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.
Last month, the federal government dropped a
bombshell on the states that share the Colorado
River. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation gave Colorado and
the other six states in the basin just two months to come up
with a plan to drastically reduce the amount of river water
they use. If they don’t, the federal government has threatened
to use its emergency authority to make the cuts it feels are
necessary. … Becky Mitchell, the commissioner of the
Colorado Water Conservation Board, .. said most of that
responsibility should be on the states in the lower part of the
river basin: Arizona, Nevada and California.
The seven states that rely on the Colorado River must come up
with a plan to cut 2 to 4 million acre-feet of water use. By
mid-August. And if they don’t, the federal Bureau of
Reclamation will act for them. It’s a massive amount of water
to find in a short amount of time. And there are more questions
than answers about what this entails. But let’s walk
through what we know. Could the Colorado River dry
up? Maybe. Depending on how you define “dry up.”
I’ve got a question for you: would you drink sewer water? Yeah,
I’m not sure I would. But recycled wastewater might be in all
our futures. To understand why, my colleague Erin Stone has a
pretty enlightening story you need to read. We all know
California has a water problem. The Colorado River, where we
get most of our water in Southern California, is going through
a “megadrought,” the worst in 1,200 years. Greenhouse gases
just make it worse. As temperatures rise, less snow falls. That
means there’s less snow melt to fill up our rivers and
News headlines in mid-June captured what Audubon’s Western
Water team knows well: the Colorado River Basin and Great Salt
Lake are in trouble—both facing historically unprecedented
risks. Both may be headed towards ecological disasters, years
in the making, the result of a pernicious combination of
climate change aridifying the region and water management that
does not adequately prioritize the environment. In the Colorado
River Basin and at Great Salt Lake, warming temperatures and
declining river flows threaten people and nature. And, we know
there’s significant quality wildlife and bird habitat still
worthy of attention and investments.
The Colorado River’s precipitous decline pushed Arizona
lawmakers to deliver Gov. Doug Ducey’s $1 billion water
augmentation fund — and then some — late Friday, their final
night in session. Before the votes, the growing urgency for
addressing the state’s oncoming water shortage and the
long timeline for approving and building new water projects
nearly sank the legislation.
As a member of Congress from the nation’s driest state, Rep.
Susie Lee has a major stake in the health of the Colorado River
Basin, which is currently enduring historic drought. … In
office, Lee has pushed for federal funding for an array of
“common-sense solutions” to the crisis—including water
recycling … Last year, she authored a measure that will make
hundreds of millions of dollars available for water recycling
projects. But Lee’s interest in this issue appears to be more
than simply political. The two-term Democrat also has a portion
of her considerable personal wealth invested in a company that
stands to benefit from the water recycling legislation she has
For many decades, the Colorado River was managed with the
attitude that its water levels would remain roughly stable over
time, punctuated by alternating wet and dry periods. But in the
face of possibly the river’s driest period in 1,200 years, a
new approach is now needed to managing the river’s reservoirs —
one that can account for “deep uncertainty” about future
climate and runoff conditions, says the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation. And for the next two months, the bureau wants to
hear from the public about how it should go about operating
reservoirs including Lake Mead, Lake Powell and other parts of
the river system under such conditions.
In the parched southwestern United States, few forecasts are as
important as the future height of Lake Mead, which tells
federal authorities how much water to release to the 20 million
people living downstream of the giant reservoir. This year, the
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is testing out a new tool it hopes
will make those projections a little better: A model that can
predict — months in advance — the summer rainfall associated
with the North American Monsoon.
Arizona is leasing farmland to a Saudi water company, straining
aquifers, and threatening future water supply in Phoenix.
Fondomonte, a Saudi company, exports the alfalfa to feed its
cows in the Middle East. The country has practically exhausted
its own underground aquifers there. In Arizona, Fondomonte can
pump as much water as it wants at no cost. Groundwater is
unregulated in most rural areas of the state. Fondomonte pays
only $25 per acre annually. The State Land Department says the
market rate is $50 dollars per acre and it provides a 50%
discount because it doesn’t pay for improvements.
Gov. Doug Ducey is expected to sign legislation as early as
this week to spend $1 billion looking for long-term sources of
new water for Arizona. State lawmakers finally lined up the
votes for the plan Friday, the last day of their 2022 session.
… The plan requires that 75% of the funding be spent to
acquire water from outside of the state, which could include
building a plant to desalinate water from the Sea of Cortez in
Sonora. State officials have also mentioned exploring the
possibility of a pipeline from the Mississippi River.
As federal officials and the seven states in the Colorado River
basin are negotiating the largest cuts to water use in the
region’s history, a coalition of recreational users on Lake
Powell are calling on water managers to partially refill the
nation’s second-largest reservoir. In 2019, the 4.3 million
recreational users who visited Lake Powell generated $420
million in economic activity, according to the Blue Ribbon
Coalition, which announced a campaign to “Fill Lake Powell”
earlier this month. The reservoir dropped by 100 feet between
its high in 2019 and its low this year, and only two of the 11
boat ramps on the lake are currently open, though it still
boasts well over a thousand miles of shoreline.
Within the next two months, Colorado River negotiators face a
daunting task: Develop ways to reduce use by an enormous
amount, or the federal government will make the cuts on its
own. Earlier this month, the federal government told the
seven states in the Colorado River Basin that reservoir levels
are so low they face a pressing crisis that warrants
large-scale conservation, even as water users
negotiate long-term operating guidelines for a
shrinking river in an arid future.
What two stooped and warped sentinels in the Great Basin are
telling us is a scary story, with a twist of possible
redemption. Approximately 1,800 years after popping out
of the ground as seedlings, live bristlecone pines are still
talking to us nearly 2 millennia later. … Rings from trees
that were alive in the west’s Great Basin in the second century
A.D. show a devastating 24-year drought back then that makes
our current 22-year Western drought look positively moist, the
research shows. The tree rings and other evidence from
caves and bogs show the drought cut 32% from the average flow
of the Colorado River at Lees Ferry, in northern Arizona near
the beginning of the Grand Canyon.
The simple truth is that farmers, collectively, are the
thirstiest Colorado River gulpers by far. It’s no wonder then
that Patrick O’Toole, a Wyoming rancher and president of the
Family Farm Alliance, feels like he and his compatriots have a
target painted on their backs. He warned that taking water off
the farm will send food production overseas and devastate
family farms, large and small. … What he didn’t say is that a
lot of those farmers aren’t raising food; they’re growing
alfalfa and other hay crops, and an awful lot of that hay gets
shipped overseas. But whether we’re talking about fields of
alfalfa or potatoes being fallowed, real people will be forced
to pay the price of a changing climate.
Desert dwellers know it well: the smell of rain and
the feeling of euphoria that comes when a storm
washes over the parched Earth. That feeling – and the
additional health benefits that come with it – may be the
result of oils and other chemicals released by desert
plants after a good soaking,
new University of Arizona research
suggests. … [Gary Nabhan, a research social scientist at the
UArizona Southwest Center] is lead
author of two new studies … that explain how
volatile organic compounds that evolved to protect plants from
damaging solar radiation, heat waves, drought stress and
predatory animals may also have health benefits for
Even as a persistent drought strangles the Colorado River and
threatens the viability of giant reservoirs and dams erected
decades ago, Western states and local governments are eyeing
more projects to tap the flow of the 1,450-mile river and its
tributaries. Whether those potential new reservoirs or other
diversions would further tax an already overwhelmed system, or
actually help states and municipalities adapt to a changing
climate while making better use of their dwindling supplies, is
a point of contention between environmentalists and water
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is cutting back
on watering lawns and landscapes at temples, meetinghouses and
other buildings across the West in an effort to conserve water
amid a worsening regional drought. … Officials said the
church already switched to water-wise irrigation systems and
low-flow plumbing systems for new projects beginning in the
early 2000s, and that it is working to retrofit other
properties that pre-date that time period. They plan on
expanding the use of smart controllers, hydrometers, rain
sensors, drip irrigation and use of secondary or reclaimed
water to help water lawns and landscapes effectively.
Beside a canal that runs through farmland, rushing water roared
through an irrigation gate and flowed down a concrete culvert
toward a wetland fringed with cottonwoods and willows. For
decades, so much water has been diverted to supply farms and
cities that the Colorado River has seldom met the sea and much
of its delta in Mexico has been reduced to a dry riverbed, with
only small remnants of its once-vast wetlands surviving. Over
the past eight weeks, water has been flowing in parts of the
delta once again, restoring a stretch of river in Mexico where
previously there had been miles of desert sand.
News about the environment rarely is good these days, but a
string of grim developments locally, regionally and
internationally cast a particular pall over the otherwise sunny
arrival of summer. Beaches from Imperial Beach north to
Coronado were closed because of sewage discharges from Tijuana.
