Colorado River Commissioner's Corner
About Commissioner Mitchell
Becky Mitchell was appointed by Governor Polis to represent Colorado in the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC). The UCRC includes one Commissioner from each of the Upper Colorado River Basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming) who work together on interstate collaboration for the Colorado River, which flows 1,450 miles across the Western U.S. and into Mexico.
The UCRC was established in 1948 with the goal of facilitating discussion, collaboration, and decision-making among the Upper Division States.
In her role as Commissioner, Mitchell works with a team of Colorado’s water experts to develop positions of the state of Colorado in negotiations with other states. Commissioner Mitchell works with all Coloradans - from the Front Range to the West Slope - and uses this input to inform Colorado’s positions and strategies. As compounded drought continues in Colorado and across the West, Commissioner Mitchell and the UCRC are exploring solutions to protect our state and its water users as we face drier conditions.
Read more about Commissioner Mitchell in a January 2024 Colorado Sun article.
Commissioner Mitchell is committed to negotiating sustainable operations at Lake Powell and Lake Mead with the Basin States, federal government, and the Tribal Nations. To help inform Commissioner Mitchell’s work, she invites all Coloradans to provide comments at Engage CWCB. Often called the Post-2026 Operations , the Commissioner is seeking solutions that recognize climate change, respect the equal apportionments to the River held by the Upper and Lower Division States, include a full accounting of all depletions, and provide for reservoir operations that are based on actual hydrology and that restore and protect storage. Her principles are rooted in irrefutable truths that we can all agree to:
- Acknowledging climate variability. We must anticipate a drier, but also a more variable, hydrologic future. Upper Basin water users live on the front lines of climate change and for the last twenty plus years regularly have experienced significant cuts to their water supplies.
- Recognizing that water users in the Lower Basin are not more important than water users in the Upper Basin. The Upper and Lower Basins have equal apportionments to the River in perpetuity, established by the 1922 Colorado River Compact. The 1922 Compact promises certainty and security of water supplies for both the Upper and Lower Basins.
- Preventing overuse in the Lower Basin. Water use in the Lower Basin cannot continue to exceed available supplies and operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead must better respond to actual hydrology. The Lower Basin must account for all depletions, including evaporation and transit losses. The Lower Basin's overuse poses risks to the entire Basin.
- Defending against attempts at Compact curtailment in the Upper Basin States. The Upper Division States are in full compliance with the 1922 Colorado River Compact; therefore, Upper Basin water uses must not be curtailed.
- Operating Lake Powell and Lake Mead to respond to actual hydrology and protect storage. Balancing releases from Lake Powell and the tier structure in the 2007 Guidelines depend on conditions at Lake Mead. This has led to depleted storage, and has driven both reservoirs and System into crisis. Lake Powell releases must be determined by actual hydrology and protecting storage rather than by Lake Mead conditions.
- Preserving federal reserved water rights for Tribal Nations. The Tribal Nations have water rights that they are entitled to use. Solutions for overuse in the Lower Basin cannot continue to depend on Tribes’ undeveloped federal reserved water rights.
- Complying with federal environmental law.
- Advancing coordination between the United States and Mexico.
Updates from the Commissioner
The Basin States spoke about the Post-2026 Operations Guidelines renegotiation at the Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA) in Las Vegas. The Colorado Sun, Politico, Nevada Current, Aspen Journalism, Arizona Capitol Times, and others, covered the event. Read more in DNR’s press release. During CRWUA, Commissioner Mitchell also published an op-ed in The Sun spotlighting the critical role of adapting to a variable climate, and the need for all states to work together and take responsibility to protect all 40 million Colorado River users.
The Basin States are expected to have a draft proposal agreement on the Post-2026 Operations Guidelines in Spring 2024, which Becky spoke about in the NYT.
