Navajo Dam operations update: Bumping releases to 500 cfs April 21, 2023

Navajo Dam spillway via Reclamation.

From email from Reclamation Susan Novak Behery:

The Bureau of Reclamation has scheduled an increase in the release from Navajo Dam from 300 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 500 cfs for Friday, April 21st, at 4:00 AM.

#Snowpack peaks, shifting view toward #runoff — The #Aspen Times

Click the link to read the article on The Aspen Times website (Josie Taris). Here’s an excerpt:

This season, snowpack peaked on April 7 with 23.2 inches of snow-water equivalent, about five inches above average, according to the USDA. Consistent snowfall throughout the season contributed to the 35% above-average count – the highest snowpack for the second week of April since 2019. Experts said it is still too soon to tell exactly what the snowmelt pattern will look like. Factors like temperature, wind, and dust will play into that rate…

If temperatures continue to rise and wind storms blow away top layers of snow or carry in dirt — the most detrimental to snowpack — rivers could swell and lead to strong flow or even flooding. Or if cold weather like Friday continues, the snowmelt could come at a more even pace all the way into July. Normal peak runoff season in the Roaring Fork watershed is mid-May through mid-June.  [Erin] Walter said elevation also plays a huge role in the rate of snowmelt. The highest elevations hold out the longest. Another factor in extending the runoff season is better soil moisture at the beginning of winter than in seasons past. 

“This winter, we’re heading in with better soil moisture. And so the hope is that then that water finds its way into the river rather than into the ground,” said Roaring Fork Conservancy water quality technician Matthew Anderson. 

U.S. senators Bennet and Hickenlooper on potential revisions to #ColoradoRiver operations: Wet year no excuse to ignore a drier future — The #Vail Daily #COriver #aridification

Water levels at Lake Powell have plummeted to lows not seen since the days when the reservoir was filling for the first time. Credit: Alexander Heilner, The Water Desk with aerial support from LightHawk, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

Click the link to read the article on the Vail Daily website (John LaConte). Here’s an excerpt:

The Bureau of Reclamation on Tuesday [April 11, 2023] issued a set of potential options to revise the current operation of the Colorado River system, catching the attention of many residents and stakeholders within the system…The options were laid out in a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, which determined that some action would be required to protect the Glen Canyon and Hoover Dam operations, system integrity, and public health and safety in the years to come…

Sen. Michael Bennet, following Tuesday’s announcement, issued a statement saying as much.

“This year’s good snowpack can’t be an excuse to kick the can down the road,” Bennet said. “This SEIS is a constructive step toward sustaining the Colorado River system for the long term, and I continue to urge all seven Basin states to come to an agreement. We have no time to lose.”

The Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement contemplates an “absence of consensus among all entities affected by changed operations,” saying sound and prudent operation of the reservoirs on the system “will almost certainly lead to objection by specific entities to the impacts of one or more aspects of water management decisions.”

Sen. John Hickenlooper called the statement “an important step in planning for a drier West, saying states “must work towards a collaborative, seven-state solution for managing water scarcity that honors our communities, the sovereignty of Tribes, and the concerns of agricultural producers.”

Hickenlooper also mentioned the lure of the no-action alternative in the shadow of the historic winter of 2022-23.

“No matter how promising this year’s snowpack is, we must prepare for less water in the river on which we rely,” he said.

Reclamation releases April 2023 24-month study projections #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Click the link to read the release on the Reclamation website:

The 24-Month Study projects future Colorado River system conditions using single-trace hydrologic scenarios simulated with the Colorado River Mid-term Modeling System (CRMMS) in 24-Month Study Mode. Three Studies, the Most, Minimum, and Maximum Probable 24-Month Studies, are released monthly, typically by the 15th day of the month.

