We've Walked This Path Before

 

When John Wesley Powell first traveled the Colorado River, over a century ago, he and his friends saw the importance of the west’s most valuable resource – water. Having traveled much of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and the other western states, I can confirm that the region contains a wondrous and startling beauty. A long, dusty hike through scrub brush and rocks culminates in an astonishing and sudden waterfall tumbling through willow trees and sycamores. Or that moment when the cool and dark pre-dawn air in the desert gives way to a sunrise that is pure joy in its beauty. And yet, we’ve all read the articles on social media and in the news. The headlines include startling claims like “four-year drought,” “worst snow pack in years,” and “reservoirs at all-time lows.” Or “state declares mandatory water conservation.” With headlines like this, it is easy to be pessimistic about the future.

Wildflowers

Our job as environmental consultants is to conduct studies, give advice, and assist people in navigating the often-sinuous web of state and federal regulations. As times change, regulations get updated and we have to keep up. But usually we get plenty of warning through public comment periods, public meetings, and lengthy debates about regulatory nuances. For plants and animals living here in the west, because of unpredictable climates, each year may bring new challenges. But birds still build nests, foxes still make dens, and plants bloom and reproduce, or try to do that. Though nature takes droughts to new heights and levels of rainfall and snowpack to new lows, their “jobs” do not change. And they have walked this path before, as have we. We, as consultants, have to look objectively at the whole picture, considering weather factors and how they affect the resources, while remembering to consider when our clients need to plan studies to meet project schedules.

PerspectiveThis year has been marked by a little more rain than previous recent years, but less cold weather and less snow in the high country. What this means is earlier blooming periods for plants, responding to the earlier warmer temperatures, and earlier nesting for birds. It will mean shorter blooming periods for those plants and will mean that nesting ends earlier in the year for most bird species. And it will mean a long, dry summer with a high fire potential in the fall. Regulatory agencies, from whom we seek permits on behalf of our clients, may have steeper requirements for mitigation as more drought-stressed resources are affected cumulatively. Wetland regulators are likewise taking notice that the resources they regulate are dwindling faster in these tough times. Expect regulatory requirements for wetland impacts to be tougher. In 2015, the best response to the current dry conditions is to plan early and often, or risk long delays and increased mitigation requirements in project processing.

As Powell himself once said, “years of drought and famine come and years of flood and famine come and the climate is not changed with dance, libation, or prayer.” Anyone who cares to really consider the west and the challenges therein has to hold both of these things in mind, to find and appreciate beauty, even in the hard times. As a biologist, I take joy in the beauty around me, drought or flood, but do not shy away from the hard and often ugly reality that comes with millions of people depending on water and water rights. The drought is a challenge not to be met by pessimism, but by solutions. ECORP can assist with those solutions for your projects.

For more information contact ECORP biologist Scott Taylor at (909) 307-0046.