will also benefit from the repaired hydrologic cycle.
A Job For US Bureau Of Reclamation.
Because the mission of the Bureau of Reclamation is to manage, develop, and protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public, this is just the project for them. They have the management skills to coordinate the development and the operation of this project. The environment will be repaired, and the water resources of the Colorado River, Great Salt Lake, and Salton Sea will be protected. The project will compensate for the ecological damage done to the southwestern USA as a result of the mismanagement of the Colorado River water. Returning full flow to the Colorado river, refilling the Great Salt Lake and the Salton Sea are in the interest of the American public. The cost of the project will be economical because it will have fee-based funding applied to usage of Colorado River water; it will be paid for by the users of the water.
B) Are We Able? – Summary.
Yes, we are able to accomplish this. We are able to dig a ditch from ocean to Laguna Salada. We are able to dig a ditch from Laguna Salada to Salton Sea. We are able to pump water over a mountain. Two simple steps and one harder step. Other than the pumping, everything operates using nature’s rules and processes. All the science is well proven and documented. The process can be monitored and adjusted to meet the desired results; not too much or too little. Humans just need to take ownership of the damage caused and realize the need to give back to nature.
Move the Water! is the proposed initiative of Active Climate Rescue Initiative. Active Climate Rescue Initiative is founded to actively rescue our climate by encouraging positive climate change through water relocation into earth’s water deficit areas. Anyplace in the world where there is a dry depression is a place where there is a moisture deficit. These places are the key to reversing climate change. By infusing these places with water from an open flow inlet, moisture can be reintroduced into the local environment through hydrologic processes. Active Climate Rescue Initiative is a Michigan Non-Profit Corporation approved by the USA IRS as a 501.c.3 Public Charity.
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- Near-term Colorado River Operations Revised Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, OCT-2023, pp1.1, pg 1-2, line 7.