  • Initial Conditions: The 24-Month Study is initialized with previous end-of-month reservoir elevations.
  • Hydrology: In the Upper Basin, the first year of the Most Probable inflow trace is based on the 50th percentile of Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) forecasts and the second year is based on the 50th percentile of historical flows. To represent dry and wet future conditions, the Minimum Probable and Maximum Probable traces use the 10th and 90th forecast percentiles in the first year and the 25th and 75th percentiles of historical flows in the second year, respectively. The Lower Basin inflows are based only on historical intervening flows that align with the Upper Basin percentiles.
  • Water Demand: Upper Basin demands are estimated and incorporated in the unregulated inflow forecasts provided by the CBRFC; Lower Basin demands are developed in coordination with the Lower Basin States and Mexico.
  • Policy: Reservoir operations are input manually in the 24-Month Study by reservoir operators and align with Colorado River policies.
  • Drought Response Actions: CRMMS projections contain actions undertaken with the 2022 Drought Response Operations Plan2022 Glen Canyon Dam operational adjustment, and the 2023 operations described in the 24-Month Study.
    • The 2022 Drought Response Operations Plan includes an additional release of 500 kaf from Flaming Gorge from May 2022 through April 2023.
    • The reduction of releases from Lake Powell from 7.48 maf to 7.00 maf in water year 2022 will result in a reduced release volume of 0.480 maf that normally would have been released from Glen Canyon Dam to Lake Mead as part of the 7.48 maf annual release volume, consistent with routine operations under the 2007 Interim Guidelines. The reduction of releases from Glen Canyon Dam in water year 2022 (resulting in increased storage in Lake Powell) will not affect future operating determinations and will be accounted for “as if” this volume of water had been delivered to Lake Mead. The August 2022 24-Month Study modeled 2023 and 2024 operations at Lakes Powell and Mead as if the 0.480 maf had been delivered to Lake Mead for operating tier/condition determination purposes for the Lower Basin States and for Mexico.
    • Because the 2022 operations were designed to protect critical elevations at Lake Powell, Reclamation will implement Lower Elevation Balancing Tier operations in a way that continues to protect these critical elevations, or preserves the benefits of the 2022 operations to protect Lake Powell, in water year 2023. Specifically, Reclamation modeled operations in WY 2023 as follows in the 24-Month Studies:
      • The Glen Canyon Dam annual release has initially been set to 7.00 maf, and in April 2023 Reclamation will evaluate hydrologic conditions to determine if balancing releases may be appropriate under the conditions established in the 2007 Interim Guidelines;
      • Balancing releases will be limited (with a minimum of 7.00 maf) to protect Lake Powell from declining below elevation 3,525 feet at the end of December 2023;
      • Balancing releases will take into account operational neutrality of the 0.480 maf that was retained in Lake Powell under the May 2022 action. Any Lake Powell balancing release volume will be calculated as if the 0.480 maf had been delivered to Lake Mead in WY 2022; and
      • The modeling approach for WY 2023 will apply to 2024.

Consistent with the provisions of the 2007 Interim Guidelines, and to preserve the benefits to Glen Canyon Dam facilities from 2022 Operations into 2023 and 2024, Reclamation will consult with the Basin States on monthly and annual operations. Reclamation will also ensure all appropriate consultation with Basin Tribes, the Republic of Mexico, other federal agencies, water users and non-governmental organizations with respect to implementation of these monthly and annual operations.

Reclamation will continue to carefully monitor hydrologic and operational conditions and assess the need for additional responsive actions and/or changes to operations. Reclamation will continue to consult with the Basin States, Basin Tribes, the Republic of Mexico and other partners on Colorado River operations to consider and determine whether additional measures should be taken to further enhance the preservation of these benefits, as well as recovery protocols, including those of future protective measures for both Lakes Powell and Mead.

For more detailed information about the approach to the 24-Month Study modeling, see the CRMMS 24-Month Study Mode page. All modeling assumptions and projections are subject to varying degrees of uncertainty. Please refer to this discussion of uncertainty for more information.


The latest 24-Month Study reports for each study can be found at the links below:

Archived 24-Month Study results are also available. Descriptions of the 24-Month Study hydrologic scenarios are also documented in Monthly Summary ReportsLake Powell and Lake Mead end-of-month elevation charts are shown below.

Projected Lake Powell end-of-month physical elevations from the latest 24-Month Study inflow scenarios.
Projected Lake Mead end-of-month physical elevations from the latest 24-Month Study inflow scenarios.

For additional information or questions, please contact us via email at:

Last updated: 2022-08-16

Reclamation: Above-average #snowpack and projected #runoff will send more #water from #LakePowell to #LakeMead #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Colorado River Allocations: Credit: The Congressional Research Service

Click the link to read the release on the Reclamation website:

WASHINGTON – The Bureau of Reclamation today released its April 24-Month Study, which includes an increase to downstream flows from Lake Powell to Lake Mead of up to 9.5 million acre-feet (maf) this water year (Oct. 1, 2022 through Sept. 30, 2023).

Glen Canyon Dam’s annual release volume for water year 2023 was initially set at 7.0 maf, based on the August 2022 24-Month Study, and is now projected to increase to up to 9.5 maf because of high snowpack this winter and projected runoff in the Colorado River Basin this spring. The actual annual release volume from Glen Canyon Dam is adjusted each month throughout the water year and is determined based on the observed inflow to Lake Powell and the storage contents of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

While this water year’s projections are above average, the Colorado River Basin is experiencing severe drought conditions and system reservoirs remain at historically low levels. In response to this historic drought, Reclamation recently released a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to potentially revise the current interim operating guidelines for the near-term operation of Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams.

“This winter’s snowpack is promising and provides us the opportunity to help replenish Lakes Mead and Powell in the near-term — but the reality is that drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin have been more than two decades in the making,” said Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “Despite this year’s welcomed snow, the Colorado River system remains at risk from the ongoing impacts of the climate crisis. We will continue to pursue a collaborative, consensus-based approach to conserve water, increase the efficiency of water use, and protect the system’s reservoirs from falling to critically low elevations that would threaten water deliveries and power production.” 

