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 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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
The Front Range water district that wants to build the Chimney
Hollow Reservoir and pull more water from the Colorado River is
delaying construction bids and issuing revenue bonds, citing a
lawsuit by Save the Colorado, the Sierra Club and other
environmental groups challenging federal approvals for the
In the past two years, St. George has added nearly 12,000
new residents to a population of approximately 153,000 people,
many of them drawn by the city’s mild climate and access to
public lands. But all this growth has stoked some rising
tension over water and land in this former farm town. …
That’s why in 2006, the Washington County Water Conservancy
District announced plans to pursue a controversial pipeline
connecting Lake Powell to southwest Utah.
In a story Aug. 15 about the Colorado River, The Associated
Press, relying on information from the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation, reported erroneously when potential cutbacks could
begin if a shortage is declared. A shortage could be declared
in the latter part of 2019, and cutbacks could begin in 2020,
not late 2019. A corrected version of the story is below:
Despite another dry winter on the Colorado River, Lake Mead and
the millions of people who rely on it will avoid a water
shortage for at least one more year. According to new
projections from the Bureau of Reclamation, there will be just
enough water in the reservoir east of Las Vegas at the end of
2018 to stave off a first-ever federal shortage declaration
that would trigger mandatory cuts in Nevada and Arizona.
A lawsuit in California’s Imperial Valley could
determine who controls the single largest share of
Colorado River water in the West — a few hundred
landowning farmers, or the elected five-member board of the
Imperial Irrigation District.
A vital reservoir on the Colorado River will be able to meet
the demands of Mexico and the U.S. Southwest for the next 13
months, but a looming shortage could trigger cutbacks as soon
as the end of 2019, officials said Wednesday.
Serious water shortages on the Colorado River could be less
than two years away, according to new federal estimates. Yet
after 19 years of drought, just 500 farmers in one Arizona
county may decide the fate of the entire Southwest: By holding
tight to their own temporary water supply, they could stall a
conservation plan designed to save the entire region from water
In the state known as the “mother of rivers,” the third-warmest
and driest period in more than a century is wreaking havoc on
waterways that provide the economic lifeline for rural
communities and high-alpine habitat for Colorado’s signature
fish, the greenback cutthroat trout.
Two Western Slope water conservation districts are moving
forward with the third phase of a “risk study” exploring how
much water might be available to bolster water levels in Lake
Powell, and they are doing so without state funding to avoid
Front Range opposition to the study. Lake Powell today is half
full and dropping and water managers say several more years
like 2018 could drain the reservoir, which today contains 12.3
million acre-feet of water.
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, including a drying climate and less water
for the river. Haas talked with Western Water’s Gary Pitzer
about the Upper Basin’s challenges and what’s ahead for the
four Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and
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.
The full story of Mike Abatti’s enormous influence — over the
desert’s Colorado River water, agriculture and energy — has
never been told. Until now. … He sued the Imperial
Irrigation District, or IID, over its water apportionment plan,
winning a sweeping ruling that critics say could create
problems for millions of people who depend on the Colorado
Arizona water users are starting work on an ambitious plan to
lessen the impact of Colorado River water shortages. About 40
people recently were named to a committee that will meet for
the first time Thursday.
Every day, millions of gallons of water flow through pipes
across the Coachella Valley and pour out to nourish lawns,
artificial lakes, farmlands and a total of 121 golf courses.
This lush oasis in the desert owes its existence to groundwater
pumped from the aquifer and an imported supply of water from
the Colorado River.
For the first time in well over a year, a clear path exists for
completion of Arizona’s share of a three-state drought plan for
the Colorado River. The plan would step up already-approved
requirements for cuts in water deliveries to Arizona, Nevada
and eventually California as Lake Mead drops below certain key
Arizona water officials committed Thursday to reach a
multi-state plan by the end of the year to stave off Colorado
River water shortages, or at least lessen the impact. The U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation has been prodding Western states to wrap
up drought contingency plans, one each in the lower and upper
The mention of one plausible future scenario along the Colorado
River is enough to make some water managers in the West break
into a sweat. It’s called the Compact Call, and even though
it’s never happened — and is years away from ever happening —
its invocation conjures up dystopian imagery of a southwest
battling over scarce water supplies.
