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.
In the summer of 1938 the first women known to travel the
entire Colorado River—and survive—documented the flora and
fauna of the region before it was further reshaped by Western
development. They were white botanists in academia who battled
both the usual obstacles in scientific expeditions and some
unusual ones: doubters telling them they were doomed to fail, a
lack of funding, the serious risk of injury or even death and,
for one of the botanists, her father’s permission. Elzada
Clover and Lois Jotter wrangled the only experienced river
runner available, Norm Nevills, who insisted they find some
river runners turned expedition volunteers to accompany them
safely through the journey.
When California, Arizona and Nevada agreed last week to stop
using 3 million acre-feet of Colorado River water — about a
trillion gallons — in order to protect their drinking supply,
they took aim at one especially thirsty user: hay. So-called
“forage crops” like alfalfa and Bermuda grass, which are used
to feed livestock, mainly cattle, require mind-altering amounts
of water to cultivate. For the next three years, the states
agreed to pay farmers who ordinarily grow livestock feed $1.2
billion not to. That alone is estimated to conserve the lion’s
share of the trillion-gallon target.
… In one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas
in the country, it’s a boom time — water-intensive microchip
companies and data centers moving in; tens of thousands of
houses spreading deep into the desert. But it is also a time of
crisis: Climate change is drying up the American West and
putting fundamental resources at ever greater risk.
… The decision by Arizona in the past week to limit
residential construction in some parts of the fast-growing
Phoenix suburbs is another major warning about how climate
change is disrupting lifestyles and economies in the West.
After nearly a year of gridlocked negotiations on the future of
the stressed Colorado River, Arizona, California, and Nevada
reached a breakthrough last week, uniting behind a voluntary
proposal to further curtail their water use. Some observers
call the proposal “historic.” But how significant is it? Since
the news broke, others have described the Lower Basin agreement
as overhyped. It’s still just a proposal, and only a short-term
one for managing critically low reservoirs, which threaten
hydropower and water supplies for millions of people.
Arizona will not approve new housing construction on the
fast-growing edges of metro Phoenix that rely on groundwater
thanks to years of overuse and a multi-decade drought that is
sapping its water supply. In a news conference Thursday,
Gov. Katie Hobbs announced the restrictions that could affect
some of the fastest-growing suburbs of the nation’s
fifth-largest city. Officials said developers could still
build in the affected areas but would need to find alternative
water sources to do so — such as surface or recycled water.
Protecting and responding to threats of the Colorado River
endangered fishes (Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker,
bonytail, and humpback chub) are an important part of the
Bureau of Reclamation’s mission. Threats such as fish
entrainment in water diversions, have long been recognized by
resource managers as a threat to native, especially endangered
and threatened fish in the Colorado River Basin. Fish
entrainment is the unwanted passage and loss of fish through a
water intake, for example, when fish are transported with the
flow of streams, creeks or rivers that are being diverted for
irrigation and other uses.
As the temperature on an early April afternoon crept
above 80 degrees, Cruz Marquez, a member of the Salton Sea
Community Science Program, stood at a folding table under a
blue tent, scrubbing a small glass vial with the cloth of his
T-shirt. … Over the last 25 years, the Salton Sea has lost a
third of its water due to an over-allocated Colorado River. As
it shrinks, the sea’s salts plus pollutants from agricultural
runoff reach higher concentrations. All those extra nutrients
fuel algae blooms that then decay in the sulfate-rich sea,
resulting in a rotten-egg smell that can extend for miles. As
temperatures rise and the water retreats further, locals
suspect that the contaminated sediments in the exposed lakebed
are worsening air quality; the area’s childhood asthma rate is
one of the highest in the state.
Phoenix will leave 150,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead and
Lake Powell over the next three years as part of a multi-state
effort to protect the Colorado River, whose water levels have
dropped to dangerously low levels after decades of severe
regional drought.The move, unanimously approved by the City
Council on May 31, reduces the city’s typical Colorado River
allocation by 30% for 2023 and adds to a 9,300 acre-feet
reduction already enacted as a result of the state’s drought
contingency plan. Phoenix will receive $60 million in exchange
for leaving the water in the lakes.
In a historic consensus, California, alongside the six other
states that rely on the Colorado River for survival, announced
an agreement last week for a plan to cut back water usage over
the next three years. The proposal drafted by the three lower
basin states – California, Arizona and Nevada – would cut water
use from the river by at least 3 million acre-feet by the end
of 2026 through conservation to prevent the river’s reservoirs
from falling to critically low levels. Of that total, 1.5
million acre-feet at minimum will be conserved by the end of
next year under the proposal. One acre-foot of water supplies
enough water for about 2.5 households of four people per year.
News of water shortages, exacerbated by climate change,
population growth, mining and other development, is everywhere
these days in the American Southwest. But on the Navajo
Reservation, a sovereign tribal nation that sits on about 16
million acres in northeast Arizona, southern Utah and western
New Mexico, nearly 10,000 homes have never had running
water. How that can and should be resolved is one aspect
of a case brought before the U.S. Supreme Court on March 20,
with the justices’ decision due any day now.
The Colorado River plays a pivotal role in the lives of many
western state residents as a major municipal and agricultural
water source. Lake Powell, a reservoir on the border of Utah
and Arizona, is fed by the Colorado River. Water then flows
from Lake Powell into the Grand Canyon and Lake Mead
downstream. While the Colorado Rockies did not get quite the
snow year seen in Utah, Colorado did see above-average
snowpack. This year’s projections of water flow into Lake
Powell are nearing the 21st century record high flows of 2011.
Lake Powell is a reservoir, unlike Great Salt Lake which is
terminal, so snowpack and water flow into Lake Powell greatly
impact numerous communities downstream.
Nancy Caywood worries about water constantly. Water – or the
uncertainty of it – has kept the 69-year-old Arizona farmer
awake at night since supplies began dwindling about two decades
ago due to chronic overuse and drought in the American west.