Lake Powell is currently operating in the Lower Elevation Balancing Tier, and Reclamation is required to “balance the contents” of Lake Mead and Lake Powell, as outlined in Section 6.D.1 of the Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead (2007 Interim Guidelines).  

Reclamation utilized the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center’s (CBRFC) April forecasts and other relevant factors such as Colorado River system storage and reservoir elevations to make balancing adjustments to Lake Powell operations.

The CBRFC’s April through July unregulated inflow forecast for Lake Powell is 11.3 maf (177% of average) — an increase of 3.3 maf from March, which was 125% of average. Reclamation’s April 24- Month Study projects Lake Powell’s elevation at 3,576.50 feet at the end of the water year (Sept. 30, 2023). This is approximately 40 feet higher and 2.74 maf of additional storage than projected in the August 2022 Most Probable 24-Month Study, which was used to set the annual operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

For the past several years, Reclamation has had to take drought response operations, including modifying monthly releases from Glen Canyon Dam, to keep water in Lake Powell and help prevent it from dropping to critically low elevations.  

The higher annual release volume for the remainder of this water year is inclusive of water previously kept in Lake Powell:

  • 480,000 acre-feet of water kept in Lake Powell by reducing the annual release volume in water year 2022 from 7.48 maf to 7.0 maf
  • 523,000 acre-feet of water held back this winter to increase Lake Powell elevations during the lowest point in the water year until post-runoff months of May through September

Reclamation has already increased the monthly release volume for April from Glen Canyon Dam from 552,000 acre-feet to 910,000 acre-feet to be better positioned to release up to 9.5 maf by the end of the water year (Sept. 30, 2023). Monthly releases for May through September will also be adjusted as needed.

Reclamation will take advantage of April’s higher water releases and will conduct a 72-hour high-flow release from Glen Canyon Dam later this month. This will involve a release of water from Glen Canyon Dam that is more rapid than normal — up to 39,500 cfs during its peak — to move sediment stored in the river channel and redeposit it onto beaches, which will benefit conditions at Grand Canyon National Park and aid in management of invasive species in the Colorado River. The release will not change the annual release volume of up to 9.5 maf from the dam.

“The steps announced by the Bureau of Reclamation today respond adaptively to the unusual conditions this year with an action grounded in the sound science of the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center scientists,” said National Park Service’s Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent Ed Keable. “This release is critical to rebuild the sandbars and protect the archeological resources and restore the camping beaches in the canyon in compliance with the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act.”

Based on the April 24-Month Study, Lake Mead’s elevation is also projected to improve in calendar year 2023, with a projected end of calendar year elevation of 1,068.05 feet — approximately 33 feet higher than the March 24-Month Study. With this improvement in Lake Mead’s elevation, a mid-year review of Lake Mead operations is not expected in 2023.

While improved hydrology and projected forecasts have provided an opportunity to recover upstream reservoir storage and use the higher runoff to take positive action in the Grand Canyon, the Colorado River system remains at risk, with Lake Powell and Lake Mead at a combined storage capacity of just 26%.

Reclamation is committed to protecting and sustaining the system and is undertaking an expedited, supplemental process to revise the current interim operating guidelines for the Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams. This process will provide the alternatives and tools needed to address the likelihood of continued low-runoff conditions and reduced water availability across the basin over the next two years. This draft SEIS is available for public review and comment until May 30, 2023. The document can be found on the project website,, as well as information on how to submit written comments and when virtual public meetings will be held.

Additional information about the planned high-flow release will be posted and updated online at:

Flooding reaches some #Utah cities, but #water managers welcome huge #snowpack: Managing what water goes where will be key going forward — The Deseret News #runoff (April 21, 2023)

Click the link to read the article on The Deseret News website (Amy Joi O’Donoghue). Here’s an excerpt:

March, which is typically Utah’s best month for precipitation, outdid itself this year. By the time it was over, precipitation was 250% of normal, more than twice what the month generally delivers.

“I don’t know what we did to deserve March, but it was something. I don’t know what to say about March. I know our forecast staff was extremely tired. It was just phenomenal,” said Glen Merrill, senior hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City, adding not only was the wet weather outstanding, but the cool temperatures as well…

The warmer temperatures last week kick-started the melt from lower and mid-elevations of a snowpack that exceeded that of the early ’80s and even, cautiously speaking, the big snow year of 1952, although at that time measurements were not taken as often and measure sites were not as plentiful…That snow coming off the mountains means extraordinarily high stream runoff forecasts in some areas and flooding that is already happening at Emigration Creek, resulting in the closure of some recreational trails near waterways and wary eyes cast on the Weber and Ogden rivers…

All that water needs to go somewhere and reservoirs are already in an operational mode of controlled releases to make room for the coming melt. The precipitation has also delivered enough water to lift the ailing Great Salt Lake by 3.5 feet and forecasters predict Lake Powell will receive 11 million acre-feet of water due to inflows. Neither of those amounts are enough to get the Great Salt Lake or Lake Powell Reservoir out of trouble, but it will help. And as the berm dividing the north arm of the Great Salt Lake from the south arm is expected to be eclipsed by the precipitation, water experts said some of that additional water will make it into the north arm — a good thing.

