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The 1956 Colorado River Storage Project Act has had a significant impact on the development and management of water in the Upper Colorado River Basin. The 1956 act authorized construction of the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP) which allowed for comprehensive development of the water resources of the Upper Basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) by providing for long-term regulatory storage of water for purposes including, regulating the Colorado River, storing water for beneficial use, allowing Upper Basin States to utilize their Colorado River Compact apportionments, providing for the reclamation of arid lands, control of floods and generation of hydroelectric power. The Colorado River Storage Project is one of the most complex and extensive river resource developments in the world.
There are four initial storage units built as part of the CRSP:
- Wayne N. Aspinall Unit in Colorado (Blue Mesa, Crystal, and Morrow Point Dams),
- Flaming Gorge Unit in Utah,
- Navajo Unit in New Mexico,
- Glen Canyon Unit in Arizona;
and a number participating projects (16 of which have been completed or are in process of completion). The purposes of the CRSP identified in the 1956 act include regulating the flow of the Colorado River, storing water for beneficial consumptive use, providing for reclamation of arid and semi-arid lands, providing flood control, and generating hydropower. The CRSP also provides for recreation and improves conditions for fish and wildlife.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, public concern over the environment resulted in new federal environmental laws. The enactment of the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act, the 1973 Endangered Species Act, and the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act outlined new requirements for the protection and enhancement of fish, wildlife, and the environment. Administration of these laws has modified the operation of CRSP facilities.
The dams of the CRSP main storage units have a combined live storage capacity of 30.6 million acre-feet and power generation capabilities to provide over five billion kilowatt-hours of energy annually. Glen Canyon Dam is the largest of the CRSP facilities and is the key unit for controlling water releases to the Lower Basin. In 1970, the Criteria for Coordinated Long-Range Operation of Colorado River Reservoirs (Operating Criteria) was established to provide for the coordinated operation of reservoirs in the Upper and Lower basins and set conditions for water releases from Lake Powell and Lake Mead. In accordance with the Operating Criteria, an objective release of 8.23 million acre-feet per year is targeted for downstream delivery.
The multipurpose CRSP has not only been integral to the development of the arid West, it has also played a vital sustaining role through extended periods of drought. The many benefits provided by the CRSP are essential to life in the West today.