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.
California’s largest lake, the Salton Sea, is an accident. It
was created in 1905 when a levee broke on an irrigation canal,
flooding a giant desert playa. Today it has become a sticking
point in negotiations between three states over the future of
the Colorado River. … To help us understand all this,
Water Deeply recently spoke with Michael Cohen, a senior
research associate at the Pacific Institute, a water policy
think-tank based in Oakland.
Tens of thousands of rafters paddle down the Colorado River
through Grand Canyon National Park each year, though most don’t
scan the Redwall Limestone canyon sides for bore holes around
River Mile 39. But one group of rafters that launched in
mid-March was keen to see those holes and the ashy looking
sediment piled beneath them. The holes mark the exploratory
tinkering of those who were itching to build another dam on the
Colorado decades ago.
Officials in Arizona have reached an impasse on a multistate
agreement aimed at storing more Colorado River water in Lake
Mead, but Southern Nevada Water Authority chief John Entsminger
said he is confident the deal will still get done.
The federal government said Monday it plans to release an
above-average amount of water from a major reservoir in the
Southwestern U.S. this year, but it’s less than many hoped
after a healthy snow season across much of the West.
Uncertainty over proposals to prop up Lake Mead and avoid a
water shortage in the Southwest has landed the lower Colorado
River atop a conservation group’s annual list of “America’s
Most Endangered Rivers.”
The situation last summer was as clear to accept as it was
sobering. Prolonged drought had strained an already
overallocated Colorado River, and nowhere was this more visible
than at the reservoirs along the river.
The Colorado River Delta once spanned nearly 2 million acres and
stretched from the northern tip of the Gulf of California in
Mexico to Southern California’s Salton Sea. Today it’s one-tenth
that size, yet still an important estuary, wildlife habitat and
farming region even though Colorado River flows rarely reach the
California Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration on Thursday
proposed spending nearly $400 million over 10 years to slow the
shrinking of the state’s largest lake just as it is expected to
evaporate an accelerated pace.
Since 2000, the Colorado River Basin has experienced an historic,
extended drought causing reservoir storage in the Colorado River
system to decline from nearly full to about half of capacity. For
the Lower Basin, a key point has been to maintain the level of
Lake Mead to prevent a shortage declaration.
A healthy snowfall in the Rockies has reduced the odds of a
shortage this year, but the basin states still must come to terms
with a static supply and growing demands, as well as future
impacts from climate change.
On our Lower
Colorado River Tour, April 5-7, you will meet with water
managers from the three Lower Basin states: Nevada, Arizona and
California. Federal, state and local agencies will update you on
the latest hydrologic conditions and how recent storms might
change plans for water supply and storage.
Above-average snowpack in the Rocky Mountains this year may
bring some relief to the Colorado River Basin, which has been
in a drought since 2000. But the long-term picture for the
region is less rosy after a newly published study found just
how much higher temperatures are impacting river flow.
Two days before President Donald Trump’s inauguration, outgoing
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell laid out a game plan for
averting serious water shortages along the Colorado River. …
Her announcement accompanied a separate accord in which the
Interior Department pledged to coordinate with California
officials to manage the shrinking Salton Sea …
Arizona would be the first state to feel the effects of
Colorado River cutbacks if the water level continues to fall at
drought-stricken Lake Mead, an environmental advocacy group
says in a new report. The Western Resource Advocates reached
its conclusion as the vast reservoir behind Hoover Dam sits at
39 percent of capacity.
A troublesome invasive species is
the quagga mussel, a tiny freshwater mollusk that attaches itself
to water utility infrastructure and reproduces at a rapid rate,
causing damage to pipes and pumps.
First found in the Great Lakes in 1988 (dumped with ballast water
from overseas ships), the quagga mussel along with the zebra
mussel are native to the rivers and lakes of eastern Europe and
western Asia, including the Black, Caspian and Azov Seas and the
Dneiper River drainage of Ukraine and Ponto-Caspian
Several months ago, managers of water agencies in California,
Arizona and Nevada were expressing optimism they could finalize
a deal to use less water from the dwindling Colorado River
before the end of the Obama administration.
The federal government is committing to at least another 20
years of use of a huge Colorado River dam that officials call
crucial to states in the West, but that critics say is unstable
and should be removed.
[Arizona] Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke
is meeting with other Colorado River system users in Las Vegas
at the annual Colorado River Water User Association Conference
running through Dec. 16. … On Dec. 15, Secretary of the
Interior Sally Jewell will unveil the program for management of
the Colorado River between Lakes Powell and Mead.
This issue of Western Water examines the ongoing effort
between the United States and Mexico to develop a
new agreement to the 1944 Treaty that will continue the
binational cooperation on constructing Colorado River
infrastructure, storing water in Lake Mead and providing instream
flows for the Colorado River Delta.
