California’s Young ‘Water Buffalo’ JB Hamby Spurs United Colorado River Rescue, For Now

It was a rough debut. JB Hamby, 26 years old, had rocketed to the innermost circle of state and federal officials charged with saving the Colorado River from collapse. In mid-January, he was elected to chair California’s river board, representing Imperial Irrigation District, by far the biggest recipient of the overused river’s supply.

Federal officials had bluntly threatened to impose mandatory cuts across the region if huge voluntary reductions weren’t made.

But 12 days later, after contentious closed-door talks, he watched in dismay as media outlets across the U.S. published stories about six states releasing a joint plan to save the river, with only his state, California, refusing to sign on.

It was a baptism by near drowning for the youngest “water buffalo,” as negotiators of Colorado River agreements have historically called themselves. But Hamby didn’t respond angrily or publicly. Instead he wrote individual thank-you notes to top negotiators in every other state, and asked if he could meet with each to discuss mutual solutions.