Download Photos and Video from the Trip HERE
Washington, D.C. –– On Saturday, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) led a Colorado River trip focused on solutions to building climate resilience in the West. From Hittle Bottom to the Rocky Rapid campground outside of Moab, Utah, the senators floated the river with Colorado and Utah leaders from water, agriculture, business, environmental communities, and local government and discussed a bipartisan approach to address drought, wildfire, and mudslides in the West.
Here’s what people in Colorado and Utah are saying about Bennet and Romney’s trip:
“Public lands and waters are an integral part of our strategy to address climate change and drought throughout the West,” said Nada Wolff Culver, Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director of Policy and Programs. “We appreciate Senator Bennet and Senator Romney for including the Bureau of Land Management in their discussions and look forward to our continued work towards climate-resilience.”
“I truly appreciate the opportunity to discuss the impacts of climate change on the Colorado River and support the thoughtful, bipartisan approach to bringing solutions to the table demonstrated by both Senators Bennet and Romney,” said Andy Mueller, General Manager, Colorado River District.
“Crisis management is best approached with cooperation. It was an honor to participate in an open discussion with Senator Bennet and Senator Romney about how we come together to implement policy that will support farmers and ranchers in a changing environment,” said Pat O’Toole, President, Family Farm Alliance and Rancher.
“Utah is known for its national parks and beautiful landscapes. Right now, we’re also the fastest growing state in our nation,” said Utah Lt. Governor Deidre Henderson. As our kids and grandkids grow up, it’s important that we make sure our state remains a place where they want to raise their families—and the historic drought facing the West complicates that. We have an opportunity here to work with our neighbors to the east on solutions that help ease the burdens our communities face because of the drought.”
“Water issues are not new to the West. This drought came on quickly, and we’ve seen our communities come together and act to conserve our outdoor water resources,” said Gene Shawcroft, Commissioner, Utah Upper Colorado River Commission. “Today’s trip provided us the opportunity to meet with our counterparts from Colorado to discuss ways in which we can work together to find solutions that better manage our water and mitigate drought conditions. Understanding other people’s perspectives is critically important to tackle these big issues.”
It was supposed to take five hours. But the float from the Hittle Bottom Campground along the Colorado River to the Sandy Beach River Access, organized by Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet with the goal to talk about climate change and drought in the West, was extended an extra hour and a half.
Because, well, the drought.
The stretch of the river was running at roughly 2,700 cubic feet per second, well below its average of about 7,200, as Bennet, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson and other state politicians, ranchers, industry representatives and scientists stepped into their rafts and took off south toward the town of Moab.
The float was aimed at tackling a number of questions essential for the survival of the Colorado River basin.
How can industry and state governments adapt to better preserve the river?
What is the federal government’s role in conserving water and combating climate change in Western states, who often accuse D.C. of overstepping its bounds?
What say do the 29 tribal nations within the basin get in the future of the river?
And what will happen if the river that feeds life to nearly 60 million people in the West continues to shrink?
“The best solutions that come will be initiated at the state level and local level where local communities and the states work together,” Romney told the Deseret News from Hittle Bottom Campground.
“We’ll certainly have a role to play with financial resources and perhaps regulatory adjustments, but a top-down command from Washington is the wrong answer.”
Bennet echoed Romney, telling the Deseret News that having the federal government support, rather than dictate, how states combat the climate crisis and the shrinking river will not only ease tensions in the West, but lead to more effective policy.
“We need to find ways to get the work done at the local level and state level, and I think the federal government can be an important backstop to what they’re already doing,” he said.
Bennet said a change in how climate change is discussed in Washington, D.C., is needed before meaningful, bipartisan environmental legislation comes out of Congress.
He likened it to U.S. policy towards the Soviet Union, a somewhat consistent approach to a daunting issue that spans multiple presidential administrations and congressional majorities. A policy approach that, despite differing opinions, has the same end goal — cut emissions, conserve water and innovate.
“I hear people say we have to act urgent on climate change. I believe that’s true, but it doesn’t do you any good if you don’t have a durable solution, and one that can actually do something over time.”
If anything, both senators said spending time on the river, winding beneath the spectacular red rocks of southern Utah, drives home the importance of moving fast on climate change and drought.
“I look around this landscape and say, OK, we’re here for a minute of time and we will be known by future generations as the great generation or the worst generation,” Romney said. “I’m pleased that folks on both sides of the aisle recognize that importance of this topic and hopefully we can begin to make a meaningful difference and put together the kind of national climate strategy that has so far been missing.”
Bennet and Romney have worked together for years to find meaningful solutions to issues affecting the West. In 2019, the senators asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP), specifically asking GAO to recommend improvements and consider the challenges the senators have heard about in using the program for wildfire recovery. In December 2019, the GAO accepted their request and is currently reviewing the program.
Bennet and Romney later introduced the MATCH Act in January 2020 and again in 2021 to improve the EWP program, which will expedite wildfire recovery, save taxpayers money, and prevent further disasters.