From 1999 through 2013, the Colorado River Basin has experienced serious drought. Policy makers have responded to this drought with the development of new management strategies for the major storage reservoirs in the system (Lake Powell and Lake Mead) to prevent them from reaching critical storage levels. Since settlement in the West, conditions throughout the Colorado River Basin and within the legal structure surrounding its allocation have been variable. It is testimony to the resiliency of both the land and our legal systems that prove our water managers flexible in their adaptation of the laws that govern this incredible river. On April 16 the Colorado Water Congress offered a noon webinar provided by John McClow of the Upper Colorado River Commission, exploring these adaptations and providing updates on the current struggles and contingency plans of the river.
- Apportions to Upper and Lower Basins 7.5 million acre-feet per year in perpetuity.
- The Lower Basin may develop an additional 1 million acre-feet annually.
- Water delivered to Mexico is supplied by surplus flows. If these are insufficient, each basin will supply one half of the deficiency.
- Upper division states will not deplete flows at Lee Ferry below an aggregate of 75 million acre-feet in any period of 10 consecutive years (This is a non-completion obligation, not a delivery obligation.)
- This Compact does not interfere with state control within the boundaries of the Colorado River Basin.
- Water rights protected prior to 1922 will remain unimpaired by the compact
Delphus Carpenter on the Colorado River Compact: “Broadly speaking, from a Colorado viewpoint, the Compact perpetually sets apart and withholds for the benefit of Colorado a preferred right to utilize the waters of the river within the state to the extent of our present and future necessities. It removes all excuses for embargos upon our future development and leaves us free to develop our territory in a manner and at the times our necessities may require.”
- Article 10A: 1.5 million acre-feet is guaranteed to Mexico from the waters of Colorado River system annually.
- Article 10B: If the United States determines that there is a surplus of water in addition to that required by US water users, Mexico can receive an additional 200,000 acre-feet. Additionally, in periods of extraordinary drought, the U.S. can reduce deliveries to Mexico in proportion to the shortages to U.S. users.
- Article 1 – The Compact provides equitable division and apportionment of the use of waters allocated to Upper Basin states by the 1922 compact. Because that amount is difficult to calculate with the exception of Arizona, the remaining state allocations are by percentage
- Arizona- 50,000 acre-feet
- Colorado- 51.75%
- Utah- 23%
- Wyoming- 14%
- New Mexico-11.25%
- The Upper Colorado River Basin Compact creates the Upper Colorado River Commission. It is comprised of a Commissioner from each of the four Upper Basin states and a Commissioner appointed by the President of the United States who represents the U.S. and is the presiding officer over the Commission.
- Article 4- In the event that curtailment becomes necessary under the terms of the 1922 Compact, it is the Upper Colorado River Commission which determines how curtailment is allocated among the states. In the 10 years preceding the period during which curtailment becomes necessary, any state which consumed more than its allocation must pay the deficiency before any other state is curtailed.
- Nevada- 300,000 acre-feet
- Arizona- 2.8 million acre-feet
- California- 4.4 million acre-feet and senior priority
Minute 319 was signed by the International Boundary and Water Commission. It set the criteria for sharing between the U.S. and Mexico in times of water surplus and shortage. Mexico agreed to accept the previously outlined shortages on a formalized basis. Mexico has limited storage capacity so in exchange for these shortages, they received the right to store Colorado River water in Lake Mead. This is termed the “Intentionally Created Mexican Allocation” and is the source of water released to Colorado River Delta as part of the pulse flow which was recently in the news.
Extensive modeling calculated a worst case scenario (NOT a prediction!): With no response or change of the status quo, there is an 18-20% probability that Lake Powell will drop below the minimum power pool (3490 ft.) by 2015, and Lake Mead will drop below its minimum water supply intake by 2016. This would result in the loss of hydroelectric power from Glen Canyon dam and two million people loosing 90% of their water supply.
In June of 2013 at a meeting of all seven Basin States, a workgroup was created to develop a quick and reasonable response to this worst-case scenario. It was decided that the Upper Basin has two options: 1) extend the operations of the upper river reservoirs to move more water to Lake Powell more often, 2) voluntarily reduce consumptive use. Initial models indicate this is a feasible plan. In the event the Upper Basin can operate those upper river reservoirs and reduce consumptive use, we can “bend the line”.
To view a recording of the webinar, CLICK HERE.