Drought response takes hold along #ColoradoRiver — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COriver #aridification @USBR

Bicycling the Colorado National Monument, Grand Valley in the distance via Colorado.com

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Last winter’s big snowpack has helped ease the impacts that long-term drought has had on water storage in the Colorado River watershed, but reservoir storage levels are still low enough that provisions of a new drought contingency plan in Lower Basin states already are kicking in.

Some water officials and conservationists say the triggering of plan components reflects the fact that a single bountiful water year is far from enough for storage to recover from a mostly dry period dating back to 2000, and recently adopted drought planning measures are needed to prepare for the very real possibility that drier years will return. Those measures involve Upper Basin states including Colorado.

The reductions that the Lower Basin drought contingency plan already is requiring show that in its first year, the plan “is already working,” Chuck Cullom, Colorado River programs manager for Arizona’s Central Arizona Project, wrote in a blog on that entity’s website.

The Central Arizona Project is a water provider that will see its supplies reduced by 192,000 acre-feet next year under the plan’s provisions. That is the entire part of the state of Arizona’s Colorado River water allocation that the state instead will leave in Lake Mead under the plan, as a result of projected water levels in that reservoir at the start of next year. Nevada and Mexico also will leave smaller amounts of their allocation in Lake Mead under the plan and a separate agreement involving Mexico.

The actions are required based on a Colorado River Basin report released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. It projects that Lake Mead will begin next year with water at an elevation of 1,089.4 feet. That’s less than a foot under a 1,090-foot threshold set by the Lower Basin drought contingency plan, below which the mandatory austerity measures begin. California will have to start leaving a portion of its allocation in the reservoir should surface levels go below 1,045 feet.

Lake Mead and Lake Powell upstream of it serve as the two largest storage pools in the Colorado River Basin. The Bureau of Reclamation reported that thanks to above-average snowpack, runoff from the Upper Basin into Lake Powell was 145 percent of average from April through July, raising Powell’s elevation by more than 50 feet. But it is projected to remain 81 feet below full as of the start of next year.

The Bureau of Reclamation says that total Colorado River system storage today is at 55% of capacity, up from 49% a year ago…

“One wet year doesn’t change the fact that we have a lot left to do,” said Bart Miller with the Western Resource Advocates conservation group.

He said the big snowpack provides some breathing room in dealing with the longer-term drought. Both Mead and Powell were full in 2000, before the river basin began experiencing a trend of far more dry years than wet ones, he said. The drought contingency planning is an effort to get out ahead of the problem and prevent larger-scale shortages, Miller said…

Drought contingency plans involving the Lower and Upper Basin states and the federal government took effect with their passage by Congress earlier this year. The Upper Basin plan includes provisions to operate reservoirs above Powell as needed to try to keep Powell’s water high enough to continue generating power at Glen Canyon Dam. But another part of the Upper Basin plan involves investigating the use of demand management if needed in the event of a worsening drought, to avoid a forced curtailment of Upper Basin water uses to satisfy water obligations to Lower Basin states under a 1922 compact.

In Colorado, water officials are looking into the possibility of voluntary, compensated, temporary demand management approaches as a means of staving off mandatory, unpaid curtailments under the compact. It’s expected that many demand management approaches would involve Western Slope agricultural operations.

Pokrandt said the milestone of the Lower Basin drought contingency provisions kicking in “certainly highlights the need” to determine if a demand management program is feasible. The Colorado Water Conservation Board recently created nine workgroups that have begun exploring the feasibility of such an approach, and entities including the river district and Grand Valley Water Users Association also are investigating the concept, Pokrandt said.