#Drought drastically reduced in #Utah, much of the West after winter storms: Regional experts say Utah in particular has stellar snowpack, high runoff forecast this spring — The Deseret News

Utah Drought Monitor map April 18, 2023.

Click the link to read the article on The Deseret News website (Amy Joi O’Donoghue). Here’s an excerpt:

As of Oct. 1 last year, 73% of land in the Southwest was in some sort of drought. Flash forward to April and only 27% of that same region was impacted by drought. That is according to a Tuesday briefing coordinated by the National Integrated Drought Information System and in conjunction with other entities that include the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center and the National Weather Service.

Utah sat at 100% of its land in some sort of drought, while only a few troublesome spots remain according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Utah now sits at 35% of its land in some sort of drought, but none in the exceptional or extreme categories — the worst of the worst.

Dave Simeral, associate research climatologist with the Western Regional Climate Center/Desert Research Institute based in Reno, Nevada, pointed to the whopping 253% average of precipitation the Great Basin Region received since the new water year began in October. The basin stretches from the Sierras on the West to the Wasatch Range in Utah.

Rural Renewables & Agrivoltaics Get a Leg Up in North Fork Valley — #Colorado Farm & Food Alliance

NREL researcher Jordan Macknick and Michael Lehan discuss solar panel orientation and spacing. The project is seeking to improve the environmental compatibility and mutual benefits of solar development with agriculture and native landscapes. Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Here’s the release from the Colorado Farm & Food Alliance:

PAONIA, CO. (April 20, 2023) – Today the Colorado Farm & Food Alliance was named by the National Community Solar Partnership (NCSP) as a recipient of a Community Power Accelerator Phase 1 prize to study and advance community-owned farm-based renewable projects in the North Fork Valley.

The Community Power Accelerator Prize is a U.S. Department of Energy led initiative to spur development of community-owned solar and renewable projects. The North Fork award is for a collaboration that involves the CO Farm & Food Alliance and other organizations, community leaders and businesses. In March this group submitted a proposal to help plan a small solar project that will benefit area farms and farm-related businesses and to use that project as a springboard for additional renewable energy to benefit rural communities. Phase 1 prize recipients can compete for additional awards.

“Our goal is to promote rural climate leadership and to show that the clean energy transition can support agriculture, boost local enterprise, and work toward greater energy equity,” said Pete Kolbenschlag, director of the Colorado Farm & Food Alliance. “We are extremely excited to move our project forward, and we see it as a model for rural climate action that puts land health, people and local community first.”

The North Fork team first coalesced around a small agrivoltaic project being scoped near Hotchkiss, and saw this as an opportunity to consider how the area might advance more community-owned renewables that integrate with agriculture and serve local residents. 

“We see agrivoltaics as part of our effort to pursue sustainability, adding renewable energy to our efforts to improve the health of our land and soil and to better feed our local community,”  said Mark Waltermire, owner of Thistle Whistle Farm in Hotchkiss, Colorado. “This project will give a handful of farms like this one, and a few food-related businesses that use our produce, a way of accessessing cleaner power, while benefiting our farm by giving us more gentle growing conditions under the panels to grow some of our crops. Our whole farm community benefits. And, we can set the stage for similar projects in areas around the valley that can help other producers,” he added.

Agrivoltaics is an emerging field of solar development that is paired with agriculture. In the U.S. Southwest, as we head into a warmer and drier future, interest in agrivoltaics, as a means to adapt farming to a changing climate while co-locating clean energy production, is high. Some studies show that growing certain crops under solar panels can provide shade benefits, help regulate soil-moisture, and can also help to cool the panels, which increases their efficiency. 

Rogers Mesa

The projects being considered by the North Fork team will involve working agriculture, grid energy production, and scientific research conducted in partnership with the Colorado State University Western Colorado Research Center at Rogers Mesa, to gather more data on how renewable energy and agriculture can co-exist and can even benefit each other. 

“Innovative solar projects involving agrivoltaics and community ownership models promise significant benefits for rural agricultural communities and there isn’t a better place than the Western Slope to demonstrate that potential and to provide a model that can be replicated,” said team-member Alex Jahp, who works at Paonia-based Solar Energy International. “Receiving the Community Power Accelerator Prize demonstrates that we aren’t alone in our thinking.” 

