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.
A plan to divvy up cutbacks to Colorado River water in times of
shortage has passed its first two tests in Congress. On
Thursday, a House subcommittee endorsed the Drought Contingency
Plan after questioning the state and federal officials who
crafted it. Thursday’s approval came a day after a Senate
subcommittee endorsed the plan. Next, lawmakers in both
chambers will have to negotiate and vote on bills that would
allow the federal government to carry out the plan.
U.S. Sen. Martha McSally vowed Wednesday to take quick action
on a plan to preserve the drought-stricken Colorado River,
which serves about 40 million people in the U.S. West and
Mexico. … The plans that have been in the works for years got
a first congressional hearing Wednesday before a subcommittee
that McSally chairs. The Arizona Republican said she’ll
introduce a bill soon and expects strong support.
The agreement represents the first multistate effort in
more than a decade to readjust the collective rules for
dealing with potential shortages. … But even as the drought
agreement has earned widespread praise as a historic step
toward propping up the river’s reservoirs, Arizona’s plan for
implementing the deal has also drawn criticism for relying on a
strategy that some argue has significant drawbacks.
In recent days, there have been contentions that the DCP has
left a major factor out of the equation: the Salton Sea,
California’s largest inland lake. But this simply is not the
case. … The Imperial Irrigation District has yet to sign on
to the DCP. The DCP has an on-ramp for IID’s participation if
they change their minds. But with or without IID’s
participation, the DCP will not adversely impact the Salton
I introduced AB 854 because the board of directors of IID, one
of California’s most powerful municipal utilities, operates
without representation from Riverside County ratepayers who
make up 60 percent of their service territory. Moreover,
according to The Desert Sun, Riverside County ratepayers
provide IID with the majority of its revenue yet have no voice
on how their municipal utility is managed.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman commended
Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and
Wyoming for reaching a consensus on the Colorado River drought
contingency plan. Now the states are seeking approval from
Congress to implement it.
The state of California declared the drought is over – but
don’t touch your sprinkler programming. Los Angeles Mayor Eric
Garcetti says the city is not easing watering restrictions
because the next “drought is right around the corner,” and
conservation is “the new normal.”
On this edition of Your Call’s One Planet Series, veteran
environmental journalist Jim Robbins joins us to talk about his
in-depth series headlined, “The West’s Great River Hits Its
Limits: Will the Colorado Run Dry?”
In the coming days, Congress will begin committee hearings on
unusually concise, 139-word legislation that would allow the
secretary of the interior to implement the Colorado River
Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP. … This agreement marks a
watershed moment in building our country’s resilience to
The directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board voted
Thursday to start exploring the feasibility of a
demand-management program as part of a larger effort to manage
falling water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead and avoid
violating the Colorado River Compact.
Because the Green is the biggest tributary of the Colorado
River system, the amount of water available for the divvying is
decided by the Colorado River Compact, a 1922 agreement that
delineated how much water was in the Colorado River Basin and
how it should be split up. … It’s a rigid framework for a
system that’s inherently variable…
Four hours east of Los Angeles, in a drought-stricken area of a
drought-afflicted state, is a small town called Blythe where
alfalfa is king. … Massive industrial storehouses line the
southern end of town, packed with thousands upon thousands of
stacks of alfalfa bales ready to be fed to dairy cows – but not
cows in California’s Central Valley or Montana’s rangelands.
Instead, the alfalfa will be fed to cows in Saudi Arabia.
What image comes to mind when you think of Lake Mead? For most,
it’s likely the infamous “bathtub ring,” a troubling sign of
the depleted water supply in this life-sustaining reservoir.
But while this is one of the most frequently deployed images
associated with the decades long “drought” in the West, do we
really see it? Does it make an impact that’s strong enough to
shift our perceptions and motivate us to alter our personal
The Colorado River Basin was already running near empty before
the Trump administration approved a new deal allowing
additional extractions from one of its main tributaries. While
the administration found the deal would not have a significant
impact on the environment surrounding the river, a collection
of environmental groups say in a new federal lawsuit that it
will further deplete the river basin’s supply…
There can be no more excuses for federal inaction. Yet
shockingly I have learned from recent investigative reporting
that the Trump administration is now pushing federal
legislation that would eliminate public health and
environmental protections for the Salton Sea and beyond as part
of a federal drought plan for the Colorado River.
The Desert Research Institute, Averyt said, is engaged in
research looking at long-term and short-term climate change,
where the impact of human-caused warming is clear. Researchers
with DRI have looked at ice cores from Greenland to map out
long-term climate trends. At the same time, other researchers
are looking at more immediate trends through the Western
Regional Climate Center, which provides contemporary climate
data for the 11 contiguous western states.
The stations monitor meteorological conditions over the water
and estimate evaporation using four primary methods: eddy
covariance, energy balance, aerodynamic bulk mass transfer, and
the combination of energy balance and aerodynamic. Data from
the stations are transmitted back to the research team via a
web portal for real-time monitoring.
Another group of top state officials visited the Salton Sea
this week to promise that this time, things will be different
and progress will be made to restore the fast-drying water
body. … Newly appointed water board chairman E. Joaquin
Esquivel, who grew up in nearby La Quinta and fished in the
lake as a boy, said he shares residents’ and longtime
experts’ frustrations, and feels personally accountable to
family members who still live in the area, as well as the
communities around the lake.
Residents and officials who packed a yacht club on the north
shore of the Salton Sea on Tuesday vented their anger about
what they perceive as unnecessary delays and obfuscations about
the environmental and public health disaster unfolding here.
The California Water Resources Control Board held the workshop
at the North Shore Yacht and Beach Club to both inform the
public and garner opinions of residents living in proximity to
the sea, which is rapidly vanishing into the desert.
Representatives of seven states finished a landmark agreement
to shore up the dwindling Colorado River and signed a letter to
Congress on Tuesday calling for legislation to enact the deal.
The set of agreements would prop up water-starved reservoirs
that supply cities and farms across the Southwest and would lay
the groundwork for larger negotiations to address the river’s
On Tuesday, March 19, the California Water Resources Control
Board will hold a session on the North Shore to hear from state
officials about their progress addressing the many issues
related to the Salton Sea. This is a good opportunity for these
officials to break through the remaining obstacles to progress
at the Salton Sea and find a productive way forward.
It’s done. The Colorado River Board of California voted 8-1-1
Monday to sign on to a multi-state drought contingency plan,
which, somewhat ironically, might not be needed for two years
because of an exceptionally wet winter. The Imperial Irrigation
District, a sprawling rural water district in the southeastern
corner of California, refused to sign on until the federal
government pledged to provide $200 million to clean up the
Salton Sea, which has not occurred.
For the moment, Mother Nature is smiling on the Colorado River.
Enough snow has piled up in the mountains that feed the river
to stave off a dreaded shortage declaration for one more year,
according to federal projections released Friday afternoon.
The chances for passage this year of legislation to jump-start
serious water planning in New Mexico, including by pumping
millions of dollars into the effort, evaporated last week when
a Senate committee tabled a key bill.
