DOI proposes new operating guidelines for Colorado River system

Lake Powell scene
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The Department of Interior wants to revise operating guidelines Opens in a new save the Colorado River system.

A Notice of IntentOpens in a new tab. to be published in the Federal Register will allow public comment on or before December 20, 2022.  According to the Notice of Intent, “Recognizing that the Colorado River Basin is facing unprecedented risks, the development of revised operating guidelines for Lake Powell and Lake Mead represents one of many Departmental efforts underway to respond to the rapidly changing conditions in the Basin in order to better protect the System.”

The seven Colorado River Basin states — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California — were charged with negotiating an agreement to save water by mid-August, but a comprehensive agreement has not been reached.  Roll CallOpens in a new tab. reports that biennial legislation is looming over the system and that tensions are rising between the seven states.

In the meantime, and as part of the Notice of Intent, the Bureau of Reclamation will produce a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement that describes alternative guidelinesOpens in a new tab., including:

  • Framework Agreement Alternative: This alternative would be developed as an additional consensus-based set of actions that would build on the existing framework for Colorado River Operations. This alternative would build on commitments and obligations developed by the Basin States, Tribes and non-governmental organizations as part of the 2019 Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) Authorization Act.
  • Reservoir Operations Modification Alternative: This alternative would be developed by Reclamation as a set of actions and measures adopted pursuant to Secretarial authority under applicable federal law. This alternative would also consider how the Secretary’s authority could complement a consensus-based alternative that may not sufficiently mitigate current and projected risks to the Colorado River System reservoirs.
  • No Action: The No Action Alternative will describe the continued implementation of existing agreements that control operations of Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams. These include the 2007 Interim Guidelines and agreements adopted pursuant to the 2019 DCP. Intensive ongoing efforts to achieve water conservation actions in the Basin are underway through a number of programs, including the recent Inflation Reduction Act. Implementation and effectiveness of these efforts will inform the assessment of existing operations and agreements.


Image Credit:

Lake Powell,Opens in a new tab. October 2007, by Bernard Spragg. NZ.  Wikimedia Commons.




Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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November 4, 2022 1:47 pm
Well, it seems like there are enough interested parties and half-baked solutions in action but I still cant help but wonder when a real solution will be found to meet the needs of 7 states. I’m sure tensions are rising. I can only guess they will continue to rise. I wish i had a magic wand.
November 11, 2022 11:09 am
The Bureau of Reclamation has good ideas but you have 7 states with similar and different needs. I just don’t see a quick resolution here. Lots of snow. yes, lots of snow.

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