During one particularly low point in late 2021, every field on
the 255-acre family farm was either fallow, shrivelled or
dormant. … [It] is now surrounded by fallow fields,
tumbleweed and solar farms. … About half the irrigated
farmland will be left unplanted in Pinal county this year, and
hundreds of rural jobs have already been lost. Farms are having
to rely almost exclusively on groundwater, further depleting
the aquifers. … The region’s water crisis isn’t new and
cuts were not entirely unexpected, yet most farmers have
continued to farm the same water-guzzling crops using the same
wasteful irrigation techniques …
Lexi Kilbane knew, in a vague, nonscientific way, that plastic
pollution was a growing problem, and that tiny shards of
plastics were showing up everywhere a microscope might
look. But the magnitude of the contamination finally hit
home after she dipped a water testing kit into a City Park
lake, right near her house, and filtered the sample. Fibers
from shredded tarps, jackets and carpet popped into view, in a
dystopian kaleidoscope. … Using national protocols
for detecting microplastics, Kilbane and the nonprofit advocacy
group CoPIRG sampled 16 waterways in Colorado and found the
plastics pollution in every one. They are sharing results
of their study with national sampling networks, and urging
Colorado policymakers to double down on recent efforts to slow
use of plastics that deteriorate into dangerous particles but
The network of pipes and massive bathtubs that is the Colorado
River Basin’s reservoir storage system is going to see some
recovery this year thanks to higher-than-average snowpack.
That’s a promising sign for aquatic habitats in need of a
health boost. Overuse and a 23-year drought have drawn down the
water stored in reservoirs across the basin, which spans seven
states, 30 Native American tribes and part of Mexico. Recently,
one of the basin’s largest reservoirs, Lake Powell, even needed
emergency releases from upstream reservoirs, including Blue
Mesa Reservoir in western Colorado, to safeguard against a
looming crisis. As most water officials and experts will
emphasize, one good year of snow won’t solve the crisis.
Two things bring people here, prisons and water, and this tiny
desert town is losing both. The locals interested in
keeping Blythe afloat have ideas: They’ll build a logistics
center, or they’ll develop better recreation opportunities on
the Colorado River, or they’ll reopen their soon-to-be
shuttered state prison as an immigration detention
center. …Then there’s Blythe’s water, which feeds fields
of alfalfa taken out of town by the truckload as bales of hay,
and is increasingly going to large farm conglomerates. The
Metropolitan Water District, which sends water to Los Angeles
and other Southern California cities, pays Blythe farmers to
leave their fields fallow as competition for Colorado River
water gets increasingly desperate. So if there’s no prison
and very little water, what becomes of this place?
Two Tucson water utilities will take new voluntary reductions
on their allotment of Colorado River water, part of a wider
effort by federal water managers to shore up supplies in the
drought-stricken system. Tucson Mayor Regina Romero signed an
agreement Wednesday with the Bureau of Reclamation to leave
110,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead over the next three years.
Metropolitan Domestic Water Improvement District, or Metro
Water, which serves over 50,000 people and hundreds of
businesses in the Tucson area, signed a similar agreement for
15,000 acre-feet. Tucson and Metro Water will take the
reduction through 2025 and will be compensated with $400 per
acre-foot. Tucson had already offered to leave 60,000 acre-feet
in the system between 2022 and 2023.
Emily Higuera is an Environmental Programs Specialist for the
Colorado River Management Section. She participates on behalf
of the department in a number of programs, including the Glen
Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, which focuses on
environmental compliance upstream of Lake Mead to Lake Powell,
as well as the Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation
Program, which provides compliance at Lake Mead to the Southern
International Boundary. Emily has always had a bird’s eye view
of the Grand Canyon, until her trip with the Glen Canyon Dam
Adaptive Management Group in June of 2022. That river
experience, she said, “truly encapsulated the depth and wonder
that is the Grand Canyon.”
Only a month after finalizing funding agreements, the Gila
River Indian Community broke ground on its new Reclaimed Water
Pipeline Project to help the community with water resources and
conserve more water in Lake Mead. The 19.4-mile pipeline was
developed in record time, said Gila River Indian Community Gov.
Stephen Roe Lewis, and the community “continues to lead the way
in addressing the historic drought impacting Arizona and the
Southwest.” Tribal leaders, federal and state officials, and
project and construction leaders gathered on May 19 for a
groundbreaking ceremony at the construction site for the first
phase of the Reclaimed Water Pipeline Project near Sacaton.
Rafting is a Colorado sport that involves risk, just like
skiing or riding in the winter. Just like skiing or riding, it
also becomes riskier depending on conditions, but there are
ways to mitigate that risk and still enjoy one of the state’s
most prominent activities along our rivers. … The Garfield
County Sheriff’s Office has warned the Colorado River is seeing
levels three to four times as fast and full as they are used to
seeing, making rafting riskier going through Glenwood Canyon.
Still, that’s not the case for all Colorado rivers right now.
Ken Murphy with Adventure Outdoors and Lakota Guides rafting
company said it’s up to them to pick and choose the locations
that are safe to bring guests down, and which will not be a
The Biden Administration is finalizing agreements to pay an
estimated $1.2 billion in taxpayer dollars to prop up the
Colorado River system that provides 40 million people with
water. California desert water districts who are entitled to
the most river water are vying for nearly $900 million of those
funds, according to interviews with key negotiators and funding
announcements to date. In exchange, they would leave nearly 1.4
million acre-feet of water in Lake Mead, one of two massive
reservoirs along the river. That’s almost half of the nearly
trillion gallons that California, Nevada and Arizona officials
on Monday told federal authorities they could collectively
conserve through 2026. That proposal and related
environmental reviews must still be approved by federal
Melissa Sevigny’s new book, published Tuesday, will make
readers yearn for the adventure and natural beauty of a
Colorado River rafting trip at the same time that it fires them
up over sexism in science and media. Drawing on the detailed
diaries of two botanists who became the first white women to
“Brave the Wild River,” as the book is titled, the
Flagstaff-based author guides us through the rough waters and
peaceful moments of a story about facing fears and bucking
norms to pursue scientific passions for the benefit of future
generations. At a time when the Colorado River is making
headlines like never before, due to drought conditions and
tense negotiations between states over dividing up the
fluctuating water supply, Sevigny takes us back.
For months, California officials led by Gov. Gavin Newsom felt
like they were at the bottom of a multistate dogpile in the
closely-watched staredown over water rights across the American
West. … That all changed in a dramatic way on Monday,
when California went from the main villain over dwindling
Colorado River supplies to something of a surprise beneficiary.
The joint plan presented alongside Arizona and Nevada and
roundly viewed as a victory by California officials — as well
as environmentalists and business leaders alike. … It’s a
remarkable turnaround when many were expecting only the Biden
administration — and then, likely, the courts — to be able to
break the stalemate and enforce a lasting solution.