@MWDH2O: Metropolitan statement on #ColoradoRiver reservoir conditions #COriver #DCP #aridification

Here’s the release from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Rebecca Kimitch/Maritza Fairfield):

Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, issues the following statement on the Bureau of Reclamation’s latest 24-month study on Colorado River system reservoir conditions:

“We’re certainly grateful that nature provided some relief to the critical conditions in the Colorado River Basin. But the Southwest wouldn’t be in this encouraging position without also the successful collaboration of the Colorado River Basin states to develop the Drought Contingency Plan. The DCP wasn’t just about sharing the pain of potential water cutbacks; one of its primary benefits was to incentivize storage in Lake Mead. It creates new storage opportunities for California, Arizona and Nevada and increases the flexibility to access stored water.

“Today is evidence the DCP is working as we hoped. By the end of the year, the Lower Basin states and Mexico together anticipate storing an additional 700,000 acre-feet of conserved water in Lake Mead in 2019 – a record amount that will boost the lake’s elevation by nearly
9 feet. Metropolitan alone will store 400,000 acre-feet this year, bringing our total stored in the lake to nearly 1 million acre-feet, another record.

“While all that storage helps keep Lake Mead out of shortage, it also helps prepare Southern California for our state’s next drought. Being able to store water when it is available for use in times when it is not is the key to ensuring the region has reliable water in the future. We got some reprieve from drought conditions on the Colorado River this year, but Lake Mead is still less than half full. And climate change is likely to lead to drier conditions in our future. As we begin work to resolve the water supply imbalance on the river, we’re pleased the DCP helped address the immediate concerns.”

All American Canal Construction circa. 1938 via the Imperial Irrigation District

@USBR Announces 2020 #ColoradoRiver Operating Conditions #LakeMead #LakePowell #COriver #DCP #aridification

Lake Mead December 2017. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

From Grist (Nathanael Johnson):

For the first time in history, low water levels on the Colorado River have forced Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico to cut back the amount of water they use. It’s the latest example of climate change affecting daily life, but also an encouraging sign that people can handle a world with less: These orderly cutbacks are only happening because seven U.S. states and Mexico had agreed to abide by conservation rules when flows subside, rather than fight for the last drops.

“It is a new era of limits,” said Kevin Moran, who directs the Environmental Defense Fund’s Colorado River efforts…

A Bureau of Reclamation study of Colorado River levels, released Thursday, triggered the cutbacks. The Rocky Mountains finally turned white with heavy snow last winter, but despite a galloping spring runoff, drought persists and bathtub-ringed reservoirs in the Grand Canyon are low. In its study, the Bureau highlighted the unique circumstances: “This 20-year period is also one of the driest in the 1,200-year paleo record.”

Rising temperatures brought on by rising carbon emissions are partly to blame. “Approximately one‐third of the [Colorado River] flow loss is due to high temperatures now common in the basin, a result of human caused climate change,” wrote scientists Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeck in a study published in 2017 that anticipated water will only become scarcer in the future.

But these water-use reductions are also an example of people binding themselves to rules to deal with scarce resources, rather than going to court, or war. The cutbacks come from an agreement hammered out by the Southwestern states and Mexico to impose limits on themselves.

“It’s not necessarily well known or talked about, but this collaboration between the states and Mexico is one of the most successful cross-border water management stories in the world,” Moran said.

From the Associated Press (Felicia Fonseca) via The Las Vegas Sun:

Arizona and Nevada are faced with the first-ever cuts to their Colorado River water supply in 2020.

But the cuts aren’t expected to be overly burdensome for either state because they’ve been conserving and storing water for years…

Arizona will leave 7% of its allocation in Lake Mead under a drought plan approved earlier this year by several states that rely on the river. Nevada will leave 3%.

Mexico also gives up 3% under a separate accord.

The states and Mexico can recover the water if Lake Mead rises to a certain level.

Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam, shows the effects of nearly two decades of drought. (Image: Bureau of Reclamation)

From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

The decision to implement those cuts came on Thursday after federal water managers released a study that serves as a key benchmark for Southwest states. That forecast predicted that Lake Mead would start 2020 at 1089.4 feet above sea level, below the 1090-foot trigger for the cuts.