The North Fork Valley is named after a major stem of the Gunnison River, which is the second largest tributary to the imperiled Colorado River system. The region is at the epicenter of the global climate emergency, as a critical headwaters area and due to its heating at a more rapid rate than many places in the nation. The North Fork Valley is home to both the state’s largest operating coal-mine and its highest concentration of organic farms. Many in the region still see both agriculture and energy as key parts of a diverse economic future, but also see the critical need to act to address climate change. 

“With Delta County warming double the national and global average, the impacts of local warming are upon us. Building community resilience–through community-driven projects like the ones being considered here, at the nexus of agriculture, water, and energy–is critical if we are to survive and thrive” said Natasha Léger, Executive Director, Citizens for a Healthy Community. She added that “farms play a critical role in transitioning away from oil and gas as energy sources for running farm operations, and will be leadership models for new approaches to land use.” 

Citizens for a Healthy Community has recently completed a Climate Action Plan for Delta County, hoping to help local governments act more boldly to address the climate crisis. In its recent report, Gunnison Basin: Ground Zero in the Climate Emergency, the Colorado Farm & Food Alliance also made a pitch for the potency of rural-based climate action – including the expansion of farm-based renewables. The North Fork Valley agrivoltaic team is not waiting to act.

“The Community Power Accelerator Prize is a key award that will allow us to take the great work already being done by local community groups and turn it into tangible results,” said Kolbenschlag on behalf of the Colorado Farm & Food Alliance which accepted the prize for the community collaboration. “We have an exceptional team and an exceptional project. We think this can be a model for rural climate action and community resilience. We thank the Department of Energy and Solar Partnership for this opportunity to prove it.” 

Gunnison River Basin. By Shannon1 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

2023 #COleg: #Colorado lawmakers consider pilot projects that combine #solar energy with #water conservation — @WaterEdCO

Grays and Torreys, Dillon Reservoir May 2017. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

Click the link to read the article on the Water Education Colorado website (Allen Best):

Colorado lawmakers on Thursday, April 13, will hear why Colorado should study the nexus of solar energy and water. Aquavoltaics, as this still-emerging practice is known, positions solar panels above canals and other water bodies.

The marriage, proponents say, can save water by reducing evaporative losses while boosting the amount of electricity solar panels generate.

The proposal is part of a bill, SB23-092, that will be heard by the Senate Transportation and Energy Committee.

That same bill also proposes to nudge development of agrivoltaics, where solar production occurs simultaneously with agricultural production. A similar agrivoltaics bill was introduced last year, but was not passed. Aquavoltaics is new to this year’s bill.

State Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver, a principle sponsor of both bills, said his study of water conservation efforts around the world found that aquavoltaics was one of the most advantageous ways to reduce evaporation from canals and reservoirs. Doing so with solar panels, he says, produces a “huge number of compounded value streams.”

Covering the water can reduce evaporation by 5% to 10%, he says, while the cooler water can cause solar panels to produce electricity more efficiently, with a gain of 5% to 10%. Electricity can in turn be used to defray costs of pumping water.

Solar panels in cooler climates produce electricity more efficiently, which is why solar developers have looked eagerly at the potential of Colorado’s San Luis Valley. At more than 7,000 feet in elevation, the valley is high enough to be far cooler than the Arizona deserts but with almost as much sunshine.

Colorado already has limited deployment of aquavoltaics. Walden in 2018 became the state’s first community to deploy solar panels above a small pond used in conjunction with water treatment. The 208 panels provide roughly half the electricity needed to operate the plant. The town of 600 people, which is located at an elevation of 8,100 feet in North Park, paid for half of the $400,000 cost, with a state grant covering the rest.

Other water and sewage treatment plants, including Fort Collins, Boulder and Steamboat Springs, also employ renewable generation, but not necessarily on top of water, as is done with aquavoltaics.

As introduced, the bill would authorize the Colorado Water Conservation Board to “finance a project to study the feasibility of using aquavoltaics.”

Hansen said he believes Colorado has significant potential for deploying floating solar panels on reservoirs or panels above irrigation canals. “There is significant opportunity in just the Denver Water reservoirs,” he said. “Plus you add some of the canals in the state, and there are hundreds of megawatts of opportunity here,” he said.

Other Western states are also eying the technology.

Arizona’s Gila River Indian Community announced last year that it is building a canal-covering pilot project south of Phoenix with the aid of the U.S. Amy Corp of Engineers. “This project will provide an example of new technology that can help the Southwest address the worst drought in over 1,200 years,” said Stephen Roe Lewis, governor of the tribe.

When completed, the canal-covering solar project will be the first in the United States.

But both the Gila and a $20 million pilot project launched this year by California’s Turlock Irrigation District are preceded by examples in India.

Officials with the Central Arizona Project (CAP), a major user of Colorado River water and the largest consumer of electricity in Arizona, will be closely following the pilot projects in Arizona and California, according to a report in the Arizona Republic. In the past, both CAP and the Salt River Project, two of the largest water providers in Arizona, have cited engineering challenges of aquavoltaics.