A four-year pilot program that paid ranchers and farmers in
Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico about $200 per acre-foot
of water saved by fallowing fields in order boost water levels
in Lake Powell will be put on hold after 2018. On Wednesday,
the five members of the Upper Colorado River Commission
unanimously passed a resolution to that effect at a board
Water leaders in Arizona are again trying to get to “yes” on a
deal that deals with drought. This would help prepare the state
for future cuts to its water supply if — and likely when –
Lake Mead drops below specific levels. A renewed effort to
achieve an agreement comes after a year of anxiety and gridlock
over the future of the Colorado River.
Reservoirs that store water along the Colorado River are
projected to be less than half full later this year,
potentially marking a historic low mark for the river system
that supplies water to seven U.S. states and Mexico.
Forecasters with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expect the
river’s reservoirs — Lakes Mead and Powell among them — to be
at a combined 48 percent of capacity by the end of September.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority says it has more than
enough water to supply new homes and businesses that could be
built one day on thousands of acres of federal land just
outside the Las Vegas Valley. The challenge will be getting the
water there and making sure it is used — and reused — as
efficiently as possible, said water authority chief John
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
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.
Despairing over the impending loss of hundreds of jobs and 85
percent of its governmental revenue, the Hopi Tribe recently
sued the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD)
for not honoring its contract to purchase power from the Navajo
Generating Station until it pays back the federal loan used to
build the station and construct the 336 mile-long Central
Arizona Project (CAP) canal.
A bruising battle between the Central Arizona Project and many
states and water users has revitalized the push for a stillborn
plan to prepare for more drought on the Colorado River. The
original dustup was over whether the CAP was seeking to “game
the system” of reservoir operations at lakes Mead and Powell to
benefit itself at the expense of the river’s Upper Basin
states: Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.
The Rio Grande is a classic “feast or famine” river, with a dry
year or two typically followed by a couple of wet years that
allow for recovery. … A study last year of the Colorado
River, which provides water to 40 million people and is far
bigger than the Rio Grande, found that flows from 2000 to 2014
were nearly 20 percent below the 20th century average, with
about a third of the reduction attributable to human-caused
The Colorado River has for years been locked in a pattern
of chronic overuse, with much more water doled out to cities
and farmlands than what’s flowing into its reservoirs. The
river basin, which stretches from Wyoming to Mexico, has been
drying out during what scientists say is one of the driest
19-year periods in the past 1,200 years.
Tens of thousands of people on the Navajo Nation lack running
water in their homes. But that could change in the coming
years, as the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project goes into
effect. It’s expected to deliver water to the reservation and
nearby areas by 2024, as part of a Navajo Nation water rights
settlement with New Mexico, confirmed by Congress in 2009.
Climatologists and other experts on Wednesday provided an
update on the situation in the Four Corners region — where
Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah meet. They say the area
is among the hardest hit and there’s little relief expected,
and even robust summer rains might not be enough to replenish
the soil and ease the fire danger.
Rivers are drying up, popular mountain recreation spots are
closing and water restrictions are in full swing as a
persistent drought intensifies its grip on pockets of the
American Southwest. … With the region’s water resources
strained, a top federal official has resumed pressure on states
in the Southwest to wrap up long-delayed emergency plans for
potential shortages on the Colorado River, which serves 40
million people in the U.S. and Mexico.
It’s been a tumultuous year for the Imperial Irrigation
District. On the energy side, IID canceled tens of
millions of dollars in contracts following allegations of
financial conflicts of interest against the consultant ZGlobal
Inc. On the water side, the publicly owned utility was jolted
by a court ruling that could make it more difficult to
limit the use of Colorado River water by Imperial Valley
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.
