Guest blogger: Jayme Ohlhaver (MESM 2017)
When I took the internship with The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) Colorado River Program I knew it would be an awesome learning experience, but I had no idea that it would also mean becoming a Pokémon Go Master. The Colorado River is massive in scale. It spans seven states and Mexico; provides water for over 35 million people and 4 million acres of Agriculture; and supports tremendous amounts of habitat for fish and wildlife. But the Basin is also riddled with complex issues. The long-term stability of the Colorado River region is threatened by over 15 years of drought, which has already caused unprecedented economic, social and ecological disruptions. Thanks to Pokémon Go[i], during my travels and research for the Colorado River Program I discovered that the Basin also supports a wide array of Pokémon. My quest to “catch them all” has revealed that some Pokémon, like their real-world flora and fauna counterparts, have tremendous impact on the Colorado River system.
This field guide highlights some of the most influential Pokémon in the Basin and their relationship to the work of the Colorado River Program, which is focused on ensuring that there is enough water, at the right times and places, to sustain healthy river ecosystems, river-dependent livelihood, and… Pokémon.
Habitat: Once ubiquitous throughout the riparian zones of the Colorado River and its tributaries, squirtles are now a rare site, confined to the upper reaches of the main stem Colorado, Yampa, and Green Rivers.
Threats and Challenges: Similar to many riparian-dependent species, squirtle numbers have drastically declined due to significantly reduced, absent, or artificially altered flows in the Basin’s streams. Nearly 100% of the basin’s flows are currently captured by dams and diversions. Additionally, water demand on the Colorado has exceeded the naturally available supply for more than a decade.
Looking Ahead: There is hope! Several groups in the Basin including TNC are carrying out innovative environmental water transactions – voluntary agreements by which water users alter their water rights, use or management to secure water to improve ecosystem health – to provide squirtles and other species with the flows they need to survive.
Habitat: Magikarp are a pathetic excuse for Pokémon that are only capable of flopping and splashing. Despite their uselessness, they can be found throughout the majority of the Upper Colorado River Basin in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
Threats and Challenges: As one of the Basin’s several invasive fish species (much like the smallmouth bass, northern pike and walleye) magikarp outcompete the 30 endemic fish species found nowhere else in the world. Their ability to eat anything and their overall hardiness have especially threatened the four endangered fish species in the upper part of the Basin: bony tail, humpback chub, Colorado pikeminnow, and razorback sucker.
Looking Ahead: The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program – a partnership of federal and state agencies, utilities, and non-profits – seeks to reduce numbers of magikarp and other non-native fish, restore stream flows and habitat and boost wild populations of endangered fish.
Habitat: Oddishes are found in agricultural areas, typically on small and large-scale farms and in your local grocery store.
Threats and Challenges: Oddishes are not currently widespread in the agricultural fields in the Basin, but that’s likely to change. Growing them lends itself to efficient irrigation infrastructure and they require less water than existing water intensive crops, like alfalfa, grown by Basin farmers. Of the water diverted from the Colorado River Basin for human use, 70% of it is used to grow crops and the seven Basin states produce roughly 15% of the country’s crops.
Looking Ahead: Investment groups throughout the region are currently evaluating ways of privately funding farm conversions from traditional crops to oddishes, wheat and other less water intensive crops,. The hope is that it will decrease the amount of water used by agriculture and provide a financial return on their investment.
Habitat: Pikachus can be found in and around Hoover, Glen Canyon and a plethora of other smaller hydropower dams in the Basin.
Threats and Challenges: Pikachus are typically abundant during high, stable reservoir and stream levels when energy production by hydropower dams is unaffected; however, currently declining flows and reservoir levels threaten the electricity production capabilities of the Basin’s dams that attract pikachus to the region in large numbers.
Looking Ahead: A potential solution to keep these dams operational and maintain pikachu populations is the creation of a risk reduction fund. This would enable a energy producers to fund a variety of projects that result in increase flows entering reservoirs and reduce the risk of reservoirs falling below inoperable levels.
Habitat: Tauros can only be found in North America and, along with cattle, are the main livestock raised in the region’s many ranches.
Threats and Challenges: While economically important, tauros and other livestock operations have widespread impact on the Basin’s ecology and hydrology stemming from water consumption to grow feed and grazing practices. They are generally thought to contribute to the spread of invasive plants, increase desertification, increase erosion, loss of wetlands and lowering of water tables.
Looking Ahead: A cohort of the Basin’s non-profits is currently exploring establishing joint ventures with local ranchers and private investors that would take a holistic approach to livestock production that increase yields while improving grassland conditions.
Habitat: Unknown – dittos are not widespread in the region and not yet caught in Pokémon Go.
Threats and Issues: Dittos have the unique ability to mimic other Pokémon and mold themselves based on the situation at hand. Although no one has officially sited a ditto to date, it has become apparent to me that many of the practitioners working to improve conditions in the Colorado River Basin through water transaction must indeed be dittos. Their ability to simultaneously work on legal, political, scientific and economic issues regarding water, specifically water transactions, is strong evidence of this.
Looking Ahead: It is rumored that dittos’ effectiveness in the field has motivated the Bren School to produce more dittos in multiple environmental fields.
[i] For those unfamiliar with Pokémon Go, it is a wildly popular smartphone-based “augmented reality” video game released this summer (the biggest mobile game in US history, becoming top grossing app in the US within 13 hours of release; more popular than both Tinder and Instagram, and expected to surpass active daily users of Twitter any day now). Players use the GPS on their mobile device to locate, capture and battle virtual Pokémon creatures with the hope of capturing all 150 different creatures.
Jayme Ohlhaver is a second year MESM student specializing in Economics and Politics of the Environment and one of Bren’s Sustainable Water Markets Fellows. He is spending the summer as a research intern for The Nature Conservancy in Boulder, Colorado and exploring the West.