• Arizona, California, Nevada Propose New Approach for Post-2026 Colorado River Operations

    March 6, 2024

    Arizona Department of Water Resources: Doug MacEachern, 602-510-0104
    Colorado River Board of California: Jessica Neuwerth, 818-254-3202
    Southern Nevada Water Authority: Bronson Mack, 702-822-8543

    Arizona, California, Nevada propose new approach for post-2026 Colorado River operations

    Alternative addresses the impacts of drought and climate change through a holistic and sustainable approach to the coordinated operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead that improves predictability for water users

    The Lower Basin States in the Colorado River Basin today jointly submitted to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) a proposed alternative for long-term Colorado River operations that would help ensure the river system’s health and sustainability for decades to come. [Download Lower Basin post-2026 alternative letter]

    The alternative, drafted collaboratively by Arizona, California and Nevada, is designed to provide for sustainable management of the system under a very broad range of future conditions that have been exacerbated by drought and climate change. It reflects a new and more holistic approach to Colorado River management, in which required reductions are based on the health of seven major system reservoirs.

    Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke, Colorado River Commissioner for California JB Hamby, and Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) General Manager John Entsminger jointly submitted the alternative to Reclamation as part of the federal agency’s process to develop new post-2026 operating guidelines for the river.

    “The Lower Basin Alternative submitted today to Reclamation represents a serious commitment to the health of the Colorado River. The magnitude of these reductions is both difficult and necessary,” said ADWR Director Buschatzke, Arizona’s designated representative on Colorado River issues. “This is our commitment to working with our river partners to protect the Colorado River from Wyoming to Mexico.”

    The alternative creates a path toward greater long-term stability in a river system wracked in recent decades by the effects of drought, climate change, and over-allocation, which have required additional proactive efforts such as the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans and more dramatic efforts in 2022-2023 to protect the system from reaching critically low elevations.

    Importantly, as part of the alternative, users at and downstream of Lake Mead would reduce uses of Colorado River water by 1.5 million acre-feet each year under a broad range of conditions to address the structural deficit and future aridification caused by climate change. The structural deficit causes Lake Mead to decline annually, even under normal releases from Lake Powell upstream. Water lost to evaporation and river seepage in the Lower Basin contributes to this annual decline. A recent Reclamation report estimates these losses total about 1.3 million acre-feet annually within the Lower Basin.

    “While addressing the structural deficit in the Lower Basin is a critical step in stabilizing the Colorado River, developing durable, long-lasting solutions requires all water uses to manage demands and commit to water conservation,” said SNWA General Manager John Entsminger, Nevada’s representative on the Colorado River. “Providing a framework that would better align future water demands with available supplies, the Lower Basin Alternative provides greater protections for the river and more certainty for its users.”

    If system conditions deteriorate further, all water users would collectively participate in the solution. Under the Lower Basin Alternative, those additional reductions, beyond the initial 1.5 million acre-feet that would be solely assigned to the Lower Basin and Mexico, would be shared between the Upper and Lower basins and Mexico – up to a total of 3.9 million acre-feet of reductions.

    “The Lower Basin Alternative creates resiliency and proposes climate change is a shared responsibility of all those that depend on the Colorado River,” said Colorado River Commissioner JB Hamby. “We need new ways of thinking to solve problems that have been unresolved for nearly a century and solutions for future challenges like climate change and extended drought — that’s what the Lower Basin Alternative does. Each basin, state, and sector must contribute to solving the challenges ahead. No one who benefits from the river can opt out of saving it.”

    The alternative links Colorado River use to storage volumes contained within multiple Upper and Lower Basin reservoirs, ensuring that current and future water uses remain balanced with supplies. Unlike the current guidelines, which are based on Lake Mead and Lake Powell elevations, the Lower Basin states propose basing reductions on the volumes of water contained within seven Upper and Lower basin reservoirs.

    This total system contents method performs better at protecting critical reservoir elevations than today’s operations, provides more certainty in addressing the effects of climate change, and largely eliminates the use of forecasts from decision-making on reduction volumes.

    The alternative also proposes new release criteria for water from Lake Powell to Lake Mead.  These criteria are streamlined compared to the current guidelines. Releases are based primarily upon reservoir contents in the Upper Basin. The alternative responds to hydrologic shortages in the Upper Basin by reducing releases from Lake Powell as Upper Basin use is impacted.