For the bulk of her career, Jayne Harkins has devoted her
energy to issues associated with management of the Colorado
River, both with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the
Colorado River Commission of Nevada. Now her career is taking a
different direction. Harkins was appointed last August to take
the helm of the United States section of the International
Boundary and Water Commission, the U.S.-Mexico agency that
oversees myriad water matters between the two countries…
As the Trump administration moves toward a drought contingency
plan for the Colorado River, the Bureau of Reclamation is
pushing legislation that would exempt its work from
environmental reviews. That includes potential impacts on what
has emerged as a major sticking point in the drought
negotiations: Southern California’s Salton Sea, a public health
and ecological disaster.
If, as being widely reported, the Colorado River basin states
… ultimately decide to proceed with a Lower Colorado River
Basin Drought Contingency Plan that cuts out the Imperial
Irrigation District (IID), no one should be surprised. It’s
simply continuing a long, and perhaps successful, tradition of
basin governance by running over the “miscreant(s)”.
Imperial Valley officials are reportedly close to finishing an
important habitat restoration project at the Salton Sea. The
remake of Red Hill Bay was supposed to be a model for a
management plan around the shrinking lake, but the effort is
two years overdue and still months away from completion. The
Salton Sea needs a management plan because water is evaporating
faster than it’s being replaced…
Rebuffed by an Arizona House panel, a Globe lawmaker convinced
a Senate committee Tuesday that Pinal County farmers should get
$20 million more to help drill new wells to replace Colorado
River water they will give up. The 6-3 vote by the Senate
Appropriations Committee came after Republican Rep. David Cook
argued the farmers were promised the cash as part of the
drought contingency plan enacted by in January.
The Imperial Irrigation District is being written out of a
massive, multi-state Colorado River drought plan at the
eleventh hour. IID could sue to try to stop the revised plan
from proceeding, and its board president called the latest
development a violation of California environmental law.
But Metropolitan Water District of Southern
California general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said
attorneys for his agency, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and
others in a working group are finalizing new documents to
remove IID from the Lower Basin Drought Contingency 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.
The sandy playa that used to be underwater is now being baked
by the sun and blown around by the winds that frequently scour
the desert floor here. The dust is tiny and can easily get
airborne. That is a public health crisis for a region already
suffering from some of California’s highest asthma rates.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California on
Tuesday sealed California’s participation in a landmark
Colorado River drought management plan, agreeing to shoulder
more of the state’s future delivery cuts to prevent Lake Mead
from falling to dangerously low levels. With California signed
on, the plan can move to Congress, which must approve the
multi-state agreement before it takes effect. The MWD board
took the step over the objections of the Imperial
Irrigation District, which holds senior rights to the biggest
allocation of river water on the entire length of the Colorado.
The Metropolitan Water District is positioning itself to
shoulder California’s entire water contribution, with its board
voting Tuesday on a proposal to essentially write out of the
drought plan another agency that gets more Colorado River water
than anyone else. That agency, the Imperial Irrigation
District, has said it won’t approve the plan unless the federal
government agrees to commit $200 million to address the Salton
California is now the lone holdout on an emergency drought plan
for the Colorado River, and the other river states are turning
up the heat to get the deal done. Representatives from Nevada
and five other Western states sent a letter to California on
Saturday urging water officials there to set aside their
concerns and “and immediately and unconditionally approve” the
so-called Drought Contingency Plan.
Much of the United States could be gripped by significant water
shortages in just five decades’ time, according to predictions
made in a new study. … In the researchers’ projections, water
supply is likely to be under threat in watersheds in the
central and southern Great Plains, the Southwest and central
Rocky Mountain States, California, and areas in the South
(especially Florida) and the Midwest.
The Colorado River’s federal managers have projected that if
dry conditions continue, they could be unable to deliver any
water at all to downstream users (including Phoenix, Tucson,
Los Angeles, and San Diego) within five years. That’s the
doomsday scenario that has led the Colorado River’s water
managers and users to the cusp of adopting the Drought
Contingency Plan, a temporary yet broad agreement to reduce
water use and ensure that the reservoirs continue to provide a
reliable water supply.
Political disputes, interstate suspicion and funding concerns
have long been a fact of life when it comes to the Colorado
River. Those same factors now are delaying a final agreement on
how to handle drought in the river basin. But, at least none of
the states involved has called out its navy. Arizona did that
85 years ago to prevent completion of Parker Dam, the concrete
structure on the Colorado River that backs up Lake Havasu on
the border between California and Arizona.
It seems like a simple question: How many people can Southern
Nevada support with the water it has now? But the answer is far
from easy. The number can swing wildly depending on a host of
variables, including the community’s rates of growth and
conservation and the severity of drought on the Colorado River.
(Last in the paper’s Water
The question comes up with every dire media report or bleak new
forecast about the Colorado River: How much longer can Nevada’s
largest community continue to rely on a single source of water
to power its prosperity? It’s an important question, maybe the
most important. No Southwestern state gets less water from the
river than Nevada. No major city depends on that water more
than Las Vegas. But the Colorado is in trouble. (Part 1 of 8 in
Lawmakers in Colorado want the U.S. state to study the
potential of blockchain technology in water rights management.
Republican senator Jack Tate, along with representatives Jeni
James Arndt (Democratic) and Marc Catlin (Republican), filed
senate bill 184 on Tuesday, proposing that the Colorado Water
Institute should be granted authority to study how blockchain
technology can help improve its operations.
California’s largest lake has long attracted visitors. Many go
there year-round to see thousands of birds congregating around
the lake and its nearby habitats, but the lake is changing and
that’s changing bird populations.
With another deadline missed Monday, the head of the Bureau of
Reclamation is now looking for the governors in the states in
the Colorado River basin to tell her what they think she should
do to keep water levels from dropping even lower. But there’s
just two weeks for them to do that.
The problem started on Feb. 17, when Paonia’s water operators
noted a loss of water in a 2 million gallon storage tank. A
team went out looking for a leak, but could not locate it. As
the leak continued, the town’s water system lost enough
pressure that the state of Colorado imposed a boil order. In
response, town officials declared a state of emergency.
About half the Sycuan Indian tribe relies heavily on a single
groundwater well for water. The whole tribe now wants access to
the same water most San Diegans enjoy – Colorado River water,
Northern California water and desalinated Pacific Ocean water.
Most of San Diego’s state legislative delegation is pushing a
bill that could make it happen.
Days after Imperial Irrigation District officials said there
had been a breakthrough in negotiations with federal
officials to commit to the restoration of the Salton Sea
in a mammoth Colorado River drought plan, a top federal
official offered a different assessment. … The
Reclamation statement said it’s up to IID to decide when they
want to join the drought plan, indicating a possible avenue for
them to join later that would not stymie the entire agreement.
California’s Salton Sea, the state’s largest inland body of
water, formed when a dam broke. It stayed alive fed by
agricultural water runoff. Today, it’s water supply is slowing,
and the sea is drying up and losing its place as a fishing and
recreation hotspot. But … the Salton Sea is finding new life
as haven for artists.