The Colorado River’s reservoirs are so low that severe water
cuts are on the horizon for much of the southwestern United
States. And another climate conference, this one in Germany,
pretty much went nowhere. All of this is bad, though all is not
lost. -Written by U-T columnist Michael Smolens.
Colorado River Basin states will succeed in complying with an
emergency federal order that came just last week to slash water
use by millions of acre-feet, experts said, but it will take
time plus major deals with farm interests and tribal
communities, and will likely require that the basin, whose
flows and operational structure were divided by the 1922
Colorado River Compact, be united and managed as one entity.
… The states have 60 days to come up with a water
reduction plan. Kenney’s comments came June 17 at the
Getches-Wilkinson Law Conference on Natural Resources at the
University of Colorado Boulder.
Las Vegas is ripping up millions of square feet of grass -
including greenery along the iconic strip – as the city
struggles with a decades-long drought made worse by climate
change. Lawmakers last year outlawed turf that is only
decorative, and property owners across the city are replacing
grass with a mix of artificial turf and desert-friendly plants.
The law does not apply to golf courses or private houses, but
new homes are not allowed to use real grass.
It’s already dry in southern Arizona’s Sulphur Springs Valley
and it’s getting drier. The underground aquifer that lies
beneath the desert used to be much higher, but as it drops the
ground above it becomes unstable. Residents … are
seeing the wells they use to pump water for their basic needs
— to take showers and wash their hands — dry up as large
farming operations move in and drill deeper.
… Groundwater management isn’t just an Arizona problem.
Colorado’s legislature just voted last month to put $60 million
towards groundwater sustainability. California and Nevada have
also struggled with the issue.
The Colorado River Compact turns 100 this year, but any
celebration is damped down by the drying-up of the big
reservoirs it enabled. The Bureau of Reclamation’s “first-ever”
shortage declaration on the river acknowledges officially what
we’ve known for years: the Compact and all the measures
augmenting it, collectively known as The Law of the River, have
not prevented the river’s over-development. -Written by George Sibley, a contributor to
Writers on the Range, an independent nonprofit dedicated to
spurring lively discussion about Western issues.
In the foothills of Boulder County, Colorado, there’s a kind of
secret water park. It’s a sprawling network of pools, channels
and waterfalls. Neck-deep ponds, rushing streams and cascades
twice the height of a person are a stark contrast to the dry,
brushy terrain on the canyon slopes above. But these features
weren’t built by humans. This marshy mosaic is a paradise for
beavers, and one of hundreds of thousands just like it across
the American West. The animals create messy wetlands as safe
places to live, and a new paper explains how their handiwork is
also a powerful tool in fending off the harms of climate
With the Colorado River’s depleted reservoirs continuing to
drop to new lows, the federal government has taken the
unprecedented step of telling the seven Western states that
rely on the river to find ways of drastically cutting the
amount of water they take in the next two months. The Interior
Department is seeking the emergency cuts to reduce the risks of
Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the country’s two largest
reservoirs, declining to dangerously low levels next year.
New Mexico and the U.S. government have reached a $32 million
settlement over a 2015 mine spill that polluted rivers in three
western states. Similar environmental accidents will be
intolerable in the future as the region grapples with shrinking
water supplies amid drought and climate change, the governor
said Thursday. … The spill released 3 million gallons
(11 million liters) of wastewater from the inactive Gold King
Mine in southwestern Colorado, sending a bright-yellow plume of
arsenic, lead and other heavy metals south to New Mexico,
through the Navajo Nation and into Utah through the San Juan
and Animas rivers.
Major water cutbacks loom as Colorado River levels continue to
decline in the Southwest. For the Arizona Farm Bureau, the idea
of cutting more water for farmers here in the state is a big
concern. Many that rely on the Colorado River for their
crops have already been cutting down on their water usage,
lowered the amount of acreage they’re using and have found more
efficient irrigation methods. … The Arizona Farm Bureau
says that normally farmers in the state can rely on other
regions to help with supplies, but this time it’s different -
the drought is widespread in the Southwest, and other states
are feeling the strain too.
The West saw an aspect of the climate crisis play out this week
that scientists have warned of for years. In the middle of a
prolonged, water shortage-inducing megadrought, one area,
Yellowstone, was overwhelmed by drenching rainfall and rapid
snowmelt that — instead of replenishing the ground over a
matter of weeks or months — created a torrent of flash
flooding that ripped out roads and bridges and caused severe
damage to one of the country’s most cherished national parks.
In the meantime, drought conditions persisted in the Southwest,
where water is desperately needed to replenish the country’s
largest reservoirs, and provide relief to regions tormented by
Alex Cardenas. J.B. Hamby. Jim Hanks. Javier Gonzalez. Norma
Sierra Galindo. … They’re the elected directors of the
Imperial Irrigation District, or IID, which provides water to
the desert farm fields of California’s Imperial Valley, in the
state’s southeastern corner. They control 3.1 million acre-feet
of Colorado River water — roughly one-fifth of all the Colorado
River water rights in the United States. And if you live
in Southern California — or in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver or
Salt Lake City — the future reliability of your water supply
will depend at least in part on what IID does next.
If Congress had not summarily dismissed John Wesley Powell’s
vision of watersheds in the American West in the late 1890s, we
would not find ourselves trying to retrace our steps to that
pivotal moment. One stroke of a pen unleashed generations of
silos that continue to allow for the exploitation of our most
precious natural resources and the perpetuation of both
embedded and overt inequities. The elegance of Powell’s
watersheds was in the revolutionary concept of integrating land
and water, something unheard of in his era. Connecting the two
would not have been a silver bullet, but it would have made it
much harder to justify siloing naturally interdependent
The largest single batch of water-use cuts ever carried out on
the Colorado River is needed in 2023 to keep Lakes Mead and
Powell from falling to critically low levels, the U.S. Bureau
of Reclamation commissioner told a congressional hearing
Tuesday. Between 2 million and 4 million acre-feet of water use
must be cut for 2023 across the river basin to cope with
continued declines in reservoir levels, said Reclamation
Commissioner Camille Touton. This comes as the West continues
to struggle with ongoing conditions of “hotter temperatures,
leading to early snowmelt and dry soils, all translated into
low runoff and the lowest reservoir levels on record,” Touton
In southwestern Colorado, multiple years of hot and dry
conditions have drained many of our reservoirs. This year we
expect that a section of the Pine River, which runs through the
heart of the Southern Ute Reservation, will run completely dry
due to dry conditions and irrigation diversions by Tribal and
non-Tribal irrigators. Unfortunately, what’s happening
with the Pine River is becoming all too common across the
Colorado River Basin and the West. Scientists have
concluded that the ongoing severe drought conditions we’re
facing are primarily due to climate change. -Written by Celene Hawkins, the Colorado and Colorado
River Tribal Engagement Program director for The Nature
Conservancy; and Lorelei Cloud, of the Southern Ute Indian
Reservation and Council Member for the Southern Ute Indian
Barrett Friesen steers a motorboat toward the shore of Lake
Powell, with the Glen Canyon Dam towering overhead. Pale
“bathtub rings” line the canyon’s rocky face, starkly
illustrating how water levels have slumped in the
second-largest U.S. reservoir amid rising demand and a
multi-year drought. The Utah State University graduate student
and colleagues are on a mission to save the humpback chub, an
ancient fish under assault from nonnative predators in the
Flood frequency analysis is a technique used to estimate flood
risk, providing statistics such as the “100-year flood” or
“500-year flood” that are critical to infrastructure design,
dam safety analysis, and flood mapping in flood-prone areas.
But the method used to calculate these flood frequencies is due
for an update, according to a new study by scientists from DRI,
University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Colorado State
University. Floods, even in a single watershed, are known
to be caused by a variety of sources, including rainfall,
snowmelt, or “rain-on-snow” events in which rain falls on
As the West endures another year of unrelenting drought
worsened by climate change, the Colorado River’s reservoirs
have declined so low that major water cuts will be necessary
next year to reduce risks of supplies reaching perilously low
levels, a top federal water official said Tuesday. Bureau of
Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton said during a
Senate hearing in Washington that federal officials now believe
protecting “critical levels” at the country’s largest
reservoirs — Lake Mead and Lake Powell — will require much
larger reductions in water deliveries. … The needed
cuts, she said, amount to between 2 million and 4 million
acre-feet next year.
Lower rainfall and higher temperatures have created ideal
conditions to exacerbate Arizona’s longstanding drought.
