Evaporative loss and the Colorado River system

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DOCTOR BOB … I still get the chills thinking about Norwoodian Robert Grossman’s review of the initial draft Colorado River plan that Gov. Hick released for public comment a few years back. It was one of those many statewide documents that county commissioners would like to read but cannot spare the time for. However, Boulder émigré and retired atmospheric scientist from CU Grossman was experienced reading weighty government reports. So I asked him if he was going to review the draft state water plan. … A few weeks later, over breakfast at the Happy Belly Deli in Norwood, he told me how flabbergasted he was to realize the word “evaporation” didn’t appear once in the entire first draft. He immediately wrote a ten-page comment to the authors, alerting them to the fact and posing solutions … That was the start of a campaign of sorts for Dr. Bob and a quick tag-along role on my part. Not long afterwards I attended a CU-sponsored international workshop <http://clouds.colorado.edu/ results.html> in Boulder, which Bob had inspired and catalyzed to examine evaporative loss. Scientists were alerted and responsive. The workshop particularly examined the science of reservoir measurements and models. It turned out that the way the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been estimating evaporation was surprisingly primitive … That is, put a small pan beside a large body of water, measure how much evaporation occurs over time over the pan, and extrapolate that ratio over the entire reservoir (maybe over the entire year). More-modern techniques have been around for 50 years, but they weren’t being used … Perhaps as a lay attendee, what fascinated me most was the fact that maximum evaporation losses do not appear in the summer (as the shallow pans showed), but fall/winter (when the pans are brought in because they freeze) … Bob found that Reclamation is still using an analysis of outdated pan observations reduced to a table to estimate evaporation from their Colorado River Basin reservoirs. They do not use current meteorological data for the estimate. And even with their marginal data, Reclamation documents show that their largest reservoirs, Mead and Powell, evaporate on the order of 1.5 million acre-feet of water a year. That’s about 20 percent of the Upper Basin allotment to the Lower Basin … What were they thinking, those entrepreneurial water buffaloes, government engineers and the politically short-sighted who built the Colorado River System that serves five states? Would Colorado citizens have signed a compact if they knew 20 percent of the water they were sending downstream was being lost to evaporation? It didn’t matter so much when there was lots of water. But now, with climate change, long-term drought, diminishing water supplies, the system is straining to keep the lower-basin reservoirs full. Without baseline measurements, it will be harder to really understand what’s changing … But clearly, something wrong has happened. And as everyone is coming to realize, water matters.

NEW WORLD CALENDAR … As one who’s revolted from the Christian/ Roman calendar and proposed a calendar based on the first humans to settle in the New World, I was delighted to learn about the latest discovery that pushes human habitation on this continent to perhaps 24,000 years ago. The re-examination of bones from Bluefish Caves in Canada’s Yukon border with Alaska found tool scratchings that have been carbon-dated 10,000 years earlier than previous estimates … Since I have been using a system that mirrors the Gregorian calendar’s end dates but uses 25,000 years ago as a starting point (my guess as to when the first humans came to the Americas), the news made me ecstatic. In my New World Calendar, this is year 25017. And from the looks of things my estimate may be right in line with the developing science.

DOLORES LACHAPELLE … Thanks to Dr. Richard Grossman of Durango, who writes the regular “Population Matters” column in the Durango Herald, for inviting me to Fort Lewis College’s “Life-long Learning Lecture Series.” As a failed academic (who dropped out of graduate school three times), I do love to lecture. And talking about this amazing Colorado-born philosopher of Deep Ecology was a great honor … I knew Dolores as teacher, mentor and eventually friend for the last 20 years of her life, before she passed away in 25007 (New World Calendar). And it was wonderful to have the opportunity to speak about what she called the Way of the Mountain … Her ideas have shaped my life. Led me into building social community through local politics and cultural community through regional arts. Her deep anthropological understanding of bardic poetry and of the Gourd (i.e., Sacred Land Sacred Sex Rapture of the Deep, pp. 96-101) has led to the creation of the Talking Gourds poetry project … It was quite fitting that Dr. Grossman hosted me, as Dolores believed population was the elephant in the room no one was willing to talk about. As she would point out, we are a population out of control. Rapidly exceeding our ecological niche. In fact, our vast footprint has overrun many niches. And we even seem to have our sights off-planet … As a former Earth First! Journal poetry editor, I was chagrined one day to read the handiwork of some twisted bumpersticker maestro: Earth First – we’ll mine the rest later … I keep pointing out to anyone who’ll listen (most people turn off when population control comes up), in my short lifetime of 70+ years, the world population has climbed from 3 billion fellow humans to the current estimate of 7.5 billion. That’s mind-boggling. We are crowding out other species. Some think that’s fine. Others, like Dolores and me, think it’s insanely unwise … In biological terms, we are a “crash population.” It’s hard to see how our species is not headed for catastrophe. Plagues. Wars. Mass die-offs. As the Hopi would say, our civilization is Koyaanisqatsi – unbalanced, out of our control … What I loved about Dolores is that although our future seems hopeless, as she would often say, she spent her entire life writing, teaching and living as a role model in the hopes of a return to the Way of the Mountain. No expectation, but hope always.

Art Goodtimes writes from San Miguel County, Colo.


The Talking Gourd

Mary Dolores Greenwell LaChapelle
(1926-2007)

She left us in winter. Snow on the caldera
And only her ashes jarred now in the cabin

window, looking out on Sultan & Grand Turk
Also her southern eye on an aspen transplant

that grew in her yard at Silverton, thanks
she said, to the secret life of rhizomes

She left us her love of earth wisdom. Drums
& bards. Hiroshige. Tremuloides. ukiyo-e

And her Way of the Mountain. Powder
skiing. Mountaineering. Tai chi. Gathering

gifts of information like some wise women
gather chanterelles. Hunting ideas

too big to fit inside her books & boxes
Yet offered freely back to the tribe

Sparrow in the bamboo
stained maple still
from fall’s raw sap,
sing up spring’s thaw

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From art-goodtimes.