Floods, swollen rivers, road closures — Colorado’s spring
runoff season is in full swing and much of the snow in the
state’s mountains hasn’t melted yet. Colorado saw
higher-than-average snowfall build up on the Western Slope this
year, a boon for irrigators and other water users who rely on
the Colorado River Basin which spans Colorado, tribal lands,
six Western states and parts of Mexico. But the snowmelt, with
the help of recent weather, is leading to high runoff and its
adverse impacts are popping up around the state like a game of
whack-a-mole. Beyond monitoring for mudslides and rockfalls
loosened by rain and high runoff, the Colorado Department of
Transportation is also watching bridges and roads for possible
The Klamath River begins in Oregon, draining the eastern slope
of the Cascade Mountains, and slices through the northwestern
corner of California before flowing into the Pacific Ocean. The
Colorado River begins in Colorado, draining the eastern slope
of the Rocky Mountains, before meandering southwesterly and
emptying into Mexico’s Sea of Cortez – if there’s any water
left after California and other states have tapped the river
for irrigation and municipal supplies. Although hundreds of
miles apart, the two rivers share a common malady: So much of
their waters were impounded or diverted that they became
unhealthy. The two rivers also share something else: Taxpayers,
rather than those who manipulated the rivers for profit, are
footing the bill for restoring their flows. -Written by CalMatters columnist Dan Walters.
Monday’s historic Colorado River agreement represents a big win
for California, which only months ago was embroiled in a bitter
feud with Arizona, Nevada and four other Western states over
how to dramatically reduce their use of water supplies in the
shrinking river. The proposition, which came after months of
tense negotiations, would see the three states in the
Colorado’s lower basin conserve about 3 million acre-feet of
water from the river by 2026 — a 14% reduction across the
Southwest that amounts to only about half of what could have
been imposed by the federal government had the states not come
to an accord. … Though some details have yet to be
disclosed, the plan would see the majority of the cuts, about
1.6 million acre-feet, come from California. The remainder
would be split between Arizona and Nevada, with the former
taking the lion’s share of those losses.
Ten days of rain on the Front Range and Eastern Plains of
Colorado reduced drought conditions in the state by more than
60%, continuing a statewide recovery from drought over the past
year. The amount of the state experiencing drought conditions
has dropped from 93% a year ago to just 11% today. May is
normally the wettest month in eastern Colorado. But a
slow-moving storm, more typical of winter, combined with a
summery pattern of strong daily heating and moisture streaming
up from the Gulf of Mexico have produced an
extraordinarily wet period in eastern Colorado.
In the middle of the longest-running drought in more than a
thousand years, Colorado energy companies diverted rising
volumes of the state’s freshwater resources for fracking, a new
analysis shows. Colorado operators doubled their use of
high-quality water to prepare wells for fracking over the last
10 years, with diminishing returns on oil production, the
nonprofit group FracTracker Alliance reported earlier this
month. Average volumes of water used per well quadrupled over
that time, the analysis found. Colorado standards governing
what water sources energy companies can access for fracking and
how they dispose of wastewater are unsustainable and
“incredibly wasteful,” concluded Kyle Ferrar, FracTracker’s
western program coordinator, in the report.
The Biden administration has negotiated a hard-fought agreement
among California, Arizona and Nevada to take less water from
the drought-strained Colorado River, a deal that reduces, for
now, the risk of the river running dry below the Hoover Dam,
which would jeopardize the water supply for Phoenix, Los
Angeles and some of America’s most productive agricultural
land. The agreement, to be announced Monday, calls for the
federal government to pay about $1.2 billion to irrigation
districts, cities and Native American tribes in the three
states if they temporarily use less water. The states have also
agreed to make additional cuts beyond that amount to generate
the total reductions needed to protect the collapse of the
In 2021, at a Colorado River conference in Las Vegas, the
Southern Nevada Water Authority laid out an ambitious and
detailed plan to lower per capita water use through
conservation. The presentation quantified why deep municipal
conservation — limits on decorative grass, pool sizes, golf
courses, septic tanks and landscaping — was necessary to
adapt to a far drier future. It was a signal that Las
Vegas planned to go all-in on conservation. Part of this was
necessity. Of the seven states that rely on the Colorado River,
Nevada has by far the smallest allocation. It is also one of
the urban centers most reliant on the river, the source of 90
percent of its water supply. Part of the plan was to shore up
water for more growth.
When John Mestas’ ancestors moved to Colorado over 100 years
ago to raise sheep in the San Luis Valley, they “hit paradise,”
he says. “There was so much water, they thought it would never
end,” Mestas says of the agricultural region at the headwaters
of the Rio Grande. Now decades of climate change-driven
drought, combined with the overpumping of aquifers, is making
the valley desperately dry — and appears to be intensifying the
levels of heavy metals in drinking water. … During
drought, the number of people in the contiguous U.S. exposed to
elevated arsenic from domestic wells may rise from about 2.7
million to 4.1 million, Lombard estimates, using statistical
models. Arsenic has been shown to affect health across the
human life span, beginning with sperm and eggs, James
The Palisade High School endangered fish hatchery just released
around 250 endangered razorback suckers into the Colorado River
just as they have in years past. Michael Gross, of the U.S fish
and wildlife service, tells me razorback suckers have been
swimming around Earth’s waters for approximately 5 million
years, meaning they’ve been an integral part of ecosystems for
longer than humankind has even existed. The suckers act as food
for animals like bears and eagles while also eating insects and
other microscopic animals, controlling those populations.
… The bad news is these resilient living pieces of
prehistory who have survived millennia are suddenly dying out.
Michael tells me the primary causes are drought and a loss of
the fast-flowing water habitats they adapted to over tens of
thousands of years.
Thanks to record rain this month, no drought remains anywhere
along Colorado’s urban corridor for the first time since August
2021. Statewide drought has dropped 19% in 1 week. The
weekly drought update released Thursday morning showed the
percentage of Colorado experiencing at least abnormally dry
conditions dropped about 13%. That’s a very big change for the
weekly drought monitor which typically changes at a glacial
pace for improving or worsening conditions. A week ago,
the map looked different with 58% of Colorado including Denver
and the Front Range experiencing at least abnormally dry
conditions (the precursor to official drought). A week ago 30%
of the state also had at least moderate drought and that number
is now 11%.
The Imperial Irrigation District Board of Directors appointed
Assistant General Manager Sergio Quiroz to serve as Interim
General Manager effective June 3. The Board’s decision was made
following closed session discussions during the May 16 meeting,
with directors present voting unanimously in support of the
appointment. As Interim General Manager, Quiroz will replace
General Manager Henry Martinez, who will be retiring on June 2.