Imperial Irrigation District officials announced at a special
board meeting late Friday that the federal Bureau of
Reclamation has agreed to their condition that the drought
contingency plan package include restoration of the Salton Sea.
They said federal officials will write a strong letter of
support backing IID’s requests for $200 million in Farm Bill
funding for wetlands projects around the shrinking sea, which
is California’s largest inland water body.
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
Arizona state water regulators have confirmed that here may not
be enough water underground for dozens of planned developments
in Pinal County, new subdivisions that, if built, would bring
more than 139,000 homes. That finding is based on data the
Arizona Department of Water Resources has compiled that shows a
long-term groundwater shortage in the area is possible. The
data … raises red flags about growthand the water supply in
one of the fastest growing parts of the state.
Betting on water is a risky endeavor. Experts on water in
Arizona say that while it’s easy to start speculating on water,
cashing out is not. Would-be profiteers have to buy water or
land with rights to it. They have to work within the thicket of
laws and regulations governing water in Arizona and contend
with the fraught politics of Western water. The ability to
store water underground has also given rise to a market-like
system in Arizona in which people talk about diverse portfolios
and asset acquisitions.
We hope the move by MWD — which in 2016 had played
hardball of its own by linking its support of the Colorado
River drought plan to federal and state support of a Delta
water project — doesn’t again sidetrack true federal
involvement at the Salton Sea.
With a Monday deadline looming, the Metropolitan Water District
of Southern California has offered to break an impasse on a
seven-state Colorado River drought contingency package by
contributing necessary water from its own reserves on behalf of
the Imperial Irrigation District. It’s not help that IID is
seeking, but Metropolitan general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger
said he had no choice.
Winter storms have blanketed the mountains on the upper
Colorado River with snow. But even this year’s above-average
snowpack won’t be nearly enough to make up for the river’s
chronic overallocation, compounded by 19 years of drought and
the worsening effects of climate change.
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.
Follow along on our water tour of the Lower Colorado
River – and keep up with any of our
tours and events –
through our social media channels. We’ll post updates on our
Twitter account @WaterEdFdn about
people, issues and places as we travel along the Lower Colorado
River from Hoover Dam to the Coachella Valley Feb. 27 through
The Imperial Irrigation District wants $200 million for the
Salton Sea, a massive, briny lake in the desert southeast of
Los Angeles created when the Colorado River breached a dike in
1905 and flooded a dry lake bed. The district says if the
federal government doesn’t commit to giving California the
money, it won’t sign off on a multistate plan to preserve the
river’s two largest reservoirs amid a prolonged drought.
All eyes have been on the Colorado River recently with
headlines across the west announcing the progress – or lack
thereof – of the efforts of the seven basin states to reach
agreement on the Drought Contingency Plan. So is the Colorado
River in crisis? At the 2019 California Irrigation Institute
conference, Dr. Brad Udall’s keynote presentation focused on
answering that question.
Arizona’s efforts to finish a Colorado River drought plan are
moving forward after leaders of the Gila River Indian
Community announced that they will proceed with their
piece of the deal. … The Gila River Indian Community’s
involvement is key because the community is entitled to about a
fourth of the water that passes through the Central Arizona
Project Canal, and it has offered to kick in some water to make
the drought agreement work.
In 2014 Santa Monica embarked on a course to be virtually
water independent through local sources by 2023. … The
switch has been accomplished through an extensive plan that
encompasses small measures like toilet replacements, household
rain harvest barrels and aggressive conservation to large
measures like cleaning up contaminated groundwater, capturing
street runoff and recycling water.
The furrows in a 60-acre patch of dirt on Rodney and Tiffany
Shedd’s Arizona farm still hold cotton scraps from last year’s
crop. This year, that patch will stay barren for the first time
in recent memory, thanks to the decline in Colorado River water
for farms across Pinal County, one of America’s cotton-growing
The odds are looking increasingly poor that Arizona and other
Western states will meet a March 4 federal deadline for
wrapping up Colorado River drought plans. That’s not just
because of the ongoing conflict over a now-shelved water rights
bill for Eastern Arizona that prompted a threat from the Gila
River Indian Community to bolt this state’s drought plan. It’s
also not just because of a Southern California irrigation
district’s efforts to secure $200 million in U.S. funds to
shore up the dying Salton Sea.
Rising temperatures can lower flow by increasing the amount of
water lost to evaporation from soil and surface water, boosting
the amount of water used by plants, lengthening the growing
season, and shrinking snowpacks that contribute to flow via
meltwater. … The researchers found that rising
temperatures are responsible for 53% of the long-term decline
in the river’s flow, with changing precipitation patterns and
other factors accounting for the rest.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers on Tuesday withdrew his bill that
would repeal state laws on when farmers forfeit their water
rights — legislation that the Gila River Indian Community said
would cause it to withdraw from the multi-state drought
contingency plan. But Bowers’ move did not get the tribe to
sign the papers agreeing to provide Arizona with the 500,000
acre-feet of water it needs to make the drought plan a reality.
When people need more water, they often build dams to increase
supply. But can dams increase water use in an unsustainable
way, leading communities to live beyond their water means? That
appears to often be the case, according to the authors of a
recent paper in Nature Sustainability. Las Vegas is a textbook
Colorado will launch a far-reaching $20 million conservation
planning effort this spring designed to ensure the state can
reduce water use enough to stave off a crisis in the
drought-choked Colorado River Basin.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey steered away from the term “climate
change” in order to garner political support for the
state’s Colorado River drought plan, he indicated Friday in an
interview with a Pima Community College newspaper. In that
interview, he also avoided making any connection between
climate change and the “drier future” (his preferred phrase)
that Arizona faces. His omission bordered on a denial of the
established links between the two.
This failure is twofold. First, the DCP has limited provisions
for actually conserving water — only $2 million for groundwater
conservation programs in active management areas. … Second,
the DCP fails to address conservation for Arizona’s rivers,
streams and springs, even in the face of warming and drying
When growth skyrocketed in Phoenix and the East Valley
during the 1990s and 2000s, housing developments started
replacing decades-old farms. Now, it’s the west side’s turn. In
2000, Maricopa County had 510 square miles of agricultural land
and 180 square miles of residential land west of Interstate 17.
By 2017, farmland had dropped to 350 square miles while
agricultural residential land grew to cover 280 square miles,
according to the Maricopa Association of Governments.
Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community said
in a statement Thursday that a decision by House Speaker Rusty
Bowers to move forward with a contentious water bill threatens
the community’s plan to support the drought agreement. The
Gila River Indian Community’s involvement is key because it’s
entitled to about a fourth of the Colorado River water that
passes through the Central Arizona Project’s canal.
The Colorado River has been dammed, diverted, and slowed by
reservoirs, strangling the life out of a once-thriving
ecosystem. But in the U.S. and Mexico, efforts are underway to
revive sections of the river and restore vital riparian habitat
for native plants, fish, and wildlife. Last in a series.
