Utah, other Colorado River Basin states want to ensure conserved water gets to Lake Powell

Jul 9, 2024, 2:00 PM

Colorado River Basin...

A boat drives through Lake Powell near Page, Ariz., on Tuesday, July 19, 2022. The bleached-white rock on the canyon walls, the so-called “bathtub ring” show historic high-water marks for the reservoir, and how far water levels have declined in recent years. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

(Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

LAKE POWELL, Utah — Representatives of the four Upper Colorado River Basin states, including Utah, want to create a program to track conserved water and ensure it’s actually getting to Lake Powell.

Water managers from Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico recently adopted a resolution to begin work to create such a program.

For the last two years, the Upper Basin has implemented the System Conservation Pilot Program.

Gene Shawcroft, Utah’s Colorado River Commissioner, said during that time, they compensated water users in the basin to use less water.

But, in terms of the water saved through that program, Shawcroft said, “there was no mechanism really to make sure that water got into Lake Powell.”

Tracking water in the Colorado River Basin

This led the Upper Basin states to work on developing the water tracking program.

“It’s essentially an insurance policy, if you will, that can be tracked and accounted for,” Shawcroft said.

Earlier this year, new research shed light on how water is  used in both the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basins. A study found over half of all the water allocated to seven states, including Utah and Mexico, is used for farming.

At the time of publication, Lake Powell sat at just over 42% full. Reservoir levels have not been this high four years.

Just over a year ago, the nation’s second-largest reservoir hit a record low 22% capacity. Levels have  since been boosted by two strong winters.

Shawcroft said the hope is the program provides extra water for Lake Powell, which could help in two ways.

It could help the Upper Basin more easily deliver their required 7.5 million acre-feet of water to the Lower Basin, especially on dry years. Or, that extra water could boost Lake Powell, especially on wet years.

“We can’t operate the river on hope, but what we can do is, if there is additional water…there’s no doubt there’s plenty of room in Lake Powell and Lake Mead,” Shawcroft said.

The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people.

Utah has rights to just over 11% of what’s allocated between the Upper and Lower Basins. That alone provides Utah with more than a quarter of its total yearly water supply.

Related: New study suggests climate change could help Colorado River

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Utah, other Colorado River Basin states want to ensure conserved water gets to Lake Powell