By forgoing water in dry years, the states store more water in Lake Mead, a reservoir that has decreased over the past two decades because of overuse, drought and climate change. If the reservoir drops further, states would be required to take more cuts to their allotment. When reservoir levels rise, the states are allowed to access the stored water for future use.

In practice, the cuts will have no effect on Nevada’s short-term water security or water management. The Southern Nevada Water Authority is expected to voluntarily conserve about nine times more water this year than the required cuts under the drought plan in 2020. Since 2003, Nevada has used less water than what the state is allowed to take under the river’s interstate compact.

In 2017, the state used about 80 percent of its allotment, largely in part because of indoor water recycling and conservation programs that incentivize removing grass. This year the water authority is on track to use even less. That means Nevada is likely to leave substantially more water in the reservoir this year — as much as 75,000 acre-feet — than what is required by the cuts — about 8,000 acre-feet — next year. (An acre-foot is an agricultural term for the amount of water that can fill an acre to a depth of one foot. Nevada’s allocation is 300,000 acre-feet).

Bronson Mack, a water authority spokesman, said that the agency has cut its Colorado River water use by 25 percent since 2002, even as Las Vegas’ population has grown by 40 percent…

But the cuts are still significant, said John Fleck, a University of New Mexico professor who has a forthcoming book, “Science Be Dammed,” that looks at the history, politics and hydrology of the river. They mark the first time the states have been required to use less than their allocation…

It is also a recognition of a future where there is expected to be less — not more — water to go around. Even though above-average levels of snow fell across much of the West this year, the long-term trend in the Colorado River is toward declining streamflow. Research has found that high temperatures have made runoff less efficient. Scientists say that climate change could further reduce the river’s flow and make managing it more difficult, even as demands grow.

Heavy precipitation made a difference this year. When the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released its 2019 forecast last year, the study predicted an official shortage in 2020. Water users avoided that declaration, although the federal water agency warned that they are not out of the clear.

Changes in the northeastern reaches of Lake Powell are documented in this series of natural-color images taken by the Landsat series of satellites between 1999 and 2017. The Colorado River flows in from the east around Mile Crag Bend and is swallowed by the lake. At the west end of Narrow Canyon, the Dirty Devil River joins the lake from the north. (At normal water levels, both rivers are essentially part of the reservoir.) At the beginning of the series in 1999, water levels in Lake Powell were relatively high, and the water was a clear, dark blue. The sediment-filled Colorado River appeared green-brown. To see the complete series go to: earthobservatory.nasa.gov/WorldOfChange/LakePowell. Photos via NASA

From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):

“This is a big deal for everybody on the Colorado River system,” said Jim Pokrandt, the head of community affairs for the Glenwood Springs-based Colorado River Water District.

The study won’t have much of an impact on Colorado, where the Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan has water users hammering out the details of “demand management.” Those details include asking for temporary, voluntary and compensated curtailment of water rights to build a bank of Colorado water in Lake Powell before mandatory cuts are imposed by the federal government.

Pokrandt said the dawning of mandatory cuts in the Lower Basin increases the urgency of demand-management talks in Colorado. Without a demand-management plan encouraging water users to volunteer their water rights in Colorado, the state could see mandatory cuts, where “nobody gets paid,” he said.

“The news from the Lower Basin is a reminder that 2019’s snowpack cannot give us a false sense of security,” Pokrandt said, recalling that Colorado’s super-snowy 2011 was followed by an exceptionally dry 2012. “This is a reminder of the importance of what the Upper Basin states have to do for their own Drought Contingency Plan.”

[…]

hat’s called demand management. Across Colorado, water districts and water users are studying whether demand management will work.

“Nobody knows if it will be feasible,” said Pokrandt, whose 15-county district spans the Western Slope, noting that the Colorado Water Conservation Board just launched its Demand Management Workshop to educate the state’s water users on the idea of temporarily suspending water rights for cash in order to build a bank of Colorado water in Lake Powell. “Determining feasibility will be a long process.”