The strategy of turning to groundwater pumping will
test the limits of Arizona’s regulatory system for its desert
aquifers, which targets some areas for pumping
restrictions and leaves others with looser rules or no
regulation at all. In Pinal County, which falls under
these groundwater rules, the return to a total reliance on
wells reflects a major turning point and raises the possibility
that this part of Arizona could again sink into a pattern
of falling groundwater levels — just as it did decades
ago, before the arrival of Colorado River water.
It’s all up to the Imperial Irrigation District. The fate of a
seven-state plan to address dwindling Colorado River water
supply now appears to rest squarely with the sprawling
southeastern California water district. Its neighbor to the
north, the Coachella Valley Water District, voted unanimously
on Tuesday to approve interstate agreements that would conserve
water for use by 40 million people and vast swaths of
The Colorado river crisis ought to be upsetting markets. The
U.S. waterway supports some $4 trillion in GDP and at least
$1.3 trillion in stock value across seven U.S. states. The
river was already virtually tapped out last century, and
continuing troubles have now led the federal government to step
in to help manage its water use. Yet investors have barely
caused a ripple.
The Imperial Irrigation District holds among the oldest and
largest rights to water from the Colorado River and is using
that as leverage to get what it sees as a better deal in
current drought contingency plan negotiations involving states
that draw from the river. Among the hardball tactics IID
is putting in play: A demand that the federal government
provide $200 million for efforts to bolster the beleaguered
Arizona and California aren’t done finishing a plan that would
establish how states in the Colorado River Basin will ensure
water for millions of people in the Southwest, said the head of
the agency running the negotiations. … One challenge
comes from the Imperial Irrigation District, a water utility
that serves the Imperial Valley in southeastern California. It
hasn’t signed California’s plan because it wants $200 million
to restore the vanishing Salton Sea, the state’s largest lake.
A year after Colorado River imports were diverted to urban
areas from farms draining into the lake, dire predictions about
what would occur are coming to pass. A long-predicted, enormous
ecological transition is occurring this winter.
The coring project is the initial phase of a multiyear analysis
in partnership with the Utah Department of Environmental
Quality, the National Park Service and the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation. The agencies have set aside $1.3 million for the
study, about half going toward extracting the cores.
Once criticized for being a profligate user of water,
fast-growing Phoenix has taken some major steps — including
banking water in underground reservoirs, slashing per-capita
use, and recycling wastewater — in anticipation of the day when
the flow from the Colorado River ends.
In the event that water elevation decreases
below 1,050-feet, officials have developed a plan to
address operational needs. Due to the government shutdown,
the public wasn’t able to provide comment on the low water plan
for Lake Mead. So an extension has been provided through
A notice published recently in the Federal Register is not
sitting well with Imperial Irrigation District. That
notice, submitted by the Department of Interior through the
Bureau of Reclamation and published on Feb. 1, calls
recommendations from the governors of the seven Colorado River
Basin state for protective actions the Department of Interior
should take in the absence of a completed drought contingency
A major deadline just passed without unanimous agreement among
Western states over the future of the Colorado River, so the
federal government is one step closer to stepping in on the
dwindling river that provides water for 1-in-8 Americans. The
path forward has become murkier for the drought-stricken region
now in its 19th year of low water levels after a January 31
deadline failed to garner signed agreements from Arizona and
Did the goalposts just move on us? … Media reports suggest
that Reclamation is lumping Arizona with California, which
clearly did not meet the deadline, in its reasoning for taking
an action that we had all hoped to avoid. It’s easy to feel
betrayed by that, to conclude that Arizona was asked to move
mountains and then when we did, we were told it still wasn’t
All eyes were on Arizona this week as state lawmakers took a
last-minute vote on their part of the pact. They approved the
plan Thursday afternoon, just hours before the deadline, but
Arizona officials still haven’t finalized a variety of
documents. In addition, a California irrigation district with
massive river rights has yet to sign off on the
agreement. On Friday, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner
Brenda Burman … said the agency would start the
formal legal process of soliciting comments on how it should
Gov. Doug Ducey signed a drought contingency plan Thursday
afternoon, six hours ahead of the deadline set by a key federal
official for the state to act or face having its Colorado River
water supply determined by her.That came despite objections
from some legislators who questioned why the state will allow
Pinal County farmers to once again pump groundwater for their
crops and will also provide cash to help them do it.
The Bureau of Reclamation, the Interior Department’s Western
water bureaucracy that saw its dam-building heyday in the
1960s, has risen in stature once again in the Trump
administration. Reclamation has flexed its muscles on Colorado
River drought management plans… And it has been the
administration’s key player in trying to fulfill President
Trump’s campaign promise to deliver more water to California
farmers, squeezing the state and forging ahead on a dam project
California says it doesn’t want.
California’s Imperial Irrigation District will get the
last word on the seven-state Colorado River Drought Contingency
Plans. And IID could end up with $200 million to restore the
badly polluted and fast-drying Salton Sea. Thursday, as the
clock ticked toward a midnight deadline set by a top federal
official, all eyes had been on Arizona. But lawmakers there
approved the Colorado River drought deal with about seven hours
to spare. IID, an often-overlooked southeastern California
agricultural water district, appears to have thrown a
last-minute monkey wrench into the process.
Communities along the Colorado River are facing a new era of
drought and water shortages that is threatening their future.
With an official water emergency declaration now possible,
farmers, ranchers, and towns are searching for ways to use less
water and survive. Third in a series.
The Colorado River Indian Tribes, or CRIT, have lands that
stretch along 56 miles of the lower Colorado River. The tribe’s
right to divert nearly 720,000 acre-feet from the river is more
than twice the water that is allocated to the state of Nevada.
By law, that water is to be used on the reservation. But if
CRIT convinces Congress to allow off-reservation leasing, the
change would free up a large volume of water that would be
highly desirable for cities and industries.
Warnings of doomsday on the river are nothing new. Too many
people, farms and factories depend on too little water, which
is why the Colorado now rarely flows to its end point at the
Gulf of California. The sprawling Southwest has sucked the
river dry. Yet the region has thrived in spite of the
naysayers. Until now, it appears.
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.
Arizona lawmakers appear on track to pass a Colorado River
drought plan, with less than 30 hours to go before a critical
federal deadline. A state Senate committee voted 6-1
Wednesday evening to pass a pair of measures that outline
how the state would share looming cutbacks on the
river’s water and work with other states to take less. The
bills now head to the full Senate and House. Both chambers are
expected to pass the bills Thursday, an effort that could
stretch into the night as they rush to meet a federal deadline.
Avoiding a long-expected crisis on the Colorado River, a water
source for 40 million people, is coming down to a final few
days of frenzied negotiations. A 19-year drought and decades of
overuse have put a water shortfall on the horizon. If
California and six other states, all with deeply entrenched
interests, can’t agree on a plan to cut their water consumption
by Jan. 31, the federal government says it will step in and
decide the river’s future.
Water conservation in the Las Vegas Valley is imperative as the
city continues to grow. The resources provided by the Colorado
River are stretched thin, as the river is responsible for
supplying the majority of the water to Southern Nevada, six
other states—California, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah,
Colorado—and Mexico. Combine these existing allotments with
drought conditions that have reduced the river’s average flows
by 30 percent annually, and it’s clear that Las Vegas must be
proactive in its conservation efforts.