Entering 2022, more than half of the state remains in severe
drought status and an additional 10% is enduring extreme
drought. So, what is the impact of the Arizona
drought? These conditions — including the drop in levels
at crucial water sources such as Lake Mead and the Colorado
River — drive the research of doctoral student Zhaocheng Wang,
who is studying hydrosystems engineering in the School of
Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of the
seven Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona
The Colorado River begins in the Rocky Mountains, collecting
snowmelt as it meanders through an alpine valley. Across a vast
swath of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, the river grows as it
takes in major tributaries: the Gunnison, the Dolores, the
Green and others. The Colorado River Basin encompasses more
than 246,000 square miles in seven U.S. states and northern
Mexico. … Water diverted from the river flows from taps in
Denver, Phoenix and Las Vegas and throughout much of Southern
California, supplying nearly 40 million people. About 70% of
the water diverted from the river in the U.S. is used for
agriculture … The region’s heavy use of the river
is colliding like never before with the climate, which is
growing hotter and drier.
Increasingly, the Sonoran and other dry places are showing us
what a heat-and-drought-riddled future has in store for more of
our food systems. These examples suggest that deep knowledge of
dryland farming practices could blunt the impacts, giving some
farmers a workable path forward. Whether conventional
agriculture is willing to learn anything at all from these
systems, however, is the question.
The Ute Mountain Ute tribe has rights to Colorado River water
that it can’t access and unresolved water rights claims in New
Mexico and Utah. Tribal Chairman Manuel Heart, who views the
future of the tribe’s water supply as a critically important
topic, is set on securing those resources. But in a Colorado
River Basin that is already over-allocated and deep in a
two-decade drought, it won’t be easy.
Nearly 100 million people are facing heat warnings and
advisories across the U.S. this week due to an early season
heat wave that saw high-temperature records set from California
to Texas over the weekend. The latest: At least three wildfires
ignited in drought-stricken Southern California on Sunday, per
NBC News. San Bernardino County’s Sheep Fire, which ignited
Saturday, has swollen to 990 acres in size and was 5%
contained, according to Inciweb. Blazes also erupted in drought
ravaged Arizona and New Mexico, which has already been hit by a
series of devastating fires this year that resulted in
President Biden approving a disaster declaration in May.
As the western megadrought worsens, the nation’s largest
reservoir hit a new worrisome milestone this week. Lake Mead
now sits just 29 percent full, dropping below 30 percent for
the first time since the reservoir was initially filled more
than 80 years ago, according to the most recent weekly report
released this week by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
… Beyond the rising temperatures and dwindling water
supply in the Colorado River, the Bureau of Reclamation
recently implemented a plan to hold back 480,000 acre-feet of
water in Lake Powell that would normally be released downstream
and to Lake Mead, a measure taken to ensure that Glen Canyon
Dam can continue to generate electricity …
As climate change continues to shrink the nation’s
second-largest reservoir, water managers are scrambling to
prevent the release of an invasive fish into the Grand Canyon.
Smallmouth bass, a voracious predator and popular game fish,
have been introduced into reservoirs throughout the Colorado
River basin, including Lake Powell. The looming problem now is
that as lake levels drop to historically low levels, the
invasive fish are likely to escape beyond Glen Canyon Dam,
threatening endangered fish in the canyon, whose populations
have rebounded in recent years.
For millennia, healthy, free-flowing rivers across the U.S.
have helped people, wildlife, and habitats thrive. But today,
too many of those rivers are blocked by dams or threatened by
pollution, development, and climate change. Fortunately, state
and Tribal governments can use a policy tool to help protect
and restore waterways. June is National Rivers Month, making it
an ideal time for those officials to list more of our country’s
rivers as “Outstanding.” … Nevada is home to some
spectacular freshwater, from Lake Tahoe and Pyramid Lake to
Marys River—home to native Lahontan cutthroat trout—and the
thermal springs of the Muddy River, which support wildlife
found nowhere else in the world.
Parts of Colorado and other Rocky Mountain states could be
facing a water future that more closely resembles Arizona, new
federal research finds. The drier and warmer conditions
could mean less snow accumulates in the mountains of Colorado,
Utah and Wyoming and melts into a water system that feeds the
Colorado River, researchers at the Los Alamos National
Laboratory’s Earth and Environmental Sciences division
found. Warmer temperatures have already contributed to
a 20 percent drop in the flow of the Colorado
River since the 1900s, which supplies millions of people
across the West with water and hydroelectric power.
While the current drought afflicting the Colorado River Basin
is the worst since federal scientists began keeping records, a
new study using paleoclimatic data discovers it is not the
worst drought in the region’s recent geological history.
Researchers at the Bureau of Reclamation published the study
Thursday in Geophysical Research Letters, a peer-reviewed
geoscience journal. They used paleoclimatic evidence like tree
rings and indicators in bogs and caves to reconstruct stream
flows; the researchers found evidence of a devastating drought
that struck the Colorado River Basin in the second century.
You’d think that, given how dangerously low Lake Mead is
getting, we’d have a good idea of what life might look like
without that water. Yet few major players are modeling for
a future without Colorado River water – or even a future in
which we are asked to live on markedly less of it. Ironically,
the deeper the lake plunges, the more reluctant water managers
seem to be about fleshing out the worst-case scenario. That’s a
mistake. -Written by Joanna Allhands, Arizona Republic
Dangerous and potentially deadly heat will settle over the
Southwestern United States for the next several days, with
temperatures in some locations expected to break records and
exceed 110 degrees. More than 22 million people in California,
Nevada and Arizona are under some sort of heat-related alert
through at least part of the weekend, the National Weather
Service said. … It’s going to be dry and very hot.
An excessive heat warning was in effect through
Sunday night for the San Diego area, where temperatures were
forecast to reach 117 degrees.
Colorado is going to become hotter, dryer, and a lot less
skiable in just a few decades, according to new research. The
study, published in Earth and Space Science, used climate
models to forecast the future of snow in Colorado, finding that
the state is set to lose 50% to 60% of its snow by 2080, thanks
to climate change-related drought conditions. Nearby states
Wyoming and Utah are also likely to become less snowy and more
In late April 1996, Lake Powell sat at an elevation of 3,673
feet — just 27 feet below its maximum capacity. At that time of
plenty, Arizona lawmakers worried that the state wasn’t using
its full share of Colorado River water. Instead of potentially
ceding those flows to California, the state opened a kind of
liquid piggy bank, storing away a share of its water for an
uncertain future. In the first year of operations, the Arizona
Water Banking Authority set aside 300,000 acre-feet of water.
After 25 years, its savings balance — stored underground in
facilities across the state — has grown to 3.75 million
In recent years, the hashtag #LandBack has surfaced across
Indigenous platforms to signify a need to reclaim ancestral
landscapes and protect the sacred and cultural resources they
contain. Across the American Southwest, however, there has been
an even deeper call to action: “We can’t have #LandBack without
#WaterBack” reads the poster material for the Pueblo Action
Alliance’s #WaterBack campaign. Between Arizona and New Mexico
alone, 43 federally recognized tribes call the desert landscape
home. However, their ways of life have been challenged by
centuries of colonization and resource exploitation, resulting
in large cities siphoning water from reservations …
The federal government needs to take quick and decisive actions
and work through regional, state and local partnerships to
address the worsening drought and water conditions in Colorado
and the West, a panel of water scientists and agriculturalists
told a Senate subcommittee chaired by Colorado’s Michael Bennet
Tuesday. … The megadrought in the West is the worst
it has been in 1,200 years, scientists have determined. [Andy
Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water
Conservation District] said there is only about 34% of
storage capacity left in the reservoirs along the river, and
that hotter temperatures in the area have exacerbated
the drought and water shortages.
With a single statement, the United States Supreme Court
changed the direction and tone of the compact negotiations:
[T]he waters of an innavigable stream rising in one state and
flowing into a state adjoining may not be disposed of by the
upper state as she may choose, regardless of the harm that may
ensue to the lower state and her citizens. In a unanimous
ruling, on June 5, 1922, the court issued its decision in
Wyoming v. Colorado, ruling that Colorado could not develop
waters of the Laramie River in a manner that ignored and
injured downstream senior appropriators in Wyoming. The
decision, and its clear implications for the development of the
Colorado River, echoed around the West.
Parts of Colorado, Wyoming and Utah are drying out due to
climate-driven changes in stream flows, and these states will
shift to become more like the most arid states of the
Southwest, federal researchers found in a scientific study
published this week. The lead author of the study said Colorado
will experience a 50% to 60% reduction in snow by 2080…. For
Colorado and surrounding “upper [Colorado River] basin” states,
the scientists projected wide shrinking of snow, leading to
less spring snow melting followed by decreasing water in
streams, especially in the Rocky Mountains.
