The River, Still in Crisis

Colorado River District staff and board continue to stay on top of interstate and federal communications since Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton’s call for 2-to-4-million-acre feet (maf) of annual conservation in the Colorado River Basin earlier this year. A system so out of balance requires great and meaningful reductions from all users, but the greatest lift must come via significant Lower Basin conservation and resolved Bureau accounting issues, as River District General Manager Andy Mueller advocated at the fourth quarterly board meeting of 2022.

Should the Bureau include Lower Basin evaporation and transit losses in their consumptive use calculations (as is already done in the Upper Basin states), up to 1.2 million-acre-feet of water could be saved in the system. Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Arizona Department of Water Resources have joined the Upper Basin states as they call on the Bureau to rectify this accounting error. California remains the only standout, offering instead a meager 400,000 acre-foot conservation pledge.

“It is important to recognize that California’s offer is less than a 9% cut in its water use and a far cry from what is needed from the system’s biggest consumptive users,” Mueller stated. Colorado’s voluntary efforts to reduce use, he reinforced, occur regularly and without compensation, being bound by our limited hydrology in a changing climate.

Though the Department of the Interior has indicated that they’ll take action to assess evaporative losses in the Lower Basin, change is slow-going, and the federal government remains silent on the full breadth of the issues (e.g. transit and other system losses).

Hope Remains

While Big River challenges persist, hope for federal action sparked closer to home in September, as the Colorado River District worked with Senator Bennet’s office to put federal eyes on our local hydrologic struggles.

On Monday, September 26, 2022, Senator Bennet brought Deputy Secretary of Interior Tommy Beaudreau and Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton on a flyover across Western Colorado. The Deputy Secretary and Bureau Commissioner saw first-hand the impacts of aridification on communities in the Gunnison, Uncompahgre, North Fork, Grand Mesa and the lower Colorado River basin watersheds, and met with River District constituents to discuss personal impacts.

“I think that the flight and the discussion helped our federal officials understand what the Upper Basin means when it says it is living within the hydrology,” Mueller mentioned. “Many of our water users talked about reduced annual allocations of water and the severe economic impacts it has had on their operations.”

As of the publication of this newsletter, Colorado River District staff, board, and guests from across Colorado (including state officials and tribal leaders) are touring the Lower Basin to better understand their water infrastructure and management practices. Follow along on the River District’s social media pages.