Serving as the “lifeline of the Southwest,” and one of the most heavily regulated rivers in the world, the Colorado River provides water to 35 million people and more than 4 million acres of farmland in a region encompassing some 246,000 square miles.
From its headwaters northwest of Denver in the Rocky Mountains, the 1,450-mile long river and its tributaries pass through parts of seven states: Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming and is also used by the Republic of Mexico. Along the way, almost every drop of the Colorado River is allocated for use.
The Colorado River Basin is also home to a range of habitats and ecosystems from mountain to desert to ocean.
One of the nation’s most successful partnerships between farm and urban water agencies has lately run into serious turbulence, potentially threatening an important Colorado River water-sharing deal. Twelve years ago, the Palo Verde Irrigation District in Blythe, California, signed an agreement with the powerful Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
California’s Water Resources Control Board described its new Salton Sea plan as a landmark agreement, but at least one expert is questioning the modified approach, calling it “Band-Aids to a very serious environmental disaster.” With water deliveries from the Colorado River coming to a halt at the end of this year, the shrinking lake will be reduced at an even faster rate, which the state says poses a public health risk due to particulate air pollution by dust blown from the exposed lake bed.
California regulators on Tuesday approved a plan to spend nearly $400 million over 10 years to slow the shrinking of the state’s largest lake, a vital migratory stop for birds and a buffer against swirling dust in farming towns. Funding for the Salton Sea is unclear but the plan enjoyed support of major water agencies and environmental advocacy groups and preserves a fragile peace among urban and rural areas in California on distributing the state’s share of Colorado River water.
During California’s five-year drought, the row of ponds in the desert north of the Palm Springs often lay empty and dry. But this year, the ponds have been filled to the brim with a record amount of water from the Colorado River. The Coachella Valley’s water utilities are using the influx of imported water to chip away at the long-term problem of groundwater overdraft.
Governors of 19 Western states are pressing the federal government to do more to prevent the spread of damage-causing invasive mussels from infected federally managed waterways. … The governors say they’re particularly concerned about the mussels reaching the Columbia River Basin, Lake Tahoe, and the Colorado River Basin above Lake Powell.
Rising temperatures are undermining the source of one-third of Southern California’s drinking water: the Colorado River. A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey finds the river’s flow has shrunk by about 7 percent over the past 30 years.
Rising temperatures are undermining the source of one third of Southern California’s drinking water: the Colorado River. A new study by the US Geological Survey finds the river’s flow has shrunk by about seven percent over the past 30 years.
In what one economic development expert calls a “unique case” of a tribe’s water rights claims being backed by all players, Arizona senators John McCain and Jeff Flake on September 7 filed a new bill to ratify the Hualapai Tribe’s water settlement, an agreement negotiated between the tribe, Arizona, the federal government and others. … The bill, if enacted, will provide the tribe with 4,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water.
Should a river have legal rights of its own? Should it be able to thrive, and even evolve naturally, without human interference? Those are the deep questions asked in a precedent-setting federal lawsuit filed in September in which the Colorado River, as an ecosystem, seeks federal legal rights to exist and to flourish.
The Colorado River is seeking the judicial recognition of “legal personhood” in a lawsuit filed Sept. 25 against the governor of Colorado in federal court (the first hearing is scheduled for Nov. 14). A favorable ruling would not only affect Nevada and the six other states with direct ties to the 1,450-mile-long river; it would spark a significant shift in environmental preservation nationwide.
The clear waters of the Colorado River flow gently through the Headgate Rock diversion dam while boaters and Jet Skiers play upstream in front of the Blue Water Resort and Casino. The dam quietly siphons off almost one fourth of Arizona’s share of Colorado River water and sends it to nearby fields of alfalfa and cotton on the reservation of the Colorado River Indian Tribes.
In 2015, Albuquerque delivered as much water as it had in 1983, despite its population growing by 70 percent. In 2016, Tucson delivered as much water as it had in 1984, despite a 67 percent increase in customer hook-ups. The trend is the same for Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, said longtime water policy researcher Gary Woodard, who rattled off these statistics in a recent phone interview.
A newly signed pact between Mexico and the United States is believed to be the first time that two nations have agreed to allocate part of a shared water resource to the environment. Farmers and cities in both countries will reap benefits from Minute 323, an update to an existing agreement that seeks to sustainably manage the water of the overburdened Colorado River basin.
A lot of people and jobs in the Southwest rely on water from the Colorado River. According to a University of Arizona study, the river system contributes more than $840 billion to the Gross State Products of Arizona and California alone. But the region’s in a long-running drought.
In March 2014, the staged release of water into the Colorado River Delta was an international spectacle. … Now, a second round of releases is headed to the delta that won’t be nearly as dramatic. But these flows will restore more riverfront with cottonwoods and willows than the last time and their impacts will likely last longer.