Lake Powell will enter 2020 in the “Intentionally Created Surplus Condition,” which allows for the release of the usual 8.23 million acre-feet of water in 2020 to fill Lake Mead. It also means the Upper Basin states will increase their own banked storage in the reservoir, enabling them to better weather low-snow years with a protected cache of extra water.

Total storage in both reservoirs is 55% of capacity, compared with 49% at this time last year.

The bathtub ring in Lake Powell in October 2014. Today, the reservoir is under 40 percent full and water managers in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico are working on demand management programs that would reduce water use and send more water to the big reservoir that sits on the mainstem of the Colorado River. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Eco-vandals shut down high country water diversions bound for the #FrontRange, causing $1 million in damage — @WaterEdCO

From Water Education Colorado (Jerd Smith):

Vandals caused an estimated $1 million worth of damage to the City of Northglenn’s collection system on top of Berthoud Pass earlier this month, shutting the system down for several days. As the Grand County Sheriff investigates, Northglenn water officials say they fear the damage is the work of eco-vandals, upset over ongoing diversions from the drought-stressed upper Colorado River to the Front Range.

For years, the City of Northglenn has captured water on top of Berthoud Pass and delivered it down to its customers north of Denver.

But on Aug. 2, when water should have been flowing freely, the reading on the measuring gauge on what’s known as the Berthoud Pass Ditch fell to zero. On investigation, the city found the system had been vandalized, with diversion structures torn apart and locks cut, allowing millions of gallons of water to flow back into the Fraser River, a tributary to the upper Colorado River, instead of Northglenn’s ditch.

“It seemed very intentional,” said Tamara Moon, Northglenn’s manager of water resources. “They did a doozy on us.”

Roughly $100,000 worth of damage was done to the diversion system, with another $900,000 in water lost, according to the Grand County Sheriff’s office.

Lesser damage to the structure, part of which can be accessed off a hiking trail near the old Berthoud Pass ski area, occurred in March, Moon said.

But she believes now that both efforts are linked to the political tension over transmountain diversions from the water-stressed upper Colorado River to the Front Range.

Two major expansion projects, including an effort by Denver Water to bring more water from the Fraser River and one by Northern Water to bring over more from the upper Colorado River near Granby, have sparked major lawsuits by several environmental groups, including Save The Colorado, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club, among others. The lawsuits are pending in court…

Though Northglenn isn’t involved in either project, Moon said the fact that her city’s diversion system is pulling from the same watershed has likely exposed it to the frustration over the diversions.

The week the system was disabled, Northglenn was delivering water to the City of Golden, one of its customers on the system.

Golden lost several days’ worth of water as a result of the incident, but because its system, like most, has benefited from an abundance of water this year, the temporary cut-off didn’t affect the city’s ability to provide water to its own customers.

“It really hasn’t had an impact on us,” said Anne Beierle, Golden’s deputy director of public works. “From our perspective though, it’s a little disconcerting and it’s disappointing. If it turns out to be [eco-vandalism], it is unfortunate.”

The Grand County Sheriff’s office is still investigating the incident.

Grand County, home to Winter Park and Granby, is also one of the most heavily diverted counties in Colorado, with millions of gallons of water from the upper Colorado and Fraser rivers being diverted to the Front Range to serve dozens of communities.

“This was a purposeful, deliberate act,” said Lieutenant Dan Mayer, the Grand County Sheriff’s public information officer.

The four diversion gates that were broken were roughly one-half mile apart, Mayer said. “Somebody wanted to break these gates. You had to [hike in to] find them.

“We have a lot of water agencies running [water] out of here. But we haven’t seen any incidents like this at other systems. It makes it seem as if it could very well be some kind of eco-terrorism, and we would very much like to find out who did it.”

Mayer said the charges any suspect would face include felony theft, felony criminal mischief, and first degree criminal tampering and trespass, all of which could result in significant jail time and fines.

In addition to installing new diversion gates and locks, Northglenn’s Moon said the city is installing remote cameras in an effort to better monitor the site and to be able to identify the culprits should they return.

