Visit "Where can I get vaccinated" or call 1-877-COVAXCO (1-877-268-2926) for vaccine information.

1

Colorado River Commissioner's Corner

Colorado River Commissioner's Corner

Background

In addition to leading the Colorado Water Conservation Board, Rebecca 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. 

Current Issues and Updates

A priority of Commissioner Mitchell is to keep Coloradans up-to-date with the status of current major issues facing the Colorado River in the state. Here is the latest:

 Colorado Water Resilience Toolkit

In March 2022, CWCB elected to develop a toolkit to prevent and mitigate the impacts of drought, aridification, and climate change. The toolkit’s purpose is to develop a one-stop-shop of options (tools, programs, etc.) that will help protect Colorado’s water users in the face of a drier, more variable, and uncertain water future. These mechanisms will be Colorado-focused, and will not rely on other states for implementation. Information about a public workshop, tentatively scheduled for May 2022, will be posted on this page once a date is selected. 

Drought Operations & Lake Powell Updates

On April 8, the Department of the Interior sent a letter to the Colorado River Basin state representatives proposing a reduction in the annual release from Lake Powell from 7.48 million acre-feet to 7.0 million acre-feet for the Water Year 2022. The letter also sought feedback from the Basin states on this proposal. On April 22, the seven Colorado River Basin states collectively sent a letter providing input on this proposal, specifically requesting close coordination and ongoing monitoring of the situation into Water Year 2023.

This proposal is meant to work in concert with the Drought Response Operations Plan to protect critical elevations at Lake Powell. The Upper Colorado River Commission approved the 2022 Drought Response Operations Plan on April 21. This Plan calls for 500,000 acre-feet of water to be released from Flaming Gorge Reservoir between May 2022 and April 2023. This is in addition to the 161,000 acre-feet previously released pursuant to the imminent need provision of the DROA. In total, the Upper Basin has provided 661,000 acre-feet of water to protect the Colorado River system. 

Demand Management Update

While the feasibility and advisability of Demand Management remains under consideration, CWCB is exploring various other tools to address future water supply challenges as well. This work will help inform Colorado’s Water Resilience Toolkit. 

Weather Modification Update

The Upper Colorado River Basin states are considering opportunities to expand support and funding for weather modification in the Upper Basin as part of the Drought Contingency Plan.

Federal Infrastructure Bill Update

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 Basin states to identify technical needs that these funds may be used for, including monitoring and verification, stream gaging, and weather modification. 

Lower Colorado River Basin Update

The Lower Basin states recently announced a plan to conserve 1 million acre-feet of water in Lake Mead in 2022-2023 to address short-term conservation challenges. This effort is not intended to be a long-term solution. Details of this plan have not yet been released.

The Lower Basin states are currently experiencing a (Tier 1) shortage according to the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan. This Tier requires the Lower Basin states of Arizona and Nevada to take less water from Lake Mead. This is the first time the Lower Basin States have faced shortages to their deliveries out of Lake Mead.

Operational Interim Guidelines Negotiations

Colorado and the Upper Colorado River Commission are preparing for negotiations regarding post-2026 operations of the system’s major reservoirs. The negotiated agreements will replace the current “Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead,” also known as the “2007 Guidelines.” The 2007 Guidelines expire at the end of 2025.

Regarding the longer term approach to providing a more resilient water supply in the Colorado River, all Colorado River users  will need to implement new approaches to address overuse (depletions that exceed supply) and mitigate climate change impacts across the entire Colorado River system. This will require finding balance, as the seven states and Mexico who depend on the Colorado River system have depleted storage unsustainably.

Commissioner Mitchell is focused on ensuring the technical tools are in place to support the upcoming negotiations. Her guiding principles - or goals - as she negotiates on behalf of Colorado include: 

  1. Ensuring additional security and certainty of water supply for Colorado water users and water users across the Colorado River Basin.
  2. Avoiding risk of curtailment in the Upper Basin.
  3. Improving operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
  4. Addressing overuse in the Lower Basin.
  5. Supporting coordination with Mexico (while noting this is a domestic agreement).
  6. Maintaining compliance with established federal environmental law.

Sovereign-to-sovereign engagement with Tribal Nations also remains a priority for Commissioner Mitchell. Colorado has protected and allocated water rights settlements with both Colorado Tribes - the Ute Mountain Ute and Southern Ute. Engagement with these Tribal Nations will be imperative to the success of post-2026 reservoir operations negotiations. At the 2021 Colorado River Water Users Association Convention, Commissioner Mitchell announced her commitment to engaging with the Tribes during this process. Work is currently underway to develop a framework for sovereign-to-sovereign discussions, which Colorado considers a critical first step.

As discussions among the Basin States develop, an updated timeline will be added to this webpage. For a history of laws and agreements, visit the Colorado River 101 page.

 

Upcoming Speaking Events with Commissioner Mitchell

Arkansas River Basin Water Forum / April 28 - 29 / Salida

Law of the Colorado River Conference (CLE International) / May 19 - 20 / Santa Fe, NM

Upper Colorado River Basin Tour (Water Education Colorado) / June 15 - 17