Water officials sign drought contingency plans at Hoover Dam ceremony

Officials sign drought contingency plan at Hoover Dam signing ceremony
Officials sign drought contingency plan at Hoover Dam signing ceremony

Water officials sign drought contingency plans at Hoover Dam ceremony

Published 05-20-19

BOULDER CITY, NEV. – Water officials from all seven Colorado River Basin states joined representatives from the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Reclamation May 20 to sign drought contingency plans for the Upper and Lower Colorado River basins. These plans are designed to reduce risks from ongoing drought and protect the Colorado River.

This is a great success for the seven Colorado River Basin states,” said Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources. “These Drought Contingency Plans (DCPs) help protect Utah’s water and its water users and proactively evaluate options should these plans take effect.”

The basin states, which include Utah, Colorado, Wyoming,  New Mexico, California, Arizona and Nevada, have been working collaboratively for more than six years to come up with plans that would protect the Colorado River system. With more than 40 million people and nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland across the western United States and Mexico relying on the Colorado River, it’s the single most important water resource in the American Southwest. 

“These agreements represent tremendous collaboration, coordination and compromise from each basin state, American Indian tribes, and even the nation of Mexico,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman in a press release.

Although 2019 has delivered above-average snowpack, the past 20 years of drought have strained the Colorado River Basin, with total system storage across the basin beginning the water year at just 47% full. (The water year begins Oct. 1 and runs through Sept. 30.)

“Utah’s water future is one of the most significant challenges facing the state today, and we recognize that is the same for the other basin states,” said Millis. “The agreement shows the states support one another and their right to their water allocations through the Colorado River compact. We will continue to work together to find sustainable solutions.”

For more information, contact Kim Wells, public information officer, at 801.803.0336 or email kimwells@utah.gov.

Additional Information

Colorado River Water Use 

  • State allocations of Colorado River water are not based on priority dates
  • Utah’s allocation is 23% of the water available to the Upper Basin
  • Currently, Utah’s annual reliable water supply from the Colorado River and its tributaries is about 1.4 million acre-feet
  • Utah currently uses approximately 1 million acre-feet annually
  • Utah and the Upper Basin states do not currently use all their Colorado River allocation

The Law of the River requires the Upper Basin states not to cause the flow of the river at Lee Ferry to be depleted below an aggregate of 75 million acre-feet of water on a 10-year rolling average based on use of water under rights created after the parties signed the 1922 Colorado River Compact. During the last 10 years, which includes some of the driest years in recorded history, the Upper Basin has delivered 92 million acre-feet of water to the Lower Basin –
17 million acre-feet more than the Lower Basin’s compact allocation.

1  69th Annual Report of the Upper Colorado River Commission Report, September 2017 http://www.ucrcommission.com/RepDoc/UCRCAnnualReports/69_UCRC_Annual_Report.pdf 

About the Drought Contingency Plans

The seven Colorado River Basin states have been working with the Department of Interior and Mexico to develop DCPs which, if implemented, would reduce the risk of Colorado River reservoirs from declining to critically low levels. 

  • The DCPs affirm the right of each state to develop its Colorado River allocation
  • The DCP agreements have been signed by all Colorado River basin states
  • Congressional legislation for implementation has been enacted
  • There are two DCPs: one for the Upper Basin states (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico) and one for the Lower Basin states (California, Arizona and Nevada)
  • There is a binational agreement under which Mexico will also take voluntary reductions under certain conditions
  • The Upper Basin plan is to protect water levels at Lake Powell from reaching the critical level of 3,525 feet above sea level
  • The Lower Basin plan is to protect water levels at Lake Mead from reaching the critical level of 1,020 feet above sea level

Because of differences in operation between the Upper and Lower Basins, the terms of the DCPs vary by basin. The Upper Basin DCP is designed to protect against Lake Powell falling to a critical elevation to promote continued compliance with the Law of the River. The Lower Basin DCP is designed to: a) require Arizona, California and Nevada to contribute additional water to Lake Mead storage at predetermined elevations and b) create flexibility to incentivize additional voluntary conservation of water to be stored in Lake Mead. 

Upper Basin Plan 

Consists of three elements based on two agreements: Drought Response Operations, Augmentation through Additional Cloud Seeding, and Demand Management Storage 

  • Agreement 1: Drought Response Operations – Requires the Upper Basin states to minimize the risk of Lake Powell reaching a critical level by authorizing water stored in other Colorado River Storage Project facilities to be used to augment Lake Powell storage, if needed 
  • Agreement 2: Demand Management Storage – Allows water users in the states to participate in a voluntary and compensated demand management program to reduce consumptive use and store the conserved water in Lake Powell 

Lower Basin Plan 

  • Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan Agreement – Requires the Lower Basin states to participate in a drought response that minimizes the risk of Lake Mead falling below a critical level through a reduction in use based on identified elevation triggers in Lake Mead

Companion Agreement (both Basins) 

  • Ties together the Upper and Lower Basin DCPs 
  • Requires performance by both basins under their respective DCPs 
  • Includes a process for resolving controversies and enforcement 
  • Incorporates an agreement to consult on operations and future implementation 

For more information on the DCPs, visit https://www.usbr.gov/dcp/

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