Three long years. That’s how long residents in our three
counties – Mohave, Coconino and Yavapai – have
been urging the state Legislature to pass bills finally giving
rural Arizonans the authority to control our water futures. And
yet, folks in Phoenix have sat on their hands, letting whoever
can drill the deepest well win while watching homeowners’ wells
go dry and our rivers decline. We are fed up waiting for the
Legislature to act against unfettered groundwater pumping in
rural Arizona. -Written by Travis Lingenfelter, Patrice Horstman and
Donna Michaels, who respectively serve on the county board of
supervisors in Mohave, Coconino and Yavapai
[Lake Mead's] water level is now so low that bodies of
murder victims from decades back, once hidden by its depths,
have surfaced. … While the dead bodies are fuelling talk
about Las Vegas’ mob past, water experts warn of even more
worrisome consequences. If the lake keeps receding, it would
reach what’s known as “dead pool” – a level so low the Hoover
Dam would no longer be able to produce hydropower or deliver
Experts are hoping that a weather modification program will
increase water from snow storms, possibly ending Colorado’s
drought. Andrew Rickert is spearheading cloud seeding in
the state. He leads Colorado’s weather modification
program. In Western states, some water providers, ski
areas and power companies have all injected silver iodide
droplets into winter clouds for decades. In those areas,
the winter snows that collect on mountain ranges provide upward
of 70 percent of annual precipitation. The idea is that the
droplets provide a nucleus within a cloud around which water
can coalesce, forming snowflakes.
As members of the craft brewing community, it’s tempting to
remind people that we, a $1.2 billion small business sector in
Arizona, are wholly dependent on adequate and reliable water
supplies. We could also remind you that our agricultural
partners who provide us with the ingredients we need to brew
are reliant on the same. … We are calling on our elected
officials to take action during this legislative session.
Legislators are currently negotiating the Arizona Water
Authority, a proposal to invest more than $1 billion into
various projects to boost Arizona’s water reliability and find
new water supplies. -Written by Nick Irvine, Marketing Director with
Drinking Horn Meadery in Flagstaff; and Scott
Stocking, owner of Mudshark Pizza Inc., a brewery and
family of restaurants in Lake Havasu City.
Extensively dry conditions across the West have already
resulted in a rash of fires in Arizona and New Mexico at the
tail end of meteorological spring. … [T]he snowpack
collection near Truckee, California, in the Sierra Nevada
explains a lot of what happened over the winter. The area by
Lake Tahoe entered the new year well above average only to drop
below average by the start of February and end up below average
by the time it melted early. Utah’s statewide snowpack
followed this model, too.
Dwindling flows in the Colorado River Basin are stirring
discussions about whether a 100-year-old agreement that governs
how that water is divided needs to be overhauled. But there may
be another option: don’t rewrite the law, instead reinterpret
it. Despite its status as the cornerstone of the “Law of the
River” — the various agreements that dictate how the water is
managed between seven basin states and Mexico — some key
provisions in the Colorado River Compact remain unsettled.
Hydropower is by far the largest renewable worldwide, producing
over twice as much energy as wind, and over four times as much
as solar. And pumping water up a hill, aka “pumped storage
hydropower”, comprises well over 90% of the world’s total
energy storage capacity. But in spite of hydropower’s
outsize impact, we don’t hear much about it in the U.S. While
the past few decades have seen wind and solar plummet in price
and skyrocket in availability, domestic hydropower generation
has remained relatively steady, as the nation has already built
hydropower plants in the most geographically ideal locations.
Memorial Day boaters captured the scene on video as a massive
rockfall crashed into the waters of Lake Powell. The dramatic
rockslide happened on the Utah side of the lake — the second
largest reservoir in the country — where water levels have
continued to plunge due to the unrelenting drought conditions
gripping much of the West. … Tyler Knudsen, a senior
geologist with the Utah Geological Survey, said it’s difficult
to say this early whether the Memorial Day rockfall is linked
to the ongoing drought, since rockslides can be triggered by
several other external factors — including rainfall,
earthquakes, and daily temperature fluctuations.
Today, the Salton Sea is an eerie place. Its mirror-like
surface belies the toxic stew within. Fish skeletons line its
shores and the ruins of a once thriving vacation playground is
a reminder of better days. But long before agricultural runoff
bespoiled the Salton Sea, the lakebed it now occupies was home
to a much larger body of water known as Lake Cahuilla. The
lake was six times the area of the Salton Sea and once
covered much of Mexicali, Imperial and Coachella valleys.
Low tide usually arrives every 12 hours on the Colorado River
in Grand Canyon National Park. River runners who pull their
rafts onto gently sloping sand beaches to camp may awake to
find their boats stranded far above the waterline by morning.
Rocks that disappear in certain rapids at high tide become
major obstacles when the water is low, and most rafters carry a
tide chart in their boats’ dry boxes alongside their map.
Unlike ocean tides, however, the river’s regular fluctuations
have nothing to do with the gravitational pull of the moon.
They are driven by the power demands of the Southwest.
The Colorado Water Congress has voted to expand its board to
include representatives of Native American tribes for the first
time. The water congress was created in the late 1950s by
then-Gov. Steve McNichols and Attorney General Duke Dunbar, to
bring the entire water community together as a group to make
recommendations to state leaders about water issues that needed
to be addressed in Colorado. Executive Director Doug
Kemper said the nonprofit group has about 350 organizations as
members, ranging from water utilities like Denver Water to
agricultural and environmental groups.
Lake Mead, the lifeblood of the West, is at an all-time low.
And just this week, officials said it will fall by one-third of
its current level by the end of 2023. Inch by inch, the lake is
falling…. The falling lake level was anticipated, but how
fast it’s dropping is the current problem. For Pat Mulroy, that
means she’s “very worried.” She led the Southern Nevada Water
Authority for nearly 30 years, and now she’s the senior fellow
for climate adaptation and environmental policy at the UNLV
Boyd School of Law.
Officials in Las Vegas, New Mexico, had barely finished
battling the massive Calf Canyon-Hermits Peak
wildfire earlier this month before they had to point their
defenses toward another threat: the ash-filled erosion that
could pollute their water…. Megafires aren’t just
burning down homes, trees and wildlife in the West. They’re
also destabilizing the soil. When it rains, thousands of tons
of charred sediment flow into rivers and reservoirs used for
drinking water…. “It’s literally like tasting dirt,” said
Andy Fecko, general manager at the Placer County Water Agency
in Auburn, California, a city that sits between Sacramento and
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is in Israel for five days of talks
with political and business leaders of the Middle Eastern
country. … Ducey has touted Israel’s water
desalination technology as a way to augment Arizona’s supplies,
which are endangered by long-term drought and climate change.
He wants the state Legislature to approve a $1 billion
investment for boosting the state’s water supply this year. Key
to that plan is a desalination plant that could cost more than
five times that amount.
The city of San Diego pursued its massive
wastewater-to-drinking water recycling program, in part,
because the federal government said it had to. Millions of
gallons of undertreated sewage enters the Pacific Ocean through
the city’s aging Point Loma treatment plant on the regular;
Pure Water is the region’s first step toward a
solution. But now, a bloc of eastern San Diego County
water agencies is building their own recycling project because,
they say, the cost of buying imported water from the
drought-ravaged Colorado River is unsustainable.
Power production at Hoover Dam is down about 33% and will
continue to drop as the “megadrought” affecting the Southwest
continues, according to a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman.
The declining level at Lake Mead is the reason, according to
Doug Hendrix, Deputy Public Affairs Officer with the Bureau of
Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Regional Office. At full capacity,
the turbines at the dam can produce 2,074 megawatts, but as the
water level has declined during the drought, power production
has been affected and efficiency of the power plant is down
Palisade High School, a twenty minute drive from where I live
in Colorado, has something unusual – a fish hatchery. When I
read about this, I had to visit the school to see for myself.
Razorback suckers (Xyrauchen texanus), the only fish raised at
Palisade’s hatchery, once lived throughout the Colorado River
Basin from Wyoming to Baja California, Mexico. As is
typical of many fish native to the western US, damming of
rivers, introduction of non-native sport fishes and irrigation
channels have taken a toll. The critically endangered fish is
still found in small and fragmented populations throughout the
Colorado River Basin …
A group of senators has introduced the Support to Rehydrate the
Environment, Agriculture and Municipalities, or STREAM, Act.
The bill would increase water supply and modernize water
infrastructure throughout the West. The three senators, all
from states affected by the current drought, include Sens.
Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) and Kyrsten
Sinema (D-Ariz.). … Infrastructure improvements and
additions work toward a long-term solution. And it’s important
to think urgently, said the release.