Martinez announced his intent to retire in January, following
45 years of service in the energy and water industries, serving
the last five years with IID.
The story Susan Behery tells about dust blowing into Colorado
from New Mexico and Arizona sounds almost Biblical, like cows
dropping dead in their owners’ fields or swarms of locusts
devouring their crops. A hydraulic engineer for the Bureau
of Reclamation in Durango, Behery says she once saw dirt
falling from the sky in the manner of rain. It was so heavy,
she said, it splatted when it hit the ground. When the storm
that brought it moved on, a brown residue covered Behery’s car,
her lawn furniture, her house. In fact, it covered the town of
Durango, the town of Silverton and the San Juan Mountains,
where Behery’s colleague, Jeff Derry, does the bulk of his work
as the executive director and lead scientist for
the Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies and
its Dust on Snow program.
Mountains are capped with record snowpack, rolling hills are
covered in a rainbow of wildflowers, reservoirs are filled to
the brim, and rivers are rushing with snowmelt. A vast majority
of California is finally out of drought this month, after a
punishing multiyear period of severe aridity that forced
statewide water cuts and fueled existential fear over the
future of the water supply. Although a series of massive storms
during the winter months brought desperately needed
precipitation throughout the Golden State, water experts and
state officials remain focused on preparing for the inevitable
next drought. Based on lessons learned in recent years, they’re
refilling the state’s over-drafted groundwater aquifers and
encouraging water efficiency among residents learning to live
with climate change.
After nearly a year wrestling over the fate of their water
supply, California, Arizona and Nevada — the three key states
in the Colorado River’s current crisis — have
coalesced around a plan to voluntarily conserve a major portion
of their river water in exchange for more than $1 billion
in federal funds, according to people familiar with the
A giant reed that can grow 4 inches per day is choking Arizona
rivers, creeks, and lakes. The stubborn Arundo donax plant, an
invasive species brought to the U.S. from Southeast Asia, is
wreaking havoc in about 30 mostly warm-weather states in the
South and West, including Arizona. According to the University
of California, Riverside Center for Invasive Species Research,
Arundo was first planted in California in the 1820s to provide
roofing and erosion control in the Los Angeles area.
A sweeping water conservation bill that would give Las Vegas
Valley water managers the unprecedented ability to limit how
much water single-family residential homes in Southern Nevada
could use continues to make its way through the state
Legislature. Assembly Bill 220 would give the Southern Nevada
Water Authority the power to limit residential water use to 0.5
acre-feet per home per year in Clark County during times when
the federal government has declared a water shortage along the
drought-stricken Colorado River that supplies about 90 percent
of Southern Nevada’s water. If approved, Nevada would be the
first state to give a water agency the power to cap the amount
of water that flows into individual homes.
Lake Mead’s levels have risen as planned, after a large amount
of water was released from the Glen Canyon Dam. The Glen Canyon
Dam forms Lake Powell, the huge Colorado River reservoir that
lies between Arizona and Utah. Following a few months of
extremely wet weather seen across the southwestern U.S., the
Bureau of Reclamation carried out a High Flow Experiment (HFE)
between April 24 and 27, releasing up to 39,500 cubic feet per
second of water from the Glen Canyon Dam. That’s a lot
more water than usual, and the water volumes released from the
dam ranged from 8,033 to 14,631 cubic feet per second. From the
Glen Canyon Dam, the water flowed through the Grand Canyon, and
down to Lake Mead, which lies between Nevada and Arizona.
The question of who has the right to use Colorado River water
is determined by law. Allocations are determined according to
priority — but some users have rights to more water because
they have older rights or were awarded higher priority. A
1908 U.S. Supreme Court decision established what became known
as the Winters Doctrine, which recognized that tribes should
have the right to enough water to establish a permanent
homeland within their reservation boundaries. When interpreted
fairly, this means Native tribes have some of the most senior
rights to Colorado River water. In practice, however,
tribes have been granted a mere fraction of these rights.
Three of western Colorado’s biggest irrigation districts are
not participating on a large scale in a federally funded
program to conserve water, and the amount of water saved by the
program overall won’t be enough to rescue depleted
reservoirs. The rebooted System Conservation Program was
one of the legs of the Upper Colorado River Commission’s
5-Point Plan, announced in July and aimed at protecting
critical elevations in Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which have
fallen to record-low levels in recent years because of overuse,
drought and climate change. … The total water estimated to be
saved across the upper basin for this year of the restarted,
temporary and voluntary System Conservation Program is nearly
39,000 acre-feet. By comparison, Lake Powell when full holds
more than 23 million acre-feet.
The Dolores River begins high among the San Miguel and Rico
ranges, tumbling recklessly past long-defunct hardrock mines
and flowing in a south-southwesterly direction to the town of
Dolores, Colorado. … Yet today the Dolores is receiving
an unexpected reprieve from its woes. This winter’s huge
mountain snowpack has brought big springtime water to the river
— and to area farmers’ ditches — for the first time in years.
Bipartisan legislation aimed at preserving what’s left of a
segment of the lower Dolores River is now inching its way
through Congress. And a new poll shows strong
public support for more protections for the watershed,
including possibly the creation of a national
monument. But will it be enough to save this battered and
Salt River Project cranked open the floodgates at Theodore
Roosevelt Dam on Wednesday, testing the structure’s ability to
protect metro Phoenix from disaster should rain and snowmelt
overfill the reservoir behind it. It’s an annual routine
inspection, but one that this year carried extra weight ― and
extra water. The spring’s unusually strong snowmelt filled
Roosevelt Lake’s storage capacity and inched into 77 vertical
feet of safety buffer. SRP, a water and power provider to much
of the region, timed this year’s spillway test to the end of a
federally mandated 20-day period in which it had to drain
several feet of water out of the 357-foot dam’s safety buffer.
Most of the water passed before the test and ran through
The 2023 Colorado lawmaking session was one of “incremental
steps” on water issues, which means Coloradans have to wait
until next year to see if legislators can find policy solutions
to key water security questions. Colorado, like the six
other Western states in the Colorado River Basin, is facing an
uncertain water future as a two-decade drought and overuse
threaten the basin’s water supply. This year, state officials
started the 120-day lawmaking session saying water was going to
be the “centerpiece” of Democratic environmental policy. …
Fewer than 20 bills specifically addressed water issues,
although several other bills could have indirectly
impacted the state’s water system.
Weeks after the surface of Lake Powell sunk to an all-time low,
the key Colorado River reservoir is rising more than a foot a
day — on track to deepen by some 70 feet in the coming months.