In Arizona, the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan now
hinges on the approval of tribal nations. The plan is meant to
levy water cuts to seven Western states in order to prevent the
river and its reservoirs from reaching critical levels — but
after a state lawmaker introduced legislation that undermines
parts of the Gila River Indian Community’s water settlement,
the tribe has threatened to exit the plan. Without tribal
buy-in, Arizona’s implementation design will collapse….
The Colorado River is not meeting its obligations.
Its Lake Powell bank account is in danger of running
dry. A 97-year-old agreement demands that the river
deliver 5.2 trillion gallons of water to seven states and
Mexico each year. That isn’t happening, and now — in the age of
climate change — the chance of ever meeting that demand is
fading. As a result, Utah’s plan to take more of its
Colorado River water — by building a pipeline from Lake Powell
to St. George — may be fading, too.
Arizona’s water leaders and lawmakers are running out of time
to complete the state’s Drought Contingency Plan, a
blueprint for how Arizona water users would share a likely
shortage on the Colorado River. … There are a lot of
moving parts to understand and a lot of concepts that may seem
overwhelming. Here are the things you need to know in advance
of the Jan. 31 deadline to finish the plan.
The restoration site is one of three south of the
U.S.-Mexico border, in the riparian corridor along the last
miles of the Colorado River. There, in the delta, a small
amount of water has been reserved for nature, returned to
an overallocated river whose flow has otherwise been
claimed by cities and farms. Although water snakes through
an agricultural canal system to irrigate the restoration sites,
another source is increasingly important for restoring these
patches of nature in the delta’s riparian corridor:
Arizona lawmakers and the governor are under the gun to come up
with a Drought Contingency Plan to deal with possible Colorado
River water shortages. Get an update from Kathleen Ferris of
the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University’s
Morrison Institute for Public Policy. This Arizona Horizon
segment is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a
multimedia collaboration between public radio and public
television stations in Arizona, California and Colorado.
With the Southwest locked in a 19-year drought and climate
change making the region increasingly drier, water managers and
users along the Colorado River are facing a troubling question:
Are we in a new, more arid era when there will never be enough
Coachella Valley Water District board members on Tuesday
debated issuing a $40 million bond to pay for an extension of
the Oasis pipeline to bring imported water to about 40 farmers
and others in the irrigation district, who would pay the costs
back over 30 years. A small rate increase could be imposed as
well. The 17-mile pipeline and three pump stations would
provide Colorado River water to mostly longtime farmers in the
valley who already obtain much of their water from the river
via the All-American Canal, but get some from wells.
Without a change in how the Colorado River is managed, Lake
Powell is headed toward becoming a “dead pool,” essentially
useless as a reservoir while revealing a sandstone wonderland
once thought drowned forever by humanity’s insatiable desire to
bend nature to its will. … Absent cutbacks to deliveries
to the Lower Basin, a day could come when water managers may
have little choice but to lower the waters that have inundated
Utah’s Glen Canyon for the past half-century.
Longstanding urban-rural tensions over a proposed drought plan
have escalated after Pinal County farmers stepped up their
request for state money for well-drilling to replace Colorado
River water deliveries. “Enough is enough,” responded 10
Phoenix-area cities through a spokesman. They say the state has
already pledged millions to the farms for well drilling, and
plenty of water to boot.
A declining Colorado River in Arizona. Orcas and salmon stocks
in Washington state. Forest restoration in Idaho to protect
drinking water sources from wildfire. And renewable energy
seemingly everywhere. These are some of the water issues that
U.S. governors have mentioned in their 2019 State of the State
speeches. The speeches, usually given at the beginning of the
legislative session, outline budget or policy priorities for
the coming year.
The draft legislation compiled by the Department of Water
Resources looks similar to how water leaders described the
measures at a Drought Contingency Plan Steering Committee
meeting last week. … But the legislation as drafted
barely delves into the nitty-gritty details of a far more
complex intrastate agreement that Arizona water users have been
hashing out for months.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California …
began what is being referred to as “defensive withdrawals” from
Lake Mead. Remember, Lake Mead is severely low, and if L.A.
takes all of the water they’ve been allotted, it will trigger
emergency supply restrictions for everyone else. So, why are
they doing this with the agreement deadline so close? The Show
turned to Debra Kahn who covers California environmental policy
and broke the story for Politico Pro.
A proposed Colorado River drought plan that will cost well over
$100 million is just the beginning of what’s needed to protect
the over-allocated river, says Bruce Babbitt, the former
governor who rammed through Arizona’s last big water
legislation nearly four decades ago. After Gov. Doug Ducey
urged legislators to “do the heavy lifting” and pass the
proposed drought-contingency plan for the Colorado, Babbitt
said Monday that authorities will have to start discussing a
much longer-term plan immediately after it’s approved.
Following one of the hottest and driest years on record, the
Colorado River and its tributaries throughout the western U.S.
are likely headed for another year of low water. That’s
according to a new analysis by the Western Water Assessment at
the University of Colorado Boulder. Researcher Jeff Lukas, who
authored the briefing, says water managers throughout the
Colorado River watershed should brace themselves for diminished
streams and the decreasing likelihood of filling the reservoirs
left depleted at the end of 2018.
Arizona legislators and staff are attending closed-door primers
on water policy in advance of a critical January 31 federal
deadline for the state to approve the Drought Contingency Plan.
The first of three meetings occurred on Friday afternoon and
lasted two and a half hours. The session was led by Central
Arizona Project general manager Ted Cooke and Arizona
Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.
As the Southwest faces rapid growth and unrelenting drought,
the Colorado River is in crisis, with too many demands on its
diminishing flow. Now those who depend on the river must
confront the hard reality that their supply of Colorado water
may be cut off.
Everywhere you look new homes, hotels and master-planned
developments are appearing. It is wise to ask whether we
have enough water for these future desert residents and
visitors. Permits for new projects are under the
jurisdiction of cities or the county — not under the purview of
water agencies. Water agencies are tasked with supplying
the water. Balancing growth and water supplies is nothing new
to desert communities. It has always been a fact of life
in our desert and is one of Desert Water Agency’s most
The Colorado River may not look like it, but it’s one of the
world’s largest banks. The river is not only the source of
much of the American West’s economic productivity – San Diego,
Phoenix and Denver would hardly exist without it – but its
water is now the central commodity in a complex accounting
system used by major farmers and entire states. … This
month, the nation’s largest water agency, the Metropolitan
Water District, began what amounts to a run on the bank.
Up against a federal deadline to approve a Colorado River
drought plan — a “generational change” in Arizona water
management — four key legislators say they’re optimistic
they’ll meet it. Led by House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Mesa
Republican, they see the Legislature as ready — finally — to
officially endorse the plan. That’s even though competing water
interest groups still have highly visible disagreements about
With a federal deadline to sign a Colorado River drought deal
three weeks away, Arizona water managers are still
grappling with several unresolved issues that could get in the
way of finishing an agreement. The outstanding issues,
some of which are proving contentious, range from developers’
concerns about securing future water supplies to lining up
funding for Pinal County farmers to drill wells and begin to
pump more groundwater.
