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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 leaders and Colorado River officials meet about future of the river basin

a photo of a conference.
Lexi Peery
Water managers and officials from western states, tribal nations and Mexico met for an annual three-day conference in Las Vegas. This year’s focus was the hydrology of the Colorado River.

Utah leaders joined water managers and officials from throughout the Colorado River Basin in Las Vegas this week to discuss the river’s worsening hydrology.

This year’s event comes as the major storage reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, drop to historic lows and climate change is hurting snowpack levels.

Candice Hasenyager, the director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said state leaders are working on better conservation approaches — something she said all basin states need to work on.

“That's one message I heard loud and clear through a variety of discussion points is yes, the hydrology is horrible, and we need to work together collaboratively to get through it,” she said.

While deliberating over how to handle the river and historically low water levels in the short-term, basin states, tribal governments and Mexico are also gearing up to negotiate management guidelines for the river in 2026. Amy Haas is the executive director of the Colorado River Authority of Utah, which was formed earlier this year to study the river and protect the state’s water interests.

“We are prepared to live within our means given the hydrology,” she said. “But we want to make sure that you know that operations are equitable with respect to the Upper Basin and in Utah in particular.”

Haas said in addition to future plans for the river basin, the state is working on short-term drought plans. Utah and other Upper Basin states are currently drafting a Drought Response Operations Agreement, as Lake Powell and Lake Mead are expected to reach extremely low levels next year.

David Rosenberg, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Utah State University is part of the Utah Water Research Laboratory. This year was his first time attending this event.

“Things are [in] such a dire situation that we need to be really focusing on, not just identifying that we have problems because we do, but how are we going to now start mobilizing and moving to solve that,” he said.

He said ultimately the conference gave him hope because of the connections and relationships made there, which he said will help people work more collaboratively as the basin faces a challenging future.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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