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.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is considering altering its
monthly Colorado River forecasting methods in the face of
criticism from experts inside and outside the agency that
predictions have been too optimistic. Changing forecast methods
could have major ramifications in how the bureau manages the
river, water experts say. Larger cutbacks in water deliveries
to Arizona, Nevada and California could possibly be triggered,
for example. The agency will consider starting to base its
forecasts on the past 20 years of flows into Lake Powell,
compared to the 30 years it uses now, a bureau official told
the Arizona Daily Star.
The 23-year drought that’s parching the
Southwest is forcing Arizona to make a bitter choice. Unless
developers can find new sources of water, the state’s largest
master-planned housing development is going to remain a desert.
It’s not just an Arizona problem. Across the American West,
demand for housing is increasingly running into water
shortages. Surface waters like the Colorado River are drying
up, forcing cities and farmers to turn to groundwater.
Unfortunately, most groundwater is finite, and once depleted
it’s difficult or impossible to replenish. Written by Bloomberg opinion writer Adam Minter.
Water managers in the Colorado River basin are gaining a better
understanding that what happens in the weeks after peak
snowpack — not just how much snow accumulated over the winter —
can have an outsize influence on the year’s water supply. Water
year 2021 was historically bad, with an upper basin snowpack
that peaked around 90% of average but translated to only 36% of
average runoff into Lake Powell, according to the U.S. Bureau
of Reclamation. It was the second-worst runoff on record after
2002. One of the culprits was exceptionally thirsty soils from
2020’s hot and dry summer and fall, which soaked up snowmelt
before runoff made it to streams. … But according
to the paper, in 2021, “rates of snowmelt throughout April were
alarming and quickly worsened summer runoff outlooks which
underscores that 1 April may no longer be a reliable benchmark
for western water supply.”
With the federal government poised to force Western states to
change how they manage the alarming shortfall in Colorado River
water, there is one constituency with a growing interest in the
river’s fate that’s little known to some: Wall Street
investors. Private investment firms are showing a growing
interest in an increasingly scarce natural resource in the
American West: water in the Colorado River, a joint
investigation by CBS News and The Weather Channel has found.
For some of the farmers and cities that depend on the river as
a lifeline, that interest is concerning. … Bernal’s
family came to the Grand Valley nearly 100 years ago, and he
has lived there his whole life. But now, he has a new
neighbor: a New York-based investment firm called Water Asset
Management, which he says bought a farm in the valley around
2017 that Bernal now rents and helps operate.
More than a century ago, the [Colorado] river’s delta spread
across 1.9 million acres of wetlands and forests. The
conservationist Aldo Leopold, who canoed through the delta in
1922, described it as “a hundred green lagoons” and said he
paddled through waters “of a deep emerald hue.” He described it
as an oasis that teemed with fish, birds, beavers, deer and
jaguars. In the years after his visit, the river was
dammed and its waters were sent flowing in canals to farms and
cities. For decades, so much water has been diverted that
the river seldom meets the sea. Much of the delta has shriveled
to stretches of dry riverbed, with only small remnants of its
wetlands surviving. Restauremos El Colorado manages one of
three habitat restoration areas in the delta, where native
trees that were planted six years ago have grown into a forest
that drapes the wetland in shade. Last spring, a stream of
water was released from a canal and flowed into the
wetland, restoring a stretch of river where
previously there had been miles of desert sand.
The seven states that depend on the Colorado River have missed
a Jan. 31 federal deadline for reaching a regionwide consensus
on how to sharply reduce water use, raising the likelihood of
more friction as the West grapples with how to take less
supplies from the shrinking river. In a bid to sway the process
after contentious negotiations reached an impasse, six of the
seven states gave the federal government a last-minute proposal
outlining possible water cuts to help prevent reservoirs from
falling to dangerously low levels, presenting a unified front
while leaving out California, which uses the single largest
share of the river. The six states — Arizona, Colorado, Nevada,
New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — called their proposal a
“consensus-based modeling alternative” that could serve as a
framework for negotiating a solution.
The dry and empty landscape [around Kingman, AZ] has since
morphed into something much more green that supports pistachio
and almond orchards, as well as garlic and potato fields, in a
climate similar to California’s Central Valley. The crops are
fed by groundwater that also serves the city of
Kingman. The Arizona Department of Water Resources has put
a limit on the amount of land that can be watered, designating
the Hualapai Valley as an irrigation non-expansion area. That
means anyone who hasn’t farmed more than 2 acres there during
the past five years can’t. It’s the first such designation
in Arizona in four decades — highlighting struggles around the
U.S. as water supplies dwindle and tensions grow between
farmers and cities.
States dependent on the drought-stricken Colorado River are
increasingly looking toward desalination as a way to fix the
river’s deficit and boost water supplies across the western
U.S. The search for alternative ways to source water comes as
federal officials continue to impose mandatory water
cuts for states that draw from the Colorado River, which
supplies water and power for more than 40 million people.
Desalination (or desalinization) is a complicated process that
involves filtering out salt and bacteria content from ocean
water to produce safe drinking water to the tap. While there
are more than a dozen desalination plants in the U.S., mostly
in California, existing plants don’t have the capacity to
replace the amount of water the Colorado River is losing.
In the fall of 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower touched a
telegraph key in the White House Cabinet Room to trigger a
dynamite blast 1,900 miles to the west, marking the start of
construction on the Glen Canyon Dam. More than six decades
later, conservation advocates and environmentalists are hoping
the Biden administration will set an implosion in motion —
albeit a metaphorical one — this time mothballing the 710-foot
dam on the Colorado River in northern Arizona. … Modern
critics of the Glen Canyon Dam — which has never lacked for
detractors, dating to early denunciations that the structure
changed the ecology of the river and drowned canyons and Native
American artifacts when the reservoir filled — see new momentum
to circumvent the structure and drain Lake Powell.
