130: Zach Frankel & Nick Halberg of Utah Rivers Council
Guest Name(s): Zach Frankel, Nick Halberg
Matt speaks with Zachary Frankel and Nick Halberg, from the Utah Rivers Council. They discuss the council’s efforts to safeguard rivers from proposed dams, the significance of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem, water usage challenges, conservation initiatives, and the need to reconsider the valuation and usage of water.
Zach & Nick talk about the Bears Ears National Monument and the challenges faced by Lake Powell due to climate change and overuse. The urgency of addressing this crisis and retrofitting Glen Canyon Dam to secure water flow is underscored, with a call for public engagement and political pressure to drive action. The conversation also touches on notable figures in the climate change and environmental domain, including Bill McKibben, Brock Evans, Paul Hawken, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, and Alex Blumberg, highlighting their significant contributions.
Episode Audio Links:
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, your host, and I’ve got two great guests from the Utah Rivers Council. Zachary Frankel is the executive director, founded the organization 1994. He’s an expert on water policy in Utah. His passion is protecting Utah’s rivers.
And we’ve also got Nick Halberg, who’s a research and policy analyst at the Utah Rivers Council, his expertise in water policy – hydrology to economics. So welcome, gentlemen to the program.
Thank you, Matt. Thank you for having us.
Yeah, we’re excited to be here. Thank you.
So, Zach, let me just begin with you as to tell us a little bit about your journey. And what had you found the Utah Rivers Council, and what type of work does the Utah Rivers Council do?
Thank you for the chance to speak to that, you know, looking back at my life, the thing that I have learned somewhat late in life is that water itself has been a really key and central component of my whole life journey. Some of my, my very first memory was actually underwater in a swimming pool, when I just was sitting at the bottom of this of a pool, looking at the water and listening and all the sensations of what it’s like to have the sun reflect and bounce off of everything. And I just sat there really amazed.
It’s really my first memory, which was interrupted by a total stranger jumping in to quote unquote, save me from drowning. And so over time, you know, as I grew up, I really had a proclivity and interests for water itself and raised in a household with a keen interest in politics, that evolved into an interest in water policy and how we, in the United States treat our rivers streams and lakes and the major problems and omissions in American water policy and recognizing the importance of freshwater ecosystems.
So in the 1990s, I worked with some volunteer board members, and we started the Utah Rivers Council, a 501 c three nonprofit organization that works to protect our streams and rivers, recognizing the prominent importance in freshwater in supporting fish and wildlife species. And we’re still working to educate Americans about how important our rivers are, to the wonderful wildlife legacy that we have inherited from previous generations.
So tell us a little bit about what was the first project that you worked on as the director there.
You know, one of our first campaigns was a proposal to it was a proposed dam, 260 foot high dam that was being proposed on a tributary here along the mountains, which in the Wasatch Front is the mountains that are but the Salt Lake Valley metropolitan area.
And within these mountains is this wonderful stream called the diamond Fork River, that is home to about 160 different species of fish and wildlife that was slated for a 260 foot high dam that would have inundated three miles of this river, including a very popular natural hot springs area is really popular with hikers and bathers.
And so that was our first real campaign to get involved. So we worked with city councils and other elected officials around the Salt Lake Valley to start a grassroots effort to oppose that project. And after two and a half years of hard work, we succeeded, and the dam was called off by its federal proponent, the central Utah Water District, which is the largest water agency in the state of Utah, finishing the central Utah project.
So that really taught us that even here in conservative Utah, we can rely upon Americans to recognize the value of fresh flowing, free flowing streams and rivers for the importance of fish and wildlife habitat.
Well tell us a little bit about you know, the, you know, maybe this is related to the salt, the Great Salt Lake and I’ve read it About kind of challenges and crisis that that was occurring with that lake going down every year is that was that river, the diamond Fork River part? Was it going into the Great Salt Lake or?
Yes, virtually all of northern Utah is within that same watershed, the Great Salt Lake Basin. So the rivers that drain our mountains in northern Utah flow into in northwestern Utah flow into the Great Salt Lake. And the Great Salt Lake is the largest remaining wetland ecosystem in the American West. And it is a very, very important ecosystem for that reason. It has an incredible population of migratory birds that rely upon the Great Salt Lake.