Spring flows into the lake are among the highest observed in
its history. That could mean long-stranded boat ramps
regain water access this summer. Already, the bolstered water
levels allowed for recent dam releases that sent rapids surging
down the Grand Canyon for the first time in five years. But
whatever optimism the recent boost might create, it should not
extend beyond this year, said Bart Leeflang, the Colorado River
program manager for the Central Utah Water Conservancy
District. Though snowpack that feeds the river is among the
basin’s deepest in decades, one expert noted that it would take
nearly a decade of wet years to refill Lake Powell.
The Colorado River can be a magical line. By crossing the river
near Parker, Arizona, the waste California considers hazardous
becomes regular trash in Arizona. “Since 2018, California has
taken more than 660,000 tons of contaminated soil and dumped it
at regular landfills in Arizona,” CalMatters reporter Robert
Lewis said. The organization broke the story in January after a
months-long investigation into how California disposed of its
toxic waste. … California’s environmental standards are more
stringent compared to the federal government. Under state law,
these toxic materials are supposed to be disposed of in
landfills specifically meant to handle hazardous materials.
The Hohokam civilization, once the region’s predominant power,
had begun meticulously forging this sinuous system of miles and
miles of waterways across the arid desert as early as the 1st
century C.E. With water sourced from the distant Salt River,
the Hohokam perhaps cultivated more than 10,000 acres of arid
land. … A century and a half later, the American
Southwest is sweltering under another harsh drought. Last year,
1,000-foot wells dug deep underground by residents of Rio
Verde, a community on the outskirts of Phoenix, started coming
up dry. … In the meantime, Phoenix has become one of
America’s fastest-growing cities, a trend bolstered by
preferential tax schemes and the growth of the (very
water-hungry) semiconductor industry.
On a hot, dry August day in 2002, air tankers swooped over a
small wildfire south of Bend, Oregon. The Forest Service hoped
to suppress the flames by dropping over a thousand pounds of
fire retardant on and around the fire — but the pilots missed.
Instead, the neon-red liquid cascaded into the nearby Fall
River, a tributary of the Deschutes. Soon after, at
least 22,000 trout died — virtually all the fish
living in a six-mile stretch. … In a suit filed in Montana’s
Federal District Court last October, FSEEE argued that fire
retardant is a pollutant, so the Forest Service needs
a Clean Water Act permit if it flows into waterways.
About 45 minutes west of Albuquerque, N.M., past miles of
desert and a remote casino, is the turn off for To’Hajiilee, a
non-contiguous part of the Navajo Nation. About 2,000 people
live here and none of them have indoor access to good drinking
water. … While To’Hajiilee’s isolation from the
rest of the Navajo Nation makes it somewhat unique, its lack of
access to clean drinking water is common across the sprawling
reservation that stretches across parts of Arizona, New Mexico,
and Utah. Those living on the Navajo Nation are 67
times more likely to not have running water or a toilet
than other Americans, according to the U.S. Water Alliance.
It’s evident here that, as a 2021 national report by the
alliance and DigDeep found, “race is the strongest predictor of
water and sanitation access.”
Nearly half of the U.S. West has emerged from drought this
spring, but the welcome wet conditions haven’t entirely
replenished the region, scientists said Tuesday…The big
question is how much relief this winter’s snow will bring to
the Colorado River, which has been depleted by climate change,
rising demand and overuse. A May 1 forecast by
the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center said up to 11 million
acre-feet of water, or 172% of average, could flow into Lake
Powell, a massive reservoir that stores Colorado River water
for Arizona, Nevada, California, Mexico and dozens of tribes.
On the beach in Southern California, it’s easy to look at the
Pacific Ocean and wonder what would happen if we could drink
it. It’s already happening in some places, and others from
Arizona to the California coast want to expand desalination. If
big cities there use more of the ocean and less of the Colorado
River, would that leave more water for the southwest? Part 4 of
a 10-part series.
The Colorado River has shaped life as we know it in the
southwestern United States. Its water has allowed for explosive
population growth and agricultural development in some of the
driest parts of the country. But due to overallocation and
climate change, the river is drying up. What that means
for the future of life in the southwestern U.S. depends, in
large part, on how the seven states that rely on the river
renegotiate the 1922 Colorado River Compact, and whether they
finally allow tribal nations a seat at the bargaining table.
… Over the past year, CPR news worked on “Parched,” a podcast
about the Colorado River and some of the brightest and boldest
ideas to save it. We looked at the history of the river, the
1922 compact, and how the river has allowed millions of people
to live in the West.
Deven Upadhyay is the assistant general manager and executive
officer for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern
California, which provides water to 19 million people. We asked
Upadhyay to tell us how Met is handling California’s recent
precipitation whiplash—and what future improvements might be in
the works. Met has seen big declines in State Water
Project deliveries in recent years and the potential for
significant cuts in Colorado River supplies. What kinds of
challenges does this pose? First, it helps to understand
how the Metropolitan system works and how it interacts with
local systems in Southern California. We operate a giant
network of pipes and facilities that allows us to move water
around the region. We import water from two sources: the
Colorado River, via the Colorado River Aqueduct, and the
northern Sierra, via the State Water Project (SWP). …
Following one of the wettest winters in recent history, Arizona
officials anticipate a dry 2024 as federal water usage cuts
loom. In a joint Colorado River shortage briefing held by the
Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona
Project, officials analyzed current conditions in Colorado
River Basin reservoirs and how they’ll change in the near
future. Thanks to a record-breaking snowpack that peaked
at 174% above median levels in mid-April, the Arizona
Department of Water Resources expects this year to be the
second highest reservoir inflow since the beginning of the
drought. Lakes Powell and Mead, the two largest reservoirs
along the Colorado River that serve the lower basin states of
Arizona, California and Nevada, are 24% and 29% full, at
elevations of 3,525 feet and 1,049 feet, respectively.
The 8 News Now Investigators ran a four-part series on the
“California Water Hogs,” with a special focus on the water used
to irrigate farmland in the Imperial Valley, water storage,
water recycling, and desalinating seawater. However, officials
in Los Angeles County said they are doing more there than
people in Las Vegas might think. … In addition to pointing
out that Los Angeles water customers have lowered their water
consumption by 30% in the last 15 years, … L.A. County is
offering residents rebates to tear out their lawns and replace
them with sustainable landscapes.