In a pointed message Wednesday, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
Commissioner Brenda Burman said drought and low flows continue
on the Colorado with no end in sight, so it’s up to those who
rely on the river to stave off a coming crisis.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the [Colorado]
river, released projections showing a 52 percent chance the
river’s biggest reservoir, Lake Mead in Arizona and Nevada,
will fall low enough in 2020 to trigger cutbacks under
agreements governing the system. … The shortage
projection prompted Bureau of Reclamation Chief Brenda Burman
to prod the seven river states to finish long-delayed
contingency plans for worsening conditions.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said the
Colorado River is expected to carry only 43 percent of the
average amount of water into Lake Powell, one of two huge
reservoirs that store and distribute the river. It’s the
fifth-lowest forecast in 54 years.
Anticipating years of drought, officials built the Yuma
Desalting Plant in 1992 to treat agricultural runoff and
conserve water in Lake Mead. Over the past 26 years, however,
the plant has operated just three times while costing millions
of dollars to maintain.
Arizona’s largest water provider tried Tuesday to defuse a
multi-state dispute over the Colorado River, saying it
regretted the belligerent-sounding words it used to describe
its management strategy for the critical, over-used waterway.
… It also pledged to cooperate on drawing up a
multi-state plan for possible shortages in the river, which
appear more and more likely because of the drought and climate
Any great fishing hole depends on the health and well-being of
its bugs. In a key stretch of the Colorado River below a dam on
the Arizona-Utah border, anglers have been pulling out long,
skinny trout that don’t give up much of a fight with a hook in
their mouths. Turns out, they don’t have enough to eat,
In early April, federal forecasters came out with a sobering
but not surprising prediction for many Colorado River water
users after a grim snowpack across much of the Colorado River
basin this winter. They projected that as the snow melted and
entered the Colorado River system, much less water would flow
into Lake Powell this spring than is normal.
The Mojave Indians call themselves Pipa Aha Macav — “The People
by the River.” The Colorado River is the economic and spiritual
heartland for the Mojave and three other tribes that inhabit
the Colorado River Indian Reservation, about four hours west of
A week into her appointment last fall as a Mohave County
supervisor in western Arizona, Lois Wakimoto heard the words
that would consume her since: We have a water problem. The
entity that sends Colorado River water throughout Arizona wants
to buy farmland in her district that includes Mohave Valley,
pay farmers to fallow it and redirect the water to the state’s
most populous areas where housing developments are booming.
A top official from the Southern Nevada Water Authority is
calling on states that rely on the Colorado River to resolve
their differences before a growing dispute derails decades of
cooperation on the river. … The fight comes as Nevada,
Arizona and California continue work on a drought
contingency plan aimed at keeping Lake Mead out of
shortage by voluntarily leaving more water in the reservoir.
Central Arizona water managers, facing backlash from other
Colorado River users for allegedly undercutting regional
conservation efforts, will visit Utah later this month
aiming to smooth relations across a region struggling to agree
on a way to save a key water supply.
Tension over the drought-stressed Colorado River escalated into
a public feud when four U.S. states accused Arizona’s largest
water provider of manipulating supply and demand, potentially
threatening millions of people in the United States and Mexico
who rely on the river.
Sin City has never been a place that thinks small. So it should
come as no surprise that Las Vegas – about 300 miles from the
Pacific Ocean – is pondering seawater desalination to meet its
long-term water demand. That doesn’t mean Vegas plans to build
a pipeline to the ocean. More likely, it would help pay for a
desalination facility in a place like Mexico, then trade that
investment for a piece of Mexico’s water rights in the Colorado
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
Over the past few years, voices calling for the removal of one
of the West’s biggest reservoirs have gotten louder. And while
proponents—including scientists, activists, journalists, and
government officials—have cited everything from ecology to
economics in their quest to decommission Glen Canyon Dam in
northern Arizona and restore that part of the Colorado River,
very little has been said about the impacts such an action
would have on the house-of-cards-like network of compacts,
agreements, and obligations comprising the “The Law of the
CAP [Central Arizona Project] water, which comes from the
Colorado River, will be less available to farmers in Central
Arizona in the future. There are a few reasons for that. The
first is the threat of a Lake Mead water shortage, which will
be declared if the lake falls below 1,075 feet in elevation.
Colorado River forecasters say the Southwest should brace for
the sixth-driest runoff season into Lake Powell since the
government erected Glen Canyon Dam there 55 years ago. …
River flow into Lake Powell is a key measure of water supplies
on the Colorado, a critical water source for millions of people
in seven Western states.
