After roughly seven years of work, Colorado River Compact states have reached an agreement for drought contingency plans that would maintain levels at lakes Powell and Mead.
The contingency plans allow Colorado and the other Upper Basin states (New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) to control their own destiny, Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association Manager Steve Anderson said.
“It, one, gives us the right to use the storage in the Colorado River Storage Project Act reservoirs to help with the level of Lake Powell. That’s a big win,” he said…
According to a March 19 letter the seven Colorado River Basin states sent to Congress, requesting legislation necessary to implement the new drought contingency agreement, 2018’s runoff was the second lowest since 2000 and there is no significant trend indicating these conditions will improve, even if runoff turns out to be above-average this year.
The recent agreement needs Congress to pass legislation directing the Secretary of the Interior to implement it. Under the drought contingency plan, the Lower Basin states have agreed to a schedule of curtailments, or shortages, when levels at Mead reach certain points.
Such trigger points are established and specific, “no ifs, ands, or buts about it,” said Jim Pokrandt, community affairs director with the Colorado River District.
The situation is different in the Upper Basin.
“The three legs of the stool for the Upper Basin, one leg is to increase cloud-seeding and the eradication of tamarisk. The second leg of the stool is to use the Aspinall Unit reservoir (Blue Mesa), the Navajo reservoir and the Flaming Gorge reservoir to be able to send a slug of water from one or all of the reservoirs down to Powell,” Pokrandt said.
The involved states must now plan to determine how much water can come out of those reservoirs to bolster levels at Lake Powell, in the event the drought contingency plan needs to be enacted.
“The third leg of the stool is a ‘plan to make a plan’ with demand-management,” Pokrandt said.
Demand-management means reducing water use so the savings can be sent on to Lake Powell to keep the power turbines turning. For Western Colorado, this means finding a way not to use water, he said.
“There are two key ways. One would be a mandatory curtailment, which would be an economical, social and environmental disaster for Western Colorado,” Pokrandt said.
“The other way would be to come up with a voluntary way with producers and water users. What we call that is ‘voluntary, compensated and temporary.’ This is where we have a plan to make a plan. We don’t know what voluntary, compensated and temporary means yet.”
At present, there is neither policy nor money for this purpose.