One way to save massive amounts of water from the drying
Colorado River — state and federal officials had hoped — was to
effectively buy water this year from farmers and ranchers with
a $125 million conservation program. But very few are taking
the offer. Or those willing to sell were turned away. …
Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, which make up the
river’s upper basin, launched the System Conservation Pilot
Program late last year, offering money to farmers and others
willing to forgo their water use this year, restarting a
water-saving initiative that ran just a few years ago. This
time around, though, the program is slated to spend twice as
much to save a fifth less water, Colorado River officials say.
Known around the world as an oasis of overindulgence, the
desert city of Las Vegas has emerged as a surprising model of
austerity and prudence when it comes to water. Some 2.3
million people live in the arid Las Vegas Valley, and 40
million tourists are drawn each year to its giant casinos and
hotels. Yet because Nevada is allowed to use less than two
percent of the drought-hit Colorado River’s total water,
it has taken drastic action, from banning lawns to capping the
size of swimming pools. Even as the region’s population
has exploded by more than half in the past two decades, use of
the mighty but dwindling river—by far Las Vegas’s main water
source—has declined by almost a third.
From pinyon pines to ocotillos, plants in the Sonoran Desert
are shifting where they grow in response to climate change, and
many of the plants aren’t thriving in their new ranges,
according to a new study from researchers at the University of
California, Riverside. The study, published in the journal
Functional Ecology in March, focused on observations by the
research team at the Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center,
located south of Palm Desert and east of Highway 74 in the
Sonoran Desert, in 2019. The Sonoran Desert covers the
southeastern corner of California, including the Coachella
Valley, and stretches into southwest Arizona and the Mexican
states of Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California
The Imperial Valley has been a senior water rights holder on
the Colorado River for more than 100 years. Since our founding,
our farmers, and the local Imperial Irrigation District, have
long viewed our water seniority as both a property right and a
responsibility. As much as we believe in upholding the rule of
law, we are equally committed to being responsible water users
and doing our part to keep the river healthy enough to meet the
needs of all seven states. Imperial Valley farms and regional
water agencies have implemented a host of conservation measures
throughout the past twenty years, allowing farmers to conserve
large amounts of water while still producing the food our
country depends on. -Written by Stephen Benson, a farmer in
California’s Imperial Valley.
[Eli] Schwat and his research partner, Danny Hogan, are neither
arctic explorers nor stormtroopers. They’re more like
detectives. The duo treks out to this site each day to help
answer a mystery: How much snow evaporates into the air before
it has a chance to melt? Every winter, high-altitude snow
melts and fills streams, rivers and reservoirs all around the
Rocky Mountains. Some years, there’s a big gap between the
amount of snow and the amount of water that ends up in the
places where people measure and collect it. Scientists and
water managers have limited data on why that happens. The
disparity between snowpack and runoff has far-reaching
implications for tens of millions of people who draw water from
the Colorado River.
As young Native Americans took the leap from the cliff next to
Pumpkin Springs into the cold waters of the Colorado River,
Amber Benally knew the trip had been special. It was the summer
of 2022 and the last full day on the river as part of the Grand
Canyon Trust’s Rising Leaders Program. Throughout the journey,
the 14 Native Americans had navigated through more than just
the white water. … Now, Benally said, the Grand Canyon
Trust, collaborating with the Grand Canyon Youth, are
organizing another trip as part of the Regional Intertribal
Intergenerational Stewardship Expedition (RIISE). Benally
said they are currently taking applications for the free trip
from Native Americans aged 16 to 20 years old and associated
with one of the 11 tribes with connections to the Grand Canyon.
Encouraging news continues to flow about water levels at Lake
Mead. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has announced that
increased releases from Lake Powell will continue through the
end of May. Water released through the Glen Canyon Dam at
Lake Powell flows south as the Colorado River into the Grand
Canyon and eventually into Lake Mead. The majority of the water
in the Colorado River basin comes from melting snow in the
Colorado Rockies, which had record snowfall this
year. Reclamation says it will release almost twice as
much water this month than it did prior to the recent high flow
experiment (HFE) that helped Lake Mead rise more than two feet
in a week.
Amid Arizona’s worsening groundwater crisis, the state’s new
attorney general is vowing to crack down on foreign-owned farms
that lease land from the state with the benefit of unlimited
water pumping. State officials recently revoked two new
well-drilling permits for a Saudi Arabian agriculture company
that uses Arizona groundwater to grow alfalfa to feed dairy
cows overseas, and state Attorney General Kris Mayes told CNN
she believes more action should be taken to curb the farm’s
water pumping. … Arizona’s State Land Department leases
thousands of acres to Fondomonte Arizona LLC, CNN has
previously reported – a farming operation owned by Middle East
dairy giant Almarai Company.
The latest update from the official U.S. Drought Monitor shows
that more areas of the Golden State are no longer in a drought,
including all of Los Angeles County. Drought conditions have
continued to retreat across the state after the winter season
brought heavy rain and historic snowfall. The data, released on
April 27, shows that more than 60% of California is free from
any drought classification, a percentage that has continued to
increase since March when researchers found that more than 50%
of the state was out of a drought, which was the first time
that happened in three years.
Vidler Water Company, a tiny outfit…in Carson City…is an
unusual company. It doesn’t actually deliver water to people,
nor does it own any facilities for water treatment or
desalination. Instead, the company functions as a broker for
water rights, finding untapped water in rural communities and
marketing it to developers and corporations in fast-growing
cities and suburbs. For 20 years, the company has bought up
remote farmland and drilled wells in bone-dry valleys to amass
an enormous private water portfolio, then made tens of millions
of dollars by selling that portfolio one piece at a time…The
company was the first in the West to make a business model out
of finding and flipping water.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in Arizona
v. Navajo Nation, No. 21-1484, a case consolidated with a
separate petition for certiorari filed by the U.S. Department
of the Interior (DOI), No. 21-51. The consolidated cases
involve a water rights case initially brought by the Navajo
Nation against DOI. The states of Arizona, Nevada, and
Colorado, along with six major municipal and agricultural water
providers with adjudicated rights to the Colorado River in the
Lower Basin, intervened in the case. Those states and public
water providers (Intervenors) filed the petition for certiorari
seeking review of the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for
the Ninth Circuit.
The law of the River– the Colorado River, that is – says the
farmers come first. That’s how they see it in California, in
the Imperial Valley, where farming is big business. Take Andrew
Leimgruber of Holtville, Calif. … a fourth-generation
farmer who believes the water rights bestowed unto the farmers
in the 1922 accord between California, and the other six states
– including Nevada – that rely on Colorado River water to live.
