With #LakePowell levels ‘frighteningly’ low, new director of the newly created #ColoradoRiver Authority of #Utah aims to protect Utah’s interests in Colorado River — KSL.com #COriver #aridification

Colorado River. Photo credit: University of Montana

From KSL.com (Ashley Imlay):

“One of the things I like about the river is that my learning curve is perpetually steep because there are always challenges, there are always one-offs, and there are situations that we are facing on this river that we need to adapt to. Currently, we are facing hydrology and low reservoir conditions the likes of which we have never seen,” Haas said.

As Utah continues growing and drought intensifies the desert’s water scarcity, lawmakers fear losing some of the the state’s share of the river. Utah’s allocation is 1.725 million acre-feet of water or 23% of the water appropriated to the Upper Basin states that also include Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico. Utah now uses about 1 million acre-feet and plans to develop about 1.4 million acre-feet of water, according to the Division of Natural Resources.

That’s where Haas comes in. She will lead the newly created Colorado River Authority of Utah, which begins its work in late July, officials announced last Tuesday.

A watchdog for Utah’s interests
Utah legislative leadership in the 2021 session sponsored the Colorado River Amendments bill, HB297, which, with $9 million in one-time money and $600,000 of ongoing money, set up the authority meant to serve as a “watchdog” for Utah’s share of water in the drought-challenged Colorado River.

Amy Haas, executive director, Upper Colorado River Commission, is critical of the 2007 operating guidelines (Source: Bureau of Reclamation via the Water Education Foundation)

Haas has lived in Utah part-time for the past four years for her work in the Upper Colorado River Commission, where she currently serves as executive director. She first began working on water issues about 20 years ago as an attorney in private practice in New Mexico representing institutional and private water interests. She then worked for New Mexico on policy representing that state in its interstate stream compacts.

Haas said she’s excited to be a part of Utah’s new authority as it forms “from the ground up.”

“The river is stressed, currently. I think many people know that, and I would like to be a part of sound water management, prudent water management, and I would like to be a part of a team. Utah has been and will continue to be a responsible steward of its Colorado River allocation. And I think that the authority, and the creation of the authority, really represents that Utah is proceeding in a very responsible manner regarding the development of its allocation,” Haas said.

In her new role, Haas will work with Gov. Spencer Cox, Brian Steed, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources, and Colorado River Commissioner of Utah and Colorado River Authority of Utah Chairman Gene Shawcroft “to take full advantage of Utah’s entitlement to the Colorado River while engaging in prudent water management,” she said…

Lake Powell at historic low

Haas is stepping into her role even as Lake Powell’s water is at a record-low level. It’s 34% full now, she said, calling it “frighteningly” low.

“It’s about 35 feet above an elevation where the federal government together with the states (Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah) will develop a plan to operate the reservoir such that the states can meet their obligations under a 100-year-old agreement and also that hydropower generation, which is a very important feature of Lake Powell, can be maintained and will not be jeopardized,” she said.

If the lake reaches that critical level, the Bureau of Reclamation will go in and shore up its elevations, according to Haas.

Haas was involved in developing the federally authorized drought contingency plan for the Upper Basin of the Colorado River, which is now being deployed. The plan includes releasing water from federal reservoirs upstream of Lake Powell to store and use in Lake Powell, enhancing cloud seeding, removal of non-native vegetation and additional conservation measures…

She’s optimistic that the states in the U.S. and Mexico with interests in the river will continue working closely together on its management, as they have done in the past — and that that collaboration will increase due to current conditions. For example, Mexico recently partnered with the Basin states and federal government to take shortages in its allocation of the river, which Haas said helped water managers address constraints.

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