The California Supreme Court effectively brought to end this week a longstanding, bitter fight between water managers in Los Angeles and San Diego — a ruling that means the loss of billions in potential savings for local ratepayers.
Beside the winding curves of the Colorado River, the Palo Verde Valley spreads out in a lush plain in the middle of the desert, a farming oasis filled with canals and fields of hay. For 12 years, the valley’s farmers have been participating in a program that pays them to leave some of their lands unplanted and fallow, helping to slake the thirst of Los Angeles and cities across Southern California.
The United States and Mexico expanded a long-term agreement Wednesday that will allow both nations to continue using the Colorado River while also pushing more conservation efforts to ensure that water is available during droughts.
The United States and Mexico unveiled an agreement Wednesday to preserve the overtaxed Colorado River, including spending millions of dollars on conservation and environmental projects and drawing up plans to deal with any shortages amid drought and climate change.
As the Cadiz project seems increasingly likely to go forward, Sen. Dianne Feinstein issued a statement contending the underground desert water could ultimately contaminate much of Southern California’s water supply.
The United States and Mexico have agreed to renew and expand a far-reaching conservation agreement that governs how they manage the overused Colorado River, which supplies water to millions of people and to farms in both nations, U.S. water district officials said.
Does a river — or a plant, or a forest — have rights? This is the essential question in what attorneys are calling a first-of-its-kind federal lawsuit, in which a Denver lawyer and a far-left environmental group are asking a judge to recognize the Colorado River as a person.
An agreement amending the longstanding treaty between the U.S. and Mexico on management of the Colorado River will continue the practice of water shortage sharing, but also fund new conservation and environmental programs, and aim to reduce the risk of ruinous drought.
“The network”, as I [John Fleck] call the Colorado River governance structure in my book, is gathering this week in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to among other things celebrate the signing of a new agreement extending the agreement between the United States and Mexico over water sharing and allocation on the Colorado River.
The U.S. and Mexican governments are close to signing a landmark Colorado River deal that will establish rules for sharing water over the next decade and lay out cooperative efforts intended to head off severe shortages. … The new accord – titled Minute No. 323 to the 1944 Mexican Water Treaty – outlines a series of measures that build on the countries’ current 5-year agreement, which expires at the end of this year.
One of California’s largest Colorado River farm water districts is suing the state’s largest municipal water agency, charging that efforts to move farm water to cities are threatening the viability of agriculture in one of the oldest farming valleys on the river.
Heavy winter snows in the Rocky Mountains have rescued the thirsty Western U.S. for another year. U.S. water managers said Tuesday there will be no water cutbacks in 2018 for millions of residents and farmers served by the Lake Mead reservoir on the Colorado River that lies behind the Hoover Dam.
Days after the Environmental Protection Agency pledged to reconsider damage claims it previously rejected after a mine spill, the agency said Monday it could not review multimillion-dollar requests from the state of New Mexico and the Navajo Nation because both have sued the agency.
Though Utah was farther away from the epicenter of the spill, contaminants from the blowout have been transported through the San Juan River in southeastern Utah to the vast reservoir of Lake Powell, the lawsuit states.
The Colorado River is a crucial water source for seven states (Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California) and Mexico, and like many shared rivers has its share of challenges. We talked to Doug Kenney—director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado and a member of the PPIC Water Policy Center research network―about balancing priorities in managing the river.
The Walton Family Foundation said Monday it will donate $20 million for the restoration and protection of the ever-depleting Colorado River, a move state river basin leaders have called a major step forward for a body of water dangerously close to running dry.
Colorado faces an estimated water deficit of 560,000 acre-feet by 2050, due in part to an expected population increase. But it has a long-term plan to address that looming shortage. … To learn more about the [Colorado Water] plan, Water Deeply recently spoke with Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program director at Western Resource Advocates in Boulder.
A federal forecast of water levels at troubled Lake Mead took a big turn for the worse this week — a 20-foot drop in the lake’s expected January 2019 elevation. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s monthly prediction for Colorado River reservoir levels says the lake could drop to 1,076.53 feet by the end of 2018 or Jan. 1, 2019.
The Salton Sea is a disaster in slow motion. For more than a century, California’s largest lake has been sustained by Colorado River water, which irrigates Imperial Valley farms and drains into the lake. But the Salton Sea will start shrinking rapidly at the end of this year, when increasing amounts of river water will be diverted from farms to cities.
In Arizona, water scarcity is like the background hum of conversation in a popular restaurant: unrelenting. But even in this desert state, the ever-present strain on water supplies could soon be felt more acutely. As soon as 2019, the water level in Lake Mead on the Colorado River could drop below an elevation of 1,075 feet. That will trigger mandatory cutbacks in water diversions from the reservoir under an agreement negotiated between the federal government and three lower-basin states that rely on the river: Arizona, California and Nevada.