The new Colorado bill also would authorize the Colorado Agricultural Drought and Climate Resilience Office to award grants for new or ongoing demonstration or research projects that demonstrate or study the use of agrivoltaics. This is to be overseen by a stakeholder group.

Mike Kruger, chief executive of the Colorado Solar and Storage Association, says his members want to see the most expansive definition of eligible projects possible. “I don’t think it will ever be ‘amber waves of grain’ under panels. It will more likely be cattle and sheep grazing,” he says.

That is indeed what will be happening near Delta. There, a solar project was proposed near an electrical substation with the intent of serving the Delta-Montrose Electric Association. Neighbors objected, and the county commissioners rejected it in a 2-to-1 vote. The project developer returned with a revised project, one that calls for sheep grazing to occur amid the solar panels. This revised proposal passed in a 3-to-0 vote.

Hansen says this is exactly the model he expects to see play out in the contest between devoting land for agriculture and for renewable power generation.

“What is clear is that county commissions do not want the fight between solar and agriculture if they can help it,” says Hansen. He cites the Delta County case as a prime example.

“If you combine it with grazing, we are going to say yes, and that’s exactly what the Delta County commissioners did. That is why I see this as one of the ways to address the fight between solar and agriculture.”

Allen Best is a frequent contributor to Fresh Water News. He also publishes Big Pivots, an e-journal that chronicles the energy and water transitions in Colorado and beyond.

Reclamation releases #ClimateChange Adaptation Strategy

Ringside seats to the decline of Lake Mead. Credit: InkStain

Click the link to read the release on the Reclamation website (Peter Soeth):

WASHINGTON – The Bureau of Reclamation has released its Climate Change Adaptation Strategy that outlines how Reclamation will combat climate change. The strategy also affirms Reclamation will use leading science and engineering to adapt to human-caused climate change.

“Climate change is impacting our communities, economies and the environment throughout the West,” said Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “Through this strategy, Reclamation will work collaboratively with our federal and non-federal partners and incorporate climate change into our water and power management decisions to minimize climate change’s impacts on western water into the future.”

The strategy focuses on four goals:

  1. Increase water management flexibility – including improvements to reservoir operations and hydropower generation efficiency, development of water treatment and water conservation technologies to relieve water scarcity and advancing applications in watershed monitoring and forecasting to provide better decision-support.
  2. Enhance climate adaptation planning – including engagement with water and power stakeholders to build climate resilience and provide financial assistance through WaterSMART programs, and development of guidance to better account for climate change in planning and related environmental reviews, tailored for situations in long-term resource management, new infrastructure, asset management, operations and maintenance, dam safety, aquatic restoration and more.
  3. Improve infrastructure resilience – Reclamation will embark on strategic activities in hydropower, dam safety, infrastructure investments and innovation, ensuring its infrastructure continues to provide benefits well into the future.
  4. Expand information sharing – including working with partners to develop quality-assured climate change information and then making that information publicly available for different resource management situations.  

The strategy supports the implementation of President Biden’s Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis and Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. It also aligns with Secretarial Order on Department-wide Approach to the Climate Crisis and Restoring Transparency and Integrity to the Decision-Making Process. Finally, it is consistent with the Department of the Interior’s Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan.

Reclamation’s 2021 West-wide Climate and Hydrology Assessment identified the human-induced climate change impacts expected to impact the West through the rest of this century. It identifies changes in temperature, precipitation, snowpack and streamflow across the West.

You can read the entire Climate Change Adaptation Strategy at

Climate Change Website

Local officials prepare for spring runoff (April 19, 2023) — The #Gunnison Country Times #GunnisonRiver #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Click the link to read the article on The Gunnison Country Times website (Bella Biondini). Here’s an excerpt:

On Monday, April 17, Gunnison County Emergency Services hosted a multi-jurisdictional meeting to discuss spring runoff and the possibility of flooding in the Gunnison Valley as temperatures rise. Although the upcoming weather forecast is favorable and no cause for alarm, local officials and law enforcement made sure plans are in place and sandbags are available in the case of rapid snowmelt. Snowpack for the Gunnison Basin sat at approximately 160% of normal on April 9 with more snow on the way. After an exceptionally wet winter, rapid warming has the potential to overfill streams and rivers — putting low-lying areas at risk as the snow finally starts to melt away. 

Temperatures above freezing overnight at higher elevations for several days can lead to expedited snowmelt, National Weather Service (NWS) Hydrologist Erin Walter said during a weather briefing at the start of the meeting. But transitioning into the middle of the week, she said the basin will see the influence of a low pressure system carrying snow and cooler temperatures. 

“This downward turn in temperatures is what we want to see for snowmelt,” Walter said. “If we saw a ridge of high pressure over us and all of these temperatures climbing for a prolonged period of time, that’s when we need to be on high alert.”