When representatives of seven states signed the Colorado River
Compact in 1922, the agreement included only a brief mention
that nothing in the compact “shall be construed as affecting
the obligations of the United States of America to Indian
tribes.” It wasn’t until 1924 that Congress extended U.S.
citizenship to Native Americans by passing the Indian
Citizenship Act. … In the 1963 Supreme Court case
Arizona vs. California, which settled a dispute over Colorado
River water, the federal government intervened to
assert that the Fort Mojave Tribe and four other reservations
along the river held federally reserved water rights.
Competing priorities, outsized demands and the federal
government’s retreat from a threatened deadline stymied a deal
last summer on how to drastically reduce water use from the
parched Colorado River, emails obtained by The Associated Press
show. … Reclamation wanted the seven U.S. states that rely on
the river to decide how to cut 2 million to 4 million acre-feet
of water — or up to roughly one-third — on top of already
anticipated reductions. … California says it’s a partner
willing to sacrifice, but other states see it as a reluctant
participant clinging to a water priority system where it ranks
near the top. Arizona and Nevada have long felt they’re
unfairly forced to bear the brunt of cuts because of a water
rights system developed long ago, a simmering frustration that
reared its head during talks.
Golf courses. Ponds. Acres of grass. Cascading waterfalls.
Displays of water extravagance zip past each day when Sendy
Hernández Orellana Barrows drives to work. She said these views
seem like landscapes that have undergone “plastic surgery,”
transforming large parts of the Coachella Valley’s desert into
scenes of unnatural lushness. From La Quinta to Palm Springs,
the area’s gated communities, resorts and golf courses have
long been promoted with palm-studded images of green grass,
swimming pools and artificial lakes. The entrepreneurs and
boosters who decades ago built the Coachella Valley’s
reputation as a playground destination saw the appeal of
developments awash in water, made possible by wells drawing on
the aquifer and a steady stream of Colorado River water.
Researchers from the University of Arizona are working on
groundwater and agricultural research that could help
sustainable farming practices in central Arizona. The project,
funded with a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of
Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture and
led by the University of California, Davis, integrates over two
dozen experts from institutions in Arizona, California and New
Mexico. … As a megadrought drains the Colorado River
reservoirs and water cuts are enacted, farmers across the
Southwest are turning to groundwater to sustain their
operations. This has caused unprecedented overdraft in aquifers
in the Central Valley of California, central Arizona and the
Lower Rio Grande basin in New Mexico, according to project
In the warmth of Arizona’s winter sun, 50 residents gathered in
front of neighborhood activist Cody Reim’s house last weekend,
eager to discuss a solution to their problem. Despite living a
few miles from a river, their community has no water supply
services. … In Rio Verde Foothills, an unincorporated
community with no municipal government, near Scottsdale, the
fashionable, wealthy desert city adjoining the state capital of
Phoenix, none of the homes are connected to a local water
district. There is only one paved road, no street lights, storm
gutters, or pipes in the ground. Instead residents have wells –
or water tanks outside their homes, which they used to fill at
a local pipe serviced by Scottsdale.
Over the course of the next seven years, an average 35,000
housing units will be built each year in Colorado. If past
trends persist, around 70% of those housing units will be
single-family homes. From Fort Collins to Colorado Springs,
it’s likely that Coloradans will see more single-family
suburban developments popping up — and with them, lawns.
Conventional grass lawns ornament the vast majority of American
homes, covering three times as much surface area as irrigated
cornfields in the United States. Although lawns are often
purely aesthetic, sometimes they are chosen for their
durability; lawns hold up against cleats, dogs and kids. …
But there are far too many cropped, green lawns that are
neglected until a weed sprouts up or it’s time to mow. Too many
lawns exist just for the sake of being maintained. -Written by Sammy Herdman, a campaign associate
for Environment Colorado.
The seven states that rely on water from the shrinking Colorado
River are unlikely to agree to voluntarily make deep reductions
in their water use, negotiators say, which would force the
federal government to impose cuts for the first time in the
water supply for 40 million Americans. The Interior Department
had asked the states to voluntarily come up with a plan by Jan.
31 to collectively cut the amount of water they draw from the
Colorado. … Negotiators say the odds of a voluntary agreement
appear slim. It would be the second time in six months that the
Colorado River states, which also include Colorado, New Mexico,
Utah and Wyoming, have missed a deadline for consensus on cuts
sought by the Biden administration to avoid a catastrophic
failure of the river system.
Just north of the California-Mexico border, the All-American
Canal cuts across 80 miles of barren, dune-swept desert. Up to
200 feet wide and 20 feet deep, the canal delivers the single
largest share of Colorado River water to the fertile farmlands
of the Imperial Valley. It’s more water than what Los Angeles,
Phoenix and Las Vegas get combined, and it’s used to grow
lettuce, broccoli, carrots and spinach, as well as hay to
supply beef and dairy operations, wheat, melons, lemons and
other crops. … But as the Colorado’s largest reservoir
declines closer to “dead pool” levels, politicians and water
managers in other states are calling on the IID to make cuts
beyond the 250,000 acre-feet, or about 9%, that the agency has
pledged to make starting this year. They say that the dire
state of Lake Mead warrants larger cuts …
Water is already a scarce commodity in the West, but if
Colorado keeps growing we are going to need even more. One
source could be treating reused drinking water. It’s a scenario
water providers and the state are already planning for.
… It’s not something that will likely happen soon.
Direct potable reuse water will need to be treated with
state-of-the-art technologies to make it safe to drink and that
process is expensive, but providers and the state want to be
prepared. That’s why just this month [Colorado Department
of Public Health and Environment] implemented new rules to
regulate direct potable reuse water. So that way if water
providers are going to practice direct potable reuse, they are
doing it safely.