On October 19, the Department of Interior published the Proposed Federal Action and a Summary Scoping Report as part of the process to negotiate Post-2026 Operational Guidelines for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
The Summary Scoping Report signals the next step in developing the Post-2026 Operational Guidelines for Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines (‘07 Guidelines) determine current operations for Powell and Mead. These guidelines have proven insufficient to sustainably manage both reservoirs in the face of climate change and ongoing Lower Basin overuse. The ‘07 Guidelines are set to expire in 2026.
On August 15, the State of Colorado provided official comments to the Department of Interior regarding future Lake Powell and Lake Mead operating guidelines, as part of the process to develop Post-2026 Guidelines for the operations of Lakes Powell and Mead.
The Post-2026 Operational Guidelines will replace the 2007 Guidelines and will determine how the two reservoirs are operated into the future. The 2007 Guidelines have proven insufficient to sustainably manage both reservoirs in the face of prolonged drought due to climate change and ongoing Lower Basin overuse.
Colorado’s Colorado River Commissioner Becky Mitchell was joined by the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) Acting Director Lauren Ris in developing and signing Colorado’s comment letter. Additionally, Commissioner Mitchell coauthored a comment letter with fellow Upper Division States through the Upper Colorado River Commission (UCRC), as well as a comment letter with the seven Basin States.
Mitchell is committed to negotiating solutions with the Basin States, federal government, and the Tribal Nations – solutions that recognize climate change, that respect the equal rights to the River held by both the Upper and Lower Basins, that include a full accounting of all depletions, and that provide for sustainable reservoir operations at Lake Powell and Lake Mead that are based on hydrology and available supplies. The Upper Division States have always lived within the means of the Colorado River and support the Lower Basin States in adjusting, adapting, and permanently reducing their Colorado River water use.
The Department of Interior announced a formal process to develop future Lake Powell and Lake Mead operating guidelines, often called the Post-2026 Negotiations. The new guidelines will replace the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines (‘07 Guidelines), which govern the reservoir operations through 2026. The ‘07 Guidelines, which currently set operations at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, govern operations through 2026.
The formal process to initiate an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was announced through a Notice of Intent published in the Federal Register. The NOI will be available for public comment until August 15, 2023.
Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to Revise the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines
On December 11, Colorado joined the other Upper Division States in submitting comments to the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (D-SEIS), which is intended to be a mechanism to adjust the current operating guidelines for Glen Canyon (Lake Powell) and Hoover Dams (Lake Mead) by providing tools for Reclamation to adapt to dry years between 2024 and 2026.
The UCRC letter commented on aspects including:
- Reservoir conditions remain low, and 2023 hydrology projections continue to decline. Therefore, action may still be required to protect critical elevations at Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
- The revised D-SEIS should call for mandatory, verifiable, and enforceable reductions in Lower Basin uses.
In May 2023, the seven Colorado River Basin States agreed that a proposal developed by the Lower Division States–to conserve at least 3 million acre-feet of water by 2026–should be transmitted to the Secretary of Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation for further analysis as part of the D-SEIS. In a letter sent to the Bureau of Reclamation on May 22, 2023, the Basin States requested Reclamation further analyze the Lower Basin proposal, and urged Reclamation to immediately turn to planning for longer-term operations at Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The UCRC letter provided on December 11 is a continuation of that process.
The Upper Colorado River Commission and the Upper Division States of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming remain committed to finding collaborative solutions within the means of the River.
Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC)
On October 3, Governor Jared Polis announced the appointment of Becky Mitchell as Director of Compact Negotiations of the Interbasin Compact Committee (IBCC). Commissioner Mitchell will chair the IBCC, a 27-member committee that includes representatives from the nine Basin Roundtables, Colorado Senate and House Agriculture Committee representatives, and six Governor appointees from geographically diverse parts of the state. She will directly link input from the Basin Roundtables and IBCC to the interstate Colorado River negotiations.