That water right established a system putting the farmers at
the top of the list. … Since the 1922 agreement expired
earlier this year, California has refused to sign an agreement
with the six other so-called “basin states.” In fact, the
Bureau of Reclamation has proposed an emergency plan for
dividing Colorado River water unless the states are able to ink
a new deal with each other.
The mighty Colorado River is endangered. Persistent massive
drought, exacerbated by climate change, overuse, and
ever-rising demand, has taken a heavy toll. Water levels have
dwindled and remain at a historic low in Lake Mead and Lake
Powell, the largest human-made reservoirs in the United States
– so low in Lake Mead a year ago that it came close to hitting
dead pool status, which occurs when water levels are too low to
generate electricity. This wet winter’s record-breaking
snowpacks will not resolve the crisis: with just a few
consecutive dry winters in the future, dead pool status will
likely be a reality. The Colorado River supplies water and
electricity to 40 million people. It irrigates farmland and
meets the various needs of industry and municipalities. -Written by Ved Nanda, Denver Post
The American lawn has become the latest front-line issue in
neighborhoods across the country: Some are shelling out to
maintain lush greens while others forgo mowing and chemical
treatments. Why it matters: Environmental campaigns like “No
Mow May,” the “anti-lawn” movement, “Food Not Lawns” and
“Climate Victory Gardens” are gaining steam — but prompting
homeowner associations and other traditionalists to dig in
their heels. The issue pits property values, aesthetics and
“curb appeal” against concerns about drought, gas-powered
mowers and biodiversity. Even among those who prize
sustainability, there’s debate over lawn care techniques — but
agreement that too much mowing is bad for pollinators. Driving
the news: As spring gardening season begins, homeowners are
wrestling with personal decisions about how to tackle lawn
care: To mow or not to mow? Irrigate? Fertilize?
While Arizona received more rain and snow in recent months, a
wet winter will not save the state from the decades-long
mega-drought that is gripping the region. Water officials
have worked on finding unique solutions, including
desalination. Desalination has been seen by some,
including Former Governor Doug Ducey, as an answer to Arizona’s
ongoing water crisis. … The Arizona Water Infrastructure
Finance Authority has also proposed a $5.5 Billion plan to
build a desalination plant in Mexico’s Rocky Point, and pipe
the water to Phoenix.
In an arid pocket of Arizona’s rural southwest, thirsty tufts
of alfalfa are guzzling unlimited amounts of groundwater — only
to become fodder for dairy cows some 8,000 miles east. This
Sonoran Desert field of green, cultivated by a Saudi Arabian
dairy giant, has become a flashpoint among residents, who
resent the Middle Eastern company’s unbridled — and steeply
discounted — usage of a dwindling regional resource. But
because the Vicksburg, Ariz., property is just one of
many farms in the neighborhood growing water-intensive
grains, it is also turning the spotlight on legal
loopholes in state groundwater laws that enable such use in the
Historic snowfall across the Rocky Mountains is helping
recharge some of the country’s biggest reservoirs and provide –
briefly – some much-needed breathing room for the
oversubscribed Colorado River. Forecasts say the melting snow
flowing into Lake Powell via the Colorado River and its
tributaries could hit 177% of average this year, a major boost
at a time when lake levels had hit historic lows. The
levels are now headed up and will likely peak sometime in June,
raising the surface by 50 feet. But experts say the boost won’t
solve or even significantly delay the West’s water crisis that
has drained the massive Lake Powell and Lake Mead
reservoirs – Lake Powell will probably only be about
40% full this fall, far below what it once held.
This month’s swirling flow in the Dolores River is mostly
snowmelt from the Disappointment Creek basin that drains almost
350 square miles of the western San Juans before joining the
meandering Dolores through miles of dramatic Wingate Sandstone
canyon. … Hard times are common for the Dolores River,
where dwindling water supplies in a warming climate offer only
feeble leftovers for almost 200 miles of river canyon below
McPhee Reservoir. But this winter’s bountiful snowpack is
expected to float thousands of boats on the river that rarely
sees navigable flows. … There are two pieces of
legislation from Colorado’s federal lawmakers — an unlikely
pairing of Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert and
Democratic U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and John
Hickenlooper — vying to establish a new conservation area
on the upper section of the river.
This Spring, a high level delegation met inside the Arizona
Governor’s office to announce a huge water conservation deal.
The crowd was a who’s who of the western water world, including
top Biden administration officials, the head of Arizona’s
powerful water department, the state’s Governor Katie Hobbs,
and its senior Senator Kyrsten Sinema. But the man at the
center of the announcement was someone who probably wouldn’t
have even been invited to this type of event not too long ago:
Governor Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community.
Glen Canyon Dam operators began slowing high flows from Lake
Powell into the Colorado River Thursday, ending a 72-hour
exercise aimed at improving environmental conditions through
the Grand Canyon. Bureau of Reclamation crews reduced flows
through the bypass tubes on the side of the dam Thursday
morning, then slowed releases through the power turbines.
Regular operations were scheduled to resume late in the day.
Water levels on the river as it flows through the Canyon will
drop over the next few days, according to the National Park
In rural Arizona’s La Paz County, on the state’s rugged border
with California, the decision by a Saudi-owned dairy company to
grow alfalfa in the American Southwest for livestock in the
Gulf kingdom first raised eyebrows nearly a decade ago. Now,
worsening drought has focused new attention on the company and
whether Arizona should be doing more to protect its groundwater
Earlier this month, the Biden administration proposed a plan to
distribute cuts from the Colorado River and resolve the
centurylong legal dispute between states across the American
Southwest that share its water supplies. Decades of drought and
overuse have brought the river’s water levels to historic lows.
States in the Lower Colorado River Basin — Arizona, California
and Nevada — now must choose between one of three options
proposed by the federal government. The outcome of these talks
will have far-reaching implications for agriculture and energy
in the region.
With Western water challenges in mind, Lorelei Cloud has a
message for policymakers: There should be room for partnerships
— not fear — when Native American tribes join the negotiating
table. In March, Cloud became one of the newest members of the
state’s top water agency, the Colorado Water Conservation
Board, when Gov. Jared Polis appointed her to represent the San
Miguel-Dolores-San Juan drainage basin in southwestern
Colorado. She’s also the first known tribal member to hold a
seat on the board since its creation in 1937. … Her
appointment comes at a time when tensions over water in the
West are high. The Colorado River Basin, which spans seven
states in the Southwest and portions of northern Mexico, is two
decades into a severe, prolonged drought.