Federal officials lay out options for #ColoradoRiver cuts if no consensus is reached — The #Nevada Independent #COriver #aridification

A boat is shown on the Colorado River near Willow Beach Saturday, April 15, 2023. Willow Beach is located approximately 20 miles south of the Hoover Dam. Photo by Ronda Churchill/The Nevada Independent

Click the link to read the article on Nevada’s only statewide nonprofit newsroom The Nevada Independent website (Daniel Rothberg):

Earlier this week [April 11, 2023], federal water officials released the draft of a much-awaited document outlining potential major short-term cuts to stabilize a Colorado River shrinking due to overuse and drought — unless the seven states that rely on the watershed come up with an alternative. 

The last part is key. 

Officials made it clear that they still wanted the states to reach a consensus on what painful cuts might look like as any action that is taken by the federal government faces a risk of litigation.

Speaking in front of Lake Mead, with its prominent bathtub ring — one of the most apparent illustrations of the Colorado River shortage — Tommy Beaudreau, deputy secretary of the Department of Interior, said the choices federal water officials laid out “provide room for additional work and solutions.”

The document, he said, “is intended to drive those conversations and negotiations forward.”

The announcement served as a step in an ongoing environmental impact study, led by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, to analyze the cuts needed to stabilize the Colorado River’s reservoirs, which serve about 40 million people across the West and have hit record lows in recent years. 

The Colorado River and its tributaries form a watershed that spans a massive geography, which includes seven U.S. states, 30 Native American tribes and Mexico. The river supports millions of acres of agricultural land, countless ecosystems, aquatic species, recreation and many of the West’s largest cities, including Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City and Denver. 

Southern Nevada receives about 90 percent of its water directly from the Colorado River. All of the states below Lake Mead — Arizona, California and Nevada — comprise the Lower Colorado River Basin and face the possibility of major cuts. In recent years, the Southern Nevada Water Authority has taken proactive steps to offset future cuts with aggressive conservation measures, including the removal of decorative water-guzzling turf and limiting the size of residential pools. 

The water authority is still conducting a detailed analysis of the nearly 500-page draft document, authority spokesman Bronson Mack said. But conversations among the states continue. 

On Friday, John Entsminger, the head of the water authority, met with counterparts in Arizona and California. In a statement, he called the draft “the next step in the process to find workable solutions to protect water supplies for 40 million Americans and more than a trillion dollars in economic activity.”

The document released Tuesday is a draft of what is known as a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, or an SEIS. It amends the current set of guidelines that govern shortages on the river.

As the Western U.S. experienced its worst drought in 1,200 years, it became clear that the existing shortage guidelines, finalized in 2007, were not sufficient to keep the river’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, from crashing so low it would threaten water deliveries across the West.

Federal water officials launched the SEIS process last year after the seven states tried but failed to reach a consensus over how the painful cuts to the Colorado River should be allocated within a framework of law, known as the Law of the River, that gives California a priority to its Colorado River share over Arizona’s major diversion, a 336-mile canal called the Central Arizona Project.

Eventually, by January, six of the seven states had reached a consensus framework, but without California, the largest user of the river and a meaningful player in making any sizable cutbacks.

The draft SEIS outlines three approaches that the federal government could take:

  1. The do-nothing approach: Federal operations would implement the existing operating agreements for the Colorado River reservoirs, which would risk the possibility of one or both major reservoirs — Lake Mead and Lake Powell — declining so low they would effectively become inoperable in future years if dry conditions continue.
  2. Rely on the water rights system: Follow what is known as the priority system outlined in the Law of the River, a compilation of the many compacts, settlements, decrees and treaty documents pertaining to the Colorado River. In general, this system often gives  priority to those who have the oldest or “senior” rights, including agricultural districts and tribal nations. This more closely aligned the proposal that California had advocated for.
  3. Apportion additional cuts evenly: The other action alternative outlined by federal water managers calls for building on existing agreements, which reflect priority, and applying cuts on a proportional basis by assigning an across-the-board cut of up to 15.6 percent. The cuts in this scenario would more closely align to the cuts outlined in the six-state plan and backed by Arizona, putting a larger burden of cuts on California.

But federal officials were clear: This draft document is not the last word. Notably, federal officials did not endorse a preferred option, instead framing the actions as “tools” they could implement.

“It was interesting that they did not do what they said they were going to do and offer a federal [preferred] option,” said John Fleck, a University of New Mexico professor who focuses on the Colorado River and water governance. “They simply offered a federal-lite version of the six-state proposal and the California proposal, and a positive ‘power of collaboration’ argument.”

At a press conference Tuesday, negotiators for California and Arizona signaled willingness to reach a consensus deal and avoid either option, both of which come with risks for each state.

People recreate on Colorado River-fed Lake Mojave near Katherine Landing Saturday, April 15, 2023. Katherine Landing is located just north of Laughlin, Nevada. Photo by Ronda Churchill/The Nevada Independent

Between two bookend scenarios, a possible deal?

