Click here to download the report from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Here’s the release from the Department of Interior: (Blake Androff/Kip White):
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced the release of a study – authorized by Congress and jointly funded and prepared by the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven Colorado River Basin states – that projects water supply and demand imbalances throughout the Colorado River Basin and adjacent areas over the next 50 years. The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, the first of its kind, also includes a wide array of adaptation and mitigation strategies proposed by stakeholders and the public to address the projected imbalances.
The average imbalance in future supply and demand is projected to be greater than 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060, according to the study. One acre-foot of water is approximately the amount of water used by a single household in a year. The study projects that the largest increase in demand will come from municipal and industrial users, owing to population growth. The Colorado River Basin currently provides water to some 40 million people, and the study estimates that this number could nearly double to approximately 76.5 million people by 2060, under a rapid growth scenario.
“There’s no silver bullet to solve the imbalance between the demand for water and the supply in the Colorado River Basin over the next 50 years – rather, it’s going to take diligent planning and collaboration from all stakeholders to identify and move forward with practical solutions,” said Secretary Salazar. “Water is the lifeblood of our communities, and this study provides a solid platform to explore actions we can take toward a sustainable water future. Although not all of the proposals included in the study are feasible, they underscore the broad interest in finding a comprehensive set of solutions.”
Authorized by the 2009 SECURE Water Act, the study analyzes future water supply and demand scenarios based on factors such as projected changes in climate and varying levels of growth in communities, agriculture and business in the seven Colorado River Basin states of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming.
The study includes more than 150 proposals from study participants, stakeholders and the public that represent a wide range of potential options to resolve supply and demand imbalances. Proposals include increasing water supply through reuse or desalinization methods, and reducing demand through increased conservation and efficiency efforts. The scope of the study does not include a decision as to how future imbalances should or will be addressed. Reclamation intends to work with stakeholders to explore in-basin strategies, rather than proposals – such as major trans-basin conveyance systems – that are not considered cost effective or practical.
“This study is one of a number of ongoing basin studies that Reclamation is undertaking through Interior’s WaterSMART Program,” said Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Anne Castle. “These analyses pave the way for stakeholders in each basin to come together and determine their own water destiny. This study is a call to action, and we look forward to continuing this collaborative approach as we discuss next steps.”
WaterSMART is Interior’s sustainable water initiative and focuses on using the best available science to improve water conservation and help water-resource managers identify strategies to narrow the gap between supply and demand. The WaterSMART program includes Reclamation’s Water and Energy Efficiency grants, Title XVI Reclamation and Recycling projects, and USGS’s Water Availability and Use Initiative.“This study brings important facts and new information to the table so that we can better focus on solutions that are cost effective, practical and viable” said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor. “We know that no single option will be enough to overcome the supply and demand gap, and this study provides a strong technical foundation to inform our discussions as we look to the future.”
Spanning parts of the seven states, the Colorado River Basin is one of the most critical sources of water in the western United States. The Colorado River and its tributaries provide water to about 40 million people for municipal use; supply water used to irrigate nearly 4 million acres of land, and is also the lifeblood for at least 22 Native American tribes, 7 National Wildlife Refuges, 4 National Recreation Areas, and 11 National Parks. Hydropower facilities along the Colorado River provide more than 4,200 megawatts of generating capacity, helping meet the power needs of the West.
Throughout the course of the three-year study, eight interim reports were published to reflect technical developments and public input. Public comments are encouraged on the final study over the next 90 days; comments will be summarized and posted to the website for consideration in future basin planning activities.
The full study – including a discussion of the methodologies and levels of uncertainty – is available at www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/crbstudy.html. Hard copies of the Executive Summary and a CD of the entire study are available at the Study booth in the exhibitors’ area during the Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA) conference in Las Vegas Dec. 12 – 14, 2012.
Here’s a release from the Colorado River District (Jim Pokrandt):
Colorado River District praises the Colorado River Water Supply and Demand Study as a call to action
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo. – The Colorado River District commends the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study released today to the public as a thorough and detailed call to action for Colorado River stakeholders to address a gap between human and environmental demands on the river system and the amount of water it produces annually.
“The study confirms what we already understand: The Colorado River is already fully used,” said Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn. “In the very near future, the demand for the river’s resources will far exceed the available supply. In order to meet the needs of people and aquatic-dependent species and habitats, new ways of thinking and doing business will be essential.”
The study demonstrates that demands in the seven basin states and the Republic of Mexico frequently exceed the system’s estimated annual supply, a gap that is projected to widen to 3.2 million acre-feet by 2060 when the population that depends on the river system is estimated to double. (An acre-foot is a measurement standard for water volume. It is equal to 325,851 gallons, enough water to submerge an acre of land with one foot of water and supply the needs of two average families of four for a year.)