    Many of the rules currently governing Colorado River system operations expire in 2026, including the 2007 Interim Shortage Guidelines and the 2019 Drought Contingency Plans. Last year, Reclamation initiated an environmental review process to develop new rules for post-2026 operations. Water managers across the Colorado River Basin – including federal, state, and tribal managers – have been negotiating a consensus-based alternative that could be proposed as part of that process.

    Alternatives proposed to Reclamation, including the Lower Basin alternative, will be reviewed as part of the multi-year environmental review process led by Reclamation.

    Meanwhile, the Lower Basin states acknowledge that the best path forward for all users of the Colorado River is one that the seven states can unanimously support. The Lower Basin states remain committed to working with the Upper Basin states, Mexico, water users, Tribes, stakeholders, and NGOs to develop a Basin-wide consensus-based alternative for further evaluation.

    A copy of the Lower Basin Alternative is linked here.


    Quotes regarding the Lower Basin Alternative

    “Protecting the future of the Colorado River must be a collective effort. The approach that was sent to the federal government today is a tremendous step forward, but there’s more to do. We need everyone across the Colorado River Basin working together to find the solutions necessary to protect the future of the Colorado River.” Brenda Burman, General Manager, Central Arizona Project

    “The alternative proposed today goes further and thinks bigger than anything previously done to protect the Colorado River. We have developed a framework that could bring lasting sustainability to the Colorado River. But it will take participation from each and every one of us. Every water user across the Basin must commit to using less, while as a Basin we look for opportunities to augment supplies. If we all step up, we can implement a holistic plan that is inclusive of cities, farms, tribes and the environment, and leaves no one without water, ensuring we all thrive.” – Adel Hagekhalil, General Manager, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California

    “Over the last two decades, we have seen that the Colorado River is producing less water due to unprecedented warmer and drier conditions and a historic drought. Going forward, the Colorado River needs to be managed holistically as proposed by the Lower Basin States and not by one crisis after another. This common-sense alternative will provide greater predictability and long-term stability for all water users in the Colorado River Basin. The wise management of the Colorado River is important to our member municipalities in the Phoenix metropolitan area, which collectively provide water to over 3.7 million residents – more than half of Arizona’s population – and to the businesses and industries that support the regional and national economy.” Warren Tenney, Executive Director, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association

    “Palo Verde Irrigation District endorses the Lower Basin Alternative for future operation of the Colorado River. The unified Lower Basin adaptive management approach will stabilize river flows for generations and secure reliable water for agriculture. It will also benefit Mexico, the Upper Basin States, and the population of 40 million people throughout the Basin. Much work remains ahead for Reclamation, the Upper Basin, Mexico, and the Lower Basin to collaborate toward implementing this practical, realistic alternative.”Bart Fisher, President, Palo Verde Irrigation District Board of Trustees

    “As one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, having greater predictability on the water supply from the Colorado River is critical in planning for future growth, which the Lower Basin States alternative proposal provides. The alternative proposal also provides the collaborative, balanced and sustainable approach that’s needed to successfully manage the river.” Barbara Chappell, Water Services Director, City of Goodyear, Arizona

    “CVWD supports the need to update the Colorado River operations rules in addressing the current and future impacts of changing hydrology. We believe the framework outlined in the Lower Basin Alternative provides a rational path forward for the system’s long-term health and stability. Shared responsibility among all seven states ensures reliability for all 40 million people and 5.5 million acres of farms that depend on the River. CVWD is committed to doing our part.”Jim Barrett, General Manager, Coachella Valley Water District

    “Phoenix is dedicated to delivering safe and reliable water to its 1.7 million customers. With this objective in mind, city leaders welcome the collaboration among the Lower Basin states to develop a strategy for Colorado River operations that addresses the challenges of overallocation and climate change. This pivotal moment calls for an unprecedented level of unity, creativity, and commitment from all stakeholders across every sector as we strive to ensure the long-term viability of the river. Phoenix shares the goal of all parties: adapt, innovate, and work collectively to secure the future of the Colorado River for our communities and future generations.” Cynthia S. Campbell, Water Resources Management Advisor, City of Phoenix

