The Colorado River is a Reliable Source of Water for Utah, Says the Utah Division of Water Resources

SALT LAKE CITY–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Falling storage levels at both lakes Powell and Mead have highlighted
the potential effects of climate change on the Colorado River, causing
some to question its future viability as a reliable water supply source
for the state of Utah.

“All water providers, including the State
of Utah
, understand the level of concern some have regarding the
perceived uncertainty associated with the use of Colorado River water,”
said Eric Millis, director of the Utah
Division of Water Resources
. “The Colorado River is reliable. We
work closely with our federal partners and other basin states to plan
for future needs and mitigate potential impacts. The drought
contingency plans
recently outlined by the Upper and Lower Basin
states serve as an example of such planning.”

When looking at whether the river can meet future needs, scientists,
water providers, and those who manage the river look at its past
performance during varying weather conditions. Colorado River flows are
cyclical, as are weather patterns.

The system’s reliability is documented in the benchmark Bureau
of Reclamation (BOR) 2012 Colorado River Basin Study
. The study
reports that, in the 10 years preceding its issuance, which had been
some of the driest of the last century, the Upper Basin states
(Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah) have delivered more than 92
million acre feet of water to the Lower Basin states (Nevada, Arizona
and California)—that’s 17 million acre feet more than the minimum
required by the Colorado River Compact.1

“In both wet and dry cycles over the past century, the river has always
provided enough water to meet established uses and compact
requirements,” said Don Ostler, former Executive Director and Secretary
of the Upper
Colorado River Commission
. “Recent hydrologic modeling, based on
projected drought scenarios, has shown the river to be capable of
remaining a reliable supply for the Upper Basin into the future,
especially if the basin states continue to work cooperatively on
sensible drought contingency plans.”

The 2012 Basin Study and associated climate model projections indicate a
potential decrease in mean natural flow of the Colorado River of
approximately 9 percent over the next 50 years. In addition, some
scientists predict that as a consequence of continued warming in the
basin, the decrease in river flows could be even greater.

Modeling
conducted by BOR in August 2018
, taking into account future water
uses in the Upper Basin including the Lake
Powell Pipeline
, indicates a near 0 percent probability of a
declared 1922 Compact shortage for the Upper Basin through the year 2050
presuming hydrology remains similar to what the basin has experienced
over the last 100 years. On the other hand, if the future hydrology of
the basin is similar to drier, hotter climate change predictions, more
closely resembling the last 30 years including historic drought, the
risk of a declared 1922 Compact shortage rises to less than 13 percent
through the year 2050.

“The BOR and the basin states are planning for the possibility of a
long-term imbalance in supply and demand on the Colorado River. To
mitigate the risks and uncertainties associated with these water
supplies, Utah has worked with the other states in the Upper Basin to
develop an agreement
on drought contingency development
. Since the river provides water
to some 40 million people, it is imperative that the western states,
including Utah, all do their part to protect this river,” said Millis.

Utah receives 23 percent of the Colorado River water supply available to
the Upper Basin. Utah is using approximately 72 percent of the current
annual reliable supply of 1.4 million acre feet, including evaporation
and system loss. The reliability of the Colorado River gives Utah the
opportunity to develop its water for the benefit of Utah.

Even though Utah may be developing its water rights later than some of
the other basin states, it does not mean there will not be enough water
for projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline. There is water available for
the Lake Powell Pipeline, which is currently being permitted to meet the
needs of the fastest growing region of the state. The Lake Powell
Pipeline would transport 86,249 acre feet of Colorado River water from
Lake Powell through a buried pipeline to Washington
and Kane
counties.

Utah’s share of the water is not subject to a prior appropriation or
“first in time, first in right,” administrative scheme among the states.
The compacts that guide each states’ use of Colorado River water were
expressly developed to ensure that faster growing states would not be
able to claim all of the available basin water.

“The Utah Board of Water Resources can develop a portion of Utah’s
Colorado River in a manner consistent with the Law of the River,” Millis
said. “Utah’s right to develop water for the Lake Powell Pipeline is
equal to, not inferior to, the rights of all the other 1922 Compact
signatory states.”

With the projected need for more water in southwest Utah as early as the
late 2020s, the Utah Division of Water Resources continues to advance
the permitting for the Lake Powell Pipeline. The Environmental Impact
Statement is the next step with a Record of Decision estimated to be
issued in the fall of 2020.

1  

http://www.ucrcommission.com/RepDoc/UCRCAnnualReports/69_UCRC_Annual_Report.pdf

Contacts

Marcie Larson
Phone: 801-641-0986
marcielarson@utah.gov

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