In a 5-3 vote Wednesday that — intriguingly — fell along gender
lines, the Phoenix City Council approved an increase in water
rates, starting next month. “I thank the women to have the
leadership and courage to do the right thing. 5-3,”
Interim Mayor Thelda Williams said. … Wednesday’s
vote overturned the council’s previous rejection of
the proposed increase, on December 12, that was also 5-3.
First, the good news: The negotiators of Arizona’s Drought
Contingency Plan have crafted the most detailed, concrete
proposal to date laying out how Arizona will deal
with expected cutbacks to its supply of Colorado
River. Now, the bad: The partial shutdown of the federal
government is squeezing these negotiators.
Gov. Doug Ducey used his second inaugural speech Monday to
exhort lawmakers and others with a claim to Colorado River
water to approve a drought contingency plan before a solution
is imposed by the Bureau of Reclamation. “It’s simple: Arizona
and our neighboring states draw more water from the Colorado
River than Mother Nature puts back,” the governor told his
audience. “And with critical shortfall imminent, we cannot kick
the can any further.”
At Monday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Water District’s
Planning & Stewardship Committee, officials said that with no
Drought Contingency Plan in place (Arizona being the hold out),
they are beginning to draw down their storage in Lake
Mead. “If there is no Drought Contingency Plan, we don’t
want to leave potentially half a million acre-feet or more
locked up in Lake Mead if we go into shortage,”
said General Manager Jeff Kightlinger.
A team of researchers concludes that the ongoing drought across
the western U.S. rivals most past “megadroughts” dating as far
back as 800 A.D. — and that the region is currently in a
megadrought. Using tree ring data as a proxy for drought
conditions, the researchers say the current drought ranks
fourth worst among comparable 19-year periods of megadroughts
of the past 1,200 years.
Southern Nevadans will see few noticeable consequences from a
soon-to-be-finalized drought contingency plan for states
that get most of their water supply from the Colorado River,
according to a Southern Nevada water resources expert.
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:
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. Catch up on these stories and more in Western
Water Year in Review.
Colorado River water managers were supposed to finish drought
contingency plans by the end of the year. As it looks now,
they’ll miss that deadline. If the states fail to do their job,
the federal government could step in. Luke Runyon, a
reporter with KUNC who covers on the Colorado River Basin
recaps what’s been happening and why it’s so important.
It has been called speculative, foolhardy and overly expensive,
but Aaron Million’s plan to pump water from the Utah-Wyoming
border to Colorado’s Front Range just won’t dry
up. Now seeking water rights from the Green
River in Utah for a new version of his plan, Million thinks he
has fashioned a winning proposal to feed Colorado’s thirsty,
A handful of environmental groups have filed a lawsuit to halt
construction on an expansion of Gross Dam in the Boulder County
foothills. Denver Water is proposing to increase the dam’s
height by more than 130 feet to store more water from the
Colorado River’s headwaters in the reservoir. The suit filed in
Denver’s U.S. District Court alleges the construction project
would negatively affect the Colorado River, harming native,
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 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 ahead. That
reality could pose daunting challenges for Colorado River water
managers and others who are already confronting the likelihood
of near-term shortages, and looking ahead to longer-term
concerns about the river’s sustainability. By Gary Pitzer in
In a story Dec. 13 about the Colorado River, The Associated
Press erroneously reported the river’s mouth. The river empties
into the Gulf of California, not the Gulf of Mexico. A
corrected version of the story is below: Southwestern US states
get Jan. 31 deadline for drought deal
On stage in a conference room at Las Vegas’s Caesars Palace,
Keith Moses said coming to terms with the limits of the
Colorado River is like losing a loved one. “It reminds me of
the seven stages of grief,” Moses said. “Because I think we’ve
been in denial for a long time.” Moses is vice chairman of the
Colorado River Indian Tribes, a group of four tribes near
With the water level in Lake Mead hovering near a point that
would trigger a first-ever official shortage on the Colorado
River, representatives of California, Arizona and Nevada are
trying to wrap up a plan to prevent the water situation from
spiraling into a major crisis. The plan is formally called
the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan.
The head of the federal agency controlling the Colorado River
said Thursday the U.S. government will impose unprecedented
restrictions on water supplies to the seven Southwestern U.S.
states that depend on the river unless everyone agrees by Jan.
31 on a plan to deal with an expected shortage in 2020.
Water managers from seven Southwestern states that depend on
the Colorado River are close but haven’t finalized an
unprecedented drought contingency plan they may have to enact
in 2020. The federal government’s top water official, Brenda
Burman, is expected to urge action Thursday at a Colorado River
Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas where a pact
was supposed to be signed.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California on
Tuesday approved a plan for sharing Colorado River delivery
cuts if a shortage is declared on the drought-depleted river.
The vote by the district, which imports water to the Southland,
represents another step in a years-long attempt to forge a
shortage agreement among the seven states that depend on the
Colorado for drinking and irrigation supplies.
The Imperial Irrigation District, which holds some of the
oldest and largest rights to Colorado River water, on Monday
tentatively agreed to a one-time contribution of up to 250,000
acre-feet of surplus water if needed to stave off shortages in
Lake Mead. But they tacked on several last-minute conditions
aimed at easing farmers’ fears of permanently losing water, and
to force federal and state officials to guarantee funding for
clean-up of the Salton Sea.
A property tax hike could be coming to Washington County, with
water managers saying they need to increase revenues to cover
the costs of developing new water resources for the St. George
area, including the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. … A public
hearing on the plan is slated for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the
Washington County Water Conservancy District office.
With drought entering a second decade and reservoirs continuing
to shrink, seven Southwestern U.S. states that depend on the
overtaxed Colorado River for crop irrigation and drinking water
had been expected to ink a crucial share-the-pain contingency
plan by the end of 2018. They’re not going to make it — at
least not in time for upcoming meetings in Las Vegas involving
representatives from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New
Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and the U.S. government, officials say.
The agency that manages the Central Arizona Project canal
signaled its support for the latest outline of a Colorado River
drought plan on Thursday in a vote that could lay the
groundwork for a deal aimed at preventing Lake Mead from
reaching perilously low levels. … And with this vote
behind them, Arizona water officials will now have the
framework of a state plan in hand as they join other water
managers from across the West in Las Vegas next week for the
annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference, where
federal officials have said they hope to wrap up a Drought
Arizona says it’s one step closer to figuring out how to divvy
up water cuts as the supply from the Colorado River becomes
more limited. Several Western states that rely on the river are
working on drought plans. The federal government wants them
done by the end of the year.
A state judge on Thursday turned down a powerful Imperial
Valley farmer’s request for an injunction against his
irrigation district to stop them from signing a major Colorado
River conservation plan. Superior Court Judge L. Brooks
Anderholt denied the motion by Michael Abatti and his
attorneys, a court clerk told The Desert Sun.