So we’re talking about 10 million individual birds across more than 330 migratory bird species, traveling from every country in the Americas that stopped over on the shores of the Great Salt Lake to rest and refuel themselves. In these global migrations, we have some species gathering on the shores of the lake, in larger numbers than anywhere else on the planet.
And so as you as you mentioned, that what what the mericans and people from across the globe have been looking into Utah for is this disconcerting news that the Great Salt Lake is in crisis, from shrinking water levels, from his tributaries that it’s dependent on coming out of the mountains, that are shrinking down and making the lake set a record low level just two summers ago, and its future is very uncertain because of the decline in water entering the lake shores.
So what do you see is a way to kind of save the Great Salt Lake and kind of other areas that are similar to it around the state of Utah and probably around the the American South West, we’ve got some really important questions like one of the most important questions in my mind and water.
You know, what’s happening inside Utah is happening all across America, it’s just that Utah has the most obvious and exaggerated example of that. And by that, I mean, many people are surprised to learn that Utah is America’s highest number one per person, municipal water user.
In the United States, were using about 75% of the water in Utah cities on grass. And that is creating a really impacting legacy on the Great Salt Lake because we are diverting the upstream tributaries upstream obviously, of the Great Salt Lake, and we’re shrinking it down because we’re using too much water in our cities. And of course, because 80% of the water we use in Utah is for flood, irrigating agriculture, primary, primarily alfalfa hay.
And so these upstream water diversions in our cities and in our farms are shrinking down what is left for the Great Salt Lake, and the Great Salt Lake doesn’t really have any protection, it doesn’t have any rights. It doesn’t have a solid, proactive network of policies, that that are necessary to be implemented to save it for future generations of obviously migratory birds and the other many benefits that come from a healthy and sustainable grits a lick.
And just to wrap up that piece, you know, we as Americans have been programmed into believing we’re on the verge of running out of water. And that is, you know, certainly there are many, many communities that are at the limits of their water supply in the United States. Yet, we’re still failing as Americans to have a real honest conversation with ourselves about how we value water or, by extension don’t properly value water, and how we use water so wastefully where we treat water, like it really doesn’t matter.
And our grass landscapes in our cities, for example, you know, they’re not really contributing substantially to our economy or our quality of life, that oftentimes, it’s just decoration. And so it’s easy to forget that the this water is literally essential to a range of fish and wildlife species outside of our cities that, you know, we need to learn to coexist with.
Well, you’ve raised a number of great points there is I agree, and I guess one of them is kind of the rights of nature and that So essentially, are our natural things like rivers and lakes don’t have any rights under our current system of law, but there are certainly a lot of countries in places that are starting to initiate that process of giving great lakes and rivers, and, you know, REITs to, to effectively protect them.
And then another thing kind of related there to it is the growth in Utah new development, I’ve read some articles about areas that are fast developing there, and there’s just not enough water to really serve as those areas in the way that previously had been done. And we’ve only got a little bit before the break, but maybe you can start answering that, and we can talk about it after the break.
Excellent. You know, I think we really want to be careful about how we value water, you know, if we’re burning dollar bills up on our driveway, we can’t talk about we’re running out of money, right? Because how we use our money is a function that and that’s the point we’re trying to make with water. You know, if we get more conscientious about what water and how we value it and how we use it, then I think there’s actually plenty of water for a really sustainable economy.
Well, that’s a great point. And we’ll be right back in just one minute. You’re listening to a climate change. I’ve got Frankel and Nick Halberg of the Utah Rivers Council, and we’ll be right back in just one minute.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, and I’ve got Zach Frankel and Nick Halberg, on the program from the Utah Rivers Council. And Nick could just turn it to you for a minute. Tell us a little bit about the work that you’re doing. And how did you come to the Utah purpose Council?
Yeah, I guess I’ll start with the second question first. So when I was studying my undergrad, I was doing a lot of economics work, looking at how natural resources were formed the base of a lot of the opportunities we have in society and the inequities, and how distributing those resources more in a better, more efficient, more equitable manner can help solve a lot of those problems.