Federal officials have a sobering forecast for the Colorado
River Basin: Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir which
serves millions of people in the Southwest, will likely drop
another 12 feet by this fall. It’s far below what the outlooks
were predicting as of last year. The latest forecast from the
US Bureau of Reclamation shows the reservoir plummeting from
its current elevation of around 1049 feet above sea level to
around 1037 feet by this September. One year after that,
in September 2023, it suggests Lake Mead will be 26 feet lower
than its current level — just 19% of the lake’s full capacity
and a level that would trigger the most severe water cuts for
It is mid-May, and a couple of days ago, the Hermits Peak Fire
in northern New Mexico reached 299,565 acres in size,
surpassing the 2012 Whitewater-Baldy Fire as the state’s
largest wildfire on record. … It is mid-May, and a dozen
other fires have already charred tens of thousands of acres
across the West … It is mid-May, and the spring winds have
been relentless … It is mid-May, and the temperature in
Phoenix has reached 105 degrees Fahrenheit two days in a row.
The water level in Lake Mead — the nation’s largest reservoir —
dropped below 1,050 feet elevation for the first time last
week, a critical milestone that signals more stringent water
cuts are around the corner for the Southwest…. As of Tuesday,
Lake Mead’s level was around 1,049 feet above sea
level…. If the lake’s water level is expected to stay
below 1,050 feet by January 2023, the more significant Tier 2
shortage would be implemented. Additional cuts — each tier with
rising impact on agriculture and municipal water use — are
expected if Lake Mead continues to fall.
A few months ago, [Paul] Ashcraft and several of his neighbors
at the highest point in Unaweep Canyon saw a plan proposed by
Xcel Energy to build a hydro power plant that will help the
company reach its renewable energy goals. The plan put a
75-foot dam holding back the edge of an 88-acre reservoir in
Ashcraft’s front yard. The proposal also puts his neighbors’
homes and Colorado 141 underwater. The plan would move
water between a reservoir on BLM land on top of the cliffs and
a reservoir on private land on the valley floor.
Navajo Nation leaders say failing septic and solid waste
systems are becoming an increasing concern in many areas of the
reservation. One tribal lawmaker has gathered nearly 170
accounts from residents of Blue Gap, Many Farms and other
chapters about deficient sanitation facilities in homes.
Officials say it’s a serious environmental contamination issue
that threatens land and water and creates significant health
risks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A “Tier 1″ shortage was triggered by Lake Mead falling below
1,075 feet of water this past year. This means less
Colorado River water is flowing into Arizona. Historic drought
conditions are impacting critical infrastructure that provides
water and power to the region, like the Hoover Dam, and Lakes
Mead and Powell…. For now, [Bureau of Reclamation official
Dan] Bunk says Yuma and its agricultural industry remain
unaffected by the tier one shortage. But the future is unknown.
As drought and climate change tighten their grip on the
American West, the sight of fountains, swimming pools, gardens
and golf courses in cities like Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los
Angeles, Salt Lake City, Boise, and Albuquerque can be jarring
at first glance. Western water experts, however, say they
aren’t necessarily cause for concern. Over the past three
decades, major Western cities — particularly in California and
Nevada — have diversified their water sources, boosted local
supplies through infrastructure investments and conservation,
and use water more efficiently.
Momentum is building for a unique
interstate deal that aims to transform wastewater from Southern
California homes and business into relief for the stressed
Colorado River. The collaborative effort to add resiliency to a
river suffering from overuse, drought and climate change is being
shaped across state lines by some of the West’s largest water
The biennial program is modeled after our highly successful
program in California, now 25 years strong.
Our Colorado River program will select rising stars from the
seven U.S. states and tribal nations that rely on the river -
California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New
Mexico – to participate in the seven-month class designed for
working professionals. Class members will explore issues
surrounding the iconic Southwest river, deepen their water
knowledge and build leadership skills.
Climate scientist Brad Udall calls
himself the skunk in the room when it comes to the Colorado
River. Armed with a deck of PowerPoint slides and charts that
highlight the Colorado River’s worsening math, the Colorado State
University scientist offers a grim assessment of the river’s
future: Runoff from the river’s headwaters is declining, less
water is flowing into Lake Powell – the key reservoir near the
Arizona-Utah border – and at the same time, more water is being
released from the reservoir than it can sustainably provide.
The lower Colorado River has virtually every drop allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad 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, 30 tribal nations and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs was the focus of this tour.
Hyatt Place Las Vegas At Silverton Village
8380 Dean Martin Drive
Las Vegas, NV 89139
For more than 20 years, Tanya
Trujillo has been immersed in the many challenges of the Colorado
River, the drought-stressed lifeline for 40 million people from
Denver to Los Angeles and the source of irrigation water for more
than 5 million acres of winter lettuce, supermarket melons and
Trujillo has experience working in both the Upper and Lower
Basins of the Colorado River, basins that split the river’s water
evenly but are sometimes at odds with each other. She was a
lawyer for the state of New Mexico, one of four states in the
Upper Colorado River Basin, when key operating guidelines for
sharing shortages on the river were negotiated in 2007. She later
worked as executive director for the Colorado River Board of
California, exposing her to the different perspectives and
challenges facing California and the other states in the river’s
Known for our popular Water Leaders
program in California – about to mark its 25th anniversary – we
are now launching a Colorado
River Water Leaders program in 2022, the 100th
anniversary of the Colorado River Compact.
The biennial program will select rising stars from the seven
U.S. states that rely on the river – California, Nevada, Arizona,
Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico – to participate in the
seven-month class designed for working professionals. Class
members will explore issues surrounding the iconic Southwest
river, deepen their water knowledge and build leadership
Water is flowing once again
to the Colorado River’s delta in Mexico, a vast region that
was once a natural splendor before the iconic Western river was
dammed and diverted at the turn of the last century, essentially
turning the delta into a desert.
In 2012, the idea emerged that water could be intentionally sent
down the river to inundate the delta floodplain and regenerate
native cottonwood and willow trees, even in an overallocated
river system. Ultimately, dedicated flows of river water were
brokered under cooperative
efforts by the U.S. and Mexican governments.
Las Vegas, known for its searing summertime heat and glitzy casino fountains, is projected to get even hotter in the coming years as climate change intensifies. As temperatures rise, possibly as much as 10 degrees by end of the century, according to some models, water demand for the desert community is expected to spike. That is not good news in a fast-growing region that depends largely on a limited supply of water from an already drought-stressed Colorado River.
When you oversee the largest
supplier of treated water in the United States, you tend to think
Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water
District of Southern California for the last 15 years, has
focused on diversifying his agency’s water supply and building
security through investment. That means looking beyond MWD’s
borders to ensure the reliable delivery of water to two-thirds of
Twenty years ago, the Colorado River
Basin’s hydrology began tumbling into a historically bad stretch.
The weather turned persistently dry. Water levels in the system’s
anchor reservoirs of Lake Powell and Lake Mead plummeted. A river
system relied upon by nearly 40 million people, farms and
ecosystems across the West was in trouble. And there was no guide
on how to respond.
Managing water resources in the Colorado River Basin is not for the timid or those unaccustomed to big challenges. Careers are devoted to responding to all the demands put upon the river: water supply, hydropower, recreation and environmental protection.
All of this while the Basin endures a seemingly endless drought and forecasts of increasing dryness in the future.
Practically every drop of water that flows through the meadows, canyons and plains of the Colorado River Basin has reams of science attached to it. Snowpack, streamflow and tree ring data all influence the crucial decisions that guide water management of the iconic Western river every day.
Dizzying in its scope, detail and complexity, the scientific information on the Basin’s climate and hydrology has been largely scattered in hundreds of studies and reports. Some studies may conflict with others, or at least appear to. That’s problematic for a river that’s a lifeline for 40 million people and more than 4 million acres of irrigated farmland.
The Colorado River Compact of 1922
divided the river into two basins: The Upper Basin (Colorado, New
Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) and the Lower Basin (Arizona,
California and Nevada), established the allotment for each basin
and provided a framework for management of the river for years to
Out of sight and out of mind to most
people, the Salton Sea in California’s far southeast corner has
challenged policymakers and local agencies alike to save the
desert lake from becoming a fetid, hyper-saline water body
inhospitable to wildlife and surrounded by clouds of choking
The sea’s problems stretch beyond its boundaries in Imperial and
Riverside counties and threaten to undermine multistate
management of the Colorado River. A 2019 Drought Contingency Plan for the
Lower Colorado River Basin was briefly stalled when the Imperial
Irrigation District, holding the river’s largest water
allocation, balked at participating in the plan because, the
district said, it ignored the problems of the Salton Sea.
Colorado is home to the headwaters
of the Colorado River and the water policy decisions made in the
Centennial State reverberate throughout the river’s sprawling
basin that stretches south to Mexico. The stakes are huge in a
basin that serves 40 million people, and responding to the water
needs of the economy, productive agriculture, a robust
recreational industry and environmental protection takes
expertise, leadership and a steady hand.