California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea, is an accident. It was created in 1905 when a levee broke on an irrigation canal, flooding a giant desert playa. Today it has become a sticking point in negotiations between three states over the future of the Colorado River. … To help us understand all this, Water Deeply recently spoke with Michael Cohen, a senior research associate at the Pacific Institute, a water policy think-tank based in Oakland.
Tens of thousands of rafters paddle down the Colorado River through Grand Canyon National Park each year, though most don’t scan the Redwall Limestone canyon sides for bore holes around River Mile 39. But one group of rafters that launched in mid-March was keen to see those holes and the ashy looking sediment piled beneath them. The holes mark the exploratory tinkering of those who were itching to build another dam on the Colorado decades ago.
Officials in Arizona have reached an impasse on a multistate agreement aimed at storing more Colorado River water in Lake Mead, but Southern Nevada Water Authority chief John Entsminger said he is confident the deal will still get done.
The federal government said Monday it plans to release an above-average amount of water from a major reservoir in the Southwestern U.S. this year, but it’s less than many hoped after a healthy snow season across much of the West.
Uncertainty over proposals to prop up Lake Mead and avoid a water shortage in the Southwest has landed the lower Colorado River atop a conservation group’s annual list of “America’s Most Endangered Rivers.”
The situation last summer was as clear to accept as it was sobering. Prolonged drought had strained an already overallocated Colorado River, and nowhere was this more visible than at the reservoirs along the river.
The Colorado River Delta once spanned nearly 2 million acres and stretched from the northern tip of the Gulf of California in Mexico to Southern California’s Salton Sea. Today it’s one-tenth that size, yet still an important estuary, wildlife habitat and farming region even though Colorado River flows rarely reach the sea.
California Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration on Thursday proposed spending nearly $400 million over 10 years to slow the shrinking of the state’s largest lake just as it is expected to evaporate an accelerated pace.
Since 2000, the Colorado River Basin has experienced an historic, extended drought causing reservoir storage in the Colorado River system to decline from nearly full to about half of capacity. For the Lower Basin, a key point has been to maintain the level of Lake Mead to prevent a shortage declaration.
A healthy snowfall in the Rockies has reduced the odds of a shortage this year, but the basin states still must come to terms with a static supply and growing demands, as well as future impacts from climate change.
On our Lower Colorado River Tour, April 5-7, you will meet with water managers from the three Lower Basin states: Nevada, Arizona and California. Federal, state and local agencies will update you on the latest hydrologic conditions and how recent storms might change plans for water supply and storage.
Above-average snowpack in the Rocky Mountains this year may bring some relief to the Colorado River Basin, which has been in a drought since 2000. But the long-term picture for the region is less rosy after a newly published study found just how much higher temperatures are impacting river flow.
Two days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, outgoing Interior Secretary Sally Jewell laid out a game plan for averting serious water shortages along the Colorado River. … Her announcement accompanied a separate accord in which the Interior Department pledged to coordinate with California officials to manage the shrinking Salton Sea …
Arizona would be the first state to feel the effects of Colorado River cutbacks if the water level continues to fall at drought-stricken Lake Mead, an environmental advocacy group says in a new report. The Western Resource Advocates reached its conclusion as the vast reservoir behind Hoover Dam sits at 39 percent of capacity.
A troublesome invasive species is the quagga mussel, a tiny freshwater mollusk that attaches itself to water utility infrastructure and reproduces at a rapid rate, causing damage to pipes and pumps.
First found in the Great Lakes in 1988 (dumped with ballast water from overseas ships), the quagga mussel along with the zebra mussel are native to the rivers and lakes of eastern Europe and western Asia, including the Black, Caspian and Azov Seas and the Dneiper River drainage of Ukraine and Ponto-Caspian Sea.
Several months ago, managers of water agencies in California, Arizona and Nevada were expressing optimism they could finalize a deal to use less water from the dwindling Colorado River before the end of the Obama administration.
The federal government is committing to at least another 20 years of use of a huge Colorado River dam that officials call crucial to states in the West, but that critics say is unstable and should be removed.
[Arizona] Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke is meeting with other Colorado River system users in Las Vegas at the annual Colorado River Water User Association Conference running through Dec. 16. … On Dec. 15, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell will unveil the program for management of the Colorado River between Lakes Powell and Mead.
This issue of Western Water examines the ongoing effort between the United States and Mexico to develop a new agreement to the 1944 Treaty that will continue the binational cooperation on constructing Colorado River infrastructure, storing water in Lake Mead and providing instream flows for the Colorado River Delta.
