What do a fountain in Los Angeles, a sprinkler in Denver, and a glass of water in Salt Lake City all have in common? Chances are, this water comes from the Colorado River.
1/3 of Utahns rely on the Colorado River for drinking water. The need to create the Colorado River Authority of Utah (CRAU) comes at a critical time as Utah looks to renegotiate Colorado River operating guidelines that expire at the end of 2025. These guidelines were adopted in 2007 and defined policy for storage, releases, and deliveries.
CRAU was established in 2021 through landmark legislation and was sponsored by the Speaker of the House and Senate President in the Utah State Legislature. The Colorado River Authority of Utah is a state agency whose mission is to protect, preserve, conserve, and develop Utah’s Colorado River system interests.
The Authority collaborates and works together with peer agencies in the six other Colorado River Basin states. Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah make up the Upper Basin States while Arizona, California, and Nevada are known as the Lower Basin States.
The Colorado River Authority of Utah has a six-person board of members representing water users across the state as well as the Governor.
Gene Shawcroft, Colorado River Commissioner of Utah, represents the state on all Colorado River issues, serves as a member of the Upper Colorado River Commission, and leads the six-member Authority as its Chair and CEO.
The Colorado River Authority of Utah will focus its initial year on renegotiating the 2007 Interim Guidelines as well as building a critical foundation for the organization as a whole. Rules governing advisory council structure, council members, council leadership, and authorized topic areas of interest will begin to be constituted by the end of 2021, as outlined in statute.
Concurrent with the start-up phase, work to accomplish the Authority’s mission of protecting, preserving, conserving, and developing Utah’s Colorado River water continues to move forward by the commissioner, hydrologists, engineers, and other experts.
1922: Colorado River Compact of 1922
This 100-year-old compact set the foundation for the interstate water cooperation that continues today. It gave both the Upper and Lower Basins the right to develop and use 7.5 million acre-feet of river water annually.
This approach reserved water for future Upper Basin development while also allowing the Lower Basin to move forward planning, developing, and growing. The unused, uncaptured, and un-stored water in the Upper Basin was allowed to flow south.
1948: Upper Colorado River Basin Compact of 1948
This federal compact allowed the Upper Basin to start developing its share of the Colorado River. It allocated the Upper Basin water between Colorado (51.75%), Utah (23%), Wyoming (14%), and New Mexico (11.25%).
Because annual hydrology varies and the Upper Basin is required to guarantee the Lower Basin’s 7.5 million acre-feet, the Upper Basin allocation is in a percentage of flow rather than an exact volume.
1956 & 1968: Colorado River Storage Project Act of 1956 and Colorado River Basin Project Act of 1968
It also allowed the Central Utah Project (CUP) to place a large share of Utah’s eventual water into beneficial use.
2007: Colorado River Interim Guidelines
2000-07 saw the driest eight-year period on record in the Colorado River Basin, and the interim guidelines were established to define Colorado River policy for storage, releases, and deliveries.
They provide direction for Colorado River Lower Basin (Lower Basin) shortages and coordinated operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead, particularly under drought and low reservoir conditions.
2019: Drought Contingency Plan
The continued drought led the Colorado River Basin States to create the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) in 2019.
The DCP supplements the 2007 interim guidelines and outlines additional actions to reduce the likelihood of reaching critical elevation levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead throughout the rest of the interim period.