Sprawled across a desert expanse
along the Utah-Arizona border, Lake Powell’s nearly 100-foot high
bathtub ring etched on its sandstone walls belie the challenges
of a major Colorado River reservoir at less than half-full. How
those challenges play out as demand grows for the river’s water
amid a changing climate is fueling simmering questions about
This event explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad 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 was the focus of this tour.
Innovative efforts to accelerate
restoration of headwater forests and to improve a river for the
benefit of both farmers and fish. Hard-earned lessons for water
agencies from a string of devastating California wildfires.
Efforts to drought-proof a chronically water-short region of
California. And a broad debate surrounding how best to address
persistent challenges facing the Colorado River.
These were among the issues Western Water explored in
2019, and are still worth taking a look at in case you missed
The Colorado River is arguably one
of the hardest working rivers on the planet, supplying water to
40 million people and a large agricultural economy in the West.
But it’s under duress from two decades of drought and decisions
made about its management will have exceptional ramifications for
the future, especially as impacts from climate change are felt.
Every other year we hold an
invitation-only Colorado River Symposium attended by various
stakeholders from across the seven Western states and Mexico that
rely on the iconic river. We host this three-day event in Santa
Fe, N.M., where the 1922 Colorado River Compact was signed, as
part of our mission to catalyze critical conversations to build
bridges and inform collaborative decision-making.
The Colorado River Basin’s 20 years
of drought and the dramatic decline in water levels at the
river’s key reservoirs have pressed water managers to adapt to
challenging conditions. But even more extreme — albeit rare —
droughts or floods that could overwhelm water managers may lie
ahead in the Basin as the effects of climate change take hold,
say a group of scientists. They argue that stakeholders who are
preparing to rewrite the operating rules of the river should plan
now for how to handle these so-called “black swan” events so
they’re not blindsided.
Dates are now set for two key
Foundation events to kick off 2020 — our popular Water 101
Workshop, scheduled for Feb. 20 at McGeorge School of Law in
Sacramento, and our Lower Colorado River Tour, which will run
from March 11-13.
In addition, applications will be available by the first week of
October for our 2020 class of Water Leaders, our competitive
yearlong program for early to mid-career up-and-coming water
professionals. To learn more about the program, check out our
Water Leaders program
High in the headwaters of the Colorado River, around the hamlet of Kremmling, Colorado, generations of families have made ranching and farming a way of life, their hay fields and cattle sustained by the river’s flow. But as more water was pulled from the river and sent over the Continental Divide to meet the needs of Denver and other cities on the Front Range, less was left behind to meet the needs of ranchers and fish.
“What used to be a very large river that inundated the land has really become a trickle,” said Mely Whiting, Colorado counsel for Trout Unlimited. “We estimate that 70 percent of the flow on an annual average goes across the Continental Divide and never comes back.”
Summer is a good time to take a
break, relax and enjoy some of the great beaches, waterways and
watersheds around California and the West. We hope you’re getting
a chance to do plenty of that this July.
But in the weekly sprint through work, it’s easy to miss
some interesting nuggets you might want to read. So while we’re
taking a publishing break to work on other water articles planned
for later this year, we want to help you catch up on
Western Water stories from the first half of this year
that you might have missed.
We have an unknown distance yet to run, an unknown river to explore. What falls there are, we know not; what rocks beset the channel, we know not; what walls ride over the river, we know not. Ah, well! We may conjecture many things.
~John Wesley Powell
Powell scrawled those words in his journal as he and his expedition paddled their way into the deep walls of the Grand Canyon on a stretch of the Colorado River in August 1869. Three months earlier, the 10-man group had set out on their exploration of the iconic Southwest river by hauling their wooden boats into a major tributary of the Colorado, the Green River in Wyoming, for their trip into the “great unknown,” as Powell described it.
Even as stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin celebrate the recent completion of an unprecedented drought plan intended to stave off a crashing Lake Mead, there is little time to rest. An even larger hurdle lies ahead as they prepare to hammer out the next set of rules that could vastly reshape the river’s future.
Set to expire in 2026, the current guidelines for water deliveries and shortage sharing, launched in 2007 amid a multiyear drought, were designed to prevent disputes that could provoke conflict.
Bruce Babbitt, the former Arizona
governor and secretary of the Interior, has been a thoughtful,
provocative and sometimes forceful voice in some of the most
high-profile water conflicts over the last 40 years, including
groundwater management in Arizona and the reduction of
California’s take of the Colorado River. In 2016, former
California Gov. Jerry Brown named Babbitt as a special adviser to
work on matters relating to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and
the Delta tunnels plan.
For the bulk of her career, Jayne
Harkins has devoted her energy to issues associated with the
management of the Colorado River, both with the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation and with the Colorado River Commission of Nevada.
Now her career is taking a different direction. Harkins, 58, was
appointed by President Trump last August to take the helm of the
United States section of the U.S.-Mexico agency that oversees
myriad water matters between the two countries as they seek to
sustainably manage the supply and water quality of the Colorado
River, including its once-thriving Delta in Mexico, and other
rivers the two countries share. She is the first woman to be
named the U.S. Commissioner of the International Boundary and
Water Commission for either the United States or Mexico in the
commission’s 129-year history.
This tour explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad 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.
3333 Blue Diamond Road
Las Vegas, NV 89139
Imported water from the Sierra
Nevada and the Colorado River built Southern California. Yet as
drought, climate change and environmental concerns render those
supplies increasingly at risk, the Southland’s cities have ramped
up their efforts to rely more on local sources and less on
Far and away the most ambitious goal has been set by the city of
Santa Monica, which in 2014 embarked on a course to be virtually
water independent through local sources by 2023. In the 1990s,
Santa Monica was completely dependent on imported water. Now, it
derives more than 70 percent of its water locally.
The growing leadership of women in water. The Colorado River’s persistent drought and efforts to sign off on a plan to avert worse shortfalls of water from the river. And in California’s Central Valley, promising solutions to vexing water resource challenges.
These were among the topics that Western Water news explored in 2018.
We’re already planning a full slate of stories for 2019. You can sign up here to be alerted when new stories are published. In the meantime, take a look at what we dove into in 2018:
As stakeholders labor to nail down
effective and durable drought contingency plans for the Colorado
River Basin, they face a stark reality: Scientific research is
increasingly pointing to even drier, more challenging times
The latest sobering assessment landed the day after Thanksgiving,
when U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Fourth National Climate
Assessment concluded that Earth’s climate is changing rapidly
compared to the pace of natural variations that have occurred
throughout its history, with greenhouse gas emissions largely the
As the Colorado River Basin becomes
drier and shortage conditions loom, one great variable remains:
How much of the river’s water belongs to Native American tribes?
Native Americans already use water from the Colorado River and
its tributaries for a variety of purposes, including leasing it
to non-Indian users. But some tribes aren’t using their full
federal Indian reserved water right and others have water rights
claims that have yet to be resolved. Combined, tribes have rights
to more water than some states in the Colorado River Basin.
The Colorado River Basin is more
than likely headed to unprecedented shortage in 2020 that could
force supply cuts to some states, but work is “furiously”
underway to reduce the risk and avert a crisis, Bureau of
Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told an audience of
California water industry people.
During a keynote address at the Water Education Foundation’s
Sept. 20 Water Summit in Sacramento, Burman said there is
opportunity for Colorado River Basin states to control their
destiny, but acknowledged that in water, there are no guarantees
that agreement can be reached.
Water means life for all the Grand Canyon’s inhabitants, including the many varieties of insects that are a foundation of the ecosystem’s food web. But hydropower operations upstream on the Colorado River at Glen Canyon Dam, in Northern Arizona near the Utah border, disrupt the natural pace of insect reproduction as the river rises and falls, sometimes dramatically. Eggs deposited at the river’s edge are often left high and dry and their loss directly affects available food for endangered fish such as the humpback chub.
Amy Haas recently became the first non-engineer and the first woman to serve as executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission in its 70-year history, putting her smack in the center of a host of daunting challenges facing the Upper Colorado River Basin.
Yet those challenges will be quite familiar to Haas, an attorney who for the past year has served as deputy director and general counsel of the commission. (She replaced longtime Executive Director Don Ostler). She has a long history of working within interstate Colorado River governance, including representing New Mexico as its Upper Colorado River commissioner and playing a central role in the negotiation of the recently signed U.S.-Mexico agreement known as Minute 323.
Nowhere is the domino effect in
Western water policy played out more than on the Colorado River,
and specifically when it involves the Lower Basin states of
California, Nevada and Arizona. We are seeing that play out now
as the three states strive to forge a Drought Contingency Plan.
