Utah, three sister states present plan to meet federal demand for cuts

July 19, 2022

For immediate release Marty Carpenter 801.971.3601

Utah, three sister states present plan to meet federal demand for cuts

SALT LAKE CITY (July 19, 2022)  — As federal officials call for significant cuts to Colorado River water use in order to protect Lake Powell, Utah and its sister Upper  Division States of Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming have crafted a five-point plan of action while noting that its effectiveness is dependent on significant actions downstream of the reservoir. 

“We recognize the extreme difficulty of the situation for the Upper and Lower Basins,” said Gene Shawcroft, chair of the Colorado River Authority of Utah and Utah’s River Commissioner. “Already this year, Utah has committed to unprecedented investment to make the most out of every drop we get and to continue to do our part to preserve the resources of the Colorado River.”

During testimony to the Senate Natural Resources Committee on June 14, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton called for Basin States to develop plans to reduce use by 2 to 4 million acre-feet of water to protect critical elevations at Lake Powell and Lake Mead in 2023. Failure to propose acceptable plans by mid-August, she said, would result in unilateral action under the federal government’s existing authority to protect the system.

That message came on the heels of two notable actions taken in April to protect Lake Powell’s ability to generate electricity for millions who rely on it: releasing 500,000 acre feet of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir and retaining 480,000 acre feet of water at Lake Powell that would have been released to the Lower Basin States.

“As indicated in yesterday’s response to Commissioner Touton, Lower Basin uses are more than double those of the Upper Division States, and any cuts we make have to reflect that,” said Amy Haas, executive director of the Colorado River Authority of Utah, who emphasizes the Upper Basin is naturally water short due to the shrinking supply of the river, and previous drought response actions are depleting upstream storage by 661,000 acre-feet. “Along with our Upper Division State partners, Utah has taken significant, measurable steps to optimize our water usage and protect the critical infrastructure at Lake Powell but there has to be a balanced approach that reflects that reality.”

The Upper Division  States sent a letter to Commissioner Touton yesterday laying out their five-point plan to be implemented from 2023 to 2025, providing there is a complementary plan for the Lower Basin. The proposal shows Upper Division  States will:

  • Seek amendment and reauthorization of the System Conservation Pilot Project legislation originally enacted in 2014, to provide for extension of the authorization and reporting periods to Sept. 30, 2026, and Sept. 30, 2027, respectively, and seek funding to support the program in the Upper Basin. Upon obtaining reauthorization, the necessary funding, and finalizing any required agreements, we intend to reactivate the program in the Upper Basin in 2023.
  • Commence development of a 2023 Drought Response Operations Plan (2023 Plan) in August 2022 with finalization in April 2023 consistent with the Drought Response Operations Plan Framework (Framework). A 2023 Plan must meet all the requirements of the Drought Response Operations Agreement and the Framework. These requirements include, but are not limited to, determining the effectiveness of any potential releases from upstream Initial Units to protect critical elevations at Glen Canyon Dam, and ensuring that the benefits provided to Glen Canyon Dam facilities and operations are preserved.
  • Consider an Upper Basin Demand Management program as interstate and intrastate investigations are completed.
  • Implement, in cooperation with Reclamation, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan funding to accelerate enhanced measurement, monitoring, and reporting infrastructure to improve water management tools across Upper Division States.
  • Continue aggressive water management and administration within the available annual water supply in the Upper Division States, including implementation and expansion of intrastate water conservation programs and regulation and enforcement under the doctrine of prior appropriation.

In addition, the Upper Division  States requested the commissioner’s support for federal legislation to reauthorize the System Conservation Pilot Program and for funding to support the Plan through September 2026.

Full text of the Upper Colorado River Commission letter to Commissioner Touton is available here

The Colorado River Authority of UtahEstablished in 2021, The Colorado River Authority of Utah is a state agency with a mission to protect, use, conserve, and develop Utah’s Colorado River system interests. The Authority collaborates with peer agencies in the six other Colorado River Basin states. Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah make up the Upper Division States, while Arizona, California, and Nevada are the Lower Basin States.# # #