And then Salzach give a talk at my college and got involved ITAR rivers that way, and really quickly found out that water is sort of at the forefront of these things I was interested in, if we want to talk about, you know, ensuring equal access to a basic human need and right water, then we have to start looking at ways that we distribute that more equally.
And I think with climate change, that starts to become a real problem. So for example, some of the things we’ve been working on at the URC to start to address that is looking at climate change in the Colorado River Basin. I’m sure many of your listeners are aware, and most Americans are aware of the crisis that’s been happening in the Colorado River Basin, really severe drought, the worst in 1,200 years, primarily a result of climate change and shrinking snowpacks and warmer air temperatures.
And all the problems and issues that’s causing. What we sort of started to be trying to do is look at how does that water gets split up as this river shrinking? How do we live within our means? And you know, we’ve done a lot of different work, we can get better parent conservation techniques we can use to address that.
But also, where does the water in a smaller river go to who who gets the water when there’s less of it? How do we make sure that’s going to the places that are going to be the most effective and everyone has this basic human right to just survive in their communities?
Well, certainly, those of us who live in California, are somewhat dependent on Colorado River water. So it’s a it gets the attention of Californians to when we talk about this and and the the heatwave that we’ve had over the last number of years.
And I guess, what is it 1920 As hottest years have been the last 20 years. So kind of unprecedented. Total little bit more about the the Colorado River and what what steps are being taken to protect it from, you know, protect its future.
Yeah, I think a good way to think about the Colorado River is a big shift in mindset that is occurring needs to occur faster to adapt to the 21st century. So the 20th century in the Colorado River system. It was largely about building dams. storing water taming the river, so to speak, then building all this infrastructure to control this, you know, huge river that’s the lifeblood of the American southwest from all of us up in Salt Lake and the headwaters all the way down to LA Mexico, down at the tail end of the river.
And I think what we’ve seen since the turn of the century is a really distinct and clear signal that climate change is having a serious effect, we’ve seen flows in the river declined by about 20%. We’ve seen projections come out from very credible scientists showing that flows could be, you know, decline another 20%. In the future, we can be looking at a river with nine or 10 million acre feet, whereas in the 20th century, we had to river 15 million acre feet of water. So significant declines.
And I think the question there is, how do we collectively all seven states who share in the Colorado River water and Mexico come together to reduce our water use to live within our means. Now, it’s a really contentious system, there’s a lot of division between the upper basin and the lower basin and all these different things about use it or lose it, and this, you know, 1920 to 100 year old compacts that’s governing how all this stuff happens.
But I think at the core of it is just understanding look, there are places where we’re not using water efficiently. In the Colorado River Basin, there’s there’s places where water is leaking through dirt canals, there’s places where it’s being used wastefully to water wands in cities. And it’s really on all of us, those in the upper basin, and Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, those of us in the lower basin to try to start reducing our water use, not just so we can catch up with the river where it is that now but so we can prepare for an even hotter, drier future where the river is even lower.
And I don’t want to make this sound like too much of a doomsday scenario. I think this is a very achievable thing, a 10 or 11 million acre foot river is still a very livable future, we just have to prepare ourselves to get there.
Well, one of the things that I’ve read about is that there are farmers in California in in really high dry areas down by Mexicali and El Centro in California that have water rights to more water than I think, I think it was Arizona and Utah combined. And they’re growing alfalfa down there. And it’s just a tremendous, and then they’re exporting it.
So they’re not it’s not even stuff that we’re using here in the United States. So it’s not required for our, you know, for us to eat or anything like that. So what about just paying those farmers off and saying, hey, we’ll take your water rights back, we’ll pay you a reasonable sum. And then we’ll have a lot more water for everybody. Who’s whose upstream?
Yeah. So I think that’s the, the obvious short term solution that everyone points to you know, it, it’s hard to ignore the 800 pound gorilla in the room, which is agriculture, pretty much any mountain west community that uses water, it’s likely that the vast majority of that water is going to be used for agriculture, and probably most of that for alfalfa. And I’ll probably a lot of that will get exported out somewhere else.