Business as usual on the Colorado River may be about to come to
a screeching halt. One of the worst recorded droughts in human
history has stretched water supplies thin across the
far-reaching river basin, which serves 40 million people. …
With an official water shortage imminent, Arizona, Nevada and
California are taking matters into their own hands.
As vital as the Colorado River is to the United States and
Mexico, so is the ongoing process by which the two countries
develop unique agreements to better manage the river and balance
future competing needs.
The prospect is challenging. The river is over allocated as urban
areas and farmers seek to stretch every drop of their respective
supplies. Since a historic treaty between the two countries was
signed in 1944, the United States and Mexico have periodically
added a series of arrangements to the treaty called minutes that
aim to strengthen the binational ties while addressing important
water supply, water quality and environmental concerns.
How low can the Colorado go? When will we get back to “normal”
winters? Can we blame it all on climate change? To address
some of these questions, the Colorado River Research Group
recently released a concise four-page paper explaining how
climate change is affecting the river.
The next U.S. president will have to act quickly to chart a
course so the Colorado River can continue supplying water to
millions of city-dwellers, farmers, Indian tribes and
recreational users in the Southwest, according to a university
research study made public Monday.
Fresh stands of cottonwood and willow trees rising in the
Colorado River Delta are evidence of the lasting environmental
benefits an eight-week “pulse flow” of water deliveries to
the area more than two years ago, according to a
newly released report by U.S. and
The Coachella Valley Water District has for decades been using
a series of oblong ponds carved into the desert near the base
of Mt. San Jacinto to capture imported water from the Colorado
River. … Now CVWD is applying to the federal Bureau of Land
Management for a new permit, and the application could face
resistance from the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians as
the tribe fights the district in federal court in a landmark
case over water rights.
Already dealing with parched conditions, the U.S. Southwest
faces the threat of megadroughts this century as temperatures
rise, says a new study that found the risk is reduced if
heat-trapping gases are curbed.
With Lake Mead receding year after year and the threat of a
shortage looming, the overallocated Colorado River seems to be
approaching a breaking point. But John Fleck argues this crisis
doesn’t necessarily mean we’re headed for a future in which
conflicts flare and communities run dry.
Each spring, a group of UC Davis student scientists and their
professors take a whitewater rafting trip through the Grand
Canyon to study a river that sustains 40 million people.
Capital Public Radio’s Amy Quinton traveled with them.
It was a good plan: Bring in hungry beetles that feed only on
nonnative salt cedar trees to get a handle on a hardy, invasive
species that was crowding riverbanks across the West and
leaching precious water from the drought-stricken region.
It sounded too good to be true — an official forecast that 2016
[Colorado River] water use in Arizona, California and Nevada
will be the lowest since 1992. That forecast from the U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation was too good to be true — by the bureau’s
Lake Havasu is a reservoir on the Colorado River that supplies
water to the Colorado River
Aqueduct and Central Arizona Project. It is located at
the California/Arizona border, approximately 150 miles southeast
of Las Vegas, Nevada and 30 miles southeast of Needles,
This tour explored the Lower Colorado River where virtually every
drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from a
myriad of 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.
With a theme focusing on “Wave of Change: Breaking the Status
Quo,” the Water Education Foundation’s 34th annual Executive
Briefing will be held March 23 in Sacramento. The event will
examine new approaches to water management, tools to extend
supplies, plans to prepare for drought, and the intersection
between politics and policy.
This premiere water conference will offer you the
opportunity to hear from top policymakers and leading
stakeholders on key water topics:
Hilton Sacramento Arden West
2200 Harvard Street
As one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world,
the Imperial Valley
receives its water from the Colorado River via the
All-American Canal. Rainfall is scarce in the desert region at
less than three inches per year and groundwater is of little
A resolute effort in Arizona, California, and Nevada to reduce
Colorado River water use is slowing the decline of Lake Mead
and delaying mandatory restrictions on water withdrawals from
the drying basin. … The August analysis of the basin’s
hydrology, an assessment carried out every month by the Bureau
of Reclamation, concluded that the water level in Lake Mead
will be above 1,075 feet in elevation next January.
Three years of conservation efforts around the Southwest have
prevented a water shortage in Lake Mead for at least another
year. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced projections for
the Colorado River reservoir’s Jan. 1 water level, and it rises
above the elevation at which downstream users must restrict
their water diversions.
Amid punishing drought, federal water managers projected
Tuesday that — by a very narrow margin — the crucial Lake Mead
reservoir on the Colorado River won’t have enough water to make
full deliveries to Nevada and Arizona in 2018.
Recently, Gov. John Hickenlooper cast renewed attention on
water supply and growth in the West with a decision in a
long-running process to expand a Colorado River diversion. …
The Gross reservoir expansion reflects a fundamental tension
for the seven states and two countries that share the Colorado
River: how many more diversions can the stressed basin
During the past year of drought, while many Californians have
heeded the call to conserve and managed to achieve
water-savings of nearly 25 percent statewide, one group of
water users hasn’t measured up: the golf courses that spread
out across thousands of acres in the desert.
