Here’s a deep-dive into pressures on the Colorado River from Daniel Rothberg writing for Water Deeply. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:
Low runoff means that water users have less buffer room to prevent the river’s two major reservoirs from dropping below critical elevations, which would have considerable impacts on how water and hydropower are managed.
“This year we might be able to skirt by,” said James Eklund, an attorney at Squire Patton Boggs appointed by Colorado governor John Hickenlooper to represent the state’s interests on the Upper Colorado River Commission. But back-to-back years of low inflow like this year, “That’s a crisis. That’s a big problem,” he said. “That means we are going to almost certainly trigger a shortage in the Lower Basin or be below minimum power in Powell in the Upper Basin.”
The seven Colorado River states have closely watched reservoirs decline for years as the West has started what scientists view as a transition to a more arid environment. With lower runoff expected to become the “new normal,” both basins are facing two related questions: How do you boost reservoir elevations? And where is the best place to store the system’s water?
The answer for Upper Basin states is complicated, but stakeholders are facing more and more pressure to figure out a solution.
How to Make a Bank
For Lower Basin water users in California, Arizona and Nevada, the answer to the first question is easier. Because Lake Mead is upstream from its users, they can leave, or “bank,” parts of their Colorado River entitlements in the reservoir during shortages. In good years, they can make a call and get that water back.
Creating a “bank” in the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming is more difficult. Its major reservoir, Lake Powell, is located downstream of its users. If they conserve water to keep Lake Powell elevations high, it is lost to them forever.