    “The Imperial Irrigation District appreciates the collaborative efforts within the Lower Division States to craft an alternative for Reclamation to model as it moves forward with developing post-2026 operating guidelines. Through hard work, and a collective willingness to listen and consider each agency’s perspective, we have made significant strides forward since last year. IID is committed to continuing the conversations necessary to allow for consideration of a compromise proposal that balances water supply certainty for our community during a record-breaking drought, while still protecting the district’s longstanding legal positions and senior water rights.” – Jamie Asbury, General Manager, Imperial Irrigation District

    Our Yuma agricultural community has existed for generations along the Colorado River, and we support analysis of the Lower Basin Alternative by the Bureau of Reclamation.  We are pleased to see Lower Basin negotiators take the River’s challenges seriously and prepare an Alternative that recognizes the need to make reductions across the Colorado River Basin in a predictable and realistic manner. – Robert Woodhouse, Board President of Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation & Drainage District

    Since time immemorial, the Quechan people have relied on the Colorado River for our physical and spiritual sustenance, and the Tribe is deeply committed to ensuring that this living river remains healthy and capable of providing for the people and ecosystems that rely on it,” said Quechan Tribal Council President Jordan Joaquin. “It is why we have always fought for and will continue to defend our water. Particularly in the face of climate change and the hydrologic challenges it creates, it is essential that the post-2026 management framework for the River provides for human and ecosystem needs, protects tribal water rights, and reflects a viable strategy for preserving the River for us all. The alternative the Lower Basin States of Arizona, California, and Nevada submitted today to the Bureau of Reclamation marks an important step toward this goal, and I commend the Lower Basin States for their hard and collaborative work in reaching this point. I particularly appreciate their thoughtful plan for addressing the structural deficit and the proposal to move away from a reliance on forecasts to making management decisions based on total system contents. We look forward to our continued engagement with Reclamation, our sister tribes, the Basin states, and other key stakeholders as this process continues to ensure that we reach a sustainable outcome.”

    [Download Lower Basin post-2026 alternative letter]

    [Download copy of this press release]



  • Arizona, California and Nevada Commit to Record-Setting Conservation to Protect the Colorado River

    October 19, 2023

    Contact: Jessica Neuwerth – 818-254-3200

    Arizona, California and Nevada commit to record-setting conservation to protect the Colorado River

    Record-setting volumes of Colorado River water are being saved in Lake Mead

    The Bureau of Reclamation is moving the process forward to develop new operating guidelines for the Colorado River that will be in effect after 2026. Simultaneously, states, tribes and water users across the Colorado River Basin continue to collaborate on a long-term sustainable plan for the stability of the river.

    To that end, the Lower Colorado River Basin states – water users in Arizona, California and Nevada – are contributing record volumes of water to Lake Mead. By the end of 2023, cumulatively, the Lower Basin will have voluntarily conserved more than 1 million acre-feet – water that is being held back in Lake Mead for the benefit of the entire system over and above shortage reductions agreed to in 2007 and those of the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan.

    In 2023, consumptive use in the Lower Basin States is expected to be around 5.8 million acre-feet, the lowest consumptive use since 1984.


    Arizona users are conserving nearly 345,000 acre-feet of water in 2023 through the Central Arizona Water Conservation District/Arizona Department of Water Resources ICS Preservation program as well as federally funded CAP subcontractor, tribal contractor and on-river conservation agreements. This is in addition to the 592,000 acre-foot Tier 2a shortage reduction taken by Arizona.

    “Arizona is conserving more water than ever to stabilize the Colorado River Basin and protect our collective water future,” said Tom Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

    “The commitment of our state’s tribes, cities, industries and agricultural districts to Colorado River conservation efforts is substantial, and builds upon Arizona’s long history of water conservation in support of a robust economy. I’m confident we will continue this tradition well into the future as we all adapt to a changing Colorado River.”


    Colorado River water deliveries to California in 2023 are on track to be the lowest since 1949 – 700,000 acre-feet lower than the state’s 4.4 million acre-foot apportionment. In urban Southern California, Colorado River use this year is projected to be the third lowest in 60 years, thanks in part to recent broad efforts to reduce outdoor water use on grass. Last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation prohibiting the use of potable water to irrigate grass that serves no functional purpose at businesses and other institutions.

    “Twenty years ago this year, California permanently reduced its Colorado River water use by 800,000 acre-feet overnight — enough to serve 2.4 million households every year. This year, in addition to that unparalleled and ongoing effort, we’ve cut our use even further thanks to investments in conservation and partnerships forged between our agricultural, urban, and tribal water users,” said JB Hamby, California’s Colorado River Commissioner and Chairman of the Colorado River Board of California. “California is committed to leading with our water users, Basin States, and Basin Tribes to ensure sustainability on the Colorado River now and into the future.”


