Land & Environment

USU Professor Joins Top Experts in New Colorado River Research Group

Jack is Back: USU watershed sciences professor Jack Schmidt, who recently completed a three-year stint as chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center, has joined the newly formed Colorado River Research Group.

Utah State University river scientist Jack Schmidt is among a newly formed team of veteran Colorado River scholars who’ve joined forces to provide a non-partisan, science-based voice on issues surrounding the iconic and much-diverted Western river system.

In a white paper published in Dec. 2014, the Colorado River Research Group, comprised of Schmidt and nine colleagues from the University of Utah, University of Arizona, University of Colorado, Colorado State University and UCLA, describes the Colorado River Basin as a “region of incomparable beauty… (but) facing a crisis, with overconsumption, an unprecedented 15-year drought and climate change.”

“The Colorado River’s water users -- that means more than 35 million of us living in the American Southwest -- face an uncertain future,” says Schmidt, professor in USU’s Department of Watershed Sciences and USU Ecology Center, who just completed a three-year stint as chief of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center in Flagstaff, Ariz.

Schmidt’s studies of the Colorado River date back to his grad school years. His 1987 doctoral dissertation provided a conceptual model of how the Colorado River’s sandbars were formed and maintained. The scientist testified before Congress during hearings focused on the Grand Canyon Protection Act and he was among a handful of advisors who conceived a series of high-flow experiments on the river. Controlled floods, funded by the U.S. Department of the Interior and conducted in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012 from Glen Canyon Dam, and in 2014 from Morelos Dam, were attempts to emulate spring floods and restore altered ecosystems.

Schmidt says the ability of water providers to withstand the demands and challenges placed on the beleaguered river is diminishing.

“The major water supply ‘buffers’ -- especially reservoir storage and groundwater reserves -- are depleted,” he says. “While notable and hard-fought policy reforms and studies have been completed in recent years, few have addressed the underlying management struggles and have simply bought us time.”

Schmidt says the CRRG seeks interdisciplinary solutions that are flexible and, thus, can be quickly implemented.

“System-wide supply augmentation, such as desalination, isn’t cost-effective or realistic,” he says. “It can’t be implemented quickly enough. Our focus should be on limiting demand and reallocating water.”

There’s no “extra” water left, he says.

“Everyone who’s benefited from the river has a responsibility to conserve water. No one should expect a free pass.”

Related links

Contact: Jack Schmidt, 435-797-1791, jack.schmidt@usu.edu

Writer: Mary-Ann Muffoletto, 435-797-3517, maryann.muffoletto@usu.edu

Schmidt contributed to a series of high-flow experiments, conducted in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012 from Glen Canyon Dam, and in 2014 from Morelos Dam, aimed at restoring altered ecosystems on the Colorado River. Photo by Anne Phillips/USGS.

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