Arizona’s water agencies, cities, farmers and tribes haven’t
quite sealed a Colorado River deal. But they’re getting
closer. The outline of a new compromise proposal emerged
this week and was presented at a meeting on Thursday.
In a chapter dedicated to climate change effects in the
southwest, climate scientists say “with very high confidence”
that warm temperatures are reducing the water content of
mountain snowpack and the flows of rivers and streams that
depend on snowmelt. The chapter’s landing page features a photo
of low water levels at the nation’s largest reservoir, Lake
Mead outside Las Vegas, Nevada, a near perfect symbol of the
region’s ongoing water challenges.
A group of powerful Imperial Valley farmers and their
irrigation district need to work together for the benefit of
the region, according to Superior Court Judge L. Brooks
Anderholt. He warned a fight between the two sides over rights
to Colorado River water and the need to address a prolonged
drought across the Southwest could spur action by Congress, or
end up in the U.S. Supreme Court.
A fierce local battle over water rights unfolding in a small
Southern California courtroom Wednesday could threaten federal
plans to replenish rapidly dwindling Colorado River water
supplies. A third-generation farmer is seeking an injunction to
block the Imperial Irrigation District from signing on to the
seven-state compact. The hearing comes a day-and-a-half after
the longtime general manager for the district, Kevin Kelley,
announced he will retire at year’s end, though he could stay on
as a consultant.
In the week following a controlled flood on the Colorado
River, Mick Lovett saw lots of fat fish near Lees
Ferry, about 15 miles down river from Glen Canyon Dam. The
fishing was expected to be excellent in that stretch of
the river after the four-day flood stirred up
extra food for the fish, according to the Arizona Game and
Colorado River water managers have plenty to argue about. But
there’s one thing on which nearly everyone who relies on the
southwestern river can agree. The foundational document that
divvies up the water — the Colorado River Compact — has some
big flaws. Discussion on how to fix the compact’s problems is
where that consensus breaks down, often with the invocation of
one word: renegotiation.
The Latest on drought contingency plans being considered by
states that rely on the Colorado River … Las Vegas-area water
managers have become the first to advance a multi-state drought
contingency plan that officials hope will ease the effects of
Colorado River water shortages.
Octavia Patno and her mom, a federal hydraulic engineer, stood
on a narrow walkway at the base of Glen Canyon Dam Monday
morning, their heads covered with hard hats. The Colorado River
flowed below. Red-rock canyon walls towered above. The dam’s
hydropower turbines hummed.
The gap between Pinal County farmers and the Gila River Indians
over how to protect the Colorado River and Lake Mead is far
wider than the interstate highway separating their communities.
… The Drought Contingency Plan’s goal is to reduce
Arizona, Nevada and California’s take from the Colorado River
over the next decade or so.
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? Increasingly,
tribes are pressing to have the importance of their water
rights recognized and seeking the means to use them. An
impending tribal water study should shed light on the issue as
questions are raised about how to sustainably share water in an
already overallocated Colorado River Basin.
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.
Water managers along the Colorado River are trying to figure
out how to live with less. Climate change is growing the gap
between the river’s supply, and the demands in the communities
that rely on it, including seven western U.S. states and
A public agency and a powerful farmer are gearing up for a
high-stakes court battle to determine who owns the largest
share of Colorado River water in the
West, complicating the river’s future as seven western
states scramble to avoid severe water shortages. There’s a
long history of fighting over water in California’s Imperial
Valley, which has a legal right to more than 1 trillion
gallons of Colorado River water each
year — twice as much as the rest
of California, and as much as Arizona and
Western Slope water managers have doubled down on their
position that they will oppose federal legislation creating a
new regulated pool of water to boost the falling level of Lake
Powell unless Colorado adopts a policy that the pool should be
filled only on a voluntary basis. … Water managers from
Southern California to Wyoming are watching the ongoing debate
because if Colorado can’t reach a consensus, an ongoing effort
to establish a “drought contingency planning” program could
Nearly a decade ago, Gabriel Lozada, a man with a wiry frame
and waves of steel-gray hair who looks exactly like the
mathematician he is, set out to answer what he thought was a
relatively simple question: Could Utah’s proposed Lake Powell
Pipeline — a plan to ferry Colorado River water to southern
Utah — live up to the state’s rosy forecasts of growth and
With a deadline approaching for Arizona to finish a deal that
would divvy up cutbacks in Colorado River water deliveries, the
state’s cities, tribes and agricultural irrigation districts
are entering what should be the final stretch of negotiations.
In the 55 years since the federal government poured more than 5
million cubic yards of concrete across the Colorado River to
form Glen Canyon Dam, the demand for water and electricity in
Arizona, Nevada and California has turned the river’s ecology
upside down. A river once wild, muddy and warm now flows cold
and clear, every drop measured out to supply cities and farms
downstream. Water levels ebb and flow hourly, erasing the
spring surges and summer droughts innate in desert rivers.
Key reservoirs along the Colorado River are collectively at
their lowest point at the start of a new water year since the
last one filled nearly 40 years ago. As of Oct. 1 reservoirs
that store the Colorado River’s water are at just under 47
percent of their capacity, according to recently released
data from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
It was another bad year on the Colorado River, and the numbers
prove it. … “We had a pretty good year in 2017, with an
inflow into Powell of 110 percent of average. But unfortunately
we lost that storage and a little bit more in 2018,” said Dan
Bunk, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation hydrologist.
Mitt Romney took up the question of water shortage this week in
Utah, one of the driest states in the country, during a debate
as he runs for a U.S. Senate seat in his adopted home state
against Democrat Jenny Wilson. But federal water managers say
he oversimplified a complex issue when he said Utah’s unused
water allotment goes to California.
After years of stop-and-go talks, California and two other
states that take water from the lower Colorado River are
nearing an agreement on how to share delivery cuts if a formal
shortage is declared on the drought-plagued waterway. Under the
proposed pact, California — the river’s largest user — would
reduce diversions earlier in a shortage than it would if the
lower-basin states strictly adhered to a water-rights pecking
Seven Southwestern U.S. states that depend on the overtaxed
Colorado River have reached landmark agreements on how to
manage the waterway amid an unprecedented drought, including a
commitment by California to bear part of the burden before it
is legally required to do so, officials said Tuesday. The
agreements are tentative and must be approved by multiple
states and agencies as well as the U.S. government.
In 2007, years into a record-breaking drought throughout the
southwestern U.S., officials along the Colorado River finally
came to an agreement on how they’d deal with future water
shortages — and then quietly hoped that wet weather would
return. But it didn’t.
The phrase “climate change” did not appear on the agenda of a
recent three-day meeting of the Colorado Water Congress, but
the topic was often front and center at the conference, as it
increasingly is at water meetings around the state and the
region. Amy Haas, the new executive director of the Upper
Colorado River Commission, told the Water Congress audience of
about 300 water managers, irrigators, engineers and lawyers
that “hydrology is changing more rapidly than we once thought”
and that “it is primarily due to climate change.”
