The Colorado River is perhaps the most prominent of all interstate streams because it provides water to more than 40 million people in seven states and Mexico. The Colorado River is highly esteemed for both its iconic beauty and as a vital natural resource. It is often described as the most regulated river in the world with a complex and extensive history surrounding its development.
Approximately 27% of the water used in Utah comes from the Colorado River and 60% of Utahans benefit from the river. The collection of agreements, federal laws, and court decisions that define how the river is managed is commonly referred to as “The Law of the River.” Each of the Upper Basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) and the Lower Basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada) has an appropriation of water for use by law. States can develop their respective allocations whenever the water is needed. Many Colorado River basin states have already developed their full Colorado River allocations – Utah has not.
Utah’s compact allocation is 1.725 million acre-feet or 23% of 7.5 million acre-feet of the water appropriated to the Upper Basin states. Utah has factored in climate change into its planning forecasts and has determined it has about 1.4 million acre-feet of reliable supply. The state is currently using about 1 million acre-feet.
Like other states with available Colorado River water, Utah has plans to develop more of its appropriation. Utah’s population is projected to double by 2065, placing an increased demand on water supplies. And the Colorado River is Utah’s most reliable water source.
A portion of Utah’s allocation (approximately 5%) is reserved for the Lake Powell Pipeline (LPP), a state project that will deliver water to Utah’s fast-growing Washington County. The project uses existing water rights, complies with the Law of the River, and was approved by state legislation.
Utah’s use of its Colorado River water does not compromise the legal appropriations of other states. The basin states have a long history of solving complex problems by working together while respecting state water rights in accordance with the Law of the River. That trend must continue for the benefit of the river and all who depend on it.
Chronology of Policy
Balancing river resources between states and other interests is an ever-evolving process, and this chronology of policy has expanded since the inception of the 1922 Colorado River Compact. View the Timeline
Colorado River Compact 1922: Negotiated by the seven basin states and the federal government, it defines the relationship between the Upper Basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) and the Lower Basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada) and protects each state’s right to develop its allocation on its own timeframe. Each basin has the right to develop and use 7.5 million acre-feet of river water annually.
Upper Colorado River Basin Compact 1948: Created the Upper Colorado River Commission and apportioned the Upper Basin’s 7.5 million acre-feet among Colorado (51.75%), New Mexico (11.25%), Utah (23%) and Wyoming (14%). The portion of Arizona that lies within the Upper Colorado River Basin was also apportioned 50,000 acre-feet annually.
Interim Guidelines (2007): The interim operational guidelines can be used to address the operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead during drought and low reservoir conditions, and remain in effect through 2025. Reclamation is currently conducting a formal review to evaluate the effectiveness of the guidelines.
Drought Contingency Plan (2019): The Upper and Lower Colorado River Basin states have developed contingency plans both independently and collaboratively. The product of these discussions is five documents that comprise the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) for the Colorado River. They are:
- Companion Agreement
- Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement
- Upper Basin Demand Management Storage Agreement
- Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan Agreement
- Lower Basin Drought Contingency Operations
Colorado River Authority of Utah
During the 2021 legislative session, the State Legislature created a new entity dealing with water in Utah. The Colorado River Authority of Utah (CRAU) is a state agency in the Governor’s Office whose mission is to protect, preserve, conserve, and develop Utah’s Colorado River system interests. While the Authority and its River Commissioner will often be focused on relationships with the six other Colorado River Compact states, the Division of Water Resources looks forward to working closely with CRAU on behalf of Utah citizens.
CRAU will be launching a website, CRA-Utah.org in 2021. If you have immediate questions, please call Kristen at 801-456-1466.
Concurrent Resolution Concerning the Protection, Development, and Beneficial use of Utah’s Colorado River Compact Allocation (2020)
The Utah Legislature passed, and the Governor signed, a Concurrent Resolution that encourages the state to expeditiously develop and place to beneficial use wherever within the state the need may arise, the water apportioned to Utah under the Compacts, consistent with the Law of the River.
River Story – A visual snapshot of the Colorado River and its importance to Utah and its citizens.
Timeline – A timeline of Colorado River Compact and key events.
Water Use Reporting – Utah has a comprehensive approach of measuring water use and includes all treated and untreated water. Find out what all goes into the state’s gallons per capita per day metric and how it’s used for planning purposes.
Lake Powell Pipeline – a comprehensive project website.