Abrahm Lustgarten, a reporter for ProPublica, has written a new
story about one of the largest dams in the US, Glen Canyon, and
a recent push to open up its gates. It’s a remarkable
development, he says, given how important the Colorado River
dams — Glen Canyon, with its reservoir, Lake Powell, and
Hoover with Lake Meade — have been for the development of
When a group of water officials from California, Nevada and
Arizona get together behind closed doors to talk about
potential cuts to California’s share of the precious and
dwindling Colorado River, representatives from San Diego County
Water Authority are not present.
Twenty-six million people in California, Nevada and Arizona
rely on the Colorado River, but this magnificent source of
water that carved a continent is drying up. … The thermometer
of the river’s health is Lake Mead — the lake formed behind
When the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced last month that
the country’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, had fallen to its
lowest-ever level at 1,074ft (327m), the question many asked
was: How will it affect one of California’s primary drinking
sources? … Falling water levels are the result of a drought
in the Colorado River Basin that has dragged on for 16 years
This week marks the 75th anniversary of the first water
delivery of Colorado River water to the Los Angeles area
— Pasadena received the first flow — and as a bonus, the
13 cities that originally formed the district received free
water for two months.
Earlier this week, I [Brad Plumer] wrote about how Lake
Mead, America’s largest man-made reservoir, has shrunk to its
lowest level ever. … Now NASA’s Earth Observatory has posted
two satellite images that show the dramatic decline of Lake
Mead between 2000 and 2015.
Earlier this month, California lifted its sweeping restrictions
on how its towns and cities use their water, signaling that
even though much of the state continues to face extraordinary
drought, a moderately wet winter has blunted officials’ sense
of urgency over water shortages. Seemingly overlooked, however,
is the state’s enormous reliance on the Colorado River for its
urban water supplies — and the fact that the Colorado is
approaching its worst point of crisis in a generation.
The 20th century dams and canals that gave birth to modern
California — to San Francisco, to Los Angeles, to the San
Joaquin Valley farms that feed the nation — are near the end of
their engineered lives. … So far, the three major
presidential candidates have hardly noticed these problems as
they barnstorm the state heading into the June 7 primary.
The surface level at Lake Mead has dropped as planned to
historic low levels, and federal water managers said Thursday
the vast Colorado River reservoir is expected to continue to
shrink amid ongoing drought.
Because the Imperial Irrigation District holds the single
largest entitlement to water from the [Colorado] river, its
participation would be vital in any agreement for California to
share in water cutbacks to avert a looming shortage in Lake
Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir. But major hurdles remain
for the district to support a potential deal, and the reasons
begin with the shrinking Salton Sea.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the United States and
Mexico are making important progress in talks on a new accord
to share water from the Colorado River, which is badly
overtapped and approaching critical shortage levels.
Just as some of the drought-starved states downstream are
cutting back, officials in Utah say they plan to file on Monday
an official proposal to dip into their rights to the Colorado
River via the Lake Powell Pipeline.
With the Colorado River tapped beyond its limits and the level
of Lake Mead in decline, representatives of California, Arizona
and Nevada say they’ve been making progress in negotiating an
agreement for all three states to share in water cutbacks in
order to stave off a more severe shortage.
Storms brought deep snow to the mountains that feed the vital
Colorado River this winter and spring, but the dried-out
landscape will soak up some of the runoff before it can reach
the river and the 40 million people depending on it for water.
Arizona, California and Nevada negotiators are moving toward a
major agreement triggering cuts in Colorado River water
deliveries to Southern and Central Arizona to avert much more
severe cuts in the future. As state water officials now
envision the agreement, it would also ultimately require
California to cut its use of river water.
Arizona and California are arguing over Colorado River water
again — this time over whether it should be inscribed in law
that California can’t take Arizona’s share of river water
that’s left in Lake Mead to prop up lake levels.
The Southwest needs a new vision and technologies to shore up
its diminishing water supplies instead of relying on old
“security blankets” like a drought-busting winter that refills
America’s two biggest reservoirs, water experts and users
argued Monday. That’s what’s been happening with water
use in the Colorado River basin.
Beginning in 2015, the Nature Conservancy committed four hay
fields comprising 197 acres at the Carpenter Ranch to a
multi-state pilot project conceived to determine how irrigated
hay fields in the region would respond to being temporarily
left fallow in order to leave more water flowing in the Yampa
River. The stronger summer flows would support habitat and help
to replenish the vast reservoirs of the Southwest that supply
water to cities in Arizona, Nevada and Southern
For the past five years, as the drought drained California’s
water sources and depleted its reservoirs, Southern California
water managers have relied increasingly on the region’s largest
out-of-state water source: the Colorado River.
