“The Colorado River is entering its eighth year of sustained drought … ”

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Feds working on solutions as river runoff remains low

By GARY HARMON The Daily Sentinel
The Colorado River is entering its eighth year of sustained drought as federal officials prepare ways for the Interior Department to manage the river during shortages.

“This is a pretty bleak runoff year,” said Terry Fulp, Boulder Canyon Project Office area manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

While he characterized the state of flows into Colorado River reservoirs as “dire,” Fulp said plenty of water remains in lakes Powell and Mead, which are about half full.

“We’re still making our deliveries” of water to the Lower Colorado River Basin states, he said.

The bureau is in the process of setting guidelines for the operations of the reservoirs after Interior Secretary Gale Norton in 2005 chose to let water out of Lake Powell to meet water needs in the lower basin. Upper-basin officials, however, wanted the water released from Lake Mead to protect their ability to deliver water from Powell and insulate them from the risk of failing to meet the requirements of agreements governing river operations.

Federal officials this month expect to identify a preferred
alternative for river management under shortage conditions, Fulp said.

That alternative will be subject then to public comment, and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne is to sign a record of decision in December.

That decision will allow the Bureau of Reclamation to manage the river and its reservoirs under the new guidelines next spring, Fulp said.

The bureau’s preparations suggest it is planning to manage the river conservatively for a long-term drought, said Chris Treese of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs.

Conservative management of the river might not prevent the possibility of a call on the river by lower-basin states, but it could soften the effects of it, Treese said.

“I see this as good news and an appropriately conservative approach,” he said.

One possibility the upper basin would welcome is operating Mead and Powell reservoirs jointly, so the upper basin isn’t penalized when the Bureau of Reclamation releases water from Powell downstream into Mead.

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The Age (Melbourne, Australia)
June 11, 2007

Liberal and Labor, make a call: how much heat can you stand?
Richard Di Natale Adam Bandt

WHAT risk of a plane crashing do you accept
before buying a ticket? If it was 85 per cent
likely, you’d never fly; 10 per cent, or even 1
per cent, would be too much.

Knowing that a plane might go down isn’t enough;
we want to know the degree of risk. So it’s odd
that we are prepared to make decisions about the
planet’s future without knowing the risk or
likelihood of catastrophic consequences if action
is taken, or not taken.

It can be hard to cut through the fog of figures
about global warming targets: the difference, for
example, between a 60 or an 80 per cent cut in
emissions, by 2020 or by 2050, is difficult to

This confusion is being exploited by both major
parties and manufactured debates are played out
relentlessly. Labor presents itself as tough on
climate change while the Coalition says it puts
economics above abstract goals.

But more than anything else, there is one number
that really counts. It is the first step on the
ladder of climate-change policy – and it is the
one to which neither Labor nor the Coalition is
willing to give an answer.

Given the science and likely impacts, how hot are
we willing to let the planet get? Two degrees,
three degrees, four degrees hotter?

And what risk will we accept of exceeding this target?

Temperatures have, already, risen 0.74 degrees
above pre-industrial levels and, even if human
activity added no more to current greenhouse gas
levels, the planet will continue to warm about
1.4 degrees due to lags in the climate system.

The CSIRO last year predicted that, if we exceed
a two-degree rise, 97 per cent of the Great
Barrier Reef will be bleached annually and an 80
per cent loss of Kakadu’s freshwater wetlands is
likely. At just under three degrees, there’s a 99
per cent risk of Greenland irreversibly melting,
with an eventual global sea level rise of five to
seven metres.

In the two to three-degree range, we can
conservatively pencil in about 20 per cent of the
planet’s species becoming extinct and a one in
five chance of the oceanic currents that regulate
the planet’s temperature simply shutting down.

A three-degree rise is simply way outside human
experience. The last time it was that hot, in the
Pliocene, 3 million years ago, beech trees grew
in the Transantarctic mountains and seas were 25
metres higher.

If we can limit warming to less than two degrees,
knowing about 1.4 degrees is already locked in,
the consequences will still be severe, but the
risk of triggering runaway climate-change events
(where we lose the capacity to control the
consequences) lessens significantly.

This is why German Chancellor Angela Merkel and
the British Conservative party – both from the
right of European politics – have recently
reaffirmed the importance of a two-degree limit.
The Howard Government, by contrast, isn’t even in
the realm of reason on this question, with the
Prime Minister saying a rise of four to six
degrees might make life “uncomfortable” for some,
but that it was difficult to predict with any

His comment shows fundamental ignorance. The
planet as we know it will not survive past a five
or six-degree rise: it is predicted that, at four
degrees, hundreds of billions of tonnes of carbon
locked up in Arctic permafrost – particularly in
Siberia – will enter the melt zone, releasing the
greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide in
immense quantities.

Labor might know where the ballpark is, but they
haven’t bought an entry ticket yet. The ALP’s
Peter Garrett set out his party’s policy on this
page recently (The Age, 5/6), relying on a CSIRO
submission to the Prime Minister’s emissions
taskforce that says a 60 to 90 per cent cut to
industrialised countries’ emissions is needed to
stabilise climate change.

But Australia, as one of the worst emitters among
the industrialised countries, requires a cut at
the higher end of this range.

The CSIRO research and other research makes it
clear that the “temperature stabilisation”
associated with a 60 per cent cut is considered
by many as too risky, giving us a massive 80 to
85 per cent chance of overshooting a two-degree
target. Labor’s policy for Australia of a 60 per
cent cut by 2050 is therefore more about hope
than science.

There is literally a world of difference between
a two and three-degree rise in the impacts of
climate change on both humans and the environment.

Caught between the science and the politics,
Labor’s Peter Garrett talks vaguely in the two to
three-degree range, never being specific, never
committing Labor to putting even one foot on the
first rung of the climate change policy ladder –
an unambiguous target.

And Labor does not have a short-term target – in
many ways much more important than targets five
decades away.

The Greens policy is to achieve emissions cuts of
30 per cent by 2020 and 80 per cent by 2050. This
would give us an 80 per cent chance of keeping
the temperature rise below two degrees. To
maximise the chance of staying below two degrees,
we must make big cuts early. For John Howard, a
climate-change sceptic, this is more about
smoothing over a political problem than real
action. But Labor, too, falls short of the mark –
they do not even set a temperature target.

Professor Tim Flannery, the Australian of the
Year environmentalist, said recently his greatest
wish was that political parties would state their
“temperature limits” as to how hot the planet
should get. The Greens recently moved a motion in
the Senate to have a two-degree limit endorsed as
Australia’s target. The ALP joined with the
Coalition to defeat the motion.

The challenge to the major parties is: just how
hot are you prepared to let the planet get?

Dr Richard Di Natale and Adam Bandt are Greens
candidates in this year’s federal election.

Copyright © 2007. The Age Company Ltd.

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