“We don’t even have power up there,” she said. “There’s not a lot more we can do.”

Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at jerd@wateredco.org or @jerd_smith.

View down Clear Creek from the Empire Trail 1873 via the USGS

The latest seasonal outlooks released from the Climate Prediction Center: Warmer, wetter that normal, #drought not expected to develop for the #ColoradoRiver Basin #COriver #aridification

Seasonal temperature outlook through November 30, 2019 via the Climate Prediction Center.
Seasonal precipitation outlook through November 30, 2019 via the Climate Prediction Center.
Seasonal drought outlook through November 30, 2019 via the Climate Prediction Center.

@USBR Announces 2020 #ColoradoRiver Operating Conditions: #LakeMead operations = Normal or ICS Surplus Condition in Calendar Year 2020, #LakePowell operations = Upper Elevation Balancing Tier in Water Year 2020 #DCP #COriver #aridification

Lake Mead. Photo credit: Bureaus of Reclamation

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Patti Aron/Marlon Duke):

The Bureau of Reclamation today released its Colorado River Basin August 2019 24-Month Study, which sets the annual operations for Lake Mead and Lake Powell in 2020. Based on projections in the 24-Month Study, Lake Mead will operate in the Normal or ICS Surplus Condition in Calendar Year 2020 and Lake Powell will operate in the Upper Elevation Balancing Tier in Water Year 2020 (October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020).

The Upper Basin experienced above average snowpack, and runoff was 145% of average this past spring, raising Lake Powell’s elevation by more than 50 feet since early April. Total Colorado River system storage today is 55% of capacity, up from 49% at this time last year. In addition, critical drought contingency plans adopted by the seven Basin States, federal government and Mexico earlier this year are now in place to reduce risks to the system.

“While we appreciate this year’s above average snowpack, one good year doesn’t mean the drought is over. We must remain vigilant,” said Commissioner Brenda Burman. “I applaud everyone who came together this year to get the drought contingency plans done. The additional actions under the contingency plans will help ensure the reliability of the Colorado River system for the 40 million people dependent upon it.”

The August 2019 24-Month Study projects Lake Mead’s January 1, 2020, elevation to be 1,089.4 feet, about 14 feet above the Lower Basin shortage determination trigger of 1,075 feet. Lake Powell’s January 1, 2020, elevation is projected to be 3,618.6 feet — 81 feet below full. Because Lake Mead is projected to begin the year below the drought contingency plans threshold of 1,090 feet, Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will make water savings contributions to Lake Mead in 2020.

Despite the above average 2019 snowpack, the Colorado River Basin continues to experience its worst 20-year drought on record, dating back to 2000. This 20-year period is also one of the driest in the 1,200-year paleo record. The August 2019 24-Month Study can be found at https://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/g4000/24mo.pdf

DCP’s Tier Zero Begins a New Era from the Central Arizona Project (Chuck Cullom):

Today, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issued its August 24-Month Study Report, a two-year outlook projecting water supply and operating conditions in the Lower Colorado River Basin..

The August Report defines, among other things, the operating conditions for Lake Mead for 2020, and includes the recently enacted Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). At the end of 2019, the projected Lake Mead elevation – the measuring stick for whether there is a shortage declaration on the river for 2020 – is just shy of 1090’. And, for the first time, the Lower Colorado River Basin will formally implement reductions outlined in the DCP at the new Tier Zero beginning January 2020.

What does this mean?

In short, it shows that in its first year, DCP is already working.