This prospect targets agricultural communities because large metropolitan areas often view irrigated agriculture as a source of water to meet future municipal demands. The study also demonstrates the need to find new sources of water from outside of the Colorado River Basin – a difficult, expensive and potentially contentious task.
The study analyzes various combinations of possible future river supply and demand scenarios.
Under the 1922 Colorado River Compact and the 1944 Water Treaty with Mexico, 17.5 million acre-feet of water was allocated for annual consumption. The Lower Basin (California, Arizona and Nevada) is apportioned 8.5 million acre-feet, the Upper Basin (Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico) 7.5 million acre-feet and Mexico 1.5 million acre-feet.
When the 1922 Compact was negotiated, it was assumed that the natural flow (unused by man) of the river at the mouth of the Colorado River near Yuma, AZ, exceeded 20 million acre feet a year. Unfortunately, as the study shows, the natural flow of the Colorado River averages about 16.4 million acre-feet per year at this location.
“We are surviving the imbalance by drawing down storage in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The situation is complicated by the reality that the Lower Basin is using more than its share of the river, relying on surpluses and water that flows from the Upper Basin’s undeveloped share of the river,” Kuhn said.
The problems are exacerbated when one considers the impacts of climate-change. Under the study’s robust analysis of climate-change, the average natural flow of the Colorado River at Lee Ferry, AZ, (about 85-90 percent of the river’s flow originates above Lee Ferry) is projected to decrease to an average of 13.7 million acre-feet per year. This is a decrease of approximately 9 percent from the long-term average flow at Lee Ferry of nearly 15 million acre-feet.
Kuhn said that based on almost three decades of observations and measurement, 13.7 million acre-feet may be optimistic.
“In the last 25 years, the average natural flow at Lee Ferry has only been 13.4 million acre-feet a year,” Kuhn said. “In other words, the last 25 years have actually been worse than the average flow projected under the study’s climate-change scenario.”
The study points to the fact the Upper Basin is not fully using its compact entitlement and predicts that more water development will occur in the Upper Basin. However, Kuhn cautioned that the study also points to serious problems for the Upper Basin. Under the climate-change scenario depicted in the study, without additional action the Upper Basin may experience a future deficit of its compact obligation as often as one in five years by 2040.
“The Upper Basin is currently unprepared for this possibility,” Kuhn said. “To address an uncertain future, Upper Basin users will need to develop new risk-management strategies including improved aggressive conservation, optimal use of storage and water-banking options.”
Although the study is based on a solid technical platform, it is subject to significant limitations. It incorporates substantial assumptions and reflects a compromise of many legal and policy interpretations. Depending on how numerous issues might be decided in the future, the risks to the Upper Basin presented by overdevelopment and a reduced supply could be significantly increased.
“Planners should be cautious in using the study as a risk-analysis tool without further examination,” Kuhn said. “While many in the Upper Basin may believe that water remains to be developed, the reality may be that new development simply threatens existing supplies or that new development may only be available during increasingly rare wet cycles.”
Here’s a release from the Front Range Water Council via Denver Water (Stacy Chesney):
Colorado utilities respond to Colorado River Basin study
Dec. 12, 2012 – In response to the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study final report released today by the seven Colorado River Basin States and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO/manager and chair of the Front Range Water Council issued the following statement:
“The water utilities of the Colorado Front Range serve 80 percent of the state’s population. Although we use only about 6 percent of the state’s water supply for municipal and industrial uses, a large portion of our supply comes from the Colorado River. As a result, we have a big stake in the future of the River and how we will meet the challenges of increasing population, long-term drought and climate change. We have been involved in Colorado River negotiations over the past few decades, and have closely followed Reclamation’s study process.
“We appreciate the resources invested by the Bureau of Reclamation and the basin states to study the Colorado River Basin. Overall, the study shows we have time to be thoughtful about the approaches we take to address future water shortages. Although the report projects potentially significant shortages for the Colorado River Basin as a whole, it is important to understand more specifically when, where and to what extent those shortages may occur. This will require detailed analysis of the study results and the implementation of a variety of responses. While this is a critical issue for Colorado, we have time to approach solutions thoughtfully.
“We don’t need to pursue drastic solutions in the short term. Instead, we believe the best approach is to work together as a community of seven states that share the vital resource of the Colorado River to discuss the right mix of measures to meet the challenges as they arise. We also believe Reclamation and the basin states can work within the framework of existing law and institutions to achieve solutions to secure the future of our water supply and future development of water for Colorado.”
The Front Range Water Council was created in 2008. Its members include: Aurora Water, Denver Water, Colorado Springs Utilities, Northern Water, Pueblo Board of Water Works, Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District, and Twin Lakes Reservoir and Canal Company.