Business as usual on the Colorado River may be about to come to a screeching halt. One of the worst recorded droughts in human history has stretched water supplies thin across the far-reaching river basin, which serves 40 million people. … With an official water shortage imminent, Arizona, Nevada and California are taking matters into their own hands.
As vital as the Colorado River is to the United States and Mexico, so is the ongoing process by which the two countries develop unique agreements to better manage the river and balance future competing needs.
The prospect is challenging. The river is over allocated as urban areas and farmers seek to stretch every drop of their respective supplies. Since a historic treaty between the two countries was signed in 1944, the United States and Mexico have periodically added a series of arrangements to the treaty called minutes that aim to strengthen the binational ties while addressing important water supply, water quality and environmental concerns.
How low can the Colorado go? When will we get back to “normal” winters? Can we blame it all on climate change? To address some of these questions, the Colorado River Research Group recently released a concise four-page paper explaining how climate change is affecting the river.
The next U.S. president will have to act quickly to chart a course so the Colorado River can continue supplying water to millions of city-dwellers, farmers, Indian tribes and recreational users in the Southwest, according to a university research study made public Monday.
Fresh stands of cottonwood and willow trees rising in the Colorado River Delta are evidence of the lasting environmental benefits an eight-week “pulse flow” of water deliveries to the area more than two years ago, according to a newly released report by U.S. and Mexican scientists.
The Coachella Valley Water District has for decades been using a series of oblong ponds carved into the desert near the base of Mt. San Jacinto to capture imported water from the Colorado River. … Now CVWD is applying to the federal Bureau of Land Management for a new permit, and the application could face resistance from the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians as the tribe fights the district in federal court in a landmark case over water rights.
Already dealing with parched conditions, the U.S. Southwest faces the threat of megadroughts this century as temperatures rise, says a new study that found the risk is reduced if heat-trapping gases are curbed.
With Lake Mead receding year after year and the threat of a shortage looming, the overallocated Colorado River seems to be approaching a breaking point. But John Fleck argues this crisis doesn’t necessarily mean we’re headed for a future in which conflicts flare and communities run dry.
Each spring, a group of UC Davis student scientists and their professors take a whitewater rafting trip through the Grand Canyon to study a river that sustains 40 million people. Capital Public Radio’s Amy Quinton traveled with them.
It was a good plan: Bring in hungry beetles that feed only on nonnative salt cedar trees to get a handle on a hardy, invasive species that was crowding riverbanks across the West and leaching precious water from the drought-stricken region.
It sounded too good to be true — an official forecast that 2016 [Colorado River] water use in Arizona, California and Nevada will be the lowest since 1992. That forecast from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was too good to be true — by the bureau’s own admission.
Lake Havasu is a reservoir on the Colorado River that supplies water to the Colorado River Aqueduct and Central Arizona Project. It is located at the California/Arizona border, approximately 150 miles southeast of Las Vegas, Nevada and 30 miles southeast of Needles, California.
This tour explored the Lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from a myriad of sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.
The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs is the focus of this tour.
With a theme focusing on “Wave of Change: Breaking the Status Quo,” the Water Education Foundation’s 34th annual Executive Briefing will be held March 23 in Sacramento. The event will examine new approaches to water management, tools to extend supplies, plans to prepare for drought, and the intersection between politics and policy.
This premiere water conference will offer you the opportunity to hear from top policymakers and leading stakeholders on key water topics:
Hilton Sacramento Arden West
2200 Harvard Street
As one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, the Imperial Valley receives its water from the Colorado River via the All-American Canal. Rainfall is scarce in the desert region at less than three inches per year and groundwater is of little value.
A resolute effort in Arizona, California, and Nevada to reduce Colorado River water use is slowing the decline of Lake Mead and delaying mandatory restrictions on water withdrawals from the drying basin. … The August analysis of the basin’s hydrology, an assessment carried out every month by the Bureau of Reclamation, concluded that the water level in Lake Mead will be above 1,075 feet in elevation next January.
Three years of conservation efforts around the Southwest have prevented a water shortage in Lake Mead for at least another year. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced projections for the Colorado River reservoir’s Jan. 1 water level, and it rises above the elevation at which downstream users must restrict their water diversions.
Amid punishing drought, federal water managers projected Tuesday that — by a very narrow margin — the crucial Lake Mead reservoir on the Colorado River won’t have enough water to make full deliveries to Nevada and Arizona in 2018.
Recently, Gov. John Hickenlooper cast renewed attention on water supply and growth in the West with a decision in a long-running process to expand a Colorado River diversion. … The Gross reservoir expansion reflects a fundamental tension for the seven states and two countries that share the Colorado River: how many more diversions can the stressed basin tolerate?