Yet that plan can’t be finalized until Arizona finds a unifying
voice between its major water players, an effort you can read
more about in the latest in-depth article of Western Water.
Even then, there are some issues to resolve just within
It’s high-stakes time in Arizona. The state that depends on the
Colorado River to help supply its cities and farms — and is
first in line to absorb a shortage — is seeking a unified plan
for water supply management to join its Lower Basin neighbors,
California and Nevada, in a coordinated plan to preserve water
levels in Lake Mead before
they run too low.
If the lake’s elevation falls below 1,075 feet above sea level,
the secretary of the Interior would declare a shortage and
Arizona’s deliveries of Colorado River water would be reduced by
320,000 acre-feet. Arizona says that’s enough to serve about 1
million households in one year.
As California embarks on its unprecedented mission to harness groundwater pumping, the Arizona desert may provide one guide that local managers can look to as they seek to arrest years of overdraft.
Groundwater is stressed by a demand that often outpaces natural and artificial recharge. In California, awareness of groundwater’s importance resulted in the landmark Sustainable Groundwater Management Act in 2014 that aims to have the most severely depleted basins in a state of balance in about 20 years.
We explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop
of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad
sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and
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 was the focus of this tour.
Hampton Inn Tropicana
4975 Dean Martin Drive, Las Vegas, NV 89118
Dramatic swings in weather patterns
over the past few years in California are stark reminders of
climate variability and regional vulnerability. Alternating years
of drought and intense rain events make long-term planning for
storing and distributing water a challenging task.
Current weather forecasting capabilities provide details for
short time horizons. Attend the Paleo Drought
Workshop in San Pedro on April 19 to learn more about
research efforts to improve sub-seasonal to seasonal
precipitation forecasting, known as S2S, and how those models
could provide more useful weather scenarios for resource
A drought has lingered in the
Colorado River Basin since 2000, causing reservoir storage to
decline from nearly full to about half of capacity. So far this
year, a meager snowpack in the Rocky Mountains hasn’t helped
In fact, forecasters say this winter will likely go down as the
sixth-driest on record for the river system that supplies water
to seven states, including California, and Mexico.
On our Lower
Colorado River Tour, April 11-13, you will meet with water
managers from the three Lower Basin states: Nevada, Arizona and
California. The three states are working to finalize a Drought
Contingency Plan to take voluntary cuts to keep Lake Mead, the
nation’s largest reservoir, from hitting critical levels and
causing a shortage declaration.
Most people see the Grand Canyon from the rim, thousands of feet above where the Colorado River winds through it for almost 300 miles.
But to travel it afloat a raft is to experience the wondrous majesty of the canyon and the river itself while gaining perspective about geology, natural beauty and the passage of time.
Beginning at Lees Ferry, some 30,000 people each year launch downriver on commercial or private trips. Before leaving, they are dutifully briefed by a National Park Service ranger who explains to them about the unique environment that awaits them, how to keep it protected and, most importantly, how to protect themselves.
They also are told about the pair of ravens that will inevitably follow them through the canyon, seizing every opportunity to scrounge food.
Tickets are now on sale for the Water Education Foundation’s April 11-13 tour of the Lower Colorado River.
Don’t miss this opportunity to visit key sites along one of the nation’s most famous rivers, including a private tour of Hoover Dam, Central Arizona Project’s Mark Wilmer pumping plant and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. The tour also visits the Salton Sea, Slab City, the All-American Canal and farming regions in the Imperial and Coachella valleys.
Drought and climate change are having a noticeable impact on the
Colorado River Basin, and that is posing potential challenges to
those in the Southwestern United States and Mexico who rely on
In the just-released Winter 2017-18 edition of River
Report, writer Gary Pitzer examines what scientists
project will be the impact of climate change on the Colorado
River Basin, and how water managers are preparing for a future of
Rising temperatures from climate change are having a noticeable
effect on how much water is flowing down the Colorado River. Read
the latest River Report to learn more about what’s
happening, and how water managers are responding.
This issue of Western Water discusses the challenges
facing the Colorado River Basin resulting from persistent
drought, climate change and an overallocated river, and how water
managers and others are trying to face the future.
This three-day, two-night tour explored the lower Colorado River
where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand
is growing from myriad 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.
Best Western McCarran Inn
4970 Paradise Road
Las Vegas, NV 89119
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
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
(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.)
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.
This issue updates progress on crafting and implementing
California’s 4.4 plan to reduce its use of Colorado River water
by 800,000 acre-feet. The state has used as much as 5.2 million
acre-feet of Colorado River water annually, but under pressure
from Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and the other six states
that share this resource, California’s Colorado River parties
have been trying to close the gap between demand and supply. The
article – delayed to include the latest information from
This issue updates progress on California’s Colorado River Water
Use Plan (commonly called the 4.4 Plan ), with a special focus on
the Salton Sea restoration/water transfer dilemma. It also
includes information on the proposed MWD-Palo Verde Irrigation
District deal, the Colorado River Delta, and the legislative
debate in the national and state capitals.
With passage of the original Dec. 31, 2002, deadline to have a
Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) in place for the
Colorado River, California suffered a cutback in the surplus
Colorado River flows it had relied upon by years. Further
negotiations followed in an attempt to bring the California
parties to an agreement. This issue examines the history leading
to the QSA, the state of affairs of the so-called 4.4 Plan as of
early March, and gives readers a clearer crystal ball with which
to speculate about California’s water future on the Colorado
This issue of Western Water provides the latest information on
some of the philosophical, political and practical ideas being
discussed on the river. Some of these issues were discussed at
the Water Education Foundation’s Colorado River Symposium, “The
Ties that Bind: Policy and the Evolving Law of the Colorado
River,” held last fall at The Bishop’s Lodge in Santa Fe, New
Mexico – site of negotiations on the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
This issue of Western Water explores the issues
surrounding and the components of the Colorado River Basin
seven-state proposed agreement released Feb. 3 regarding sharing
shortages on the river, and new plans to improve the river’s
management. The article includes excerpts from the Foundation’s
September 2005 Colorado River Symposium held in Santa Fe, New
This issue of Western Water marks the 85th anniversary of the
Colorado River Compact and considers its role in the past and
present on key issues such as federal funding for water projects
and international issues. Much of the content for this magazine
came from the Foundation’s September Colorado River Symposium,
The Colorado River Compact at 85 and Changes on the River.
This card includes information about the Colorado River, who uses
the river, how the river’s water is divided and other pertinent
facts about this vital resource for the Southwest. Beautifully
illustrated with color photographs.
In 1997, the Foundation sponsored a three-day, invitation-only
symposium at Bishop’s Lodge, New Mexico, site of the 1922
Colorado River Compact signing, to discuss the historical
implications of that agreement, current Colorado River issues and
future challenges. The 204-page proceedings features the panel
discussions and presentations on such issues as the Law of the
River, water marketing and environmental restoration.
30-minute DVD that traces the history of the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation and its role in the development of the West. Includes
extensive historic footage of farming and the construction of
dams and other water projects, and discusses historic and modern
This 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, illustrates the
water resources available for Nevada cities, agriculture and the
environment. It features natural and manmade water resources
throughout the state, including the Truckee and Carson rivers,
Lake Tahoe, Pyramid Lake and the course of the Colorado River
that forms the state’s eastern boundary.
Redesigned in 2017, this beautiful map depicts the seven
Western states that share the Colorado River with Mexico. The
Colorado River supplies water to nearly 40 million people in
Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming
and the country of Mexico. Text on this beautiful, 24×36-inch
map, which is suitable for framing, explains the river’s
apportionment, history and the need to adapt its management for
urban growth and expected climate change impacts.
The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to
Water Rights Law, recognized as the most thorough explanation of
California water rights law available to non-lawyers, traces the
authority for water flowing in a stream or reservoir, from a
faucet or into an irrigation ditch through the complex web of
California water rights.
The 20-page Layperson’s Guide to Water Marketing provides
background information on water rights, types of transfers and
critical policy issues surrounding this topic. First published in
1996, the 2005 version offers expanded information on
groundwater banking and conjunctive use, Colorado River
transfers and the role of private companies in California’s
developing water market.
Order in bulk (25 or more copies of the same guide) for a reduced
fee. Contact the Foundation, 916-444-6240, for details.
The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people and 4
million acres of farmland in a region encompassing some 246,000
square miles in the southwestern United States. The 32-page
Layperson’s Guide to the Colorado River covers the history of the
river’s development; negotiations over division of its water; the
items that comprise the Law of the River; and a chronology of
significant Colorado River events.
The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to California Water provides an
excellent overview of the history of water development and use in
California. It includes sections on flood management; the state,
federal and Colorado River delivery systems; Delta issues; water
rights; environmental issues; water quality; and options for
stretching the water supply such as water marketing and
conjunctive use. New in this 10th edition of the guide is a
section on the human need for water.