And I think you can’t look at the problems on the river and ignore agriculture and try to squeeze out all your solutions from just municipal water conservation. That said, you know, it is because of the way the laws was set up, because of the way that all this first in time first and right. Usually the farmers were the oldest, they have the most senior uses of that water. There’s some programs designed to go in and try to buy water from those farms.
The Bureau of Reclamation has been doing a lot of that with money that got appropriated from the bipartisan bipartisan infrastructure law, the inflation reduction act like there’s $4 billion that went to the Colorado River Basin to try to start addressing some of these things, specifically targeted some of those California farmers. But also, I mean, I think the thing that’s you know, a huge opportunity sitting here is that a lot of farmers operate with pretty low profit margins.
They’re using ditches that they’re at least in Utah, great, great grandfather’s dug by hand when they moved out and several the state. So there’s a lot of inefficient water use on farms. And there’s a lot of programs we can set up Utah starting to do it. Oregon and Washington have had programs running for 20 or 40 years now that have been really successful and taking taxpayer funds going to farmers upgrading infrastructure on farms, improving irrigation efficiency, and then you can use some of that saved water and put it into a river, put it into a reservoir, give it to a city do something with it.
That’s a more beneficial use for the public. And the farmer not they have all this new technology can actually increase their crop yields, keep farming where they’re at. So there’s a nice balance that can be struck here. There’s a lot of water we can free up from the ag sector without having to put farms out of business without having to buy them and it’s probably more cost effective than that. Long run as well.
But I understand that there are many different things that play into protecting the water. And some of them are safe planting trees and protecting the habitat that surrounds our watersheds. What worker is your organization doing to, to forward that part of the present?
Yeah, I can take a first crack. And Zach, I’ll let you step into one of the, I guess, more fun programs that a lot of the times we work on policy issues, especially my job, it’s reading lengthy documents, and it’s writing lengthy reports. And it’s occasionally testifying to committees and stuff like that. But one of the fun hands on things we get to do is, each year, we run a really robust rain barrel program where I think last year, we had over a dozen municipalities in Utah come together and partner with us.
And we basically get these rain barrels, get them subsidized through the cities and hand them out to residents. So residents can use rainwater captured off their roof to water their lawns and gardens. So we don’t have to use our treated costly municipal water, we can reduce the use of that. And that’s really key for us.
Reducing municipal water use means we don’t need to divert as much water out of our rivers and streams more can stay there for fish and wildlife, recreation people down streams. So I think that’s one of the really fun programs. And yeah, Zach has been around, you know, forever doing all types of different on the ground things. So I’ll pass the keys that you want to add anything.
Thank you, Nick, I must say every time I hear you speak, I am more and more proud of you and how brilliant you are, and what a credit you are, to the generation coming up that’s got to solve all these problems. You know, I think that what we as Americans often do is we focus on our supply. The conversation is almost always dominated by supply.
And it’s not just water, we talk about supplies, almost constantly in our resource use. And we very rarely talk about the other side of the equation, which is demand, which is what Nick just alluded to, trying to reduce our water demand. And we are really in infantile steps here in Utah, and largely across the United States. Many communities are way ahead of us in Utah, inside the United States and saving water.
But generally, the United States is really got to catch up with some of our other countries on this planet, that ever really, really recognize that water is precious and needs to be valued that way. So the first place is just in basic economics, and not pricing water. So so so cheap, as to encourage water waste. Now, for example, the price of water in many communities inside Utah in cities, is around $2 per 1000 gallons. I know it’s hard to hear those numbers and have any reference point.
But by comparison, in Los Angeles, the price of water is about $15 per 1000 gallons, it depends on what volume you’re using. And the higher the volume, the more the water price goes up. higher volumes, higher prices. But you know, we we were paying 1/7 The price of water here in Utah that is in Los Angeles, and that’s one of the best opportunities to save water is priced at like at Mater
Oh, that’s uh, you know, relatively efficient and remarkably simple. So, I hope we can start doing that. Let’s continue this discussion after the break. You’ll listen to a climate change. I’ve got Zach Frankel and Nick Halberg on the program, oath of Utah reverse counsel. And we’ll be back in just one minute to talk about problems that we’re facing all across the nation.