During the past year of drought, while many Californians have heeded the call to conserve and managed to achieve water-savings of nearly 25 percent statewide, one group of water users hasn’t measured up: the golf courses that spread out across thousands of acres in the desert.
Abrahm Lustgarten, a reporter for ProPublica, has written a new story about one of the largest dams in the US, Glen Canyon, and a recent push to open up its gates. It’s a remarkable development, he says, given how important the Colorado River dams — Glen Canyon, with its reservoir, Lake Powell, and Hoover with Lake Meade — have been for the development of the West.
When a group of water officials from California, Nevada and Arizona get together behind closed doors to talk about potential cuts to California’s share of the precious and dwindling Colorado River, representatives from San Diego County Water Authority are not present.
Twenty-six million people in California, Nevada and Arizona rely on the Colorado River, but this magnificent source of water that carved a continent is drying up. … The thermometer of the river’s health is Lake Mead — the lake formed behind Hoover Dam.
When the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced last month that the country’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, had fallen to its lowest-ever level at 1,074ft (327m), the question many asked was: How will it affect one of California’s primary drinking sources? … Falling water levels are the result of a drought in the Colorado River Basin that has dragged on for 16 years and counting.
This week marks the 75th anniversary of the first water delivery of Colorado River water to the Los Angeles area — Pasadena received the first flow — and as a bonus, the 13 cities that originally formed the district received free water for two months.
Earlier this week, I [Brad Plumer] wrote about how Lake Mead, America’s largest man-made reservoir, has shrunk to its lowest level ever. … Now NASA’s Earth Observatory has posted two satellite images that show the dramatic decline of Lake Mead between 2000 and 2015.
Earlier this month, California lifted its sweeping restrictions on how its towns and cities use their water, signaling that even though much of the state continues to face extraordinary drought, a moderately wet winter has blunted officials’ sense of urgency over water shortages. Seemingly overlooked, however, is the state’s enormous reliance on the Colorado River for its urban water supplies — and the fact that the Colorado is approaching its worst point of crisis in a generation.
The 20th century dams and canals that gave birth to modern California — to San Francisco, to Los Angeles, to the San Joaquin Valley farms that feed the nation — are near the end of their engineered lives. … So far, the three major presidential candidates have hardly noticed these problems as they barnstorm the state heading into the June 7 primary.
The surface level at Lake Mead has dropped as planned to historic low levels, and federal water managers said Thursday the vast Colorado River reservoir is expected to continue to shrink amid ongoing drought.
Because the Imperial Irrigation District holds the single largest entitlement to water from the [Colorado] river, its participation would be vital in any agreement for California to share in water cutbacks to avert a looming shortage in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir. But major hurdles remain for the district to support a potential deal, and the reasons begin with the shrinking Salton Sea.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the United States and Mexico are making important progress in talks on a new accord to share water from the Colorado River, which is badly overtapped and approaching critical shortage levels.
Just as some of the drought-starved states downstream are cutting back, officials in Utah say they plan to file on Monday an official proposal to dip into their rights to the Colorado River via the Lake Powell Pipeline.
With the Colorado River tapped beyond its limits and the level of Lake Mead in decline, representatives of California, Arizona and Nevada say they’ve been making progress in negotiating an agreement for all three states to share in water cutbacks in order to stave off a more severe shortage.
Storms brought deep snow to the mountains that feed the vital Colorado River this winter and spring, but the dried-out landscape will soak up some of the runoff before it can reach the river and the 40 million people depending on it for water.
Arizona, California and Nevada negotiators are moving toward a major agreement triggering cuts in Colorado River water deliveries to Southern and Central Arizona to avert much more severe cuts in the future. As state water officials now envision the agreement, it would also ultimately require California to cut its use of river water.
Arizona and California are arguing over Colorado River water again — this time over whether it should be inscribed in law that California can’t take Arizona’s share of river water that’s left in Lake Mead to prop up lake levels.
The Southwest needs a new vision and technologies to shore up its diminishing water supplies instead of relying on old “security blankets” like a drought-busting winter that refills America’s two biggest reservoirs, water experts and users argued Monday. That’s what’s been happening with water use in the Colorado River basin.
Beginning in 2015, the Nature Conservancy committed four hay fields comprising 197 acres at the Carpenter Ranch to a multi-state pilot project conceived to determine how irrigated hay fields in the region would respond to being temporarily left fallow in order to leave more water flowing in the Yampa River. The stronger summer flows would support habitat and help to replenish the vast reservoirs of the Southwest that supply water to cities in Arizona, Nevada and Southern California.
For the past five years, as the drought drained California’s water sources and depleted its reservoirs, Southern California water managers have relied increasingly on the region’s largest out-of-state water source: the Colorado River.
