Colorado River | KUER 90.1

Colorado River

Photo of turn farm.
Judy Fahys / KUER

The drive behind a massive water development project in southwestern Utah, the Lake Powell Pipeline, shows no signs of slowing even after the Colorado River Basin states signed a new agreement this spring that could potentially force more conservation or cutbacks.

The Colorado River is short on water. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at a slate of proposed water projects in the river’s Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

The river and its tributaries provide water for 40 million people in the Southwest. For about the last 20 years, demand for water has outstripped the supply, causing its largest reservoirs to decline.

istock.com / sjgh

Proponents of the Lake Powell Pipeline say they’re confident they can raise enough money from southwestern Utah water users to repay any loans from state taxpayers.

Photo of Lake Powell.
Linde Cater / National Park Service

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation put the seven states in the Colorado River Basin on notice Friday that they have just one more chance to finish drought contingency plans for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

Photo of Virgin River in St. George, Utah
Judy Fahys / KUER

The seven states in the Colorado River Basin face a deadline this week to submit water shortage plans to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Utah’s Division of Water Resources has already teamed up with other Upper Basin States — Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming — on contingency plans, but the federal government wants to be sure that the entire basin has a workable solution in the event of a severe water shortage declaration that could come as soon as next year.

On stage in a conference room at Las Vegas's Caesars Palace, Keith Moses said coming to terms with the limits of the Colorado River is like losing a loved one.

"It reminds me of the seven stages of grief," Moses said. "Because I think we've been in denial for a long time."

Moses is vice chairman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, a group of four tribes near Parker, Arizona. He was speaking at the annual Colorado River Water Users Association meeting.

LAS VEGAS -- Water leaders throughout the West now have a hard deadline to finish deals that would keep the Colorado River’s biggest reservoirs from dropping to deadpool levels.

The nation’s top water official is giving leaders of the seven states that rely on the Colorado River until January 31, 2019 to finalize a Drought Contingency Plan. The combination of multi-state agreements would change how reservoirs are operated and force earlier water cutbacks within the river’s lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada as reservoirs drop.

Water managers along the Colorado River are trying to figure out how to live with less.

Climate change is growing the gap between the river’s supply, and the demands in the communities that rely on it, including seven western U.S. states and Mexico. The federal government recently released proposals called Drought Contingency Plans designed to keep the Colorado River’s biggest reservoirs from falling to levels where water is unable to be sent through the dams that hold up Lakes Powell and Mead.

Colorado is called “the mother of  rivers” for a reason: it’s one of the most popular states for river rafting in the country.  But like the rest of our region, unprecedented growth, a changing climate, drought, and wildfires are taking their toll on this multi-million-dollar industry.

trees in the water at a desert reservoir.
iStock.com / SumikoPhoto

The Utah Water Resources Division and the Washington County Water Conservancy District asked federal regulators Wednesday to resume processing a permit application for the multi-billion-dollar Lake Powell Pipeline.

Reservoirs that store water along the Colorado River are projected to be less than half full later this year, potentially marking a historic low mark for the river system that supplies water to seven U.S. states and Mexico.

Forecasters with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expect the river’s reservoirs -- Lakes Mead and Powell among them -- to be at a combined 48 percent of capacity by the end of September. That would be one of the lowest points ever for the combined water storage.

The federal agency that oversees water in the West says southwestern states are facing an increasing risk of water shortages. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is now adding pressure to stalled talks over the Colorado River’s future.

Without action from states that rely on the river, there’s a 52 percent chance the Colorado River will be in an official shortage in 2020, according to figures compiled last month. Arizona and Nevada would be among the first to take cutbacks during a shortage. An extended drought and chronic overuse have sapped the river’s largest reservoirs.

Pull out a map of the United States’ desert southwest and see if you can locate these rivers: Rio del Tizon, Rio San Rafael, or Rio Zanguananos. How about rivers named Tomichi, Nah-Un-Kah-Rea or Akanaquint?

Having some trouble? None of these names are used widely today, but at some point in the last 500 years they were used to label portions of what we know now as the Colorado River and its main tributaries, the sprawling river basin that supports 40 million people in seven U.S. states and Mexico, across one of the world’s driest regions.

Until 1921, the Colorado River didn’t start in the state that bears the same name. It began in Utah, where the Green River from Wyoming and the Grand River from Colorado met. The story of how the Colorado River finally wended its way into the state of Colorado less than a century ago is a lesson in just how fickle our attitudes toward nature can be.

ChloeChiocch/iStockPhoto.com

Federal water officials decided this week that there’s enough water in Lake Mead to keep up with deliveries in Arizona, Nevada and California next year. That cheered downstream users of the Colorado River, who have been anxiously awaiting word on whether the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation might begin emergency cuts in the water Lake Mead provides Arizona and Nevada.

Matt Miller/USGS

A team of Utah-based scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey has come up with a new way of measuring Colorado River flows. It helps answer a big question for the West: How much water flows down the river as it leaves Utah?

Denny Armstrong / Flickr Creative Commons

The Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study is a dry-sounding report on water that many people call the lifeblood of the West, the vast Colorado River system that provides water to 40 million people in Utah and six other states.

Judy Fahys/KUER

The U. S. Bureau of Reclamation has been taking a hard look at the Colorado River Basin, exploring ways to deal with the reality that the Colorado River can’t always deliver all of the water that people demand.

Ken Lund / Flickr Creative Commons

  The Colorado River is often called the lifeblood of the West, and now a new study shows just how economically vital the river is to the seven states that rely on it.

Should Utah Lease Its Share of the Colorado?

Sep 26, 2013
Dan Bammes

  Pat Mulroy, the long-time head of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, announced her plans to retire this week.  She’s been a strong proponent of the plan to pump groundwater from the Great Basin to Las Vegas.  But she also suggested in an interview with the Las Vegas Sun that the project wouldn’t be necessary if Nevada could work out a deal with states such as Utah that hold water rights on the Colorado River.

Wikimedia Commons

  The new study in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association estimates about 380,000 acre-feet of water a year is lost when it soaks into the lake's sandstone banks each year.  That’s more than the state of Nevada is entitled to take from the river under a 1922 interstate compact.

NASA

  The two biggest reservoirs on the Colorado River, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, are both under 50-percent of their capacity.  Delegates from the federal government, seven Western states, Native American tribes and environmentalists will have that in mind as they meet this week in San Diego to discuss the future of the river.

David Walsh, Bureau of Reclamation

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar is expected to make an appearance just south of Utah’s border at Glen Canyon Dam Monday.  Salazar will be there to trigger a controlled flood from Utah’s Lake Powell into Arizona’s Glen and Grand Canyons, the first high-flow release conducted at that dam since 2008. 

Moab tailings site
Alicia Geesman

Millions of people across the West depend on the Colorado River for drinking water and irrigation, and that's what's made cleaning up the site of an old uranium mill in southern Utah a high-priority project.  Many other countries have the same concern.  Their representatives got a close-up look last week at how the United States is handling that project.