SCPP provides opportunities for Upper Basin water users to get paid to reduce consumptive use on a temporary basis. The purpose of SCPP is to mitigate the impacts of drought in the Upper Basin. It allows water users to develop tools to build resilience to adapt to long-term drought. SCPP is authorized through Fall 2024.
The application window for SCPP 2024 closed in December 2023. UCRC and WWG staff, in coordination with state staff, are working to review the applications.
Upon completion of a fatal flaw review by DWR and CWCB, information contained in the Colorado applications will be provided to those who signed up to receive them with only personally identifiable information redacted.
The CWCB Board has approved SCPP 2024 as a state-approved conservation program, so that any water users who participate in this program will receive protection of their water rights relating to abandonment and change cases pursuant to C.R.S.⸹⸹ 37-92-103(2) and 37-92-305(3)(c).
Earlier in 2023
In September, the Upper Colorado River Commissioners voted to implement SCPP for the 2024 Water Year. The revamped SCPP integrates input from Upper Basin water users. Changes include:
- An earlier application window, beginning in October 2023, to provide operational certainty for applicants.
- A transparent pricing mechanism to provide clarity to applicants.
- Increased education and outreach to ensure water users are fully informed.
- Expanded information about project applications in Colorado with the opportunity to provide comment.
- Prioritization of projects that support innovative water conservation and development of drought resilience tools.
The Program is fully funded by the federal government.
In 2023, approximately 2,500 acre-feet of water was conserved in Colorado. At its March 15, 2023 board meeting, the CWCB voted unanimously to approve the SCPP as a state-approved conservation program, so that any water users who participate in this program will receive protection of their water rights relating to abandonment and change cases pursuant to C.R.S.⸹⸹ 37-92-103(2) and 37-92-305(3)(c).
More information about the 2023 SCPP proposals submitted by Colorado proponents—including a summary spreadsheet of individual projects—is available in the March 2023 CWCB Board memo. Redacted proposals from 2023 satisfying preliminary review are posted below and/or in the CWCB document library.
Final 2023 SCPP implementation agreements (as of July 2023)
The Upper Colorado River Commissioners voted to suspend releases previously scheduled from Flaming Gorge Reservoir beginning March 1 through April 30, 2023, as part of the Drought Response Operations Agreement 2022 Plan. This amendment was adopted due to improved hydrologic conditions in the Colorado River System; the adoption of the 2022 Plan was based on projections in Reclamation’s April 2022 24-Month Study. Reclamation approved the amendment.
Storing water higher in the Colorado River System provides the advantages of reduced evaporation and increased flexibility for water to be available if needed in another DROA Plan to help protect critical elevations at Lake Powell.
The Upper Division States continue to implement its Five-Point Plan to proactively build resilience in the Upper Basin and live within the means of the Colorado River.
Colorado Commissioner Becky Mitchell emphasized at the Colorado River Water Users Association Meetings in 2022 and 2023 that the most impactful thing that can be done to manage the Colorado River System is to reduce uses in dry years. Colorado achieves this through strict administration of water rights based on hydrology—in 2021, administration impacted water use on over 203,000 acres within the Colorado River Basin in Colorado. Collectively, preliminary data from the UCRC shows that the Upper Division States used 25% less water in 2021 than in 2020 due to constraints on the physical and legal availability of water. “We must continue to live within the means of what the river provides year to year and we ask others to do the same. This is the only way the system will continue as we know it into the future,” said Commissioner Mitchell.
- On June 14, 2022, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton called on the seven Colorado River Basin states to conserve 2 - 4 million acre-feet of water in the coming year to protect the Colorado River System. By system, the Commissioner was referring to the infrastructure built and managed by the Bureau of Reclamation, including Glen Canyon Dam, Lake Powell, Hoover Dam, and Lake Mead.