For the past five years, as drought sucked dry California’s water sources and depleted its reservoirs, Southern California water managers have turned increasingly to the region’s large out-of-state water source: the Colorado River.
Environmental protection for the Colorado River — the lifeblood of the Southwest — is disjointed and too often gets a low priority in the management of the waterway, independent researchers said in a new report.
In front of a small audience gathered last week at the Sunbrook event center in St. George, Tom Butine shared again the presentation he’s been making to groups throughout Washington County about the Lake Powell Pipeline. … Simultaneously the fastest-growing state in the nation and the second-driest, Utah is in line to face statewide challenges when it comes to supplying the long-term demand.
Nearly three years after the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians sued the Coachella Valley’s largest water districts, the two sides remain just as far apart in a case that could force changes in how water is managed locally and set a precedent for similar disputes nationwide.
The dramatic decline in water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell is perhaps the most visible sign of the historic drought that has gripped the Colorado River Basin for the past 16 years. In 2000, the reservoirs stood at nearly 100 percent capacity; today, Lake Powell is at 49 percent capacity while Lake Mead has dropped to 38 percent. Before the late season runoff of Miracle May, it looked as if Mead might drop low enough to trigger the first-ever Lower Basin shortage determination in 2016.
Read the excerpt below from the Sept./Oct. 2015 issue along with the editor’s note. Click here to subscribe to Western Water and get full access.
For the second time in a decade, the feds are warning that if water interests in Arizona, California and Nevada can’t find a fix for the Colorado River’s problems, the interior secretary will find it for them.
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the nation’s largest drinking water distributor, bought nearly 13,000 acres of remote farms in July for $256 million, rattling farmers but giving it prized rights to the Colorado River.
The nation’s largest distributor of treated drinking water became the largest landowner in a remote California farming region for good reason: The alfalfa-growing area is first in line to get Colorado River water.
This 3-day, 2-night tour traveled along the Lower Colorado River from Hoover Dam to the Salton Sea and the Coachella Valley. Along the way, experts discussed challenges related to what is the most contested, beloved for recreation and meticulously managed rivers in the nation.
The Colorado spill would have been avoided had the EPA team checked on water levels inside the inactive Gold King Mine before digging into its collapsed and leaking entrance, a team of engineers from Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation concluded in a 132-page report released Thursday.
On Thursday, a new federal forecast said El Niño is continuing to strengthen, with experts saying it’s on track to produce potentially record rainfall. … The forecast for a wet winter now covers the mountains that feed California’s most important reservoirs, Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville.
A coalition of scholars across the West is urging the federal government to partner with the National Academy of Sciences to study the future of the Colorado River, including if climate change is leading to reduced stream flow.
In a long-awaited decision, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management says Cadiz cannot use an existing railroad right-of-way for a new water pipeline that would carry supplies from the project’s proposed well field to the Colorado River Aqueduct.
Protracted drought over the last four years and nagging uncertainty over how Lake Powell will fare in 2016 are prompting a cash-for-conservation program to test how much water can be saved in the Colorado River.
Long gone are the luxury boats that drew stars inland from Hollywood to this accidental sea that first filled with Colorado River water after a massive 1905 canal breach. … The Southwest’s worsening water shortage will make saving the Salton Sea difficult, because any fix requires water from an over-stressed Colorado River.
The intake was unplugged Wednesday to finish flooding an $817 million tunnel and complete a complicated and perilous “Third Straw” project to draw drinking water for Las Vegas from a shrinking Lake Mead.
The Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday it will set up a temporary treatment plant for wastewater flowing from the Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado after 3 million gallons surged out of the mine in August, tainting rivers in three states.
Documents released by U.S. officials have revealed that the Environmental Protection Agency knew of the potential for a blowout of toxic wastewater from a Colorado mine more than a year before a government cleanup team accidentally triggered such a release earlier this month.
The drought is expected to cost the state $2.7 billion in agriculture losses this year, but farmers in eastern Riverside County are faring well because of steady supplies from the Colorado River, according to the authors of a new economic forecast.
It will take many years and many millions of dollars simply to manage and not even remove the toxic wastewater from an abandoned mine that unleashed a 100-mile-long torrent of heavy metals into Western rivers and has likely reached Lake Powell, experts said.
[EPA Regional Administrator Shaun] McGrath said at a public meeting Sunday that officials had tripled the estimate of the toxic spill based on data from a U.S. Geological Survey water gauge downstream.
Water officials insist a pilot program designed to save Colorado River water and boost Lake Mead and Lake Powell is off to such a promising start that they are already looking to pour more money into it.
The St. George metro area measured as the fifth-fastest growing in the nation according to the latest U.S. Census estimates … Enter the Lake Powell Pipeline, a 140-mile conduit to the much larger Colorado River and at the moment perhaps the most hotly contested project planned along the river’s entire 1,450 miles.