A new look for our most popular product! And it’s the perfect
gift for the water wonk in your life.
Our 24×36 inch California Water Map is widely known for being the
definitive poster that shows the integral role water plays in the
state. On this updated version, it is easier to see California’s
natural waterways and man-made reservoirs and aqueducts
– including federally, state and locally funded
projects – the wild and scenic rivers system, and
natural lakes. The map features beautiful photos of
California’s natural environment, rivers, water projects,
wildlife, and urban and agricultural uses and the
text focuses on key issues: water supply, water use, water
projects, the Delta, wild and scenic rivers and the Colorado
As part of the historic Colorado River Delta, the Salton Sea
regularly filled and dried for thousands of years due to its
elevation of 237 feet below sea level.
The most recent version of the Salton Sea was formed in 1905 when
the Colorado River broke
through a series of dikes and flooded the seabed for two years,
creating California’s largest inland body of water. The
Salton Sea, which is saltier than the Pacific Ocean, includes 130
miles of shoreline and is larger than Lake Tahoe.
The Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA), signed in 2003,
defined the rights to a portion of Colorado River water for San
Diego County Water Authority, Coachella Valley Water District,
Imperial Irrigation District and the Metropolitan Water District
of Southern California.
The Mexican Water Treaty of 1944 committed the U.S. to deliver
1.5 million acre-feet of water to Mexico on an annual basis, plus
an additional 200,000 acre-feet under surplus conditions. The
treaty is overseen by the International Boundary and Water
Colorado River water is delivered to Mexico at Morelos Dam,
located 1.1 miles downstream from where the California-Baja
California land boundary intersects the river between the town of
Los Algodones in northwestern Mexico and Yuma County, Ariz.
The Colorado River Delta is located
at the natural terminus of the Colorado River at the Gulf of
California, just south of the U.S.-Mexico border. The desert
ecosystem was formed by silt flushed downstream from the Colorado
and fresh and brackish water mixing at the Gulf.
The Colorado River Delta once covered 9,650 square miles but has
shrunk to less than 1 percent of its original size due to
human-made water diversions.
The Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program aims
to balance use of Colorado River water resources with the
conservation of native species and their habitat. A key component
of the program is the restoration and enhancement of existing
riparian and marsh habitat along the lower Colorado River.
Lee Ferry on the Arizona-Utah border is a key dividing point
between the Colorado River’s Upper and Lower basins.
This split is important when it comes to determining how much
water will be delivered from the Upper Basin to the Lower Basin
[for a description of the Upper and Lower basins, visit the
Colorado River page].
The construction of Glen Canyon Dam in 1964 created Lake Powell.
Both are located in north-central Arizona near the Utah border.
Lake Powell acts as a holding tank for outflow from the Colorado
River Upper Basin States: Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
The water stored in Lake Powell is used for recreation, power
generation and delivering water to the Lower Basin states of
California, Arizona, and Nevada.
John Wesley Powell (1834-1902) was historic and heroic for being
first to lead an expedition down the Colorado River in 1869. A major
who lost an arm in the Civil War Battle of Shiloh, he was an
explorer, geologist, geographer and ethnologist.
California’s Colorado River Water Use Plan (known colloquially as
the 4.4 Plan) intends to wean the state from its reliance on the
surplus flows from the river and return California to its annual
4.4 million acre-feet basic apportionment of the river.
In the past, California has also used more than its basic
apportionment. Consequently, the U.S. Department of
Interior urged California to devise a plan to reduce its water
consumption to its basic entitlement.
In 2005, after six years of severe
drought in the Colorado River Basin, federal officials and
representatives of the seven basin states — California, Arizona,
Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — began building a
framework to better respond to drought conditions and coordinate
the operations of the basin’s two key reservoirs, Lake Powell and
The resulting Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and
the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead (Interim
Guidelines) identified the conditions for shortage determinations
and details of coordinated reservoir operations. The 2007 Interim
Guidelines remain in effect through Dec. 31, 2025.
This printed issue of Western Water examines how the various
stakeholders have begun working together to meet the planning
challenges for the Colorado River Basin, including agreements
with Mexico, increased use of conservation and water marketing,
and the goal of accomplishing binational environmental
restoration and water-sharing programs.
The Colorado River is one of the most heavily relied upon water
supply sources in the world, serving 35 million people in seven
states and Mexico. The river provides water to large cities,
irrigates fields, powers turbines to generate electricity,
thrills recreational enthusiasts and serves as a home for birds,
fish and wildlife.
This printed issue of Western Water explores the
historic nature of some of the key agreements in recent years,
future challenges, and what leading state representatives
identify as potential “worst-case scenarios.” Much of the content
for this issue of Western Water came from the in-depth
panel discussions at the Colorado River Symposium. The Foundation
will publish the full proceedings of the Symposium in 2012.
This printed issue of Western Water examines the
Colorado River drought, and the ongoing institutional and
operational changes underway to maintain the system and meet the
future challenges in the Colorado River Basin.
This printed issue of Western Water explores some of the major
challenges facing Colorado River stakeholders: preparing for
climate change, forging U.S.-Mexico water supply solutions and
dealing with continued growth in the basins states. Much of the
content for this issue of Western Water came from the in-depth
panel discussions at the September 2009 Colorado River Symposium.
This printed copy of Western Water examines the Colorado River
Delta, its ecological significance and the lengths to which
international, state and local efforts are targeted and achieving
environmental restoration while recognizing the needs of the
entire river’s many users.
This issue of Western Water asks whether a groundwater
compact is needed to manage this shared resource today. In the
water-stressed West, there will need to be a recognition of
sharing water resources or a line will need to be drawn in the
sand against future growth.
“In the West, when you touch water, you touch
everything.” – Rep. Wayne Aspinall, D-Colorado, chair,
House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee, 1959-1973
Rapid population growth and chronic droughts could augur dramatic
changes for communities along the lower Colorado River. In
Arizona, California and Nevada, a robust economy is spurring
communities to find enough water to sustain the steady pace of
growth. Established cities such as Las Vegas and Phoenix continue
their expansion but there is also activity in smaller, rural
areas on Arizona’s northwest fringe where developers envision
hundreds of thousands of new homes in the coming decades.
With interstate discussions of critical Colorado River issues
seemingly headed for stalemate, Secretary of the Interior Gale
Norton stepped in May 2 to defuse, or at least defer, a
potentially divisive debate over water releases from Lake Powell.
With interstate discussions of critical Colorado River issues
seemingly headed for stalemate, Secretary of the Interior Gale
Norton stepped in May 2 to defuse, or at least defer, a
potentially divisive debate over water releases from Lake Powell.
In a letter to governors of the seven Colorado River Basin
states, Norton preserved the status quo of river operations for
five months, giving states and stakeholders a chance to move back
from the edge before positions had hardened on two key issues:
(1) shortage guidelines for the Lower Basin and (2) Upper Basin/
Lower Basin reservoir operations, particularly at Lake Powell.
But Norton served notice that she wants discussions on those two
issues to continue, possibly outside of the annual operation plan
(AOP) consultation process, which at least one observer described
Drawn from a special Colorado River stakeholder symposium held in
January 2002 at The Bishop’s Lodge in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this
article provides an overview of several Colorado River issues
that may or may not be resolved through consensus. Some of these
issues include providing water for the Colorado River Delta,
endangered species, dam re-operation and potential future trends
around the basin as they relate to the California 4.4 Plan,
drought and governance.
The situation is true anywhere: when resources are stretched,
tensions rise. In the arid Southwestern United States, this
resource is water and tensions over it have been ever present
since the westward migration in the 18th Century. Nowhere in this
region has the competition for water been fiercer than in the
Colorado River Basin. Whether it is more water for agriculture,
more water for cities, more water for American Indian tribes or
more water for the environment – there is a continuous quest by
parties to obtain additional supplies of this “liquid gold” from
the Colorado River. Sometimes the avenue chosen to acquire this
desert wealth is the court system, as exemplified by the landmark
Arizona v. California dispute that stretched for over 30 years.
Drawn from a special stakeholder symposium held in September 1999
in Keystone, Colorado, this issue explores how we got to where we
are today on the Colorado River; an era in which the traditional
water development of the past has given way to a more
collaborative approach that tries to protect the environment
while stretching available water supplies. Specific topics
addressed include the role of the Interior secretary in the
basin, California’s 4.4 plan, water marketing and future
challenges identified by participants.
Drawn from a special stakeholder symposium held in September 1999
in Keystone, Colorado, this issue explores how we got to where we
are today on the Colorado River; an era in which the traditional
water development of the past has given way to a more
collaborative approach that tries to protect the environment
while stretching available water supplies.