    Nevada implemented a series of new water efficiency measures to further enhance the community’s progressive and comprehensive conservation program, which has reduced Nevada’s consumption of Colorado River by 41 percent since 2002. The new water efficiency measures include pool size limits, state laws requiring decorative grass replacement, prohibitions on new evaporative cooling, and innovative tools to align economic development opportunities with water efficiency.

    “With a population of 2.3 million residents, Southern Nevada will use less than 200,000 acre-feet this year – our lowest annual water use since 1993 when our population was about 900,000 people,” said John Entsminger, SNWA General Manager. “As a river community, we can all maintain diverse, robust economies while using less water, and the reductions in municipal and agricultural water use across the Lower Basin demonstrates that.”

    Arizona, California, and Nevada water users continue to conserve and leave roughly 3 million acre-feet of water in Lake Mead by the end of 2026, ensuring Colorado River system stability. Collectively, ongoing commitments may exceed the volumes in the Lower Basin consensus proposal offered to the federal government earlier this year as part of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement process to revise the 2007 Interim Guidelines that operate the Colorado River system.

    These contributions provide much-needed stability through 2026 while new operating guidelines are being developed for the Colorado River system.

    [Download copy in PDF by clicking here]


  • California Backs Consensus Plan to Bolster the Colorado River

    May 22, 2023

    Contact: Lisa Lien-Mager — 916-407-6279

    Jessica Neuwerth — 818-254-3200

    California Backs Consensus Plan to Bolster the Colorado River

    GLENDALE, CA — Colorado River Board of California Chairman JB Hamby issued the following statement regarding the Lower Basin Plan submitted by the representatives of California, Arizona and Nevada to the Bureau of Reclamation that will conserve three million acre-feet of Colorado River water through 2026.

    “California worked hard with our Basin States partners to achieve consensus among all seven states to protect the Colorado River system for the duration of the current guidelines,” said Hamby, who also serves as California’s Colorado River Commissioner.

    A letter from all seven Colorado River Basin states requested that Reclamation analyze the Lower Basin Plan as an action alternative under the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (Draft SEIS), provide sufficient time to fully analyze the plan consistent with applicable law, and allow for an appropriate public comment period. The Draft SEIS evaluates potential near-term modifications to the 2007 Interim Shortage Guidelines that govern the operation of the Colorado River’s major dams and reservoirs through 2026.

    Hamby added, “California and our partners in Arizona and Nevada have developed a plan that results in better protection for the Colorado River system than other action alternatives identified in the current Draft SEIS released last month by Reclamation. The Lower Basin Plan will generate unprecedented volumes of conservation that will build elevation in Lake Mead, make strategic use of the improved hydrology, and build upon partnerships within and among states, urban water agencies, agricultural irrigation districts, and Basin Tribes who rely upon and share the Colorado River.”

    In recent months, California’s Colorado River contractors and entitlement holders have closely collaborated with the Bureau of Reclamation to develop agreements that will conserve up to 1.6 million acre-feet of water through 2026 for the benefit of the Colorado River System as part of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado River Basin System Conservation and Efficiency Program, funded through the Inflation Reduction Act, and through an existing Intentionally Created Surplus extraordinary conservation water storage program. Each of California’s Colorado River contractors and entitlement holders, including The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, Imperial Irrigation District, Palo Verde Irrigation District, Coachella Valley Water District, Bard Water District, and the Fort Yuma Quechan Indian Tribe, will conserve water to remain in the Colorado River system as part of the plan. (More on the next page.)

    “California’s water users will work quickly to implement conservation that will protect the system in the near term. At the same time, California will work to address the systemic challenges facing the Colorado River and will begin collaborating with the Basin States, Basin Tribes, and the Bureau of Reclamation to develop sustainable guidelines for the long-term management of the river,” said Hamby.

    # # #

    For the past 85 years the Colorado River Board of California’s mission has been to protect the interests and rights of the State of California, its agencies and citizens, in the water and power resources of the Colorado River System.

    The Colorado River Board represents the State of California and its Members in discussions and negotiations with the Colorado River Basin States, federal, state and local governmental agencies and Mexico regarding the management of the Colorado River.