Reclamation finalizes plan for Colorado River through 2026

Colorado River near Lee's Ferry (Bureau of Reclamation)
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  • Action targets drought impacts: Decision aims to protect dam operations and prevent critical water shortages in the Colorado River system.
  • Conservation is key: Preferred alternative aims to save at least 3 million acre-feet by 2026.
  • Federal funding critical: Biden’s infrastructure and climate legislation provide significant support for drought mitigation.
  • Long-term planning crucial: Separate process is underway to address Colorado River management beyond 2026.

May 10, 2024 — Yesterday, the Bureau of Reclamation moved to protect the short-term stability of the drought-stricken Colorado River system. The Bureau finalized its process by signing a Record of DecisionOpens in a new tab. on its Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for Near-term Colorado River Operations. This action follows the final SEIS released in March 2024Opens in a new tab..

The decision is a key step in addressing the Colorado River Basin’s water scarcity crisis, fueled by a historic drought and the impacts of climate change. The goal is to protect the operations of Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams, safeguarding infrastructure and public health. This guidance will remain in effect until the current management guidelines expire in 2026.

“This record of decision is a substantial milestone in the ongoing efforts to address water scarcity, the ongoing drought, and climate change challenges in the Colorado River Basin,” Reclamation statedOpens in a new tab. in its press release.

The Bureau’s preferred alternative is designed to conserve a minimum of 3 million acre-feet of water by 2026. It emphasizes collaboration with stakeholders, including the seven Colorado River Basin states, Tribes, and water users across various sectors. This conservation-focused approach has been made possible due to water conservation investments from President Biden’s Investing in America agenda.

As described in the previously announced final SEIS, key information in today’s record of decision includes:

  1. System Water Conservation: The preferred alternative will conserve at least 3 million acre-feet of system water through 2026. The results of the supplemental environmental impact statement modeling indicate that the risk of reaching critical elevations at Lake Powell and Lake Mead has been reduced substantially.
  2. Lake Powell Releases: The preferred alternative allows for reducing annual releases from Lake Powell to 6 million acre-feet if the reservoir is projected to fall below 3,500 feet over the subsequent 12 months. This adaptive approach ensures the long-term integrity of the system.
  3. Complementary Measures: The preferred alternative builds upon the existing 2007 Interim Guidelines, incorporating additional strategies to mitigate shortages and contributions under the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans.

Significant federal investments play a vital role in drought mitigation efforts. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act are providing billions in funding for water infrastructure projects, drought response, and water conservation in the Colorado River Basin.

According to Reclamation, this is a short-term solution.  A separate and ongoing process is focused on developing new, long-term guidelines for the Colorado River Basin after 2026.


Colorado River near Lee’s Ferry, via Reclamation press release.


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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