Nearly 40 million people in seven states depend on the [Colorado] river, a population some forecasts say could nearly double in the next 50 years. … In the decades to come, federal officials say, significant shortages are likely to force water-supply cutbacks in parts of the basin, the first in the more than 90 years that the river has been managed under the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
Paul Matuska is the closest thing the American West has to a water cop, and his beat includes Needles, Calif., a beleaguered desert town midway between Flagstaff, Ariz., and Los Angeles. … Mr. Matuska, a hydrologist, is one of about a dozen accountants for the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which controls water distribution along the lower half of the Colorado River.
At a time when water levels in Lake Mead were getting so low that officials prepared for drastic cutbacks, it started raining. A series of powerful storms pummeled the mountains that feed the Colorado River, a key source of water for California, Arizona and Nevada.
San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow found that the MWD had charged San Diego too much for the use of its aqueduct to bring water from the Colorado River under San Diego’s deal to buy water from the Imperial Irrigation District.
Three U.S. water agencies have joined forces with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, paying $18 million toward the lining of a 10-mile stretch of the canal. In exchange, they will be receiving 124,000 acre-feet of water being stored by Mexico at Lake Mead.
“Killing the Colorado,” a joint reporting project by ProPublica and Matter, set out to tell the truth about the American West’s water crisis. … Four photographers — Christaan Felber, Bryan Schutmaat, Jake Stangel and Michael Friberg — were enlisted by photo editors Luise Stauss and Ayanna Quint to document man’s mistakes and their consequences.
It took $817 million, two starts, more than six years and one worker’s life to drill a so-called “Third Straw” to make sure glittery casinos and sprawling suburbs of Las Vegas can keep getting drinking water from near the bottom of drought-stricken Lake Mead.
The importance of water conservation during this record dry spell notwithstanding, sound water management turns out to be about a lot more than just water use. Today on Sea Change Radio, host Alex Wise speaks with Abrahm Lustgarten of ProPublica, who is writing a multi-part series exposing unfortunate policies and practices vis-à-vis our most precious, life-sustaining resource.
A couple of miles outside the town of Page, three 775-foot-tall caramel-colored smokestacks tower like sentries on the edge of northern Arizona’s sprawling red sandstone wilderness. At their base, the Navajo Generating Station, the West’s largest power-generating facility, thrums ceaselessly, like a beating heart.
This issue looks at the dilemma of the shrinking Salton Sea. The shallow, briny inland lake at the southeastern edge of California is slowly evaporating and becoming more saline – threatening the habitat for fish and birds and worsening air quality as dust from the dry lakebed is whipped by the constant winds.
The shallow, briny inland lake at the southeastern edge of California is slowly evaporating and becoming more saline – threatening the habitat for fish and birds and worsening air quality as dust from the dry lakebed is whipped by the constant winds.
(Read this excerpt from the May/June 2015 issue along with the editor’s note. Click here to subscribe to Western Water and get full access.)
With water levels in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir and a bellwether for water supplies in the Southwest, setting a new record low every day, the seven states of the Colorado River Basin are finalizing a pair of novel water conservation agreements that will keep more water in the shrinking lake.
A vestige of 139-year-old water law pushes ranchers to use as much water as they possibly can, even during a drought. “Use it or lose it” clauses, as they are known, are common in state laws throughout the Colorado River basin and give the farmers, ranchers and governments holding water rights a powerful incentive to use more water than they need.
State Route 87, the thin band of pavement that approaches the mostly shuttered town of Coolidge, Ariz., cuts through some of the least hospitable land in the country. … Then Route 87 tacks left and the dead landscape springs to life.
The U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday a series of recent storms have dropped up to four times the normal weekly rainfall in some areas of the West. However, three-quarters of the region remains in a long-term drought.
California’s drought emergency woes have worsened, with a shortage on the Colorado River next year becoming increasingly likely. Odds of a shortage rose from 33 percent to 50 percent from April 1 to May 1, Metropolitan Water District, Southern California’s largest water wholesaler, said Monday.
With more than 38 million people, a multibillion-dollar agricultural industry and a complex water system that relies on multiple sources, including the Colorado River, California’s problems are of a different magnitude than those Southern Nevada faced. But the steps taken here offer a road map to making the most out of every drop of water.
Pat Mulroy, a senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings and a senior fellow for climate adaptation and environmental policy at UNLV’s Brookings Mountain West, discusses the water scarcity issues that have developed over the last few decades and the realistic future of water in the U.S. … During her tenure at SNWA [Southern Nevada Water Authority], the region faced a huge crisis when one of the worst droughts in the history of the Colorado River hit the region.