For the past five years, as drought sucked dry California’s
water sources and depleted its reservoirs, Southern California
water managers have turned increasingly to the region’s large
out-of-state water source: the Colorado River.
Environmental protection for the Colorado River — the lifeblood
of the Southwest — is disjointed and too often gets a low
priority in the management of the waterway, independent
researchers said in a new report.
In front of a small audience gathered last week at the Sunbrook
event center in St. George, Tom Butine shared again the
presentation he’s been making to groups throughout Washington
County about the Lake Powell Pipeline. … Simultaneously the
fastest-growing state in the nation and the second-driest, Utah
is in line to face statewide challenges when it comes to
supplying the long-term demand.
Nearly three years after the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla
Indians sued the Coachella Valley’s largest water districts,
the two sides remain just as far apart in a case that
could force changes in how water is managed locally and set a
precedent for similar disputes nationwide.
The dramatic decline in water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell
is perhaps the most visible sign of the historic drought that has
gripped the Colorado River Basin for the past 16 years. In 2000,
the reservoirs stood at nearly 100 percent capacity; today, Lake
Powell is at 49 percent capacity while Lake Mead has dropped to
38 percent. Before the late season runoff of Miracle May, it
looked as if Mead might drop low enough to trigger the first-ever
Lower Basin shortage determination in 2016.
Read the excerpt below from the Sept./Oct. 2015 issue along
with the editor’s note. Click here to subscribe to Western
Water and get full access.
For the second time in a decade, the feds are warning that if
water interests in Arizona, California and Nevada can’t find a
fix for the Colorado River’s problems, the interior secretary
will find it for them.
This 3-day, 2-night tour traveled along the Lower Colorado River
from Hoover Dam to the Salton Sea and the Coachella Valley. Along
the way, experts discussed challenges related to what is the most
contested, beloved for recreation and meticulously managed rivers
in the nation.
The Colorado spill would have been avoided had the EPA team
checked on water levels inside the inactive Gold King Mine
before digging into its collapsed and leaking entrance, a team
of engineers from Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation concluded in
a 132-page report released Thursday.
On Thursday, a new federal forecast said El Niño is
continuing to strengthen, with experts saying it’s on track to
produce potentially record rainfall. … The forecast for
a wet winter now covers the mountains that feed California’s
most important reservoirs, Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville.
A coalition of scholars across the West is urging the federal
government to partner with the National Academy of Sciences to
study the future of the Colorado River, including if climate
change is leading to reduced stream flow.
In a long-awaited decision, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management
says Cadiz cannot use an existing railroad right-of-way for a
new water pipeline that would carry supplies from the project’s
proposed well field to the Colorado River Aqueduct.
Protracted drought over the last four years and nagging
uncertainty over how Lake Powell will fare in 2016 are
prompting a cash-for-conservation program to test how much
water can be saved in the Colorado River.
Long gone are the luxury boats that drew stars inland from
Hollywood to this accidental sea that first filled with
Colorado River water after a massive 1905 canal
breach. … The Southwest’s worsening water shortage will make
saving the Salton Sea difficult, because any fix requires water
from an over-stressed Colorado River.
The intake was unplugged Wednesday to finish flooding an $817
million tunnel and complete a complicated and perilous “Third
Straw” project to draw drinking water for Las Vegas from a
shrinking Lake Mead.
The Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday it will set
up a temporary treatment plant for wastewater flowing from the
Gold King Mine in southwestern Colorado after 3 million gallons
surged out of the mine in August, tainting rivers in three
Documents released by U.S. officials have revealed that the
Environmental Protection Agency knew of the potential for a
blowout of toxic wastewater from a Colorado mine more than a
year before a government cleanup team accidentally triggered
such a release earlier this month.
The drought is expected to cost the state $2.7 billion in
agriculture losses this year, but farmers in eastern Riverside
County are faring well because of steady supplies from the
Colorado River, according to the authors of a new economic
It will take many years and many millions of dollars simply to
manage and not even remove the toxic wastewater from an
abandoned mine that unleashed a 100-mile-long torrent of heavy
metals into Western rivers and has likely reached Lake Powell,
[EPA Regional Administrator Shaun] McGrath said at a
public meeting Sunday that officials had tripled the estimate
of the toxic spill based on data from a U.S. Geological Survey
water gauge downstream.
Water officials insist a pilot program designed to save
Colorado River water and boost Lake Mead and Lake Powell is off
to such a promising start that they are already looking to pour
more money into it.
The St. George metro area measured as the fifth-fastest growing
in the nation according to the latest U.S. Census
estimates … Enter the Lake Powell Pipeline, a 140-mile
conduit to the much larger Colorado River and at the moment
perhaps the most hotly contested project planned along the
river’s entire 1,450 miles.
