#ColoradoRiver Basin: Parties looking to build on 2007 Shortage Sharing Agreement for Powell and Mead

Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015
Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

nterim guidelines for managing both Lake Powell and Lake Mead and the Colorado River system still have more than a decade to go before they expire, but have been successful enough that parties are already looking to start talks about making them a little less interim.

The guidelines were finalized in 2007 and are scheduled to expire in 2026. While negotiations to extend them are scheduled to begin in 2020, they could start even sooner, Steve Wolff with the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office said Thursday at the Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum, presented by Colorado Mesa University’s Ruth Powell Hutchins Water Center.

“They’re starting way in advance of when they actually expire,” he said.

Ted Kowalski, interstate section chief of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, credited former Interior Secretary Gale Norton, of Colorado, for helping provide direction for the agreement. He said it has resulted in a “historic relationship” between states in the Upper and Lower Colorado river basins. Beforehand, representatives of the two basins couldn’t agree on anything and meetings between them usually included talk about possible litigation, he said.

Now, he says, “I can’t stress enough how the 2007 guidelines are working in the context of collaboration.”

The two big reservoirs are the two most important storage facilities in the river basin, said Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District, based in Glenwood Springs. The guidelines integrate operations of the two reservoirs, for the first time operating them as a system, and govern what level of water shortages the Interior secretary has to impose when there’s not enough water to fully supply the Lower Basin states of California, Nevada and Arizona.

Chuck Cullom with the Central Arizona Project, which diverts Colorado River water for use in that state, said the project is a junior water user vulnerable to shortages. It’s important to understand how the river system will operate in shortages, and the guidelines determine how much water will be sent downstream from Powell each year based on rigorous and “refereed” determinations, he said.

“There’s no shenanigans. Everyone knows how the system is going to operate from year to year regardless of politics or changes in administration, and that’s important for all of us,” he said.

Conservation and collaboration have been important components of the guidelines, with water entities across the river system being motivated to take voluntary steps to keep water in the reservoirs at levels that avoid shortages. Kowalski said an example is the investment by Lower Basin states of hundreds of thousands of dollars in cloud-seeding programs in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah to try to boost precipitation levels.

The Lower Basin states don’t get to claim any of the extra water that results.

“But rather it’s built on this idea that if we have more water in the system, we’re all going to benefit,” he said.

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