Together, FRWC members operate in more than 20 counties, manage 70 reservoirs, operate 15 treatment plants and maintain more than 7,800 miles of pipe. They employ more than 2,200 Coloradans, and the members’ combined annual operating expenses are more than $500 million.
The members’ water supplies are composed primarily of surface water from the Colorado, Arkansas and South Platte River basins, with the Colorado River Basin accounting for 72 percent of the total.
From email from Western Resource Advocates (Jason Bane):
Conservation and Reuse Programs Outlined in Colorado River Basin Study Should Begin Immediately, Says Western Resource Advocates
BOULDER (Dec. 12, 2012) — Western Resource Advocates today called on the seven Colorado Basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation to get to work immediately on implementing conservation, reuse and efficiency measures outlined in The Colorado River Basin Water Demand and Supply Study (CRBS). The CRBS, released to the public today, includes several water conservation and efficiency measures that were agreed upon by all parties involved in the process.
The seven basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation agree that conservation, efficiency and reuse programs must be a significant piece of any strategy for meeting future water demand. The population in the West is expected to rise by 50% in the next 50 years; at the same time, Colorado River flows are projected to decline by nearly 10%.
“Some water conservation programs can be put in motion within a matter of weeks at virtually no cost,” said Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager at Western Resource Advocates. “Of course there are some programs that will require further discussion, but the states owe it to the public to press the ‘go’ button.”
Funded by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and seven Western states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming), the CRBS is the culmination of a two-year-long effort to consider future demand and supply scenarios in the Colorado River Basin. Western Resource Advocates and several other conservation organizations agreed with the basin states on many efficiency and reuse strategies that should be implemented immediately.
For example, local or state governments in the Colorado Basin could mandate that all new residential developments must be built with high efficiency (HE) showerheads, faucets and toilets. Many HE fixtures are priced in the same range as standard fixtures, so there would be no additional costs for homebuilders who need to buy new fixtures anyway. High efficiency fixtures can cut indoor water use by 50% compared to standard fixtures, and the conservation savings add up quickly. If 300,000 new homes were built with HE fixtures, the water savings would be enough to meet the needs of 60,000 people – all at no additional cost to governments, developers, taxpayers or ratepayers.
“The point of the Basin Study is to figure out how we can provide enough water for current and future residents,” said Beckwith. “The sooner we get moving on conservation policies, the sooner we can start chipping away at that number. Time is water.”
Western Resource Advocates has long advocated that water conservation and reuse should be the backbone of any plan for meeting future water demands in the Colorado River Basin, particularly in the face of Climate Change. The CRBS specifically notes that Climate Change is impacting future supply and demand scenarios, and agrees that water conservation is cheaper, faster, and easier to implement than building new pipelines from other states.
“Any plan for supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin needs to address the reality of water as a finite resource,” said Bart Miller, Water Program Director for Western Resource Advocates. “We agree with the Bureau of Reclamation’s message to focus on ‘practical’ solutions. Conservation and reuse gets to the heart of the problem in a manner that building pipelines cannot, and it saves taxpayers billions of dollars.”
Here’s a release from the Colorado Water Conservation Board (Ted Kowalski):
Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study Released Cooperative study assesses potential water supply and demand imbalances for the future of the Colorado River basin
The federal government and the seven Colorado River basin states today released the final results of the cooperative Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study. The report evaluates the future reliability of the Colorado River system to meet increasing demands and outlines potential strategies for dealing with projected imbalances. The nearly three-year project began in January 2010 as a joint effort of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and representatives of the basin states.
Future demands on the river system are analyzed under six hypothetical situations, which include varying factors that will affect the system over the next few decades: population growth in the basin states, potential savings from conservation, and economic conditions in the watershed. Under these projected situations, the demand for consumptive uses in the Colorado River system is projected to range between 18.1 and 20.4 million acre-feet by 2060.
The projected supply of the river system is analyzed under four different supply scenarios, taking into account historical hydrological records and the potential effects of climate change. Under the demand and supply analyses presented by the study, an average supply imbalance of 3.2 million acre-feet per year is expected by 2060.
The study team reviewed approximately 160 options for dealing with the potential imbalances on a basin-wide level, submitted by participants, stakeholders in the system, and the general public during a general request for options between November 2011 and February 2012. These submissions were organized by the project team, and assembled into portfolios, representing a varied range of ideas and effectiveness for dealing with imbalances.
The basin states have committed to remaining within the bounds of the “Law of the River,” the evolution of management and cooperation for governance of this resource, and the path forward in consideration of this study will remain a cooperative effort. Director Jennifer Gimbel of the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) said: “This study reaffirms the concept under which Colorado water agencies such as the CWCB and Interbasin Compact Committee have been operating: There is no silver bullet, or easy answer to the supply and demand imbalances on the Colorado River. The way forward is through cooperation with our neighbors, holistic management of the river, and a varied portfolio of strategies.”