Nearly 40 million people in seven states depend on the
[Colorado] river, a population some forecasts say could nearly
double in the next 50 years. … In the decades to come,
federal officials say, significant shortages are likely to
force water-supply cutbacks in parts of the basin, the first in
the more than 90 years that the river has been managed under
the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
Paul Matuska is the closest thing the American West has to a
water cop, and his beat includes Needles, Calif., a beleaguered
desert town midway between Flagstaff, Ariz., and Los Angeles.
… Mr. Matuska, a hydrologist, is one of about a dozen
accountants for the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which
controls water distribution along the lower half of the
At a time when water levels in Lake Mead were getting so low
that officials prepared for drastic cutbacks, it started
raining. A series of powerful storms pummeled the mountains
that feed the Colorado River, a key source of water for
California, Arizona and Nevada.
San Francisco County Superior Court Judge Curtis E.A. Karnow
found that the MWD had charged San Diego too much for the use
of its aqueduct to bring water from the Colorado River under
San Diego’s deal to buy water from the Imperial Irrigation
Three U.S. water agencies have joined forces with the U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation, paying $18 million toward the lining of
a 10-mile stretch of the canal. In exchange, they will be
receiving 124,000 acre-feet of water being stored by Mexico at
“Killing the Colorado,” a joint reporting project by ProPublica
and Matter, set out to tell the truth about the American West’s
water crisis. … Four photographers — Christaan Felber, Bryan
Schutmaat, Jake Stangel and Michael Friberg — were enlisted by
photo editors Luise Stauss and Ayanna Quint to document man’s
mistakes and their consequences.
It took $817 million, two starts, more than six years and one
worker’s life to drill a so-called “Third Straw” to make sure
glittery casinos and sprawling suburbs of Las Vegas can keep
getting drinking water from near the bottom of drought-stricken
The importance of water conservation during this record dry
spell notwithstanding, sound water management turns out to be
about a lot more than just water use. Today on Sea Change
Radio, host Alex Wise speaks with Abrahm Lustgarten of
ProPublica, who is writing a multi-part series exposing
unfortunate policies and practices vis-à-vis our most precious,
A couple of miles outside the town of Page, three 775-foot-tall
caramel-colored smokestacks tower like sentries on the edge of
northern Arizona’s sprawling red sandstone wilderness. At their
base, the Navajo Generating Station, the West’s largest
power-generating facility, thrums ceaselessly, like a beating
This issue looks at the dilemma of the shrinking Salton Sea. The
shallow, briny inland lake at the southeastern edge of California
is slowly evaporating and becoming more saline – threatening the
habitat for fish and birds and worsening air quality as dust from
the dry lakebed is whipped by the constant winds.
The shallow, briny inland lake at the southeastern edge of
California is slowly evaporating and becoming more saline –
threatening the habitat for fish and birds and worsening air
quality as dust from the dry lakebed is whipped by the constant
(Read this excerpt from the May/June 2015 issue along with
the editor’s note. Click here to
subscribe to Western Water and get full access.)
With water levels in Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir
and a bellwether for water supplies in the Southwest, setting a
new record low every day, the seven states of the Colorado
River Basin are finalizing a pair of novel water conservation
agreements that will keep more water in the shrinking lake.
A vestige of 139-year-old water law pushes ranchers to use as
much water as they possibly can, even during a drought. “Use it
or lose it” clauses, as they are known, are common in state
laws throughout the Colorado River basin and give the farmers,
ranchers and governments holding water rights a powerful
incentive to use more water than they need.
State Route 87, the thin band of pavement that approaches the
mostly shuttered town of Coolidge, Ariz., cuts through some of
the least hospitable land in the country. … Then Route 87
tacks left and the dead landscape springs to life.
The U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday a series of recent
storms have dropped up to four times the normal weekly rainfall
in some areas of the West. However, three-quarters of the
region remains in a long-term drought.
California’s drought emergency woes have worsened, with a
shortage on the Colorado River next year becoming increasingly
likely. Odds of a shortage rose from 33 percent to 50 percent
from April 1 to May 1, Metropolitan Water District, Southern
California’s largest water wholesaler, said Monday.
With more than 38 million people, a multibillion-dollar
agricultural industry and a complex water system that relies on
multiple sources, including the Colorado River, California’s
problems are of a different magnitude than those Southern
Nevada faced. But the steps taken here offer a road map to
making the most out of every drop of water.
Pat Mulroy, a senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy
Program at Brookings and a senior fellow for climate adaptation
and environmental policy at UNLV’s Brookings Mountain West,
discusses the water scarcity issues that have developed over
the last few decades and the realistic future of water in the
U.S. … During her tenure at SNWA [Southern Nevada Water
Authority], the region faced a huge crisis when one of the
worst droughts in the history of the Colorado River hit the
Compared to California, things are better in the Colorado River
Basin. However, after 15 years of drought, Lake Powell and Lake
Mead are both below 45 percent full with basinwide snowpack
below 70 percent as of April 1.
