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FLOBECK: Collaboration may be a solution to water issues

By: Jack Flobeck
January 5, 2014 Updated: January 5, 2014 at 3:04 am
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"With malice toward none;

with charity for all .

with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds," et cetera. Ah, weren't we blessed to have a man like Abraham Lincoln leading us through a great Civil War? Where will we look in 2014, as we face major water decisions? Will we choose to try for win-win solutions rather than opting for remedies that always injure the party on the other side?

I'm reminded of the story of two quite elderly women who lunched each week at the swankiest restaurant in Beverly Hills. One day, as the waiter approached their table he was softly singing, some enchanted evening. "Ah Ha," said Mrs. Rogers "mine husband wrote that." Before the waiter could blink, Mrs. Hammerstein bellowed," Your husband wrote da, da, da, da, da, da; mine husband wrote, some enchanted evening." Both ladies jealously guarded their husband's work; but the collaboration of Oscar and Richard gave us "Oklahoma," "Carousel," "Sound of Music," "South Pacific" and many more - with Richard writing the notes and Oscar putting words to the music. Why can't we do the same with our water squabbles?

Years ago, Mary Lou Smith of Fort Collins gave presentations on "Collaboration," as an alternative to compromise or capitulation. Most of the water folks who heard Mary Lou learned that most times a compromise ensured that one side of the question or even both sides, would be mad and feel cheated by the negotiated decision.

But, when they found some common ground and participated in discovery and equilibrium, they all felt like they had contributed to the decision.

To amplify the collaboration story, we should consider the advantages of working in groups with wide experiences and skills. Think of the pain that could have been avoided if there had been just a single scientist, economist, or a plain old rancher with horse sense; at Bishop's Lodge, N.M.; in 1922 when a cadre of attorneys 'guaranteed' the lower basin states 7.5 million acre feet a year of Colorado River water, when we could have agreed to 50 percent of what was in the river at that time. Every water study group should have some bedrock advisers, as well as scientists, biologists, engineers, hydrologists, and yes, dam experts.

What does 2014 hold for us in the arid West? Part of the answer is certainly local, but a great part is definitely national, as the overall national economy will determine our ability to borrow, construct, or divert.

Each year at this time, I reread two short books, and scan a huge one, the titles are: "Extraordinary Popular Delusions, and the madness of crowds" by Charles Mackay; "The Lessons of History" by Will & Ariel Durant; and "The Rise and Decline of the Roman Empire" by Gibbon.

Mackay reminds me of the schemes of governments and investors trying to defraud the public; both Durants warn that history will always repeat itself; and Gibbon chills me with reflections and reasons for Rome's collapse. If somehow you missed all Gibbon's good words; the reasons for Rome's collapse are simple; Rome debased her currency; spent too much money quartering Legions across the world; destroyed the family and its wholesome values; spent too much for free food-bread- and free entertainment-circuses - all to mollify the Urbis mobile, our current city mobs; destroyed their morals; devalued Roman language and citizenship; approved drunkenness, corruption and excesses; while encouraging lewd behavior which deviated from their ancient morals and scruples. If this sounds familiar, you could become a detective.

But the classic answer to how Rome failed, comes from an Oxford Don, Daniel Robinson, and I paraphrase, 'Rome didn't fall when invaded by Ostrogoths, Vandals, or Visigoths, but when a man got up in the morning and no longer could tell what it meant to be a Roman Citizen.' What does it mean to be a citizen of the U.S. or of Colorado?

My earnest wish to all is for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2014.


Jack Flobeck is the founder of Aqua Prima Center, a nonprofit think tank for water research. Readers can contact him at

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