Added Ted Kowalski, CWCB section chief, who served on the Basin Study Project team: “We’ve already been addressing these issues on a Colorado-wide scale, with projects such as the Colorado River Water Availability Study, and through the work of the basin roundtables. Now, with this basin-wide, cooperative effort, we can get a glimpse of the bigger picture, and begin to work towards planning for the future, with a well-informed idea of where we’re headed.”
From email from Colorado Trout Unlimited (Randy Scholfield):
Trout Unlimited: Study on dwindling CO River shows need for cooperation to protect angling, recreation: Trout Unlimited calls for creative partnerships to keep rivers flowing and healthy
(Denver) The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation today released its long-awaited Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, a multi-year effort to assess water availability and use in one of the West’s most important river basins. Trout Unlimited called the study a “wake-up call” on the need for greater collaboration on water management and river protection.
“In some respects, the study confirms what many of us are seeing on the ground—drought and changing climate are pressuring our Western rivers as never before,” said Scott Yates, director of TU’s Western Water Project. “We partner with ranchers and farmers along key Colorado tributaries, and it’s a common observation that we’re seeing shorter winters, earlier runoff, hotter temperatures, and lower stream flows during late summer, when crops and fish often need it most. We have to work together to find new, creative ways of managing our water if we want to meet diverse needs and keep our communities, economies, and rivers healthy.”
The BOR study specifically assessed water supply and demand, the ability to potentially balance such supply and demand, and system reliability. The effort included unprecedented river flow and use forecasting and modeling efforts for the Colorado River Storage System (CRSS) – one of the most complex and important federal water storage, delivery, and use systems in the country.
Millions of municipal residents in the West—both in cities and rural areas—depend on the river for daily water use needs, and ranches and farms throughout the seven Colorado River Basin States (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California) depend on Colorado basin water for their operations. The Colorado River is also a sportsmen’s paradise, with world-renowned trout fishing on popular stretches such as the Upper Colorado near Kremmling, as well as iconic fishing destinations like the Gunnison, Green (including the White and Yampa), Dolores, and San Juan.
According to Yates, “If we’re going to have less water because of changing climate—whatever the cause—we need to roll-up our sleeves, develop creative partnerships, and find long-term solutions that help ranchers and farmers upgrade aging infrastructure and improve efficiency while protecting and restoring stream flows and fisheries.”
Trout Unlimited, he noted, already partners with the Bureau of Reclamation and other federal agencies such as the Natural Resource Conservation Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to help bring innovative irrigation system upgrades to private lands, ranches, and farms—projects that also restore fragmented and depleted streams, benefiting trout habitat and fishing.
In a region known for its contentious water battles, the Bureau study emphasizes the importance of this emerging collaborative model—diverse stakeholders working together to manage finite water resources to meet the needs of agriculture, industry, towns and cities, and outdoor recreation.
“This is a model that works,” said Yates. “We’ve seen it work across the West in scores of successful win-win partnership projects.”
Trout Unlimited’s Dave Glenn grew up near the Green River in Utah, fishing and hunting in and along one of the West’s great rivers. He said that sportsmen are committed to helping find creative, pragmatic solutions, but they won’t back projects that needlessly destroy high-value fisheries and wildlife habitat.
“Outdoor recreation is a $250 billion a year business in the West,” noted Glenn. “The Bureau study should not be seen as a green light for unrealistic, expensive, and environmentally destructive projects that move water out of their basins of origin,” said Glenn. “TU and other groups have highlighted a range of cheap, pragmatic options—including conservation, reuse, and water sharing—that will meet water needs without sacrificing our rivers and outdoor heritage.”
He added, “Cities can’t meet their water needs on the backs of rural areas, drying up special places like the Green River, and potentially destroying fishing and hunting opportunities.”
“We’re entering an era of water scarcity and fiscal austerity—cooperation and partnerships have to lead the way,” said Yates. “The health of our communities, rural areas and economies flows from healthy rivers. We can’t take them for granted.”
From KUNC (Nathan Heffel):
Speaking at a Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar says the current water use trends are troubling.
“As a result of the projected population growth in the Southwestern states, and all of the states on the Colorado River Basis, and the reality of a changing climate, we’re going to be putting ever increasing demands on the Colorado River Basin.”[...]
Citing the many entities who rely on the river basin, Senator Mark Udall (D-CO) urged all groups to respect the ‘Law of the River’ while addressing possible solutions.
“We must find creative and innovative ways to meet growing residential, agricultural and industrial demands for water. The report lays out a variety of options to address projected water shortfalls in the basin – shortfalls driven, in part, by climate change – and I commend the Bureau of Reclamation and the seven basin states for their work.”[...]
Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Jennifer Gimbel says all basin states remain committed to working within the law, but adds there is no ‘silver bullet’ to solving future demand shortages.