Pull out a map of the United States’ desert southwest and see
if you can locate these rivers: Rio del Tizon, Rio San Rafael,
River Buenaventura or Rio Zanguananos. How about rivers named
Tomichi, Nah-Un-Kah-Rea or Akanaquint?
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 dry winter for the region feeding the Colorado River means
Lake Mead’s water level could drop, but not enough to trigger
an emergency shortage declaration that would force water
cutbacks in Nevada and Arizona.
Near-record low snow levels remained at 60 percent of the
median or less Sunday in the southern half of Colorado in the
Arkansas, Rio Grande, San Miguel, Animas, Dolores and San Juan
river basins, the latest federal survey shows. In the northern
half of Colorado, snowpack hovered around 84 percent of the
median in the Upper Colorado River and South Platte River
basins, data show.
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.
Last year, farmers who lead the irrigation district in Blythe
sued the biggest urban water district in the country to
challenge what they called a “water grab.” Now the Palo Verde
Irrigation District has dropped that lawsuit, looking to smooth
the way toward a possible settlement with the Los Angeles-based
Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
For years, Colorado River states have been negotiating a plan
to avoid the worst – a shortage in Lake Mead so bad it could
trigger unprecedented cutbacks. With the region experiencing
drought conditions since 2000, even California, which has
senior rights, came to the negotiating table.
An already dry winter for the Colorado River has gotten worse
in recent weeks, but it won’t be enough to send Lake Mead to a
record low — at least not right away. Despite worsening
conditions in the mountains that feed the Colorado, forecasters
still expect the reservoir east of Las Vegas to contain just
enough water by the end of the year to avoid a first-ever
federal shortage declaration.
Arizona will be hardest hit if 17 years of drought keep drying
up a reservoir serving much of the Southwest, but the state’s
lawmakers and governor don’t agree on how to keep water in the
lake or who should be in charge. Lake Mead, a man-made
reservoir fed by the Colorado River, is an essential water
supply for several western states that will take a hit if lake
levels dip much lower.
According to the National Water and Climate Center’s forecast
for the Rio Grande Basin, the water supply outlook for spring
and summer remains “dire.” … And conditions on the Colorado
River, which feeds Lake Mead, don’t look good this year.
The March forecast for the Colorado River Basin remains “well
The Salton Sea’s accelerating decline comes at the same time
that water scarcity in the entire Colorado River Basin is
fueling negotiations over the river’s future — and how much
water agencies, cities and farmers will have to cut back if the
southwest’s 18-year drought continues. Those negotiations are
part of a process to create a new agreement called the Drought
U.S. scientists studying the effects of uranium mining around
the Grand Canyon say they are lacking information on whether
the radioactive element is hurting plants, animals and a water
source for more than 30 million people. And they would not get
to fully gather it if President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget
proposal is approved.
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.
If you live in Utah, chances are good that you’re getting a
sweet deal on water for your lawn and landscaping. In fact, you
might be paying next to nothing for it, at least compared to
nearly everywhere else in the West.
We all know Hoover Dam, and you might know about the Imperial
or other dams that manage the Colorado River. But the very
first completed dam on the Colorado was the Laguna Dam.
… Doug Cox at the Imperial Irrigation District manages
A formidable high-pressure ridge has settled off the West
Coast, deflecting storms northward in much the same pattern
observed in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and though scientists and
policy experts debate the definition of “drought,” few would
disagree that the American West is in the grip of another
extraordinary dry spell.
The Colorado and the San Pedro rivers’ futures are on the line
at the Legislature due to a controversial water bill. … But
what’s not in the bill is also stirring conflict, particularly
between the warring Arizona Department of Water Resources and
the Central Arizona Project.
Lake Powell, which straddles Utah and Arizona, is expected to
get 47 percent of its average inflow because of scant snow in
the mountains that feed the Colorado River, said Greg Smith, a
hydrologist with the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, part
of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Be prepared for some of the West’s biggest and most important
rivers and streams to see record low flows this spring and
summer. That’s the message of the Colorado Basin River Forecast
Center’s latest water supply forecast released Monday.