A railway project in Eastern Utah is drawing significant
pushback in Colorado as elected officials voice concerns about
crude oil risks to the Colorado River, which is the West’s
primary freshwater river. The Uinta Basin Railway project
would build around 80 miles of train tracks connecting oil
production to America’s rail network. That would allow
producers to ship crude oil on trains through Colorado to
refineries elsewhere in the country. The U.S. Surface
Transportation Board and the United States Department of
Agriculture have given the project the go-ahead, prompting a
letter from U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse
criticizing the federal review of the project.
An extra pulse of water has been sent through the Grand Canyon
this week. The Bureau of Reclamation is running a “high-flow
experiment” at Glen Canyon Dam in northern Arizona, which means
a big release of water designed to move and redeposit sand and
sediment will make its way downstream from the dam. This
experiment is the first since 2018, and comes in response to
forecasts for an above average spring snowmelt in the Rocky
Mountains. Sediment carried and moved by high flows helps to
rebuild beaches and sandbars, which provide habitat for
wildlife in the Grand Canyon. The restored beaches are also
important for ensuring enough campsites exist for the canyon’s
many rafters and boaters.
Don’t miss your opportunity to put your feet on the ground
this spring in regions critical to California’s water story.
Plus, you can meet our team in person at our annual open
house to learn more about how we educate and
foster understanding of California’s most precious natural
resource — water! And check out our latest Western Water
news article that explores how states in the upper watershed of
the Colorado River are trying to strengthen their negotiating
position as severe water cuts loom amid shrinking reservoirs
and persistent drought.
A huge amount of the water that flows down from Colorado’s
snowy mountains into the West’s depleted Lake Powell reservoir
is rocketing out of pipes this week to power a massive,
simulated flood through the Grand Canyon — the first one in
five years to try to revitalize canyon ecosystems the way
nature once did. Federal operators of the Glen Canyon Dam atop
the Grand Canyon opened jets to begin this surge before sunrise
Monday, sending what they described as “a pulse” of water
whooshing through the Colorado River as it curves through the
base of the canyon. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation officials said
they’ll maintain the surge until Thursday evening, ensuring a
flow for 72 hours at 39,500 cubic feet per second of
Arizona’s alfalfa yields are some of the highest in the world —
the state produces an average of 8.3 tons of alfalfa per acre
in comparison to the national average of 3.2 tons. State 48’s
climate means that they can produce eight to 10 cuttings per
year, but while the state has plenty of sunshine days
(generally around 300), water is a precious commodity there.
And, water is where things start to heat up. Arizona has been
renting approximately thousands of acres of state trust land in
La Paz County to a Saudi Arabian-owned farm named Fondomonte
Alfalfa Farm for $25 per acre (about one-sixth of the market
price). The problem? The Arizona State Land Department hasn’t
offered any transparency as to why they’ve issued this
“sweetheart” of a deal.
California and Arizona are currently fighting each other over
water from the Colorado River. But this isn’t new – it’s
actually been going on for over 100 years. … To some extent,
the crisis can be blamed on climate change. … But that’s
only part of the story: The United States has also been
overusing the Colorado for more than a century thanks to a
byzantine set of flawed laws and lawsuits known as “the law of
the river.” This legal tangle not only has been over-allocating
the river, it also has been driving conflict in the region,
especially between the two biggest users, California and
Arizona, both trying to secure as much water as they can.
The states of the Lower Colorado
River Basin have traditionally played an oversized role in
tapping the lifeline that supplies 40 million people in the West.
California, Nevada and Arizona were quicker to build major canals
and dams and negotiated a landmark deal that requires the Upper
Basin to send predictable flows through the Grand Canyon, even
during dry years.
But with the federal government threatening unprecedented water
cuts amid decades of drought and declining reservoirs, the Upper
Basin states of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico are
muscling up to protect their shares of an overallocated river
whose average flows in the Upper Basin have already dropped
20 percent over the last century.
They have formed new agencies to better monitor their interests,
moved influential Colorado River veterans into top negotiating
posts and improved their relationships with Native American
tribes that also hold substantial claims to the river.
When the Colorado River Compact was
signed 100 years ago, the negotiators for seven Western states
bet that the river they were dividing would have ample water to
meet everyone’s needs – even those not seated around the table.
A century later, it’s clear the water they bet on is not there.
More than two decades of drought, lake evaporation and overuse of
water have nearly drained the river’s two anchor reservoirs, Lake
Powell on the Arizona-Utah border and Lake Mead near Las Vegas.
Climate change is rendering the basin drier, shrinking spring
runoff that’s vital for river flows, farms, tribes and cities
across the basin – and essential for refilling reservoirs.
The states that endorsed the Colorado River Compact in 1922 – and
the tribes and nation of Mexico that were excluded from the table
– are now straining to find, and perhaps more importantly accept,
solutions on a river that may offer just half of the water that
the Compact assumed would be available. And not only are
solutions not coming easily, the relationships essential for
compromise are getting more frayed.
With 25 years of experience working
on the Colorado River, Chuck Cullom is used to responding to
myriad challenges that arise on the vital lifeline that seven
states, more than two dozen tribes and the country of Mexico
depend on for water. But this summer problems on the
drought-stressed river are piling up at a dizzying pace:
Reservoirs plummeting to record low levels, whether Hoover Dam
and Glen Canyon Dam can continue to release water and produce
hydropower, unprecedented water cuts and predatory smallmouth
bass threatening native fish species in the Grand Canyon.
“Holy buckets, Batman!,” said Cullom, executive director of the
Upper Colorado River Commission. “I mean, it’s just on and on and
As water interests in the Colorado
River Basin prepare to negotiate a new set of operating
guidelines for the drought-stressed river, Amelia Flores wants
her Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) to be involved in the
discussion. And she wants CRIT seated at the negotiating table
with something invaluable to offer on a river facing steep cuts
in use: its surplus water.
CRIT, whose reservation lands in California and Arizona are
bisected by the Colorado River, has some of the most senior water
rights on the river. But a federal law enacted in the late 1700s,
decades before any southwestern state was established, prevents
most tribes from sending any of its water off its reservation.
The restrictions mean CRIT, which holds the rights to nearly a
quarter of the entire state of Arizona’s yearly allotment of
river water, is missing out on financial gain and the chance to
help its river partners.
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
This tour explored the lower Colorado River firsthand 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 some 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
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 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 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
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.
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.
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 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
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.