While the Basin experienced a stellar snowpack year and subsequent phenomenal run-off, because Lake Mead is projected to end 2019 below elevation 1090’, the Lower Basin States (Arizona, California and Nevada) will be in a DCP Tier Zero shortage condition next year. Under Tier Zero, Arizona’s Colorado River supplies will be reduced by 192,000 acre-feet; Nevada’s will be reduced by 8,000 acre-feet; and California takes no reductions. In addition, Mexico will reduce its water use by 41,000 acre-feet, due to Minute 323, an agreement under the 1944 Treaty for water users in both countries. [ed. emphasis mine] Because of Arizona’s Colorado River priority system and agreements amongst water users, the Central Arizona Project (CAP) will take 100% of Arizona’s reductions under Tier Zero. CAP’s supplies will be reduced by 192,000 acre-feet, representing 12% of its normal annual Colorado River water supply. For CAP customers, this means eliminating the water that would have been available for underground storage, banking and replenishment. Water going toward CAP agricultural uses will be reduced by about 15%.

The Tier Zero reduction to CAP, while significant, is largely equivalent to the amount of Colorado River water CAP has been leaving voluntarily in Lake Mead since 2015 as part of our Lake Mead Conservation Program. In essence, CAP and its water users have been planning and preparing for Tier Zero reductions for the past five years. The difference is that those previous contributions were voluntary – now, under DCP, these contributions are mandatory.

Through the DCP, Arizona continues to prepare for a drier future. This year, CAP, along with the Gila River Indian Community and the Colorado River Indian Tribes, is contributing and storing 236,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead. Next year, even with the Tier Zero reductions, these same water users, along with the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District, will continue to conserve and store additional water in Lake Mead. These efforts are part of Arizona’s plan to implement DCP developed collaboratively by the Arizona water community and legislative leaders. The plan balances the impacts of DCP amongst water users and provides additional protection to the Colorado River system, giving us a road map to follow for the next several years.

Tier zero cuts. Graphic credit: Central Arizona Project

From Arizona Central (Ian James):

Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will be required to take less water from the Colorado River for the first time next year under a set of agreements that aim to keep enough water in Lake Mead to reduce the risk of a crash.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation activated the mandatory reductions in water deliveries on Thursday when it released projections showing that as of Jan. 1, the level of Lake Mead will sit just below a threshold that triggers the cuts.

Arizona and Nevada agreed to leave a portion of their water allotments in the reservoir under a landmark deal with California called the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, which the states’ representatives signed at Hoover Dam in May.

California agreed to contribute water at a lower trigger point if the reservoir continues to fall. And Mexico agreed under a separate accord to start contributing to help prop up Lake Mead, which is now 39 percent full…

Reservoirs were approaching levels last year that would have triggered a shortage and required deeper cuts, but heavy snow across much of the Rocky Mountains this winter boosted runoff and raised reservoir levels. The river’s reservoirs are now at 55% of total capacity, up from 49% at the same time last year.

But Lake Mead is still projected to be just below the threshold of 1,090 feet above sea level at the beginning of next year. That will put the reservoir in a zone called “Tier Zero,” at which the first cuts take effect.

“While we appreciate this year’s above-average snowpack, one good year doesn’t mean the drought is over. We must remain vigilant,” federal Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said in a statement. She applauded the seven states that depend on the river for coming together to finish the set of drought-contingency plans. Burman said the actions laid out under those agreements “will help ensure the reliability of the Colorado River system for the 40 million people dependent upon it.”

Arizona will see a cut of 192,000 acre-feet in water deliveries next year, or 6.9% of its total allotment of 2.8 million acre-feet. Nevada’s share will be reduced by 8,000 acre-feet, while Mexico’s will take 41,000 acre-feet less. That water will remain in Lake Mead, and will only be recovered once the reservoir rises above an elevation of 1,100 feet.

The cuts under the Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP, represent 12% of the total water supply for the Central Arizona Project, which delivers water by canal to Phoenix, Tucson and other areas. Chuck Cullom, manager of Colorado River programs for CAP, said this reduction will mean “eliminating the water that would have been available for underground storage, banking and replenishment,” and cutting CAP deliveries to agriculture by about 15%.