A Maricopa County judge in Arizona denied residents emergency
relief over their Scottsdale water source that has been cut off
since Jan. 1 because of drought conditions and despite repeated
city warnings to find an alternative water source. The action
for an emergency stay was brought by some residents of the
nearby unincorporated community of Rio Verde Foothills who saw
their deliveries of water run dry at the beginning of the year
due to action by the city of Scottsdale, whose leaders said
they repeatedly warned the community that continued deliveries
were unsustainable due to drought.
Over the last several years, managers of water agencies have
reached deals to take less water from the river. But those
reductions haven’t been nearly enough to halt the river’s
spiral toward potential collapse. As Lake Mead, the nation’s
largest reservoir, continues to decline toward “dead pool”
levels, the need to rein in water demands is growing urgent.
Efforts to adapt will require difficult decisions about how to
deal with the reductions and limit the damage to communities,
the economy and the river’s already degraded ecosystems.
Adapting may also drive a fundamental rethinking of how the
river is managed and used, redrawing a system that is out of
balance. This reckoning with the reality of the river’s limits
is about to transform the landscape of the Southwest.
Arizona needs tens of thousands of new housing units to meet
demand, but first, developers will need to find enough water.
The state’s water woes have been on full display this month as
it lost 21% of its Colorado River supply to cuts, homes outside
Scottsdale, Arizona, had their water cut off by the city, and a
recently released model found planned housing units for more
than 800,000 people west of Phoenix will have to find new water
sources. Arizona is one of the fastest-growing states and short
100,000 housing units, a state Department of Housing report
released last year found, but depending on where they’re
located, some homes will be more easily built than others.
Moab, Utah, gets just eight inches of rain per year, yet
rainwater flooded John Weisheit’s basement last summer.
Extremes are common in a desert: Rain and snow are rare, and a
deluge can cause flooding. Weisheit, 68, co-director of Living
Rivers and a former Colorado River guide, has long warned the
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that its two biggest dams on the
Colorado River could become useless because of prolonged
drought. Although recently, at a BuRec conference, he also
warned that “atmospheric rivers” could overtop both dams,
demolishing them and causing widespread flooding. Weisheit
points to BuRec research by Robert Swain in 2004, showing an
1884 spring runoff that delivered two years’ worth of Colorado
River flows in just four months. -Written by David Marston, of Writers on the Range.
Hefty snowfalls from a series of atmospheric rivers have
brought a slightly rosier outlook for the beleaguered Colorado
River. While not enough to fend off the falling water levels
entirely, the snow that has dropped in recent weeks across the
mountains that feed the river is expected to slow the decline
at Lake Mead, according to the latest federal projections
released last week. Forecasters now expect Lake Mead to finish
this year around 1,027 feet elevation, about 19 feet lower than
its current level. That’s about 7 feet higher than the 2023
end-of-year elevation in the bureau’s forecast from last month.
As for Lake Powell, the reservoir located on the Utah-Arizona
border is now expected to finish 2023 at 3,543 feet, or 16 feet
higher than last month’s forecast and about 19 feet higher than
its current level.
Record snowfall has come to Arizona. It hasn’t even melted yet,
and already there’s an extra 100,000 acre-feet of water in Salt
River Project’s reservoirs since Jan. 1. Meanwhile, snowpack
across the Colorado River basin is well above normal, and while
it’s still too early to know how runoff will shape up, some
researchers have begun to raise their expectations for a better
year. So, we can ease up, right? Maybe we won’t need to stop
using nearly as much water this year, as predicted, to keep
Lake Mead and Lake Powell on life support? … The feds
told the seven Colorado River basin states last summer that
they needed to stop using at least 2 million
acre-feet of water this year. … But state delegates
are back at it again, hoping to reach some sort of voluntary
deal by the end of this month. -Written by Arizona Republic columnist Joanna
We’re getting a peek at the future of our economy. The Las
Vegas Chamber hosted Preview Las Vegas Monday. Key Colorado
River state leaders address Southern Nevada’s water issues. One
of the main focuses of Preview Las Vegas this year was the
water supply for Southern Nevada. The biggest take away?
Colorado river states are working together as one to combat the
water crisis. … At Monday’s panel discussion, talk
turned to the importance of a partnership with California’s
regional recycling system. The agency is evaluating a
restoration process that one day could send water back to
Colorado River using states. But for now, the project’s
targeted start date isn’t until 2030.
Concerns over the Colorado River have led the everyday Arizonan
to think about water in ways they haven’t before. As a result,
much has been made as of late about growing “thirsty crops” in
Arizona’s desert climate. It doesn’t take long to find an
opinion or editorial about how farming alfalfa is the
embodiment of everything that is wrong with the water system in
Arizona. This rhetoric needs to stop. Here’s why. When you hear
that agriculture uses nearly three-fourths of Arizona’s water,
it is easy to draw the conclusion that the best way to save
water for growing urban populations is to take it from the
largest user. In reality, though, that water is already being
consumed by that urban population each and every time they sit
down for a meal. -Written by Chelsea McGuire, the Arizona Farm
Bureau Government Relations Director.
Underground storage may be a key for Western states navigating
water shortages and extreme weather. Aquifers under the ground
have served as a reliable source of water for years. During
rainy years, the aquifers would fill up naturally, helping
areas get by in the dry years. … But growing demand for
water coupled with climate change has resulted in shortages as
states pump out water from aquifers faster than they can be
replenished…. Municipalities and researchers across the
country are working on ways to more efficiently replenish
emptied-out aquifers… In California — where 85
percent of the population relies on groundwater for some
portion of their supply — more than 340 recharge projects have
already been proposed.
Joe McCue thought he had found a desert paradise when he bought
one of the new stucco houses sprouting in the granite foothills
of Rio Verde, Arizona. There were good schools, mountain views
and cactus-spangled hiking trails out the back door. Then the
water got cut off. Earlier this month, the community’s longtime
water supplier, the neighboring city of Scottsdale, turned off
the tap for Rio Verde Foothills, blaming a grinding drought
that is threatening the future of the West. Scottsdale said it
had to focus on conserving water for its own residents, and
could no longer sell water to roughly 500 to 700 homes — or
around 1,000 people.