You’re listening to a climate change this is Matt Matern. And I’ve got Zach Frankel and Nick Halberg, on the program of the Utah Rivers Council, and we were talking about a lot of things river policy, water policy in in Utah and across the country. I was curious, there was a little bit of a controversy on this Bears Ears National Monument that was initially created by President Obama and then reduced by a 5% by President Trump and then restored by President Biden.
Sounds like a bit of a political football. What are the issues related to Bears Ears from a water policy standpoint and how has it affected by being a national monument or not being a national monument?
Oh boy, the monument debacle inside Utah is really been it just as you describe it spin a political football back and forth that really for us Utahns that really care about fish and wildlife species, about ancient sites about both archaeological ruins and sacred sites to the indigenous tribes of Utah and the rest of the Southwest.
You know, it’s really demonstrated how important it is that we have a strong federal policy to protect key land lands and landscapes like this one, from outside Utah, because the opposition inside Utah to the National Monument, a lot of it was driven by profiteering by individual interests inside Utah. Some of it was driven by special interests that are looking for contracts related to water. So Utah is home to the largest proposed new water diversion in the entire Colorado River Basin.
That’s a much hated water project called the Lake Powell pipeline, which has received a lot of controversy and was initiated by the state of Utah in 2006. And the relationship to the monument with that is that it actually was slated to go through monument boundaries. And when the proponents, essentially the contractors and other interests that want to be paid to build that project, realize that the monument was creating headaches to the alignment of the pipeline.
Through those lands, there’s immediate opposition to that. And that was part of the effort to shrink down the monument and make it smaller, with several water districts being actively engaged in communicating their concerns about the monument to the federal government in a quest to shrink down the boundaries. So there was also concern about mining operations, future mining operations and mining claims inside monument lands.
And in general, there is just also a opposition to the federal government telling you to what to do, but on the hands of, really, I would say a handful of elected officials locally in Utah who make a big deal in their campaigns to get reelected to the Utah State House about how the big bad federal government is against us poor Utahns. And making it hard for us to make a living and, and those would be my thoughts in a really good question about Nick, I don’t know if you had anything to add to that.
I think that’s great. I mean, the Bears Ears National Monument issue, specifically is probably one of the first issues. You know, I started college in 2016. So this was right at the forefront of this political football game, right, you get kicked back the other way, right. And it was one of the first issues that really, I think, brought me into the environmental movement, starting to get engaged in those issues.
And I think Zach did a great job. You know, we’ve seen the monument boundaries, a lot of cry over, it’s too big, but a lot of the stuff happening at the peripheries boundaries being specifically carved out to make way for pipelines, all these other things that are going through, you know, what, are essentially still, you know, very precious protected, open and wild lands that the monument previously protected, all of a sudden getting carved down.
So pipeline can go through, we should say that the Lake Powell pipeline has not been built, there is not a pipeline through the monument. You know, we’ve been fighting that proposal for many years and will continue to do so. So good news on that front as of yet.
Well, you know, you bring up something Lake Powell. Situation is, is such that, I think my understanding is that it’s in pretty dire straits and that like polos has been shrinking in recent years, and the thought that it could become kind of like a dead Lake. What’s the what are the prospects there? And what’s being done to prevent that from occurring?
Yeah, you know, let me take this one, and I’ll pass it to you in a moment, Nick. So Lake Powell, is America’s second largest reservoir, Lake Mead is the biggest in the country. So Lake Powell, it both both Lake Powell and Lake Mead have been shrinking as a function of Gann of climate change, warming up our winters and therefore shrinking our snowpack in the headwaters in the Colorado River is considered what’s called an exotic river.
You might have heard of that reference in relationship to the Nile in Egypt. And it actually has a real scientific definition. It means that the origin of the water is very far away from its terminus, in this case, obviously, you know, into the Pacific. And so what’s happening is that climate change has been so Drinking the headwaters of the of the Colorado River. And as it shrinks the snowpack, that’s where most of the water in the Colorado River is coming from snowpack melts snowmelt runoff in the spring.
And Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell was designed in an era absent climate change the Bureau of Reclamation, when they designed the plumbing system of Glen Canyon Dam, they didn’t really anticipate that there would be a long term mega drought that would befall the American Southwest, and obviously, the Colorado River, which, of course, is what we are beginning to experience this century now, which is slated to continue, probably for decades and decades to come.
And so I mentioned that design problems, because one of the biggest problems we’ve got, as Lake Powell drops to lower and lower water levels, because of climate change is that the plumbing system designed to deliver seven and a half million acre feet to the lower basin states of California, Arizona, and Nevada is in jeopardy.
There is not the plumbing that takes the water from Lake Powell and passes it on the other side of the dam and obviously into the Grand Canyon is too high up in the dams vertical column. It was designed to operate when Lake Powell is full or nearly full. And of course, now we’re in an era even though we had big headwater snowpacks this last winter, the Lake Powell is declining.
And as it shrinks lower and lower down in elevation, that plumbing is too high up in the water column. And there’s having to shift to another set of tubes that were never designed to deliver that seven and a half million acre feet to the lower basin. And it’s only a matter of time before the dam is no longer functional to deliver the lower basins water. And this is an issue that we at Utah Rivers Council alongside our wonderful partners, Glen Canyon institute and the Great Basin Water Network.
We all co authored this wonderful study to call upon Americans, especially in the lower basin states, to ask the federal government to retrofit Glen Canyon Dam to make sure that we can have water keep continuing to flow through the Grand Canyon, and to the lower basin states and to Mexico so that the lower basin residents can rely upon the water the Colorado River as they have been, you know, for some, what, 101 years now.
What I aside here are related common I recall that the white, white Paul was named after an explorer and naturalist who came out to examine that area and southwestern and told reported back to the federal government that they should never kind of tried to develop the Southwest into a great big urban areas. And unfortunately, they didn’t follow his advice. And they named the big lake after him. So anyway, it’s ironic. Yeah, jump in there, as you will.
Yeah. I just to put a fine point on what Zach said I, you know, there there are massive long term long, large scale issues in the Colorado River Basin climate change and overuse. But I think if we’re talking about the most acute crisis in the past, you know, two years, I think it is going Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, in June 2022, we heard the Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner testify to Congress saying that the lower basin states need to be cut two to 4 million acre feet of water to avoid, you know, catastrophic consequences in the system, basically.
And what she was talking about was water levels of like power, with water levels getting too low, not being able to use the tubes of the Bureau’s use to rely on to pass water through and having to rely on those lower set of tubes that was talking about. There’s been some very slow steps to start to address this.
The lower basin states to their credit, Nevada, California, Arizona, have repeatedly in multiple letters now told the bureau they think it’s very wise that we start looking at what can be done to address this problem. That means most likely re engineering the dam in some capacity. There’s some folks on this really great committee, one of the technical committees for the Bureau who’ve raised the same issue, and sort of under pressure from them.
The bureau has done a very preliminary study to look at some of these things. But that study was completed, you know, almost a year ago now. Very little follow up on it and almost no action. So we really, you know, are just not seeing people take this crisis as seriously as it is. Of course, it’s not a long term cause but it is the acute point.
Glen Canyon Dam is very quickly getting to the point where it’s going to start to inhibit water flows. Since the Grand Canyon into the lower basin, and you know, it’s going to take years and years to put any retrofits and that we need so I think we really need to start taking this issue much more seriously than we are.
Well, I appreciate you guys sound in the arms here. And hopefully our listeners will start talking to their politician friends and started putting some pressure to move the ball so that we can solve this problem because there are millions of people are relying upon this Colorado River water. So you’re listening to a climate change. I’ve got Zach Frankel and Nick Halberg on the program, we’ll be back in just one minute.
You’re listening to A Climate Change. This is Matt Matern, your host, and I’ve got two great guests on the program, Zach Frankel. And Nick Halberg, of the Utah Rivers Council. And you know, Zach and Nick, just talking about kind of why you two are in this and what your passion is.
I know that both of you are kind of living in the solution, you’re you’re making changes, and helping us get to a sustainable future. What does that look like for you? And maybe you could share with the listeners some things that they might do to get out there and be a part of the solution?