- On July 18, 2022, the Upper Division states responded to Commissioner Touton's call to action with a 5 Point Plan, outlined within a letter. The 5 Point Plan consists of actions that the Upper Division states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming can take to help protect the Colorado River system. While naturally limited by snowpack and snowmelt cycles, the 5 Point Plan is a proactive strategy. It includes:
- Seeking reauthorization of the System Conservation Pilot Program
- Commencing the 2023 Drought Response Operations Plan process in August 2022
- Considering the feasibility of a potential Demand Management Program
- Implementing Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding to accelerate enhanced measurement, monitoring, and reporting infrastructure
- Continuing strict water management and administration and considering intrastate conservation measures
- Colorado and the Upper Division states have taken significant action to address water shortages in the Colorado River Basin, including releasing 500,000 acre-feet of water from Flaming Gorge Reservoir to Lake Powell, and 161,000 acre-feet of additional emergency releases from Flaming Gorge and Blue Mesa Reservoirs as directed by the Bureau of Reclamation. The Upper Division states are also focused on intrastate water conservation efforts such as direct potable reuse, more water-efficient technology for agriculture, water-wise landscaping, and other water and drought resilience efforts outlined in our Colorado Water Plan.
- On September 1, 2022, Colorado joined the other Basin States in requesting input on development of Post-2026 Colorado River reservoir operational strategies for Lake Powell and Lake Mead under historically low reservoir conditions.
For the last 20 years, the Upper Division states have used 3 - 4 million acre feet less that their apportionment under the Colorado River Compact. On top of that, water use in the Upper Basin is tightly regulated and administered based on water supply availability. In 2021, according to preliminary estimates by the Upper Colorado River Commission, the Upper Basin used 3.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water, which represents a 25% reduction from 2020, when the Upper Basin used 4.5 million acre-feet of water.
Colorado is committed to working collaboratively with partners across the Basin.
The feasibility and advisability of Demand Management remains under consideration by all Upper Basin States, including Colorado. CWCB is currently investigating options for increasing Colorado’s water resilience with options that can be implemented within the state, by the state.
The bipartisan Federal Infrastructure Bill, which was signed into law in November 2021, provides $50 million for Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan implementation. Colorado is working with the other Upper Division states to identify technical needs that these funds may be used for, including monitoring and verification, stream gaging, and weather modification. Additionally, Colorado and the Upper Division States may receive additional funds through Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
Events with the Commissioner and Staff
- Cattlemen’s Water Committee, Denver, Jan. 16
- Colorado Water Congress, Aurora, Jan. 31 - Feb. 2
The Commissioner and/or staff's attendance is subject to change. Please email email@example.com with any questions.
- Colorado River Basin Water Use Infographics (November 2023)
- Commissioner Statement on Sustaining the Colorado River Basin System (August 2022)
- Upper Colorado River Commission response letter to Commissioner Touton to conserve 2-4 million acre-feet of water for Lake Powell protection (July 2022)
- Greeley Tribune joint op-ed by Commissioner Becky Mitchell and Attorney General Phil Weiser (July 2022)
- Colorado Water Talk Podcast Colorado River Update Episode (June 2022)
- Frequently Asked Questions about the Colorado River (Jan 2022)
- Commissioner Statement on Actions to Reduce Risk to Lake Powell (April 2022)
- Public Service Announcement Video: Commissioner Colorado River 2021 Wrap-up (Dec 2021)
- Commissioner Statement on Tribal Engagement on Colorado River Matters (Dec, 14 2021)
- CWCB Resolution Regarding Representation of State Interests During the Negotiation of the Post-2026 Interim Operating Guidelines for Lakes Powell and Mead (Nov 2021)
- Colorado Sun op-ed on Colorado River drought planning (Oct 19, 2021)
- Written Testimony for U.S. House Hearing on "Colorado River Drought Conditions and Response Matters" (Oct 15, 2021)
- Commissioner Statement on Colorado River System Projections (Sept 2021)
- Denver Post op-ed on drought & water speculation (Jan 2021)
- Learn more about the Colorado River
- Learn about the Demand Management Feasibility Investigation