This winter, the West has been slammed by wet weather. An
“atmospheric river” has pummeled California with
weeks of heavy rain, and the Rocky Mountains are getting buried
with snow. That’s good news for the Colorado River, where all
that moisture hints at a possible springtime boost for massive
reservoirs that have been crippled by drought. Climate
scientists, though, say the 40 million people who use the
river’s water should take the good news with a grain of
salt. The flakes that pile up high in the Rockies are
crucial for the Colorado River — a water lifeline for people
from Wyoming to Mexico in an area commonly referred to as the
Colorado River basin. Before water flows through rivers,
pipelines and canals to cities and farms across the region, it
starts as high-altitude snow.
At their Jan. 17 meeting, Grand County commissioners heard a
presentation from Lily Bosworth, staff engineer for the
Colorado River Authority of Utah, on a water conservation pilot
program. The Colorado River Authority of Utah was established
by the Utah State Legislature in 2021. Ongoing drought and
growing evidence that the river cannot support the demand being
placed on it by users have strained water infrastructure,
policies and agreements across the Southwest; the stated
mission of the Colorado River Authority is to “protect,
preserve, conserve, and develop Utah’s Colorado River system
interests.” The Authority is overseen by a six-member board as
well as the governor.
The Trump administration failed to consider the strain of
climate change and drought on the Colorado River and
tributaries when it agreed to give Utah 52,000 acre-feet of
water from a reservoir annually, environmental groups argued
Thursday and asked a 10th Circuit panel to order an
environmental impact statement for the plan. Forty million
Americans depend on the Colorado River for water, along with
5.5 million acres of land, 22 Native American tribes and nearly
two-dozen national parks and preserves. One of the Colorado
River’s tributaries is the Green River, which winds through
Utah and sustains ecosystems in the Browns Park National
Wildlife Refuge, Dinosaur National Monument, Ouray National
Wildlife Refuge and Canyonlands National Park.
Some 2,000 gallons of gasoline are estimated to have reached
the Colorado River after an accident in Glenwood Canyon Tuesday
resulted in fuel spilling from a tanker. Kaitlyn Beekman, a
spokeswoman with the Colorado Department of Public Health and
Environment’s Water Quality Control Division, said in an email
Wednesday that the estimated volume of gas that made it to the
river came from the Colorado State Patrol’s on-scene
responders, with whom CDPHE has coordinated. … She said
that upon learning of the spill, her department immediately
began contacting downstream water systems to alert them.
Officials involved in the talks over how to cut Colorado River
water use amid a historic drought say they’re optimistic a
consensus will be reached by states before a Feb. 1 deadline
even though the negotiations are in a delicate place. If the
seven Western states don’t reach consensus, the Interior
Department’s Bureau of Reclamation will consider mandating
water cuts—a move the states are working feverishly to avoid.
More than likely, “we’re going to end up with some kind of
hybrid outcome in which we have agreement in part, and some
mandatory imposed outcomes from the federal government,” said
Tom Buschatzke …
Developers planning to build homes in the desert west of
Phoenix don’t have enough groundwater supplies to move forward
with their plans, a state modeling report found. Plans to
construct homes west of the White Tank Mountains will require
alternative sources of water to proceed as the state grapples
with a historic megadrought and water shortages, according to
the report. Water sources are dwindling across the Western
United States and mounting restrictions on the Colorado River
are affecting all sectors of the economy, including
homebuilding. But amid a nationwide housing shortage,
developers are bombarding Arizona with plans to build homes
even as water shortages worsen.
Across the sun-cooked flatlands of the Imperial Valley, water
flows with uncanny abundance. The valley, which straddles the
U.S.-Mexico border, is naturally a desert. Yet canals here are
filled with water, lush alfalfa grows from sodden soil and rows
of vegetables stretch for miles. … But now, as a
record-breaking megadrought and endless withdrawals wring the
Colorado River dry, Imperial Valley growers will have to cut
back on the water they import. The federal government has told
seven states to come up with a plan by Jan. 31 to reduce their
water supply by 30%, or 4 million acre feet. The Imperial
Valley is by far the largest user of water in the Colorado
River’s lower basin — consuming more water than all of Arizona
and Nevada combined in 2022 — so growers there will have to
find ways to sacrifice the most.
The survival — or at least the basic sustenance — of hundreds
in a desert community amid the horse ranches and golf courses
outside Phoenix now rests on a 54-year-old man with a plastic
bucket of quarters. John Hornewer picked up a quarter and put
it in the slot. The lone water hose at a remote public filling
station sputtered to life and splashed 73 gallons into the
steel tank of … Some living here amid the cactus
and creosote bushes see themselves as the first domino to fall
as the Colorado River tips further into crisis. On
Jan. 1, the city of Scottsdale, which gets the majority of its
water from the Colorado River, cut off Rio Verde Foothills from
the municipal water supply that it has relied on for
decades. … [T]he federal government is now pressing
seven states to cut 2 to 4 million acre-feet more, up to 30
percent of the river’s annual average flow.
Even in the middle of a cool and wet winter in the Coachella
Valley and California in general, officials of the Coachella
Valley Water District have a blunt message for the desert’s
golf course industry: Take the ongoing drought seriously,
because changes could be coming to water availability sooner
rather than later. … Golf course superintendents and
general managers from throughout the desert listened to
presentations on advances in drought-tolerant grasses and
technological advances that can help save water on the desert’s
120 courses. But Cheng and Pete Nelson, a director of the CVWD,
made the more important presentation on the state of the
Colorado basin and how water from the Colorado River can no
longer be counted on as a long-term solution to irrigation
needs for golf courses or agriculture in the desert.