Yeah, wonderful question. And, you know, one of the most important questions of our days, what can we do? And how should we perceive this challenging future facing us. And, you know, one of the things that we that I like to say in our work is that I want to win, and I kind of addicted to it. And so, you know, we’ve been working at Utah Rivers Council organization has been around for almost three decades now.
And we’ve had a number of really important victories that really keep people at the table, we can succeed. And I think it’s really easy to forget that, you know, part of what we do as communicators and activists is we have to communicate problems, because we can’t implement a solution if nobody understands why we’re doing it. So you know, we have to spend a fair amount of time talking about our problems, just as we have today.
But that doesn’t mean that we should be you know, paralyzed by the problem. There is so much room to succeed here. It’s, it’s phenomenal. And we Utah or Wisconsin, for example, we have stopped five different proposals to build very destructive dams and water projects. And we’ve succeeded, you know, not by pressing some hidden magic button, but just by applying ourselves and having a sense of purpose and hope.
And that’s what keeps people coming back into our door and working with us, as staff, as volunteers, as partners, as allies among elected officials is saying, let’s implement a better policy over this, that in the other, we’ve written legislation that has become law in Utah. We wrote the first water conservation law in Utah, the water conservation plan Act, which, you know, I was a young man, when I read that, and now it’s become one of the fundamental municipal water conservation tools that all the cities of Utah use to plan their future conservation measures around water.
And so you know, if a relatively dumb guy like I can do that and get it passed, then anybody, especially people that are much brighter than myself, like my esteemed colleague, Nick here, Nick Halberg, we can do a lot. People like Nick are really going to take us to the next level is a community as a community of activists and conservation leaders.
So it’s really important that people understand that they have much more power, and much more ability to influence change than they have been taught. I think there’s a lot of parts of the world that want to teach us that we don’t have any power, but that’s just fundamentally not true. We all have immense ability to influence the benefits that we can see coming to future generations around climate change policy and in the water sphere.
Well, I love that and I think that’s incredibly powerful, Zach, and something that needs to be said a lot more, which is, we can do something and we can be powerful, particularly the state sustained effort and focus. Tell us Nick about how you see the sustainable water future for Utah, and the Southwest, going forward.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think one of the biggest things What we’re starting to see now and hopefully with a lot of the people, you know, I was born in 1998, right before this precipitous decline in Colorado river flow started happening. So more or less my entire life has been learning to live in a world with declining water flows and water shortages.
And I was really freaked out. At first, I had a lot of climate anxiety. I actually one of the things that helped me out the most with that was Paul Hawken’s Project Drawdown who I think was a recent guest of yours. So thank you to Paul, and project drawdown. But I think once you get the solutions in front of you, it’s easy to see that there’s a lot of hope.
And I’ve recently just come across many things, many really innovative cool programs that have been really inspiring to me, I mentioned one earlier in the podcast, Oregon and Washington doing programs where they’re able to match up funding with farmers improve irrigation efficiency, create these Win Win outcomes, farmers get better crop yields, they get to keep their water to continue staying in operation, they’re more resistant to droughts and cut offs.
And then also, you know, the public wins because they get more water in their rivers and streams are threatened endangered fish species to meet future growth demands, all those types of things, there is another really cool, we’re just set a conference in Las Vegas, sort of at least the nation leader, if not a world leader on water conservation efforts, there’s a really cool program there where municipalities can go in implement these really robust leak detection programs, find and fix all the leaks in their water system.
And then some really, you know, smart scientists and economists are working on a methodology to be able to track what reduction in in pumping in power generation costs is that since we’re not pumping a bunch of leaking water into the ground, or water to buys more efficient, we’re using less water, we’re reducing our pumping costs, that can turn into a carbon credit. And that credit can then be sold by these municipalities.
And they can use that money to then go and purchase even more leak detection stuff and really hammer down this stuff. So I think there’s a lot of really good virtuous cycles, a lot of smart people working on this to get that done. I think the biggest thing, you know, maybe speaking, as a younger person, someone who’s seen a lot of this is just get past the doom and gloom, get involved, start looking at the solutions.