Snowmelt is shrinking and runoff is coming earlier on the Upper
Colorado River, the source of 90 percent of water for 40
million people in the West. This is leading to vegetation
changes, water quality issues and other concerns. But it may be
possible to operate reservoirs differently to ease some of
these effects. In September’s episode of Deeply Talks, we spoke
with two experts about the consequences and opportunities of
these changes on the river.
Another rare Colorado River fish has been pulled back from the
brink of extinction, the second comeback this year for a
species unique to the Southwestern U.S. The U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service plans to announce Thursday that it will
recommend reclassifying the ancient and odd-looking razorback
sucker from endangered to threatened, meaning it is still at
risk of extinction, but the danger is no longer immediate.
The 20-year ban was meant to slow a flurry of mining claims
over concern that the Colorado River — a major water source
serving 30 million people — could become contaminated and to
allow for scientific studies.
Once considered pipe dreams, the concept of saving the Salton
Sea by tapping ocean water from Mexico, to keep the accidental
salt lake from drying up, will get an official consideration at
two meetings in the desert this week.
BURMAN ADDRESSES COLORADO RIVER, CALIFORNIA WATER NEEDS IN
SUMMIT TALK; LEARN MORE ABOUT COLORADO RIVER WITH FOUNDATION
The Colorado River is likely headed to unprecedented shortage
in 2020 that could force water 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 at the Foundation’s Sept. 20 Water Summit in
Sacramento. Burman’s talk highlighted the challenges to the
Colorado River Basin from persistent drought, and the efforts
to come to terms on a drought contingency plan to stave off
more draconian supply cuts to those who depend on the river for
[Steve] Baskis was among five blind veterans — heroes chasing
hero lines — kayaking the length of the Grand Canyon this
month. … The Colorado River’s stretch through the Grand
Canyon was first explored by a man with one arm. The blind
veterans embraced John Wesley Powell’s legacy, giving the world
a glimpse of inspiration and possibility just as that legendary
explorer did 149 years ago.
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 said during a talk in Sacramento. Burman,
speaking at the Water Education Foundation’s Sept. 20 Water
Summit, also said California needs more water storage, and
added that raising Shasta Dam could be one way to effectively
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.
The federal agency that had been handling the permitting
process for the Lake Powell Pipeline announced Thursday it
doesn’t have jurisdiction to handle the entire project on its
own. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission submitted an
order indicating it would only consider permitting for the
hydroelectric facilities proposed for the project, and not the
remaining 89 miles of connecting water delivery pipelines,
although it would continue as the lead agency in charge of
Utah has some difficult financial decisions to make as it
considers the Lake Powell Pipeline. The governor-appointed
Executive Water Finance Board toured Washington County water
facilities Tuesday as part of its second and final
day of meetings in Southern Utah. Board members
are considering the pipeline and its potential
costs to both the St. George area and the state as a
In increasingly dry conditions, cities from Australia and the
Middle East to the American Southwest are pursuing groundwater,
either as an integral piece of their future water supply or as
an emergency stopgap measure. Los Angeles, looking long-term,
aims to double the share of its water supply that comes from
groundwater by 2040 and cut reliance on distant and shrinking
sources like the Colorado River.
Monsoon storms in the desert Southwest are vital for recharging
groundwater – but it now appears likely this recharge effect
may be compromised by climate change. The major cities of the
Southwest – Phoenix, Tucson, Albuquerque, Las Vegas – currently
get most of their freshwater from the Colorado River or its
tributaries. That river, however, is experiencing its 19th
straight drought year, suggesting a new permanent dry state is
gripping the giant watershed.
A Canadian energy company will add to its helium operation with
more than 3,000 acres of newly leased federal land near
Petrified Forest National Park in northeastern Arizona.
… Several rivers and streams flow near the leased
parcels and empty into the Colorado River, which supplies water
to 40 million Americans.
The Colorado River watershed faces increasing challenges from
chronic water shortage. And it appears increasingly likely this
is a new permanent condition, not an episodic drought. … Jack
Schmidt, a professor of watershed sciences at Utah State
University, is about to start a large new research project to
explore reservoir operations in the watershed.
USGS SCIENTIST TED KENNEDY DISCUSSES EFFORT TO ENHANCE FOOD WEB
TO AID ENDANGERED FISH AS WELL AS BIRDS AND BATS
Water means life for all the Grand Canyon’s inhabitants,
including the insects that are a foundation of the ecosystem’s
food web. But hydropower operations upstream on the Colorado
River at Glen Canyon Dam 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. Their loss affects available food for endangered
fish such as the humpback chub.
Like rust slowly consuming the body of a car, drought has
spread upstream on the Colorado River. The river’s Upper Basin
– generally north of Lake Powell – has been largely insulated
from the 19-year drought afflicting the giant watershed, thanks
to the region’s relatively small water demand and heavy snows
that bury Colorado’s 14,000ft peaks each winter. But this year,
there was no salvation in the snowpack.
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.
A top Nevada water and power official has been tapped by the
Trump administration to lead the International Boundary and
Water Commission for the United States and Mexico. The
White House on Friday announced plans to appoint
Jayne Harkins, executive director of the Colorado River
Commission of Nevada, to head up the U.S. side of the
cross-border treaty organization.
Warming temperatures are sapping the Colorado River, the water
source for more than 40 million people in the southwest. A new
study finds over the last 100 years the river’s flow has
decreased by more than 15 percent. Colorado State University
researcher Brad Udall co-authored the study with UCLA
scientists Mu Xiao and Dennis Lettenmaier.
The White House plans to nominate Jayne Harkins, head of the
Colorado River Commision of Nevada, to represent United States’
international interests related to the Colorado and Rio Grande
rivers, both shared with Mexico. In a statement, the White
House said it would nominate Harkins as the U.S. Commissioner
on the International Boundary and Water Commission.
As Arizona officials laid the groundwork for the Central
Arizona Project 50 years ago, they made promises that critics
now say could imperil habitat, weaken river
health amid worsening drought and cost taxpayers in a big way.
In a bid to secure votes in Congress for the CAP Canal, the
concrete channel that supplies Phoenix and Tucson with water
from the Colorado River, Arizona struck a deal in 1968
that would give New Mexico the rights to water at
With Lake Mead dropping to levels that could trigger water
cutbacks in less than two years, there’s been a lot of
talk lately about negotiating a deal to keep the reservoir from
falling even further. But in a new report, scientists say
the situation is just as worrisome upstream at Lake
Powell. The declines there during the past 18 years, they
say, also reflect the Colorado River’s worsening
Utah wants the federal government to resume its work permitting
the Lake Powell Pipeline. Utah water officials in January
asked to press pause on the project, worried over
jurisdictional questions about whether the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission (FERC) would continue to act as the
The Colorado River is running low on water. The lifeline that
slakes the thirst of 40 million southwestern residents is
projected to hit a historic low mark within two years, forcing
mandatory cuts to water deliveries in Arizona, Nevada and
Mexico. … Many of those who watch the Colorado River
closely say it’s tapped out, citing a range of symptoms: the
impending shortage declaration, the river’s inability to reach
the ocean, the species whose populations tanked as dams went