J.B. Hamby, the chair of the Colorado River Board of California and on the board of the Imperial Irrigation District, which holds the single largest entitlement to the Colorado River, said “it is our hope and our fervent desire that the tools laid out in the [document] never have to be used.” 

The best way to get there, he said, “is through ongoing work with collaborative processes.” He said that the ideal situation would be to develop a seven-state consensus in the coming months, if not weeks. 

During the press conference Tuesday, Tom Buschatzke, who directs the Arizona Department of Water Resources, also echoed the continued need for states to come up with a negotiated deal, noting that officials from Arizona, California and Nevada have been discussing paths forward.

Buschatzke said the goal is to avoid litigation. 

“So we have to avoid that outcome,” Buschatzke said, arguing that it could take decades to settle any lawsuit, time that negotiators do not have to reach major agreements on cutbacks. “Once litigation occurs, if it does, it’s going to be very difficult to negotiate something moving forward.”

Setting up  bookend alternatives could give the states more boundaries by which to negotiate a path forward that balances the priority system and equity, water experts said.

“What they are trying to do is set up the worst-case scenario for California” by showing what could be done if officials deviate from a strict application of priority, said Elizabeth Koebele, a UNR professor who focuses on water policy and has followed the negotiations over the cuts.

Each state has internal dynamics to sort through

Much of the rhetoric around the Colorado River negotiations has focused on the long-held and ongoing tensions between California and Arizona’s share of water on the river. 

While California has priority rights over water that flows through the Central Arizona Project — water that is delivered to cities, tribal nations, agricultural districts and industrial users — each state has internal dynamics that will influence what happens next.

What priority looks like within — and between — the three states is extremely complicated. 

For instance, although California is often seen as the senior user on the river, the Metropolitan Water District — the major municipal water purveyor for Southern California — has rights that have less priority relative to other water users and could be cut off in either of the alternatives. 

In a statement, the water agency’s general manager said neither alternative is ideal.

“Both include significant supply cuts that would hurt Metropolitan and our partners across the Basin,” General Manager Adel Hagekhalil said. “There is a better way to manage the river.”

Arizona also faces complicated internal dynamics when it comes to what curtailment by priority would actually look like. Although Arizona supported an equitable approach and is often seen as  junior to California, several Arizona water users have high-priority water rights to the Colorado River. During the Tuesday press conference, Buschatzke said that the several water users in Arizona, including Colorado River Indian Tribes and farmers in the Yuma area, wrote letters urging officials to respect the priority system.

Last week, federal water officials began a 45-day comment period on the SEIS as talks continue. A final version of the document will be released after the comment period ends.

“Optimistically, the next 45 days look like meeting some middle ground between the priority approach and the equity-based approach,” said Rhett Larson, law professor at Arizona State University. “It’s going to require a fair amount of give and take, including intrastate negotiations.”

People recreate on Colorado River-fed Lake Mojave at Telephone Cove Saturday, April 15, 2023. The cove is located just north of Laughlin, Nevada. Photo by Ronda Churchill/The Nevada Independent

Still searching for a long-term agreement

The two options weighed by federal officials are part of a larger dialogue over the long-term management of the river. The cuts are meant to stabilize Colorado River reservoirs until 2026. 

The 2007 guidelines for operating the river are set to expire in 2026, and officials must renegotiate a new set of rules in the coming years.

Since last year, drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin have improved with large storms increasing the snowpack — the primary source of the Colorado River — to well-above average. 

As the snow melts this summer, reservoirs could start recovering from record lows. But one year of low runoff after 2023 could quickly put the river back into a dire situation, especially given the existing deficit. In addition, many water experts believe significant cuts are still needed to ensure the basin is able to rebuild storage in the reservoirs, rather than continuing to overuse water.

“The hydrology this year has been nothing short of amazing and I think it’s up to us to ensure that we don’t squander it,” said Estevan López, the Colorado River negotiator for New Mexico. “We have an opportunity here to rebuild supplies that were kind of loaned to the system, if you will, under the emergency drought actions that were taken over the course of the last year.”

Even with one good year of snowpack, the Colorado River faces significant challenges — with more rights to water than there is water to go around. On top of these structural problems and continued overuse, a changing climate and warmer temperatures are making the region more arid, contributing to less runoff in recent decades and more uncertainty about water supply. 

As negotiators focus on long-term river management and renegotiating the 2007 rules, they must also address inequities embedded in the river’s foundational documents, which excluded tribal governments and gave little consideration to the river’s ecosystems, which have been damaged by overuse.

At the press conference Tuesday, Rosa Long, vice chair of the Cocopah Indian Tribe and chair of the Ten Tribes Partnership, urged all states to focus on conservation measures.

“In closing, let us commit to continuing our collaboration and to work together in the spirit of mutual respect and understanding,” Long said in her remarks Tuesday. “By doing so we can ensure that the Colorado River remains a vital and thriving resource for generations to come.”