Guest Commentary: A wet year has filled our reservoirs but we must prepare for the drought to come — The Denver Post (@CORiverTed) #ColoradoRiver #COriver #DCP #aridification

Changes in the northeastern reaches of Lake Powell are documented in this series of natural-color images taken by the Landsat series of satellites between 1999 and 2017. The Colorado River flows in from the east around Mile Crag Bend and is swallowed by the lake. At the west end of Narrow Canyon, the Dirty Devil River joins the lake from the north. (At normal water levels, both rivers are essentially part of the reservoir.) At the beginning of the series in 1999, water levels in Lake Powell were relatively high, and the water was a clear, dark blue. The sediment-filled Colorado River appeared green-brown. To see the complete series go to: earthobservatory.nasa.gov/WorldOfChange/LakePowell. Photos via NASA

From The Denver Post (Ted Kowalski):

Time and water are alike in a lot of important ways. Both are finite resources that we can take for granted, or that we can manage carefully for great benefit.

On Thursday, as the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) issues its official projections for water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, it’s important to think about where we were a year ago — following two extremely dry years; where we are today, after an extraordinarily wet winter; and, most importantly, where we want to be in another year — or ten years.

In the year since the last BOR report, water security in the West took a huge step forward with the signing of the drought contingency plans (DCPs) — landmark agreements that update how the Colorado River is used, shared and managed across seven states and two countries. These DCPs combined with proactive conservation measures and a year of major snowfall mean that we’ve been able to avert dangerously low water levels at Lake Mead. So it can be tempting to relax a bit — but we have to ask ourselves, “how will we use this moment to prepare for the future?” We have to be smart about using the time and water we have right now.

Common sense tells us that one wet winter does not alter or solve the fundamental challenges facing the water supply across the Colorado River Basin. As a reminder, 2011 was also a wet year in the Colorado River Basin, but it was immediately followed by 2012 and 2013 — the driest two-year period on record — causing rapid drops in water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which are the two main water supplies for the Colorado River.

As an additional reminder, approximately one in eight Americans rely on the Colorado River. The stakes only go higher as the water levels go lower. As water usage in the West continues to outpace the supply, we have to continue making bold, structural improvements to our water management strategies and systems.

In Colorado, as well as in Wyoming, New Mexico, and Utah, a key component of the DCPs is for the states to explore whether, and how to, develop and implement a demand management program. That means that each state needs to thoughtfully agree on how best to conserve while ensuring that there’s enough water to keep communities, farmers, and businesses thriving — now and for future generations. It’s not an easy task.

Still, there are reasons to be hopeful. First, as we saw with the DCPs, it is in our reach to do big, important things. In order to make those agreements possible, leaders from seven states, tribes, cities, advocacy groups, businesses, farmers and others across the Colorado River Basin had to partner with federal leaders from the U.S. and Mexico during some of the most politically divisive times in generations. And even with all of that, they were able to find ways to take care of their own needs while still recognizing the needs of their neighbors.

Looking ahead to demand management planning, that same spirit of innovation, collaboration, and shared mission will continue to serve the people of the Colorado River Basin well.

Demand management programs are being investigated in the Upper Basin. These types of programs involve temporary, voluntary and compensated reductions in water use. The water that would be conserved by demand management is water that otherwise would have been used — but is instead conserved and saved. So, for example, demand management means that farmers could opt to fallow some of their fields in the off season in order to conserve additional water (without losing their water rights).

Demand management can offer multiple benefits: it can ensure that there’s enough water in the river to keep the system healthy, it can safeguard the water supply for communities who depend on it, and it can protect our vibrant agricultural communities.

For several years, people all across the Colorado River Basin have been working together to begin testing water conservation projects and their workability. These pilot projects are critically important, as they allow us to learn about the benefits and shortcomings of how a demand management program may work. We cannot wait until all of the theoretical questions have answers. In short, we need to continue to learn by doing.

We are in a moment right now where we have saved enough time and water to buy ourselves the opportunity to make meaningful change. We know that this moment, this time, and our water will not last indefinitely. We have to act fast and together for a more secure water future — our communities and environments depend on it.

Ted Kowalski is the senior program officer for the Walton Family Foundation’s Colorado River Initiative.