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2017 State of the Rockies Report

Inclusive River Governance for a Changing West

2017 Cover lowres

Research undertaken by Colorado College undergraduates has always been at the core of the State of the Rockies Project. In this year's report, the final publication stemming from our two-year focus on western water issues, our five Student Fellows investigate current policies and actions surrounding river governance and water management in the Columbia and Colorado River Basins.

From tribal water rights to shifting paradigms of environmental management and the impacts of climate change on mountain snowpack, the sections of the 2017 State of the Rockies Report focus on different ways in which management of our most critical resource is becoming increasingly sensitive to the social and ecological realities of the 21st century.

Our research this past year has taken us to Native American reservations, salmon hatcheries, the site of a massive dam removal project, and the headquarters of a large power company. In pursuit of a deeper understanding and more holistic perspective, students engaged with diverse stakeholders whose backgrounds range from natural resource law to hydrology. The results of their hard work will be published below.

Dam Management During an Era of Transition

by Mollie Podmore, 2016-17 Student Fellow

mollie section previewIn our first of five sections for the 2017 State of the Rockies Report, Student Fellow Mollie Podmore explores the historic progression of water management paradigms that aid in explaining why dams are being breached in some regions, while new diversions are being planned in others. 

"During the early half of the 20th century, landscapes in the West underwent drastic changes as federal water projects rapidly emerged. However, some scholars speculate that recent decades have seen a changing paradigm in water management as a growing concern for conservation, ecological well-being, and social benefits of environmental health have begun to take hold. How are dams and diversions addressed during this transition toward reduction of environmental impact? In some areas, a changing paradigm has led to drastic measures such as dam removal, while others continue to rely on existing infrastructure models. Environmental restoration and hazard mitigation efforts have demanded formerly profitable projects such as southern Washington’s Condit Dam to be decommissioned. Meanwhile, a habit of water hoarding continues to drive diversion initiatives such as the disputed Gila River project. What pushes the opposing sides of these divergent initiatives, and how are conflicting interests managed or open to compromise?"

Impact of Climate Change and Changing Seasonal Flow Regimes on the Columbia River Basin

by Joseph Friedland, 2016-17 Student Fellowjoey section preview2

For the second of five sections of the 2017 State of the Rockies Report, Student Fellow Joseph Friedland analyzes how climate change will dramatically modify how water is stored in mountain snowpack, and what implications these trends will have on dam management and salmon recovery.

A Fine Line: Federal Agency Decision-Making in the Development of Recovery Plans for Endangered Fish in Western Rivers

by Lea Linse, 2016-17 Student Fellowlea section preview4

In the third section of the 2017 State of the Rockies Report, Lea Linse investigates why federal courts or agencies might choose to allow water development projects and uses to continue after they have been proven to jeopardize endangered species. This observation contradicts early court interpretations of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), in which it was ruled that the ESA was supposed to give species the “highest of priorities” at any cost, economic or otherwise. In this report, Lea examines why giving species the “highest of priorities” might unrealistically represent the way that federal agencies view implementation of the ESA.