“The way forward is through cooperation with our neighbors, holistic management of the river, and a varied portfolio of strategies.”
While only six percent of the state’s water supply goes to Colorado’s Front Range utilities, a large portion of it comes from the Colorado River.
Jim Lochead, Denver Water CEO and chair of the Front Range Water Council says Front Range utilities will continue to have a large stake in the river’s future, as well as finding solutions that will address increasing population and climate change.
“We don’t need to pursue drastic solutions in the short term. Instead, we believe the best approach is to work together as a community of seven states that share the vital resource of the Colorado River to discuss the right mix of measures to meet the challenges as they arise. We also believe Reclamation and the basin states can work within the framework of existing law and institutions to achieve solutions to secure the future of our water supply and future development of water for Colorado.”[...]
Colorado. District General Manager Eric Kuhn says the study does include ‘substantial assumptions’ and possible conflicting legal and policy interpretations.
“Planners should be cautious in using the study as a risk-analysis tool without further examination,” Kuhn said. “While many in the Upper Basin may believe that water remains to be developed, the reality may be that new development simply threatens existing supplies or that new development may only be available during increasingly rare wet cycles.”
From the Northern Colorado Business Report (Steve Lynn):
Demand for water will increase from an average 15.3 million acre-feet annually to between 18.1 million to 20.4 million acre-feet, according to the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study. An acre-foot is the amount of water required to supply 2½ households for one year.
“It’s fair to say that the demand has already outstripped supplies within the lower basin,” said Ted Kowalski, section chief for the Colorado Water Conservation Board who worked on the study.
Kowalski explained that demand in states in the lower river basin exceeds their entitlement to the river’s water under the 1922 Colorado River Compact and Law of the River.
The nearly three-year study began in January 2010 as a joint effort of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and representatives of the Colorado River basin states.
A population in the basin states that could double to 35 million by 2060 will contribute to the increased water use and supply imbalance, Kowalski said. Additionally, climate change could lead to greater agricultural water consumption. Growing energy use also could stress water supplies.
From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):
A hotter, drier climate is worsening the imbalance between water supply and rising demand in seven Western states where 40 million people depend on the Colorado River, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced Wednesday after completion of a three-year study. The study projects a future of falling river flows, shrinking snowpack, wilting crops and an intensifying struggle for wildlife. Millions of people would be affected by shortages, Salazar said.
“We are in a very troubling trajectory,” Salazar said in a phone conference with journalists and senior officials. “We need to reduce our demand. We also need to look at increasing our water supply through practical, doable, common sense measures such as reuse…
The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study concluded that climate change will reduce the long-term average of 15 million acre-feet in the river by 9 percent to 13.7 million acre-feet. It found that, within 50 years, the Western states’ annual water deficit will reach 3.2 million acre-feet — but could be as high as 8 million acre feet, depending on population growth…
Denver residents rely heavily on the Colorado River Basin for water, which is diverted under the Continental Divide through a system of tunnels to the city. Denver Water manager Jim Lochhead, who also chairs the Front Range Water Council, swiftly responded to the federal findings on behalf of metro utilities.
“While this is a critical issue for Colorado, we have time to approach solutions thoughtfully,” Lochhead said. “We don’t need to pursue drastic solutions in the short-term.”
From the Summit County Citizens Voice (Bob Berwyn):
The Upper Colorado River Basin — including Summit County — could see deficits in its compact obligation to deliver water downstream as often as once every five years by 2040, according to a massive new Bureau of Reclamation study released this week.
The study details a 50-year Colorado River water supply and demand outlook. Based on a combination of population growth and climate models that show a general drying trend in the region, the river could be short by at least 3.2 million acre feet by 2060, and perhaps by as much as 8 million acre feet, according to the Colorado River Water Users Association.
From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):
Like the Colorado River itself, reactions to a federal study on the future of the river released Wednesday range from placid to turbid.
Colorado’s water establishment says the state already is studying potential shortages, while environmental groups want to implement conservation programs now. The study projects imbalances between supply and demand on the
Colorado River basin over the next 50 years. Colorado officials hailed ongoing planning efforts. “This study reaffirms the concept under which Colorado water agencies . . . have been operating,” said Jennifer Gimbel, executive director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Water interests within Colorado viewed the report differently. “We don’t need to pursue drastic solutions in the short term. Instead, we believe the best approach is to work together,” said Jim Lochhead, Denver Water CEO, speaking for the Front Range Water Council, which includes the Pueblo Board of Water Works and serves 80 percent of the state’s population.
“The study confirms what we already understand: The Colorado River is already fully used,” said Colorado River District General Manager Eric Kuhn. “In the very near future, the demand for the river’s resources will far exceed the available supply. . . . New ways of thinking and doing business will be essential.”