Compared to California, things are better in the Colorado River Basin. However, after 15 years of drought, Lake Powell and Lake Mead are both below 45 percent full with basinwide snowpack below 70 percent as of April 1.
Las Vegas is seeking to quench its growing thirst by draining billions of gallons of water from under the feet of ranchers whose cattle help feed the Mormon church’s poor. A legal battle across 275 miles of treeless ridges and baked salt flats comes as the western U.S. faces unprecedented droughts linked to climate change.
St. George anchors Washington County, which has echoed Las Vegas’ growth boom since before the turn of the 21st century. … Meanwhile, Utah is using less than 1 million acre-feet a year from the Colorado River, according to the state.
Snowpack in the mountain valleys where the Colorado River originates was only a little below normal on Wednesday, marking one of the few bright spots in an increasingly grim drought gripping much of the West.
The Colorado River faces a dual threat from climate change as rising temperatures increase the demand for irrigation water and accelerate evaporation at the river’s two largest reservoirs. So says a new report from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation …
After much time, study and investment, the task of identifying solutions to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Colorado River is underway. People from the Upper and Lower basins representing all interest groups are preparing to put their signatures to documents aimed at ensuring the river’s vitality for the next 50 years and beyond.
For 56 days last spring, a unique pulse of water drawn from Hoover Dam’s Lake Mead coursed into Mexico to the Colorado River’s parched delta – once an ecological emerald set in the tawny expanse of the Sonoran Desert.
A binational effort aimed at reviving parched wetlands in the Colorado River Delta in Mexico through special deliveries of water has met with initial success, according to a report released Wednesday. … The water deliveries aimed at restoring some of the delta’s last remaining wetlands were outlined under a wide-ranging five-year binational agreement reached in 2012 and known as Minute 319.
With demand increasing across the West, Colorado is drawing up a strategy to keep some of the trillions of gallons of water that gushes out of the Rocky Mountains every spring – most of which flows downstream to drought-stricken California, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico. … [James] Eklund’s insistence on Colorado’s water rights drew diplomatic responses from his colleagues in other states on the eve of a Las Vegas meeting of water managers.
Facing dwindling water supplies, Western states are struggling to capture every drop with dam and diversion projects that some think could erode regional cooperation crucial to managing the scarce resource. Against that backdrop, eight Western governors meeting in Las Vegas this weekend will address regional water issues, and water managers from seven states arrive next week to work on ways to ensure 40 million people in the parched Colorado River basin don’t go thirsty.
[Richard] McFarland-Dorworth, a longtime California resident and rafting guide who now lives in Bali, Indonesia, was one of seven expert rafters on a 950-mile mission to replicate most of John Wesley Powell’s 1869 expedition down the Green and Colorado rivers from Flaming Gorge through Utah and Arizona to Lake Mead — sans most of the roiling waters of the pre-dam era.
A group of Italian developers is planning three million square feet of retail construction, plus 2,200 homes, in Tusayan, a newly incorporated village with a population of just 587 at the entrance to the park [Grand Canyon], posing what park officials describe as a major threat to the water supply for the Colorado River.
My partner DeEdda McLean and I had come to this area west of Mexican Hat, Utah, to kayak across Lake Powell, a reservoir formed by the confluence of the San Juan and the Colorado Rivers and the holding power of Glen Canyon Dam, which lies just over the border in Arizona. Yet in place of a majestic reservoir, we saw only the thin ribbon of a reemergent river channel, which had been inundated for most of the past three decades by the lake.
The Department of the Interior initiated its third high-flow release from Glen Canyon Dam today [Nov. 10] under an innovative science-based experimental protocol. The goal of the releases is to help restore the environment by creating flood-like conditions below Glen Canyon Dam, which rebuild sandbars that are important habitat and recreational resources.
The Bureau of Reclamation has released a report summarizing six years of testing coatings to control the attachment of quagga and zebra mussels to water and power facilities. … The testing was conducted at Parker Dam on the Colorado River.
Two water districts, the federal government, and the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians are laying out their arguments in a lawsuit over water, focusing on the question of whether the tribe has rights to groundwater.
On Oct. 8, 1964, the day Congress voted to designate the country’s largest man-made reservoir as its first National Recreation Area, visitors also were struck by the sight of a giant white bathtub ring marking where water used to be. That ring was a little smaller in 1964, but not by much.
Faced with the increasing probability of shortage on the Colorado River, municipal water providers in Arizona, California, Nevada and Colorado, and the Bureau of Reclamation are implementing a landmark Colorado River System Conservation program. … At a later date, water users in the Upper Basin will be invited to participate in this unique agreement.
One of the most extreme droughts in California’s history has been hitting agriculture hard, forcing cutbacks in water deliveries in parts of the Central Valley and leaving more than 400,000 acres of farmland fallow and dry.