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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Utah’s New Colorado River Authority Meets To Discuss West’s Water Woes

Photo of a lake surrounded by red rock
Courtesy of the National Park Service
Lake Powell reached a historic low this summer as the west is in the midst of a megadrought.

In mid-August, water cuts were announced for the first time ever for lower Colorado River Basin states as Lake Powell and Lake Mead reached historic lows.

The Colorado River Authority of Utah, which was created by the state Legislature to manage water interests, met for a second time Monday. Representatives from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation detailed the river’s dire hydrological conditions.

The river relies on snowpack from the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Gene Shawcroft, Utah’s Colorado River commissioner, said this year, there was just 30% of normal runoff. Shawcroft said other upstream reservoirs, including Utah’s Flaming Gorge, have released additional water to help the river’s system.

“There was always hope that [drought plans] wouldn't have to be executed,” he told KUER Tuesday. “Now with the horrible hydrology and ... with how fast it's come upon us, we're having to exercise those plans much sooner.”

Drought agreements made in 2019 are why water has been released from upstream reservoirs — to keep Lake Powell from reaching critically low levels. Wayne Pullan, the bureau’s director of the Upper Colorado River region, said they’re now working on future plans, which may include bigger water deliveries.

“We hope that if 2022 turns out not in our favor and without an abundance of water, that we'll be prepared for any additional drought response operation agreement deliveries beginning in April,” Pullan said.

Regardless of how much people understand about the river’s operation, Shawcroft said he hopes this year’s drought conditions have helped Utahns be more aware of their water usage.

“We need to help people start recognizing that the way we've used water in the past is going to have to change,” he said. “We need to be much more conscious about how we use our outdoor [culinary] water. … We need to be better about how we use our water.”

As Utah’s Colorado River commissioner, Shawcroft also represents the state during re-negotiations related to managing the Colorado River. He said now there’s an urgency with figuring out how to handle the river in the short-term.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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