Las Vegas is seeking to quench its growing thirst by draining
billions of gallons of water from under the feet of ranchers
whose cattle help feed the Mormon church’s poor. A legal battle
across 275 miles of treeless ridges and baked salt flats comes
as the western U.S. faces unprecedented droughts linked to
St. George anchors Washington County, which has echoed Las
Vegas’ growth boom since before the turn of the 21st century.
… Meanwhile, Utah is using less than 1 million acre-feet a
year from the Colorado River, according to the state.
Snowpack in the mountain valleys where the Colorado River
originates was only a little below normal on Wednesday, marking
one of the few bright spots in an increasingly grim drought
gripping much of the West.
The Colorado River faces a dual threat from climate change as
rising temperatures increase the demand for irrigation water
and accelerate evaporation at the river’s two largest
reservoirs. So says a new report from the U.S. Bureau of
After much time, study and investment, the task of identifying
solutions to ensure the long-term sustainability of the Colorado
River is underway. People from the Upper and Lower basins
representing all interest groups are preparing to put their
signatures to documents aimed at ensuring the river’s vitality
for the next 50 years and beyond.
For 56 days last spring, a unique pulse of water drawn from
Hoover Dam’s Lake Mead coursed into Mexico to the Colorado
River’s parched delta – once an ecological emerald set in the
tawny expanse of the Sonoran Desert.
A binational effort aimed at reviving parched wetlands in the
Colorado River Delta in Mexico through special deliveries of
water has met with initial success, according to a report
released Wednesday. … The water deliveries aimed at restoring
some of the delta’s last remaining wetlands were outlined under
a wide-ranging five-year binational agreement reached in 2012
and known as Minute 319.
With demand increasing across the West, Colorado is drawing up
a strategy to keep some of the trillions of gallons of water
that gushes out of the Rocky Mountains every spring – most of
which flows downstream to drought-stricken California, Arizona,
Nevada and Mexico. … [James] Eklund’s insistence on
Colorado’s water rights drew diplomatic responses from his
colleagues in other states on the eve of a Las Vegas meeting of
Facing dwindling water supplies, Western states are struggling
to capture every drop with dam and diversion projects that some
think could erode regional cooperation crucial to managing the
scarce resource. Against that backdrop, eight Western governors
meeting in Las Vegas this weekend will address regional water
issues, and water managers from seven states arrive next week
to work on ways to ensure 40 million people in the parched
Colorado River basin don’t go thirsty.
[Richard] McFarland-Dorworth, a longtime California resident
and rafting guide who now lives in Bali, Indonesia, was one of
seven expert rafters on a 950-mile mission to replicate most of
John Wesley Powell’s 1869 expedition down the Green and
Colorado rivers from Flaming Gorge through Utah and Arizona to
Lake Mead — sans most of the roiling waters of the pre-dam era.
A group of Italian developers is planning three million square
feet of retail construction, plus 2,200 homes, in Tusayan, a
newly incorporated village with a population of just 587 at the
entrance to the park [Grand Canyon], posing what park officials
describe as a major threat to the water supply for the Colorado
My partner DeEdda McLean and I had come to this area west of
Mexican Hat, Utah, to kayak across Lake Powell, a reservoir
formed by the confluence of the San Juan and the Colorado
Rivers and the holding power of Glen Canyon Dam, which lies
just over the border in Arizona. Yet in place of a majestic
reservoir, we saw only the thin ribbon of a reemergent river
channel, which had been inundated for most of the past three
decades by the lake.
The Department of the Interior initiated its third high-flow
release from Glen Canyon Dam today [Nov. 10] under an
innovative science-based experimental protocol. The goal of the
releases is to help restore the environment by creating
flood-like conditions below Glen Canyon Dam, which rebuild
sandbars that are important habitat and recreational resources.
The Bureau of Reclamation has released a report summarizing six
years of testing coatings to control the attachment of quagga
and zebra mussels to water and power facilities. … The
testing was conducted at Parker Dam on the Colorado
Two water districts, the federal government, and the Agua
Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians are laying out their
arguments in a lawsuit over water, focusing on the question of
whether the tribe has rights to groundwater.
Faced with the increasing probability of shortage on the
Colorado River, municipal water providers in Arizona,
California, Nevada and Colorado, and the Bureau of Reclamation
are implementing a landmark Colorado River System Conservation
program. … At a later date, water users in the Upper Basin
will be invited to participate in this unique agreement.
One of the most extreme droughts in California’s history has
been hitting agriculture hard, forcing cutbacks in water
deliveries in parts of the Central Valley and leaving more than
400,000 acres of farmland fallow and dry.
