Castle: “Water policy issues are not partisan issues because they affect everyone.”

Brandon Ghazali

Following her role as assistant secretary for water and science in the U.S. Department of the Interior, one of the first things Anne Castle did was take a six-week 800-kilometer hike of the Camino de Santiago in Spain with her daughter.

“It was really cool and interesting, a wonderful break from what I had been doing,” Castle said.

Although Castle was on vacation in Spain, it didn’t stop her from taking some time to learn about water issues, something she has devoted much of her life to in the U.S.

“Because of introductions made by a friend, we met with several geomorphologists and got to learn a bit about the issues with rivers and streams in Spain, which are very different from ours,” she said.

Castle served as assistant secretary for water and science in the U.S. Department of Interior from 2009 to 2014 under the Obama administration, where she oversaw the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Castle is currently a senior fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Law, where she is also an alumna.

She’s received funding to work on water policy and issues regarding the state of Colorado’s water management plan and specifically the Colorado River over past year and a half. Her most recent effort is a report on water infrastructure projects that would improve sustainability and balance in the Colorado River Basin. She hopes that these projects will fit within new infrastructure initiatives coming from the relevant Congressional committees and executive agencies.

“We’re trying to get to a better balance in the system, so we’re asking the question, do we have enough water to supply the demand by agriculture, municipal utilities, tribes, fish and recreation. It’s a multiplicity of demand and supplies are limited.”

Castle said that recent scientific studies show that temperatures are getting warmer and that it is a continuing trend.

“We’re pretty certain about these facts,” she said, “and temperature has a dramatic impact on runoff in the Colorado River Basin.”

Castle said we could see runoff reductions of 20-35 percent over the next 50-100 years and “that’s a huge amount of water.”

Castle will address these issues regarding the Colorado River and the people who use it Thursday evening in the Memorial Union during the 2017 Ronald Lecture in Environmental Conservation.

Castle believes that these water policy issues are not partisan issues because they affect everyone.

“They don’t want [federal agencies] to dictate what happens, but they want them to continue to be involved and supportive.”

Castle says blue and red states in the Colorado River Basin are mostly in agreement on this issue.

She also said that Ryan Zinke, who is the secretary of the interior appointed by President Donald Trump, is knowledgeable about water issues from his time in Montana, where he served as a state senator and later as its at-large district representative in the House.

“I wouldn’t expect different direction from him,” she said.

There is, however, one issue that Castle voices some concern over. An agreement signed between the U.S. and Mexico in 2012 regarding how they share and store water during surpluses and shortages from the Colorado River will expire at the end of this year.

An important adjustment to a 1944 treaty between the two nations that defined the terms for use of the river’s water, Castle says people have been working hard to generate a new agreement before this one expires.

“But I’m concerned that the other issues between the U.S. and Mexico — like immigration and [the proposed border wall] — will get in the way of what should be a win-win situation on the Colorado River,” she said.

Iowans have witnessed a battle over water issues in recent months with Des Moines Water Works’ recently dismissed lawsuit against three Iowa counties alleging that nitrates from farm drainage entered rivers the utility uses for drinking water.

While Castle, a Colorado native, stressed that she wasn’t familiar enough to comment on the Des Moines Water Works case, she believes the Colorado River Basin can serve as an example for central Iowa and other water sheds, “particularly the way that very disparate interests have come together to craft agreements that will allow the river basin as a whole to move forward in the face of reduced supplies and increased demand.”

Castle says that places like Alabama, Georgia and Florida, who are in U.S. Supreme Court litigation over their shared rivers, can learn from the Colorado River Basin.

“And the same is true for this water shed with the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers, where the focus is more on water quality,” she said, “rather than litigation it would be more productive for the different parties to get together and figure out where that very narrow band of agreement is.”

Castle stresses that this isn’t an easy process, but she considers litigation a failure and “failure is not an option.”

Before working for the Department of the Interior Castle practiced water law in Colorado, a practice more common in Western states.

“It was partly that practice that made me realize that water issues are not really partisan issues,” she said.

Castle represented various people and entities for several reasons regarding water policy and ownership over the years.

“Everybody has different versions of water issues but they’re not Republican or Democrat issues,” Castle said.

During her work as assistant secretary for water and science, Castle gained an appreciation for Native Americans’ tribal connections to the Colorado River and the way it made them think about “stewardship” of the river.

“There are several tribes along the Colorado River,” she said, “it is very important in their history and many times it is sacred.”

Castle said it was a powerful lesson because she hadn’t had much interaction with native tribes before her job with the Department of the Interior, which she called “the greatest job in Washington.”

“For a person who is interested in water, you get to think about the most interesting water issues in the country and work with fabulous people,” she said.

Castle recalled a Colorado River trip down the Grand Canyon she was a part of last September, where she was a volunteer with the USGS doing vegetation surveys. The goal of the rafting trip was to see how dams upstream of the Grand Canyon had affected river flow and the ecosystem, mainly plant life.

Castle didn’t let the fact that she was working prevent her from having a special experience during the trip.

“So, I was just a total laborer, but I got to go on a river trip that people wait for years and pay lots of money to go on,” she said.

The trip was an opportunity to enjoy nature with former colleagues, some from the Department of the Interior.

“You’re cooking all your own food, camping, looking at the stars together at night,” she said, “it’s a great bonding experience and you make such a strong connection to the earth.”

Castle’s lecture, “The Colorado River, The Years of Living Dangerously,” begins at 8:00 p.m. in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union Thursday night. For more information about the 2017 Ronald Lecture and Anne Castle, visit the events calendar on the Iowa State University website.

Former assistant secretary of water and science in the Department of the Interior Anne Castle will give a lecture on the current state of the Colorado River system Thursday night in Memorial Union.

In an interview with the Daily, she recalls her career practicing water law in Colorado and learning about Native American tribal ties to the Colorado River.