At the end of last year, the seven states in the Colorado River
Basin committed to once again work together and negotiate a
consensus framework for making significant cuts to water use,
an attempt to stabilize the nation’s two largest reservoirs and
avoid an even deeper shortage crisis. The states recommitted to
considering a consensus deal, by Jan. 31, after several
deadlines passed in 2022 — with seemingly irreconcilable
differences over how to make painful cuts in a watershed relied
upon by 40 million people who use the river for drinking water
and agriculture. …… Of note was the comment letter from
Nevada, which outlined a possible framework to achieve
consensus. It was the only state-led letter that suggested a
comprehensive framework. In fact, two other letters
specifically refer to the Nevada plan as a starting point for
the state discussions….
Federal and state officials are outlining plans and soliciting
public comment for a potential concrete dam project in the
Medicine Bow National Forest. The dam would create a new
reservoir in the Colorado River Basin. Though the water storage
facility would be just 10,000 acre feet – much smaller than
other reservoirs in the region – the dam would still tower over
250 feet and block a wooded canyon on a tributary of the Little
Snake River, according to WyoFile. Building the structure would
cost around $80 million, according to a 2017 cost estimate of
the project and WyoFile, and the state would pay for the
majority of it. State Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) managed water
and natural resources in the Little Snake River Basin for 32
years and is in favor of the project.
A New Mexico town that is intimately aware of the water supply
risks from a drying climate could receive up to $140 million to
rebuild its water system after the largest wildfire in state
history tore through its watershed last year. Besides being a
lifeline, the funds also illustrate the financial and
ecological vulnerability of small, high-poverty communities in
the face of extreme weather. In the fiscal year 2023 budget
that President Joe Biden signed just before the new year,
Congress set aside $1.45 billion for post-fire recovery in New
Mexico. That’s in addition to $2.5 billion that lawmakers had
already directed to the state, bringing the total amount of
federal aid after the Hermit’s Peak/Calf Canyon fire to nearly
The chairmen of the Ute Mountain Ute and the Southern Ute
tribes spoke in a joint address to the state legislature on
Wednesday. It was the first time, under a new state law, that
the tribal leaders were invited to address state lawmakers.
Over the course of about 30 minutes, the two leaders shared the
history of their communities and asked for lawmakers’ help on
specific issues. Here are a few. Manuel Heart, chairman of
the Ute Mountain Ute, said the tribe needs help to access the
water for which it already holds rights. … Heart said
the state should partner with the tribe to work on a pipeline
from Lake Nighthorse to Montezuma County. The tribes also
deserve a greater role in water planning among the Colorado
River basin states, he said.
As Lake Mead continues to decline toward dead pool, federal
officials are requesting the Colorado River states to
offer major cuts in water usage. Nevada has responded with a
detailed and innovative plan set forth in a December 20,
2022 letter to the Bureau of Reclamation, calling for
basic reform of water management throughout the entire Colorado
River system. … Arizona and California have not responded in
public. They remain on the sidelines, unable to
summon the political will to either agree or to propose an
alternative. The reason Arizona and California are
internally deadlocked can be summed up in one word:
agriculture. Irrigated agriculture uses more than 70 percent
of the water allocated to the two states from Lake
Mead. -Written by Bruce Babbitt, an attorney and politician
from the state of Arizona, and President Bill Clinton’s
secretary of the Interior from 1993 to 2001.
Water from the Colorado River covers more than a third of
Arizona’s total water usage, but the state is increasingly
losing access to that supply. The state is no longer in what
Terry Goddard, the president of the Central Arizona Water
Conservation District Board of Directors, called “a fool’s
paradise.” Arizona had maintained a surplus of water since the
mid-1980s, but that’s not the case today. Now, it’s losing
water, and it’s losing it fast. That loss, and potential future
loss, was the focal point of Arizona’s state legislature
Tuesday, starting with a presentation from the Central Arizona
Project on the status of the state’s water supply in which
legislators heard about the tensions between Arizona and other
Colorado River Basin states over access to groundwater.
The Wyoming State Legislature begins its lawmaking session this
week. One bill, called the “Colorado River Authority of Wyoming
Act,” would create a board and commissioner to manage Wyoming’s
water in the Colorado River Basin. The system drains about 17
percent of the Cowboy State’s land area and is critical for
agriculture, energy development and residential use in cities.
The entire Colorado River Basin is currently under stress due
to drought conditions and human development in the Southwest.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Albert Sommers (R-Pinedale) and
Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) is similar to those previously
passed in several other states that depend on the Colorado
The recent atmospheric river that brought record rainfall and
snow to parts of the west coast also boosted Colorado’s
mountain snowfall totals. Several rounds of heavy snowfall like
the mountains have recently seen is the dream of every skier
and snowboarder, and it’s also a big help to the state’s
drought conditions. This boost helped Steamboat Springs
become the first resort of the season to surpass the benchmark.
It now has 225 inches so far this season. Ski areas like
Silverton and Winter Park aren’t too far from hitting 200 with
about 167 inches so far. Places like Wolf Cree, Breckenridge,
and Keystone have also seen some impressive totals for this
point in the season.
Record drought in the American West contributes to a growing
number of billion-dollar weather and climate disasters across
the country, and the quickening pace of large-scale events
makes recovery slower and pricier, according to a new report
from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Drought covered 63% of the contiguous United States on Oct. 25,
the largest such footprint since the severe drought of 2012,
according to the report, released Tuesday at Denver’s national
convention for the American Meteorological Society. Forty
percent or more of the lower 48 states has been in drought for
the past 119 weeks, a record in more than 20 years of the U.S.
Drought Monitor reports. That’s approaching double the previous
record of 68 weeks begun in 2012’s drought.
