Inside Sources: How much water does Utah get to keep?

Apr 15, 2023, 8:00 AM

Moab colorado river...

View of Colorado River from Moab Rim Jeep trail in Moab Utah. (Adobe Stock)

(Adobe Stock)

SALT LAKE CITY — The record-breaking snowfall in Utah this winter has given the state more water than it expected to have.

And considering, the West is experiencing a drought that has gone on for more than two decades, figuring out how much water Utah gets to keep is an issue that has a lot of people working hard to find a solution to.

As such, the heavy snowfall is having an impact on how Utah and the other Colorado River Basin states plan to distribute that water.

Gene Shawcroft, the Utah River Commissioner, joined Inside Sources with guest hosts Taylor Morgan and Derek Brown on Friday to discuss how this water will be split up between Utah and other states like California and Nevada. 

The distribution of where the water goes is complicated

“The allocation of this water,” Morgan said. “It’s not a simple thing.”

Shawcroft is asked “What does it mean to be Utah’s River Commissioner for the Colorado River?”

He says there are seven states involved in the Colorado River Compact. Shawcroft says the governor of each of those states designates an individual to represent the state on issues regarding the Colorado River. 

“So, my role is to represent Utah as we coordinate with those seven states,” Shawcroft said. “Along with our federal partners and the country of Mexico.”

With low water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead and because the reservoirs are also significantly low, Shawcroft says a different use pattern had to be created to maintain some water in those reservoirs.

Modifications to reservoirs

Shawcroft says several months ago, the Department of Interior said it would come up with a draft Environment Impact Statement. The statement would deal with modifications as to how big reservoirs on the Colorado River could be operated.

On Tuesday, a draft supplement to the Environment Impact Statement was released for the operation of the Glen Canyon Dam, Shawcroft says.

He says one of the big issues to come out of that is to allow for a smaller release out of the Glen Canyon to preserve more water in the reservoir.

Tuesday’s announcement was held at Hoover Dam. Shawcroft was asked, “Is it an indication that filling Lake Mead will be prioritized over Lake Powell?”

“It does not,” he said. “That’s a great place to have a photo op. One of the things that is extremely important to recognize that everyone is working very, very hard to come up with solutions.”

As of Friday, Shawcroft says Lake Powell is 180 feet from being full, and is at 22% capacity. 

However, the runoff this spring could put a dent into those numbers, according to Shawcroft.

“Projections are it could come up 40, 50, 60 feet,” he said. “Again, it totally depends on how fast the snow melts.”

Listen to the entire segment.


Listen to Inside Sources with Boyd Matheson weekdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app. 

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Inside Sources: How much water does Utah get to keep?