Environmental groups say solutions should be addressed with more urgency and conservation measures should be introduced as soon as possible. ￼￼￼￼￼“Some water conservation programs can be put in motion within a matter of weeks at virtually no cost,” said Drew Beckwith, Water Policy Manager at Western Resource Advocates. “Of course there are some programs that will require further discussion, but the states owe it to the public to press the ‘go’ button.”
From the Los Angeles Times (Bettina Boxall):
The analysis lists a range of proposed solutions, including some that Interior officials immediately dismissed as politically or technically infeasible. Among them: building a pipeline to import water from the Missouri or Mississippi rivers and towing icebergs to Southern California.
But Salazar said a host of practical steps could be pursued, including desalination of seawater and brackish water, recycling and conservation by both the agricultural and urban sectors.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation study, authorized by Congress, acknowledges the uncertainties in trying to project supply and demand over the next 50 years. Environmental groups, while praising parts of the report, said it overestimated population growth and thus inflated future water demand.
Water managers have known for years that long-term average flows in the Colorado are not as great as they were early in the last century, when the river’s supplies were divvied up among the states. Compounding that is a warming climate, which is expected to increase evaporation, decrease the snowpack and accentuate drought.
The report cites projections in previous studies that climate change could reduce flows from the upper Colorado basin by about 9%.
In conducting the analysis, the reclamation bureau worked with the basin states — Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming — as well as agricultural, environmental and tribal groups and water agencies…
But environmental groups said those estimates were based on state projections before the Great Recession, noting that the real estate collapse popped the growth balloons in such cities as Las Vegas and Phoenix. “Some of these demand projections are absurd,” said Michael Cohen, who is based in Colorado and is a senior associate with the Pacific Institute, an Oakland think tank. He was nonetheless encouraged by the report’s discussion of the potential for conservation by cities and farms. “Those kinds of options are already in practice in the basin and they are cheaper and faster” than building major infrastructure projects such as desalination plants, he said…
The single biggest allocation on the river goes to California’s Imperial Irrigation District, which is fallowing some fields and selling water to San Diego as part of a pact orchestrated a decade ago by Interior. The transfers have been controversial in the district, and Kevin Kelley, the agency’s general manager, warned that carrying out such agreements can be tougher than planning them. He also worried that his district would come under pressure to make more transfers. “We don’t want to get into a zero-sum game in which one category of user wins and another, chiefly agriculture, has to lose,” he said…
Barry Nelson, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that with the report, the reclamation bureau — the traditional builder of the West’s biggest water supply projects — was entering “a new era in management of the Colorado River.” “They have painted a picture that is undeniable,” he said. “The history of developing new water in the Colorado River Basin is over.” [ed. emphasis mine]
From KSL.com (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):
Salazar, when pressed, did say options like huge diversions to the Colorado Front Range from the Missouri or Mississippi rivers or diverting water from the Snake, Bear or Yellowstone Rivers to boost supplies in the Green River generally won’t work…
“There are water import solutions that are impractical from a political and technically feasible point of view,” he said. Other options rejected include towing icebergs or big containers of water from Alaska. Desalinzation, however, is an option that has proven successful in reality at places like Yuma desalting plant in Arizona and should be pursued, he added.
From the Deseret News (Amy Joi O’Donoghue):
Salazar noted that other proposed diversions from the Snake, Bear and Yellowstone rivers to boost the Green River’s flows are flawed as well, dousing any momentum that may have been building for the controversial “Million” pipeline touted to convey water across the Continental Divide to the Front Range of Colorado…
The report, which is open for comment for the next 90 days, was funded by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the seven basin states, including Utah. It was released on the kick-off day of an annual conference of Colorado River water users who are meeting in Las Vegas to discuss the report and challenges to the river…
“Shortages in the Upper Basin are a reality today,” the report said. “Unlike the Lower Basin, which draws its supply from storage in Lake Mead, the Upper Basin is more dependent on stream flow to meet its needs.” The report concedes the need for the Upper Basin to fully develop its share of the Colorado River, but development of that water further exacerbates the uncertainty surrounding supplies in the future. Farm land has already been rendered fallow so water can be transferred for urban use, the report said, but that practice has decreased food and fiber production in the Colorado River basin, which adds another layer to the problem…
“We support modern river management options that allow us to live within our means rather than taking water from another part of the country,” said Taylor Hawes, Colorado River program director with The Nature Conservancy.
“We recognize that we must meet growing water demand needs, but we need to do so in a way that works for cities, agriculture, industry and nature.”[...]
Some organizations, including Protect The Flows and Save The Colorado, criticized the study, saying the federal government relied on inflated state and utility-provided numbers on population growth to pursue the feasibility of importing water from other regions.
