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PRESS RELEASE: New Colorado River “Shortage” Predicted for 2016

For Immediate Release
December 11, 2013
Contact: Gary Wockner, Save The Colorado,

New Colorado River “Shortage” Predicted for 2016
Save The Colorado Says Environmental Flows Have To Be Part of Shortage Plan, New Diversions Must Be Stopped

Las Vegas – As the Colorado River Waters Users Association meeting gets underway today in Las Vegas, the entire meeting will be overshadowed by the Bureau of Reclamation’s ongoing analysis of drought and climate change in the Colorado River basin.  Drawing on Reclamation’s analysis, a recent presentation created by the Central Arizona Project (link here) predicted that water levels in Lake Mead are dropping even faster than predicted and that a “shortage” in the Lower Basin would likely be declared in 2016.  The presentation says:

“The elevation of Lake Mead has declined from more than 1200’ above sea level in January 2000 to 1106’ today. Reclamation’s current 24‐month study (August 2013) projects that the elevation of Lake Mead will continue to decline to 1060’ by July 2015, which would likely result in a Lower Basin shortage being declared for 2016.”

The statements and accompanying graph (slide #4 in the presentation) have caused a scramble among Colorado River basin states, especially those in the Upper Basin of Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah that could face a “call on the river” if enough water has not been delivered to Lake Mead.

This scramble was publicly discussed for the first time in this 12/8/2013 Denver Post editorial here, where it’s reported that the Colorado Water Conservation Board – the State agency that manages water in Colorado – recently discussed its options to deliver more water to Lakes Powell and Mead.  The concern is driven by a desire to keep lake levels high enough to protect the hydroelectric generation capacity at Glen Canyon Dam (Lake Powell) and Hoover Dam (Lake Mead).  According to the Denver Post editorial, Upper Basin water managers are considering releasing additional water out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir and other mountain reservoirs to help raise the level of Powell and Mead to address the shortage.

However, what’s not discussed in the presentation or the editorial is the impact of water deliveries on the environmental health of the Colorado River and the ongoing attempt by water agencies in Colorado and Utah to divert even more water out of the river system.  It is on those points where the Save The Colorado River Campaign believes water managers need to provide additional attention as they address this shortage.

“This short-term management plan to deal with the shortage needs to support water supply security and support protecting and restoring the river’s health,” said Gary Wockner, coordinator for the Save The Colorado River Campaign.  “About 60% of the river is already diverted near the Continental Divide in Colorado, four endangered fish species struggle to survive in the Grand Canyon, and the river is dry and decimated before it reaches the sea in Mexico.  From top to bottom the river is in bad shape – any manipulation of the system has to address this environmental damage.”

Further, while the state governments of Colorado and Utah grapple with the requirement to send more water downstream, water agencies in both states continue to plan and try to permit new dams and diversions from the river.  This November 2013 memo from the Western Colorado based “Colorado River District” provides input into the State of Colorado’s water planning process and clearly describes that about 150,000 acre feet of new water is proposed to be diverted at the very top of the Continental Divide west of Denver for new growth in the Denver Area.  Another project in Northern Colorado could divert an additional 115,000 acre feet (read here).  Likewise, water agencies in Utah are proposing new projects, the biggest of which is the Lake Powell Pipeline that would divert 70,000 acre feet of new water before the river reaches the Lower Basin.

“You can’t stop the bleeding by slicing open new arteries,” said Gary Wockner.  “The Upper Basin states, especially Colorado, need to stop all of the proposed diversions – if they don’t, they will just exacerbate these shortages and conflict, and further threaten the river’s health.”

On Friday, Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell is scheduled to speak at the meeting in Las Vegas and provide remarks about the federal government’s role in this deteriorating situation.  Whatever is decided for the short term, Save The Colorado contends that a long-term solution needs to be put in place as soon as possible that includes a new water management ethic that focuses on water conservation and river health.

“Draining the mountain reservoirs to temporarily add water to Lakes Powell and Mead is a band-aid solution while the hemorrhaging continues unabated,” said Wockner.  “We need long-term systemic change that focuses on water conservation and water reuse and recycling, and we especially need a new focus on the environmental health of the river and the endangered wildlife and ecosystem it supports.”

Save The Colorado is attending the meeting in Las Vegas and will be posting and live tweeting from @savethecolorado and #CORiver.


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