When we think about the Colorado River water shortage, it’s
natural to blame it on the burgeoning population in desert
cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas and Los Angeles. … And as
more people move to these cities, their overall water
consumption increases proportionally … This pattern
held true for eight decades after the 1922 signing of the
Colorado River Compact: The number of people relying on the
river’s waters shot up from less than 1 million to nearly 40
million, and overall water consumption climbed consistently as
well, peaking at just under 20 billion cubic meters in
2000. But then, according to a new study in
the Journal of Water Resources Planning and
Management by Brian Richter, the pattern was broken. Even
as the population of the region continued to shoot up,
consumption of Colorado River water actually dropped and then
The Imperial Irrigation District is pleased to announce
director Gina Dockstader’s appointment to the California Farm
Water Coalition (CFWC). According to a press release from the
IID, Director Dockstader was selected by her fellow IID board
members to serve as a liaison between IID and the California
Farm Water Coalition. The CFWC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit
directed by a volunteer board of directors, representing
agriculture across the state. Its mission is to increase public
awareness of agriculture’s use of water and provide a common,
unifying voice for agricultural water users by serving as the
voice for agricultural water users, representing irrigated
agriculture in the media and educating the public about the
benefits of irrigated agriculture, the release states.
Colorado Springs will be making decisions this week that will
impact its growth and development for decades to come. The
following issues will be discussed by local leaders this week.
Check back here for updates on how they voted. Water supply The
city is considering an ordinance that would impact how and
where Colorado Springs extends its water service. The city
wants to make sure there’s enough water as it continues to
grow. Currently, Colorado Springs Utilities is required to
maintain a surplus water supply. But there’s no definition of
how much extra that actually is. So what they want to do is
define it as a 30 percent buffer between supply and demand,
calculated on a five-year rolling average. … Half the
city’s water comes from the Colorado River Basin, which is
threatened by drought and overuse.
Lake Mead will need more than just rainfall to replenish
itself, an expert has told Newsweek. Spread between Nevada and
Arizona—Lake Mead, the largest man-made reservoir in the
U.S.—is best known for its rapidly declining water levels due
to the ongoing megadrought gripping the western states. The
lake is integral to surrounding communities, as it is also
formed by the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River—which generates
electricity for thousands of people. If the water levels
continue to decline, the consequences could be catastrophic.
Water levels at the lake have risen slightly thanks to heavy
rainfall sweeping across the region.
Tucson Assistant City Manager Tim Thomure joined a unanimous
vote last month by a state water board that will allow for
state-run discussions with an Israeli firm over its proposal
for a $5.5 billion desalination plant in Puerto Peñasco on the
Gulf of California. The Water Infrastructure Authority of
Arizona voted 9-0 on Dec. 20, following a fierce,
afternoon-long debate, to authorize its staff to prepare an
analysis of the project. If the analysis finds the proposal
meets state requirements, the board chairman can negotiate an
agreement with the company to deliver desalted water to Arizona
at agreed upon terms including costs.
As officials this week outline plans for a 264-foot-high
concrete dam proposed for a wooded canyon in the Medicine Bow
National Forest, irrigators and critics remain divided over the
project’s benefits and impacts. The two sides disagree whether
the estimated $80-million structure and accompanying 130-acre
reservoir are pork or progress, boon or bane. Federal officials
begin receiving public comments on the proposed dam on the West
Fork of Battle Creek in Carbon County as ranchers and
environmentalists disagree over whether 450,000 cubic yards of
concrete should plug a forested gorge and whether federal and
state agencies are conducting environmental examinations
appropriately. In what one official admitted is a complex
process with parallel reviews, two federal agencies will make
key findings to resolve the project’s fate.
The Colorado River can no longer withstand the thirst of the
arid West. Water drawn from the river flows to more than 40
million people in cities from Denver to Los Angeles and
irrigates more than 4 million acres of farmland. For
decades, the river has been entirely used up, leaving dusty
stretches of desert where it once flowed to the sea in Mexico.
Now, chronic overuse and the effects of climate change are
pushing the river system toward potential collapse as
reservoirs drop to dangerously low levels. … Colorado River
in Crisis is a series of stories, videos and podcasts in which
Los Angeles Times journalists travel throughout the river’s
watershed, from the headwaters in the Rocky Mountains to the
river’s dry delta in Mexico.
One hundred years ago — little more than a lifetime — nature
and the Colorado River conspired almost every spring to ravage
soil, rocks, vegetation and anything else in the river’s path
on its rapacious way to the Pacific Ocean. The river overran
its banks to flood California’s Imperial Valley plus other
low-lying ground in Arizona, Mexico and California. It filled
those valleys with fertile mountain soil. A few
forward-thinking humans dreamed of taming the mighty Colorado
River with a dam near Boulder Canyon. At the time, it was the
most ambitious and most expensive public works project ever
conceived – more ambitious and more expensive, relatively, than
rocket trips to the moon half a century later. -Written by Don Gale, long-time Utah
In October 2022, water agencies in Southern California with
Colorado River water rights announced plans to reduce water
diversions. The agencies offered voluntary conservation of
400,000 acre-feet per year through 2026. This annual total is
nearly 10% of the state’s total annual usage rights for the
Colorado River. The cutbacks help prepare for long-term
implications of climate change for the river’s management,
which are starting to be acknowledged. In urban Southern
California, an important aspect of this need is reducing
imported water reliance through investments in local water
resources. … What would happen if Southern California
lost access to Colorado River water for an extended period?
Arizona’s newly inaugurated Gov. Katie Hobbs (D) has
no time to waste as she faces the daunting challenge of
addressing the state’s use of water from the overallocated
Colorado River. Arizona is one of three states in the
river’s Lower Basin, along with California and Nevada….last
year, the river’s waters dropped to a level that triggers
automatic allocation cuts from the federal Bureau of
Reclamation…. One of the “first and most important
thing[s]” directly under Hobbs’s control is something she’s
already done, according to Dave White, director of Arizona
State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability and
Innovation. Ahead of her inauguration, Hobbs confirmed she’d
retain Tom Buschatzke as director of the state Department of
The Rocky Mountains snow season is off to a well-above-average
start thanks to a recent surge of stormy weather across the
West. But whether it will be enough to buoy levels at Lake Mead
and along the Colorado River remains to be seen. The Upper
Colorado River Basin snowpack currently sits at 140 percent of
the median over the last 30 years, according to data from the
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. That’s in large part due to a
recent series of atmospheric river storm systems that swept
across much of the West right after Christmas, dumping ample
amounts of snow and rain.
