The construction of Glen Canyon Dam in north-central Arizona also
created Lake Powell. Lake Powell serves as a holding tank for the
Colorado River Upper Basin States: Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and
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.
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,
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
The intense drought in the Southwest is threatening
Colorado water supplies beyond just the lack of rainfall. State
wildlife officials report a record number of boats carrying
invasive mussels coming into Colorado from out of state. And
the arid summer and winter could be to blame.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
A conservation ethic is growing in the nation’s second-driest
state. … But Utah’s also pushing forward with a plan to tap
more water from the Colorado River to serve two counties in the
southwestern corner of the state.
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
With rainfall at record lows, water is an increasingly precious
commodity in the deserts of southern Utah. But in the driest
reaches of redrock country, one long-waged water war thunders
even louder than the rest. Utah legislators and water managers
have spent nearly a decade trying to break ground on the
140-mile-long Lake Powell Pipeline, which will carry 77 million
gallons of water annually from the Colorado River to nearby
Washington and Kane Counties.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
April is often a time of abundance in the mountains of the
American West, when snowpack is at or near its peak, and
forecasters work to determine how much runoff will course
through our rivers and fill reservoirs later in
the season. This year, across much of the West,
particularly the Southwest, there’s little in the way of
abundance. At Lake Powell, the second-largest reservoir in the
West, runoff is predicted to be only 43 percent of average.
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.
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.
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.
Tickets are now on sale for the Water Education Foundation’s April 11-13 tour of the Lower Colorado River.
Don’t miss this opportunity to visit key sites along one of the nation’s most famous rivers, including a private tour of Hoover Dam, Central Arizona Project’s Mark Wilmer pumping plant and the Havasu National Wildlife Refuge. The tour also visits the Salton Sea, Slab City, the All-American Canal and farming regions in the Imperial and Coachella valleys.
After asking for fast-track review in 2017, officials in Utah
now want federal regulators to delay a decision on whether the
state can build its proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. Construction
of the billion-dollar-plus pipeline to deliver Colorado River
water to communities in southern Utah is already behind
schedule and has cost the state more than $30 million.
Lake Mead ends 2017 at elevation 1,082.5, almost two feet above
last year at this time. Lake Powell ends the year at 3,623, up
more than 20 feet from a year ago. Combined storage in the two
primary Colorado River reservoirs ends the year up more than 2
million acre feet.
Rising temperatures from climate change are having a noticeable
effect on how much water is flowing down the Colorado River. Read
the latest River Report to learn more about what’s
happening, and how water managers are responding.
This issue of Western Water discusses the challenges
facing the Colorado River Basin resulting from persistent
drought, climate change and an overallocated river, and how water
managers and others are trying to face the future.
Sun-scorched desert mesa, 140 miles of it, lies between Lake
Powell, the nation’s second-largest reservoir, and Utah’s
Washington County, one of America’s driest metropolitan
regions. … The [Washington County Water Conservancy] district
plans to link the reservoir and the county with one of the
longest and most expensive water pipelines ever proposed in the
Like many places across the West, Lake Powell seems impossibly
large, mythical almost, with its rich red rock canyon walls
standing in dramatic juxtaposition to the expanse of cerulean
below that seems to stretch on forever. Dramatic is an apt way
to describe the second-largest man-made reservoir in America.
Though Utah was farther away from the epicenter of the spill,
contaminants from the blowout have been transported through the
San Juan River in southeastern Utah to the vast reservoir of
Lake Powell, the lawsuit states.
The nation’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead on the
Arizona/Nevada border and Lake Powell on the Arizona/Utah
border, were brim full in the year 2000. Four short years
later, they had lost enough water to supply California its
legally apportioned share of Colorado River water for more than
five years. Now, 17 years later, they still have
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.
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.
Nearly 540 tons of metals – mostly iron and aluminum -
contaminated the Animas River over nine hours during a massive
wastewater spill from an abandoned Colorado gold mine, the
Environmental Protection Agency said Friday in a new report on
the 2015 blowout that turned rivers in three states a sickly
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
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.
Lake Powell has been called “Jewel of the Colorado” by the
federal agency that built it, the Bureau of Reclamation. It’s
been a vital force for the intermountain West because of its
ability to store vast amounts of water and generate electricity
for farmers, cities and towns in 13 states.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
Colorado and New Mexico declared stretches of the Animas and
San Juan rivers to be disaster areas as the orange-colored
waste stream made its way downstream toward Lake Powell in Utah
after the spill Wednesday at the abandoned Gold King mine near
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.
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.
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.
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.
Water as a renewable resource is depicted in this 18×24 inch
poster. Water is renewed again and again by the natural
hydrologic cycle where water evaporates, transpires from plants,
rises to form clouds, and returns to the earth as precipitation.
Excellent for elementary school classroom use.
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 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.
A new look for our most popular product! And it’s the perfect
gift for the water wonk in your life.
Our 24×36 inch California Water Map is widely known for being the
definitive poster that shows the integral role water plays in the
state. On this updated version, it is easier to see California’s
natural waterways and man-made reservoirs and aqueducts
– including federally, state and locally funded
projects – the wild and scenic rivers system, and
natural lakes. The map features beautiful photos of
California’s natural environment, rivers, water projects,
wildlife, and urban and agricultural uses and the
text focuses on key issues: water supply, water use, water
projects, the Delta, wild and scenic rivers and the Colorado
The 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.
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.
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.
With interstate discussions of critical Colorado River issues
seemingly headed for stalemate, Secretary of the Interior Gale
Norton stepped in May 2 to defuse, or at least defer, a
potentially divisive debate over water releases from Lake Powell.