And once you start seeing them, then you’ll see that there’s more solutions out there that we you know, can could possibly enter and implement by one person alone, it’s going to take a bunch of us and everyone can play a different part and do a different thing. And that can all help us get to a more sustainable water future future where we’re considering water as a resource, a scarce resource that needs to be managed carefully, rather than just something that flows abundantly out of your tap anytime you touch it.
Well, that’s great. And I, one of the things that I had been conscious of, or more conscious of doing this program for the last three years is that there are just so many people out there, thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people across the US across the world are working on these problems every day, and making great strides.
And that it’s it’s amazing to see this great work being done. So it does give me a lot of optimism that so many incredibly talented people are doing the work. So to the listeners, hey, jump in and start to working alongside these amazing leaders and be a leader yourself too. So just kind of pivoting a little bit here. Who would you put on your Mount Rushmore of top? You know, your top four or five people for you know, in the climate change area? Zach?
Boy, that’s a tough question. Um, you know, of course, I’m a little older. So my leaders go back a little further. You know, one of the one of the people that I found so inspiring was Bill McKibben, the founder of the nonprofit three fifty.org. Back, that was a, obviously a reference to carbon concentrations, trying to keep our carbon level to 350 parts per million.
You know, back when we were in the two hundreds, you know, I asked Bill, I met him several times. And I asked him once, you know, Bill, like, how do you feel about this issue of climate change? You know, when you get out of bed, and he’s like, look, I pop out of bed, basically, I’m applying myself and I’m doing everything I can, and I feel really fulfilled about it. And I think that’s the climate anxiety that people feel is from inaction.
I think when people get active, suddenly, that sense of desperation goes away because there’s something to do and they feel like okay, you know, I can keep working on this. And if you’re, you know, hearing this podcast and you don’t feel that sense, then you know, ask yourself, what is it that would make me feel, you know, more useful to this cause because I promise if you can follow that compass needle, it will be personally rewarding, not just what you quote unquote, should do, but personally, I’d be rewarding. to you to be engaged and involved.
And, you know, you might end up hosting your own podcast just like Matt hair, you know, you never know where things are going to lead. So. So that’s what I’d say is really important. And then, you know, going back even further, Brock Evans is one of the foremost conservation leaders that I had the luck and real gratitude to work within me. He was David Browers, first staff member they ever hired way back in the 1950s, he became using an attorney from the Pacific Northwest to move to Washington, DC.
He was in the White House when all the seminal environmental legislation was passed, mostly under the Nixon administration. So way back then, and Brock is a wonderful person. He’s since retired to Oregon. But you know, he’s so positive and optimistic. And you might think someone who’s been an environmental lobbyist for four decades, five decades, would be really cynical, especially in the halls of Congress.
But he’s so positive. And same with David Brower, you know, before David Brower passed that one of the real seminal leaders, the first real prominent leader, the Sierra Club that really took the organization to the next level, before he passed, and he had the same sense of optimism.
So that’s only three of your four. But those would be my first three that really inspire me that of course, I’m standing on their backs as I work as a conservationist. So I’ll throw it over to you, Nick, and you can give us your for quickly and then then I’ll wrap it up.
I’ll just keep it quick. I think I mentioned Paul Hawken already. Project Drawdown was tremendously inspiring, uplifting to me seeing all the specific technical solutions – the actual building blocks to our path to a, you know, a carbon neutral world. But one of the most impactful, you know, people I’ve probably listened to is Dr. Arianna Elizabeth Johnson, Alex Bloomberg, they also run a great podcast How to Save A Planet, so you can go check some of them out as well.
But thank you both. It’s been a pleasure having you both on the program and everybody should check out the Utah Rivers Council and, you know, either volunteer or give generously that great work that they’re doing. And thank you both Zach and Nick for being on the show.
Everybody, check out our website: aclimatechange.com. Follow us on Apple Music, Spotify, iHeart Radio, all the social media channels, do the same for the Utah Rivers Council. Stay engaged, be the change you want to see in the world, everybody, and have a great week and tune in next week.
(Note: this is an automatic transcription and may have errors in formatting and grammar.)
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