This issue updates progress on crafting and implementing
California’s 4.4 plan to reduce its use of Colorado River water
by 800,000 acre-feet. The state has used as much as 5.2 million
acre-feet of Colorado River water annually, but under pressure
from Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and the other six states
that share this resource, California’s Colorado River parties
have been trying to close the gap between demand and supply. The
article – delayed to include the latest information from
This issue updates progress on California’s Colorado River Water
Use Plan (commonly called the 4.4 Plan ), with a special focus on
the Salton Sea restoration/water transfer dilemma. It also
includes information on the proposed MWD-Palo Verde Irrigation
District deal, the Colorado River Delta, and the legislative
debate in the national and state capitals.
With passage of the original Dec. 31, 2002, deadline to have a
Quantification Settlement Agreement (QSA) in place for the
Colorado River, California suffered a cutback in the surplus
Colorado River flows it had relied upon by years. Further
negotiations followed in an attempt to bring the California
parties to an agreement. This issue examines the history leading
to the QSA, the state of affairs of the so-called 4.4 Plan as of
early March, and gives readers a clearer crystal ball with which
to speculate about California’s water future on the Colorado
This issue of Western Water provides the latest information on
some of the philosophical, political and practical ideas being
discussed on the river. Some of these issues were discussed at
the Water Education Foundation’s Colorado River Symposium, “The
Ties that Bind: Policy and the Evolving Law of the Colorado
River,” held last fall at The Bishop’s Lodge in Santa Fe, New
Mexico – site of negotiations on the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
This issue of Western Water explores the issues
surrounding and the components of the Colorado River Basin
seven-state proposed agreement released Feb. 3 regarding sharing
shortages on the river, and new plans to improve the river’s
management. The article includes excerpts from the Foundation’s
September 2005 Colorado River Symposium held in Santa Fe, New
This issue of Western Water marks the 85th anniversary of the
Colorado River Compact and considers its role in the past and
present on key issues such as federal funding for water projects
and international issues. Much of the content for this magazine
came from the Foundation’s September Colorado River Symposium,
The Colorado River Compact at 85 and Changes on the River.
This card includes information about the Colorado River, who uses
the river, how the river’s water is divided and other pertinent
facts about this vital resource for the Southwest. Beautifully
illustrated with color photographs.
In 1997, the Foundation sponsored a three-day, invitation-only
symposium at Bishop’s Lodge, New Mexico, site of the 1922
Colorado River Compact signing, to discuss the historical
implications of that agreement, current Colorado River issues and
future challenges. The 204-page proceedings features the panel
discussions and presentations on such issues as the Law of the
River, water marketing and environmental restoration.
30-minute DVD that traces the history of the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation and its role in the development of the West. Includes
extensive historic footage of farming and the construction of
dams and other water projects, and discusses historic and modern
This 24×36 inch poster, suitable for framing, illustrates the
water resources available for Nevada cities, agriculture and the
environment. It features natural and manmade water resources
throughout the state, including the Truckee and Carson rivers,
Lake Tahoe, Pyramid Lake and the course of the Colorado River
that forms the state’s eastern boundary.
Redesigned in 2017, this beautiful map depicts the seven
Western states that share the Colorado River with Mexico. The
Colorado River supplies water to nearly 40 million people in
Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming
and the country of Mexico. Text on this beautiful, 24×36-inch
map, which is suitable for framing, explains the river’s
apportionment, history and the need to adapt its management for
urban growth and expected climate change impacts.
The 28-page Layperson’s Guide to Water Rights Law, recognized as
the most thorough explanation of California water rights law
available to non-lawyers, traces the authority for water flowing
in a stream or reservoir, from a faucet or into an irrigation
ditch through the complex web of California water rights.
The 20-page Layperson’s Guide to Water Marketing provides
background information on water rights, types of transfers and
critical policy issues surrounding this topic. First published in
1996, the 2000 version offers expanded information on groundwater
banking and conjunctive use … Colorado River transfers,
CALFED’s Water Transfer Program and the role of private companies
in California’s developing water market.
Order in bulk (25 or more copies of the same guide) for a reduced
fee. Contact the Foundation, 916-444-6240, for details.
The Colorado River provides water to more than 35 million people
and 4 million acres of farmland in a region encompassing some
246,000 square miles in the southwestern United States. The
32-page Layperson’s Guide to the Colorado River covers the
history of the river’s development; negotiations over division of
its water; the items that comprise the Law of the River; and a
chronology of significant Colorado River events.
The 24-page Layperson’s Guide to California Water provides an
excellent overview of the history of water development and use in
California. It includes sections on flood management; the state,
federal and Colorado River delivery systems; Delta issues; water
rights; environmental issues; water quality; and options for
stretching the water supply such as water marketing and
A new look for our most popular product! And it’s the perfect
gift for the water wonk in your life.
Our 24×36 inch California Water Map is widely known for being the
definitive poster that shows the integral role water plays in the
state. On this updated version, it is easier to see California’s
natural waterways and man-made reservoirs and aqueducts
– including federally, state and locally funded
projects – the wild and scenic rivers system, and
natural lakes. The map features beautiful photos of
California’s natural environment, rivers, water projects,
wildlife, and urban and agricultural uses and the
text focuses on key issues: water supply, water use, water
projects, the Delta, wild and scenic rivers and the Colorado
As part of the historic Colorado River Delta, the Salton Sea
regularly filled and dried for thousands of years due to its
elevation of 237 feet below sea level.