Utah’s director of water sources, Dennis Strong, said the study amplifies the need to embrace regional solutions to a growing crisis that demands attention. The next step for the bureau is to host an extensive workshop in January, culling reaction from water managers, conservation organizations and policy makers who have reviewed the report. “The basin study is a well-thought out summary of water supply and water need in the Colorado River Basin. It is a call to action,” he said. “It tells us there are opportunities to enhance and stretch the river’s supply, but that ultimately the solution to our growing water need is bigger than the Colorado River.”
From The Salt Lake Tribune (Christopher Smart):
Utah’s fortunes, however, look brighter than those of the lower Colorado Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada that already are facing shortages, said Dennis Strong, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources. The Beehive State has not used all the water allocated to it from the Colorado River, he said. And the 1922 Colorado River Compact protects that allocation. “The solution [for the lower basin states] is not to take water from the upper basin,” Strong said…
The findings were based on mathematical models that include drought and climate change, according to federal officials.
From the Switchboard (Barry Nelson):
Status quo water management of the Colorado River is no longer sustainable. The study confirms that today, we are using more water from the Colorado River than the river provides. Without new strategies, over the long-term, if demand continues to outstrip supply, water stored in the basin’s major reservoirs will continue to decline and – inevitably – lead to major water shortages. The study suggests that there is no additional water to be developed in the Basin. This is not a new conclusion. However, coming from the Bureau of Reclamation, with its role as a watermaster on the Colorado, this conclusion carries special weight in the world of water policy. This new, more realistic estimate of the river’s long-term flow should play a central role in developing short and long-term strategies.
The Basin Study suggests that proposals to pump more from the river could, in reality, simply reduce someone else’s water supply. This stark conclusion highlights concerns regarding the reliability of the water supplies that would be produced by expensive proposed pipelines to pump more from the river, as well as potential impacts on existing water users from proposed oil shale development in the Upper Basin.
The Study suggests that, without a new approach, water users who rely on the Colorado River could face an aquatic version of the fiscal cliff. Far-sighted elected officials and business leaders should join water managers and environmentalists in calling for ambitious, economically-credible action in response to the study…
The study’s conclusions highlight the prescience of the California legislature in passing legislation in 2009 requiring water users to reduce reliance on water imported from the Bay-Delta (where climate change will also reduce future supplies) by investing in local water supply solutions. Those local solutions, which many cities are already pursuing, can help Southern California prepare for the emerging challenges on the Colorado and establish California as a Basin-wide leader…
Because the study effort was not designed to meet the needs of a truly healthy river, it highlights that the limits on water availability in the Basin have nothing to do with environmental protections. Those limits have to do with our current demand for water and the amount of water provided by Mother Nature. Ironically, by excluding the environment, the Basin Study highlights that water users should share the environmental community’s call for a new water ethic across the Southwest. Here again, this study can provide more common ground for finding solutions.
It’s worth taking a moment to put this report in the context of the long history of the Colorado River. In 1893, Major John Wesley Powell famously appeared before the Los Angeles International Irrigation Congress. Powell presented a counterpoint to those who promised limitless water supplies, calling for a different approach, grounded in science and decades of observation: I wish to make it clear to you, there is not sufficient water to irrigate all the lands which could be irrigated, and only a small portion can be irrigated….I tell you, gentlemen, you are piling up a heritage of conflict…
Finally – and most importantly – the Basin Study doesn’t lay out a process to reach agreement on that new approach to river management. The question facing all working on water issues across the Basin is simple. Now that the Basin Study is done, what comes next?
From the Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):
Without dramatic and wide-ranging action, population growth and climate change will overwhelm the Colorado River within 50 years. That was the warning from federal officials and water managers Wednesday as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released a first-of-its-kind forecast for the West’s most heavily regulated and relied upon river system…
Southern Nevada Water Authority chief Pat Mulroy said she is most troubled by the study’s projections for climate change, which could bring more frequent and protracted droughts to the Colorado. Those who share the river can plan for the demands of a growing population, but mood swings of Mother Nature are another matter, she said. “It underscores the need to start having the more difficult discussions … right now,” she said of the study. “We can’t wait.”[...]
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor said his agency has no plan to pursue a pipeline to the Colorado from the upper Missouri River though the idea did warrant additional consideration in the basin study…
What the study does is quantify the crisis the basin now faces, former Southern Nevada Water Authority Deputy General Manager Kay Brothers said. She said this marks the first time the Bureau of Reclamation has made long-range projections for the river using global climate change models.
Here’s a release from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Jeffrey Kightlinger):
Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, issued the following statement on the Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study released today:
“The Colorado River Basin study provides the most definitive assessment of vulnerabilities and options to address the projected supply and demand gap that could develop on the river system over the next 50 years. Today’s release culminates three years of collaboration between the seven Basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation to examine options to meet the Colorado River’s long-term water demands.
