Western U.S. Water Outlook 04-01-24 | News

Western U.S. Water Outlook

Lower Basin and Upper Basin States Plan
by Staff

The seven states that depend on the Colorado River for water are continuing their discussions as conservation is paramount.

The Colorado River is the source of drinking water for nearly 40 million people including residents of seven states and 30 federally recognized tribes. The seven states that depend on river are broken up into two categories, the Upper Basin states of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming and the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California, and Nevada. Together, the Lower and Upper Basin states must agree to a plan that will go into effect in 2027.

The states are expected to meet in the coming weeks while the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation shifts to a 2026 plan for the Colorado River, Lake Powell, and Lake Mead. In the meantime, the Upper Basin states' plan will set up a tiered system of releases from Lake Powell and Lake Mead based on each reservoir's specific level. The Lower Basin states' plan suggests that the Upper Basin states should share so more water can flow into the reservoirs, like it is currently designed. The conflicting plans for how the water should be managed comes a year after the states came to federal agreement to conserve water in exchange for funding of over $1 billion.

The Upper Basin states would like the federal government to determine the reductions based on water conditions in October as opposed to August.

A short-term plan, supported by all seven states, will allow the federal government to reduce water releases from Lake Powell down to six-million-acre feet if the water level is expected to drop below 3,500 square feet over the calendar year.

While the basin states continue to compromise, two-thirds of tribes with land and water rights within the Colorado River Basin are calling for equal status in the new guidelines. According to the Associated Press, they are also asking for protection of senior water rights. 20 tribes sent a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation outlining new river management guidelines that would take effect in 2027.

This story is ever changing, LASN will continue to update as changes occur.