President Joe Biden has approved three bills that will improve
access to water for three tribes in Arizona amid an unrelenting
drought. One of the measures that Biden signed Thursday
settles longstanding water rights claims for the Hualapai
Tribe, whose reservation borders a 100-mile (161-kilometer)
stretch of the Colorado River as it runs through the Grand
Canyon. Hualapai will have the right to divert up to 3,414
acre-feet of water per year, along with the ability to lease it
Engineers and water experts knew for decades that growth in the
Colorado River Basin would eventually hit a tipping point. That
is, unless the states depending on the river found a new source
of water. One way to do that, civil engineer Royce J.
Tipton wrote in 1965, would be to pipe water in from somewhere
else, also referred to as “importing” water. One scheme
considered in the 50s and 60s (but never developed), the North
American Water and Power Alliance, proposed to pipe water from
rivers in Alaska and Canada south into the Colorado River’s
headwaters, among other places. … These canals and pipelines
are expensive to build, though, and take years.
Registration for the Foundation’s early 2023 programming
is right around the corner. Don’t miss the
once-a-year opportunities for our Water 101
Workshop in February and our Lower Colorado
River Tour in March. Mark your calendars now for the
week of Jan. 9
when registration will open for both events.
… One of our most popular annual events,
our Water 101 Workshop + optional 1-day tour returns
Feb. 23 & 24 to detail the history, geography, legal
and political facets of water in California as well as hot
topics of the moment…. Our annual Lower Colorado
River Tour returns March 8-10 when we take
you from Hoover Dam to the Mexican border and through
the Imperial and Coachella valleys to learn about the
challenges and opportunities facing the “Lifeline of the
One Valley community is adjusting to a new reality now that
they are without access to a familiar water source. “Really
concerned and worried. In fact, I’m happy I have a pool because
every time it rains at least I can siphon that,” says Dee
Thomas, Rio Verde Foothills resident. Just days into the new
year, residents in the Rio Verde Foothills community are
getting creative with how they conserve and use water. “We use
it mostly for showering. For, you know, washing clothes, the
bathroom,” says Thomas. On January 1st, the City of Scottsdale
stopped providing the ability for water to be purchased and
hauled outside city limits as part of their drought management
plan. In a memo, Scottsdale says they have been generous and
accommodating for years, but the city cannot be responsible for
the water needs of a separate community, especially given its
unlimited and unregulated growth.
The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has initiated a
statewide effort to sample over 1,200 public water systems
across the state for 29 different kinds of a hazardous chemical
known as PFAS. The goal is to produce a detailed map
showing the presence of PFAS in drinking water supplies, the
first step toward cleaning up contaminated water sources. PFAS,
short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of
manufactured chemicals that have been used since the late 1940s
in a wide variety of products and industries, and can now be
found globally in water and soil. A growing body of evidence
has shown that long-term exposure, even to low traces of these
chemicals, can cause severe health issues.
Snowpack levels crucial to water supplies in the Colorado River
basin have been rising over the past week as storms hit the
Rocky Mountains. Dec. 27 measurements of 102% snowpack in the
region — just above normal — had risen to 142% as of today
(Jan. 3) in the Upper Colorado River Basin. That week-to-week
change is good news but demonstrates the volatility of snowpack
levels. Just as rainfall makes little to no impact on the level
of Lake Mead, snowpack levels in early January shouldn’t be
seen as a sign that a few snowstorms will erase years of
drought, experts say. Kyle Roerink, executive director of
the conservation group Great Basin Water Network, said
long-term forecasts showed river flows expected to be about 87%
between now and April.
Water supplies are shrinking throughout the Southwest, from the
Rocky Mountains to California, with the flow of the Colorado
River declining and groundwater levels dropping in many areas.
The mounting strains on the region’s water supplies are
bringing new questions about the unrestrained growth of
sprawling suburbs.[Kathleen] Ferris, a researcher at Arizona
State University’s Kyl Center for Water Policy, is convinced
that growth is surpassing the water limits in parts of Arizona,
and she worries that the development boom is on a collision
course with the aridification of the Southwest and the finite
supply of groundwater that can be pumped from desert aquifers.
Nevada water managers have submitted a plan for cutting
diversions by 500,000 acre-feet in a last-ditch effort to shore
up flows on the Colorado River before low water levels cause
critical problems at Glen Canyon and Hoover dams. But the
Silver State’s plan targets cuts in Utah and the river’s other
Upper Basin states, not in Nevada, whose leaders contend it
already is doing what it can to reduce reliance on the depleted
river system that provides water to 40 million in the West.
This simple statistic may shock you: Each time a farmer plows
his or her field, the soil loses three-quarters of an inch of
moisture. The solutions? They’re more complicated and part of
new and expanding soil health programs that seek to help
farmers explore how to retain water, improve fertility, and
create greater resilience to buffer weather extremes. Now, with
the aid of $25 million in new federal funding, the Colorado
Department of Agriculture plans to expand a program called STAR
— an acronym for Saving Tomorrow’s Agricultural Resources —
from 124 producers, including both farmers and ranchers, to
450. … State officials say that fostering techniques to
improve soils, making them more sponge-like, can help Colorado
improve water quality and use existing water more efficiently.
Agriculture continues to account for more than 80% of
Colorado’s water use.
It’s a construction project that may have caused you traffic
headaches near 32nd Street and Shea in north Phoenix.