“California has made significant investments to reduce its reliance on the Colorado River water, lowering the state’s river diversions by more than 500,000 acre-feet per year since 2003. Existing programs and agreements, for example, enhance conservation, increase agricultural efficiency and allow districts like Metropolitan to store conserved water supplies in Lake Mead. Eventually, additional projects and programs will be needed for all the Basin states to adapt to an uncertain future that includes climate change impacts. This study lays out a roadmap showing how Basin states can work with Reclamation to meet future water supply needs throughout this vital watershed that provides water to 30 million people and 4 million acres of some of the nation’s most valuable farmland. It also is a crucial step that will hopefully lead to additional partnerships with other Colorado River users to develop mutually beneficial projects.”
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California is a cooperative of 26 cities and water agencies serving nearly 19 million people in six counties. The district imports water from the Colorado River and Northern California to supplement local supplies, and helps its members to develop increased water conservation, recycling, storage and other resource-management programs.
From the Family Farm Alliance (Dan Keppen):
The Family Farm Alliance today issued a public statement regarding the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s (Reclamation) release of its Colorado River Basin Study.
“We applaud Reclamation and the Basin states for their collaborative effort that led to the completion of this important study,” said Alliance President Patrick O’Toole, who operates a cattle and sheep ranch located along a headwater tributary to the Colorado River. “A key overall benefit of this study is that, from now on, all Colorado Basin parties can work from the same technical foundation.”
The objective of the Basin Study is to assess future water supply and demand imbalances over the next 50 years and develop and evaluate opportunities for resolving imbalances. The study has been under development for nearly three years by Reclamation and the Basin States, in collaboration with stakeholders throughout the Basin.
Reclamation officials have emphasized that this is a planning study; it will not result in any decisions, but will provide the technical foundation for future activities.
However, Mr. O’Toole and other Family Farm Alliance representatives are concerned that virtually every scenario assessed by Reclamation shows a loss of Colorado River Basin irrigated acreage by the year 2060. The Basin Study assumes that irrigated acreage in the Colorado River Basin will decrease by 300,000 to 900,000 acres during the time period 2015 to 2060.
“Policy makers and Colorado River stakeholders must understand the critical implications of taking 6-15% of existing irrigated agriculture out of production,” said Mr. O’Toole. “We are already behind the curve when it comes to meeting the future food needs of the world. Every single acre of land that is taken out of production puts us further behind that curve.”
Last year, the Global Harvest Initiative released its Global Agricultural Productivity (GAP) Report, which quantified the difference between the current rate of agricultural productivity growth and the pace required to meet future world food needs. The report predicts that doubling agricultural output by 2050 requires increasing the rate of productivity growth by 25 percent – every year.
Irrigated agriculture is one of the largest economic engines in the Western U.S., according to the 2012 Family Farm Alliance report, “The Economic Importance of Western Irrigated Agriculture.” For a region that spans the 17 Western states, the total household income impacts derived from the “Irrigated Agriculture Industry”, made up of direct irrigated crop production, agricultural services, and the food processing and packaging sectors, is estimated to be about $128 billion annually.
And, perhaps the most striking economic fact centers on just how important domestic food production, especially food produced under irrigation, has been during the past 70 years for the average American’s disposable income. During the Great Depression, roughly 25% of an American’s disposable in and the Basin States are committed to the continued refinement of scenario planning as part of a robust long-term planning framework for the Basin. The Alliance believes that policy makers and elected officials must clearly understand the importance of Western irrigated agriculture and the impliccome was spent on food. In 2011, that percentage had dropped to 6.7%, the lowest of any country in the world.
“At some point, we’d like to see Reclamation or other water policy officials run another scenario in the Study: one that assumes that Basin irrigated acreage will not be diminished, and may, in fact, need to be expanded,” said Dan Keppen, Alliance executive director. “How would policy makers react if the projected impact was population loss, or a number of power plants or homes going without water in the future?”
The Family Farm Alliance is pleased that Reclamation and the Basin States are committed to the continued refinement of scenario planning as part of a robust long-term planning framework for the Basin. The Alliance believes that policy makers and elected officials must clearly understand the importance of Western irrigated agriculture and the implications associated with drying up land currently producing food, in the Colorado River Basin and elsewhere.
“What is the true cost to American security and the economy if we continue to take irrigated agricultural land out of production, especially in a region like the American Southwest, which is one of the few areas that provides a significant portion of our Nation’s supply of fresh fruits and vegetables during winter months?” Mr. O’Toole asks. “We cannot continue to downplay or ignore the negative implications of reallocating more agricultural water supplies from the Colorado River or other Western watersheds to meet new urban and environmental water demands.”
Reclamation will send representatives of the Study to participate on the Family Farm Alliance panel to discuss this topic at the February 21-22, 2013 Annual Conference in Las Vegas.
More Colorado River Basin coverage here and here.