The most recent version of the Salton Sea was formed in 1905 when
the Colorado River broke
through a series of dikes and flooded the seabed for two years,
creating California’s largest inland body of water. The
Salton Sea, which is saltier than the Pacific Ocean, includes 130
miles of shoreline and is larger than Lake Tahoe.
The Quantification Settlement Agreement defines the rights to a
portion of Colorado River
water for four water districts in Southern California. It also
provides for a water transfer between the Imperial Valley and San Diego
for 35 years–the largest agricultural to urban water transfer in
the United States.
The Mexican Water Treaty of 1944 committed the U.S. to deliver
1.5 million acre-feet of water to Mexico on an annual basis, plus
an additional 200,000 acre-feet under surplus conditions. The
treaty is overseen by the International Boundary and Water
Colorado River water is delivered to Mexico at Morelos Dam,
located 1.1 miles downstream from where the California-Baja
California land boundary intersects the river between the town of
Los Algodones in northwestern Mexico and Yuma County, Ariz.
The Mexican Delta is located at the natural terminus of the
Colorado River at the Gulf of Mexico, just south of the
U.S.-Mexico border. The desert ecosystem was formed by silt
flushed downstream from the Colorado and fresh and brackish water
mixing at the Gulf.
The Mexican Delta once covered 9,650 square miles but has shrunk
to less than 1 percent of its original size due to man-made water
The Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program aims
to balance use of Colorado River water resources with the
conservation of native species and their habitat. A key component
of this process is restoring approximately 1,200 acres of
riparian and marsh habitats along the lower Colorado River.
Lee Ferry on the Arizona-Utah border is a key dividing point
between the Colorado River’s Upper and Lower basins.
This split is important when it comes to determining how much
water will be delivered from the Upper Basin to the Lower Basin
[for a description of the Upper and Lower basins, visit the
Colorado River page].
The construction of Glen Canyon Dam in 1964 created Lake Powell.
Both are located in north-central Arizona near the Utah border.
Lake Powell acts as a holding tank for outflow from the Colorado
River Upper Basin States: Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
The water stored in Lake Powell is used for recreation, power
generation and delivering water to the Lower Basin states of
California, Arizona, and Nevada.
John Wesley Powell (1834-1902) was historic and heroic for being
first to lead an expedition down the Colorado River in 1869. A major
who lost an arm in the Civil War Battle of Shiloh, he was an
explorer, geologist, geographer and ethnologist.
California’s Colorado River Water Use Plan (known colloquially as
the 4.4 Plan) intends to wean the state from its reliance on the
surplus flows from the river and return California to its annual
4.4 million acre-feet basic apportionment of the river.
In the past, California has also used more than its basic
apportionment. Consequently, the U.S. Department of
Interior urged California to devise a plan to reduce its water
consumption to its basic entitlement.
In December 2007, the federal government and the seven states of
the Colorado River Basin established guidelines for coordinated
operation of Lakes Powell and
Mead under low-reservoir
conditions and for shortage allocations among the Lower Basin
states. An ongoing severe drought and potential for a major
shortfall in supplies led to the agreement.
This printed issue of Western Water examines how the various
stakeholders have begun working together to meet the planning
challenges for the Colorado River Basin, including agreements
with Mexico, increased use of conservation and water marketing,
and the goal of accomplishing binational environmental
restoration and water-sharing programs.
The Colorado River is one of the most heavily relied upon water
supply sources in the world, serving 35 million people in seven
states and Mexico. The river provides water to large cities,
irrigates fields, powers turbines to generate electricity,
thrills recreational enthusiasts and serves as a home for birds,
fish and wildlife.
This printed issue of Western Water explores the
historic nature of some of the key agreements in recent years,
future challenges, and what leading state representatives
identify as potential “worst-case scenarios.” Much of the content
for this issue of Western Water came from the in-depth
panel discussions at the Colorado River Symposium. The Foundation
will publish the full proceedings of the Symposium in 2012.
This printed issue of Western Water examines the
Colorado River drought, and the ongoing institutional and
operational changes underway to maintain the system and meet the
future challenges in the Colorado River Basin.
This printed issue of Western Water explores some of the major
challenges facing Colorado River stakeholders: preparing for
climate change, forging U.S.-Mexico water supply solutions and
dealing with continued growth in the basins states. Much of the
content for this issue of Western Water came from the in-depth
panel discussions at the September 2009 Colorado River Symposium.
This printed copy of Western Water examines the Colorado River
Delta, its ecological significance and the lengths to which
international, state and local efforts are targeted and achieving
environmental restoration while recognizing the needs of the
entire river’s many users.