Eventually the Drought Pipeline Project will be able to provide
water to more than 400,000 people in the event of shortages of
Colorado River water. It will be able to carry water the city
of Phoenix has rights to from the Salt and Verde
rivers. On Wednesday morning, a number of Phoenix city
officials celebrated the installation of the final section of
pipe for the Drought Pipeline Project. Construction began in
May 2021, and Arizona’s Family did a special report over
I came to this place because the Colorado River system is in a
state of collapse. It is a collapse hastened by climate change
but also a crisis of management. In 1922, the seven states in
the river basin signed a compact splitting the Colorado equally
between its upper and lower halves; later, they promised
additional water to Mexico, too. Near the middle, they put Lake
Powell, a reserve for the northern states, and Lake Mead, a
storage node for the south. Over time, as an overheating
environment has collided with overuse, the lower half —
primarily Arizona and California — has taken its water as if
everything were normal, straining both the logic and the legal
interpretations of the compact.
The outskirts of Kingman, Arizona … has since morphed into
something much more green that supports pistachio and almond
orchards, and garlic and potato fields in a climate similar to
California’s Central Valley. The crops are fed by groundwater
that also serves the city of Kingman. The Arizona Department of
Water Resources this week put a limit on the amount of land
that can be watered, designating the Hualapai Valley as an
irrigation non-expansion area. That means anyone who hasn’t
farmed more than 2 acres there during the past five years
can’t. It’s the first such designation in Arizona in four
decades — highlighting struggles around the U.S. as water
supplies dwindle and tensions grow between farmers and
The researchers are investigating a phenomenon known as
sublimation, which is the transition of snow directly from a
solid state into water vapor, skipping the liquid stage.
… Currently the largest source of uncertainty in snow
modeling, sublimation has the potential to be an important
insight for water resources management, especially estimating
future water reserves. … In recent years, there have
also been unexplainable decreases in the river’s flow, which
people in seven states depend upon for drinking water. In 2021,
the Colorado River snowpack was estimated at 80% of average,
but streamflows ended up being only 30% of average. The
researchers speculate that the discrepancy may in part be
explained by sublimation.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority has a plan for how the
seven states that rely on the Colorado River can protect Lake
Mead and Lake Powell. But whether the other six states
have any interest in backing that plan remains to be
seen. The water authority on Tuesday outlined how it
thinks the Colorado River basin states and the federal
government can drastically cut back on water use along the
dwindling Colorado next year in order to keep water levels at
its two major reservoirs from crashing further and threatening
putting their ability to deliver water downstream and generate
hydropower. The plan, submitted to the Department of Interior,
calls for significant alterations to the current drought
guidelines for the river’s two main storage reservoirs and cuts
across the basin of more than 2 million acre feet in water use
starting next year.
The U.S. Senate has advanced three bills that would improve
access to water for some tribes in Arizona amid an unrelenting
drought. One measure approved on Dec. 19 would give the
Colorado River Indian Tribes in northwestern Arizona the
ability to lease water from the Colorado River. The tribe based
in Parker has one of the largest allocations of the Colorado
River anywhere, and it’s among the most secure. Another bill
would settle the Hualapai Tribe’s claim to water from the
Colorado River and give the tribe $180 million for the
infrastructure to deliver it to the tribe’s main tourist center
at Grand Canyon West and to residents.
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
Explore 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 is 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.
With interstate discussions of critical Colorado River issues
seemingly headed for stalemate, Secretary of the Interior Gale
Norton stepped in May 2 to defuse, or at least defer, a
potentially divisive debate over water releases from Lake Powell.
With interstate discussions of critical Colorado River issues
seemingly headed for stalemate, Secretary of the Interior Gale
Norton stepped in May 2 to defuse, or at least defer, a
potentially divisive debate over water releases from Lake Powell.
In a letter to governors of the seven Colorado River Basin
states, Norton preserved the status quo of river operations for
five months, giving states and stakeholders a chance to move back
from the edge before positions had hardened on two key issues:
(1) shortage guidelines for the Lower Basin and (2) Upper Basin/
Lower Basin reservoir operations, particularly at Lake Powell.
But Norton served notice that she wants discussions on those two
issues to continue, possibly outside of the annual operation plan
(AOP) consultation process, which at least one observer described
Drawn from a special Colorado River stakeholder symposium held in
January 2002 at The Bishop’s Lodge in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this
article provides an overview of several Colorado River issues
that may or may not be resolved through consensus. Some of these
issues include providing water for the Colorado River Delta,
endangered species, dam re-operation and potential future trends
around the basin as they relate to the California 4.4 Plan,
drought and governance.
The situation is true anywhere: when resources are stretched,
tensions rise. In the arid Southwestern United States, this
resource is water and tensions over it have been ever present
since the westward migration in the 18th Century. Nowhere in this
region has the competition for water been fiercer than in the
Colorado River Basin. Whether it is more water for agriculture,
more water for cities, more water for American Indian tribes or
more water for the environment – there is a continuous quest by
parties to obtain additional supplies of this “liquid gold” from
the Colorado River. Sometimes the avenue chosen to acquire this
desert wealth is the court system, as exemplified by the landmark
Arizona v. California dispute that stretched for over 30 years.
Drawn from a special stakeholder symposium held in September 1999
in Keystone, Colorado, this issue explores how we got to where we
are today on the Colorado River; an era in which the traditional
water development of the past has given way to a more
collaborative approach that tries to protect the environment
while stretching available water supplies. Specific topics
addressed include the role of the Interior secretary in the
basin, California’s 4.4 plan, water marketing and future
challenges identified by participants.
Drawn from a special stakeholder symposium held in September 1999
in Keystone, Colorado, this issue explores how we got to where we
are today on the Colorado River; an era in which the traditional
water development of the past has given way to a more
collaborative approach that tries to protect the environment
while stretching available water supplies.