I’m sitting here in the parking lot of a motel in Leadville, Colorado, marveling at the snowcapped mountains that surround me. It’s hard to imagine that in all that glistening snow, there is a crisis in the making. But there is. That snowpack, here and across this part of the Rockies is the source for three great rivers, the Colorado, which waters millions all the way to California, the Arkansas, the sixth longest river in America which flows all the way to the Mississippi and, south of here, the Rio Grande rises. That snow pack that feeds those rivers is dangerously low this year. Even with the late season snowfalls – two and a half feet fell near here last week – the snowpack is between half and two thirds of what it ought to be this time of year. And that’s after years of dry winters, linked at least in part to a changing climate. Nine of the fifteen driest years ever recorded here have been recorded since 2000. Three of the five driest years ever here have occurred since 2002. Even with the late season snowfalls, 90 percent of the state is abnormally dry and half is already in extreme drought. Up here, they’re anticipating the worst wild fire season since the catastrophic 2012. And downstream? Ten miles of the Rio Grande is already dry. In April. On the Colorado River, it’ll be another year in which the Upper Colorado Basin sends about half of its legally required discharge of 7.5 million acre feet down stream to thirsty, and arguably profligate places like California. The late storms this week may have delayed the crisis. But they haven’t averted it. A serious crisis is looming. If not this year, then next. And, oh, by the way, according to the state demographer, Colorado expects to add another 3 million thirsty people during the next couple of decades. That’s the equivalent of a whole new Denver Metro area who’ll be looking for water. Tip O’Neill used to say that all politics is local. That’s true. But no water issue is. If you happen to be anywhere near Vail, Colorado tomorrow at 7, join me at the nearby Bookworm of Edwards. We’ll see if together, we can’t feel our way around the edges of this crisis.
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