April 12, 2023 — The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) released a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) yesterday to address the continued potential for low run-off conditions and unprecedented water shortages in the Colorado River Basin. The SEIS will potentially revise the current interim operating guidelines for the near-term operation of Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams.
The draft follows historic investments the Biden-Harris administration announced last week as part of an all-of-government effort to make the Colorado River Basin and all the communities that rely on it more resilient to climate change and the ongoing drought in the West.
Alternative Measures in the SEIS.
The SEIS outlines alternative measures to protect the dams, water systems, and public health and safety between 2024 and 2026. This will help ensure continued water supply and hydropower production for the 40 million Americans relying on the Colorado River. It includes three alternatives, with two action alternatives suggesting potential operational changes to both Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam. The action alternatives focus on reduced releases from Glen Canyon Dam and different approaches to distributing additional water shortages in the Lower Colorado River Basin. Specifically, the alternatives outlined in Reclamation’s press release include:
- No Action Alternative: The No Action Alternative describes the consequences of continued implementation of existing agreements that control operations of Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam, including under further deteriorating hydrologic conditions and reservoir elevations.
- Action Alternative 1: Action Alternative 1 models potential operational changes to both Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam. Action Alternative 1 includes modeling for reduced releases from Glen Canyon Dam, as well as an analysis of the effects of additional Lower Colorado River Basin shortages based predominately on the priority of water rights. Action Alternative 1 models progressively larger additional shortages as Lake Mead’s elevation declines, and larger additional shortages in 2025 and 2026, as compared with 2024. The total shortage contributions in 2024, including those under existing agreements, are limited to 2.083 million-acre-feet because this is the maximum volume analyzed in the 2007 Interim Guidelines final environmental impact statement.
- Action Alternative 2: Action Alternative 2 is similar to Action Alternative 1 in how it models potential operational changes to both Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam. Action Alternative 2 includes modeling for reduced releases from Glen Canyon Dam, as well as an analysis of the effects of additional Lower Colorado River Basin reductions that are distributed in the same percentage across all Lower Basin water users under shortage conditions. While both the 2007 Interim Guidelines and the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan encompass shortages and contributions that reflect the priority system, the incremental, additional shortages identified in Action Alternative 2 for the remainder of the interim period would be distributed in the same percentage across all Lower Basin water users. Action Alternative 2 models progressively larger additional shortages as Lake Mead’s elevation declines and models larger Lower Basin shortages in 2025 and 2026 as compared with 2024. The total shortage contributions in 2024, including those under existing agreements, are limited to 2.083 million-are-feet because this is the maximum volume analyzed in the 2007 Interim Guidelines FEIS.
Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau emphasized the importance of the river basin, stating, “Failure is not an option.” He mentioned the administration’s commitment to protecting the Colorado River System through the President’s Investing in America agenda.
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton highlighted the need for collaboration and new solutions in addressing the long-standing drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin.
The draft plan was developed after months of discussions and collaboration with various stakeholders, including Basin states, Tribes, water managers, and farmers. It includes proposed alternatives for revising the 2007 Interim Guidelines, which provide operating criteria for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
The public can provide input on the draft plan until May 30, 2023, per instructions in the Federal Register that will be published on April 14, 2023. Additional information about virtual public meetings can be found at Reclamation’s website.
Investments in the System.
President Biden’s Investing in America agenda represents the largest investment in climate resilience in the nation’s history and is providing much-needed resources to enhance the resilience of the West to drought and climate change, including to protect the short- and long-term sustainability of the Colorado River System. Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Reclamation is investing $8.3 billion over five years for water infrastructure projects, including water purification and reuse, water storage and conveyance, desalination and dam safety. The Inflation Reduction Act is investing an additional $4.6 billion to address the historic drought.
To date, the Interior Department has announced the following investments for Colorado River Basin states, which are projected to yield hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water savings each year once these projects are complete:
- $281 million for 21 water recycling projects that are expected to increase annual water capacity by 127,000 acre-feet annually.
- Up to $233 million in water conservation funding for the Gila River Indian Community, including $83 million for a water pipeline project and an additional $50 million from the Inflation Reduction Act through the Lower Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program, which will also provide similar investments in 2024 and 2025.
- Over $73 million for infrastructure repairs on water delivery systems, $19.3 million in fiscal year 2022 and another $54 million announced last week.
- $71 million for 32 drought resiliency projects to expand access to water through groundwater storage, rainwater harvesting, aquifer recharge and water treatment.
- $10 million in new water storage investments.