Colorado River Basin Water Problems:

How To Reduce Their Impact

CED-79-11: Published: May 4, 1979. Publicly Released: May 4, 1979.

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Unless federal, state, and local governments begin to work together, the Colorado River Basin, an area embracing parts of seven southwestern states, will not be able to cope with a probable water shortage soon after the year 2000.

Considerable disagreement exists among concerned officials, engineers, and researchers about future annual river flows, while questions on the severity and timing of the water shortage remain unanswered. Most plans and programs of the Bureau of Reclamation appear to be based on optimistic estimates of the annual water supply. Programs for water salvage and augmentation have been canceled or have had limited success due to environmental consideration, while many conservation programs are failing because of legal and economic constraints. Indian and federal reserved water rights have not been quantified or settled satisfactorily. Procedures for operating basin reservoirs during a shortage are incomplete because the basin states cannot agree on the approach to be taken or the necessity for agreement at this time. Long-term solutions that consider all alternatives will be impossible if the basin water managers wait until a shortage occurs. Much uncertainty exists about the effectiveness and efficiency of the basin's salinity control program. Due to a lack of pre-evaluation, the current project-by-project approach has led to water development which has greatly increased salinity.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should establish a task force made up of the principal state and federal executive agencies in the basin and water user representatives to study the problems and barriers involved in forming a central planning authority and to recommend the appropriate form of management and decisionmaking structure for the basin and the rules and regulations under which it will operate. Federal funding for construction of the upstream salinity control projects and the Yuma Desalting Complex should be deferred temporarily until the Bureau has considered other viable and/or less costly alternatives, balancing water resource development with salinity control to produce an effective and efficient basinwide program. The intent of legislation concerning the national obligation for drainage water replacement should be clarified.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Bureau to develop: (1) a series of water management plans, coordinated with all the basin's water managers, which reflect various supply estimates and present a number of alternative actions; and (2) a comprehensive plan specifying the conservation, water salvage, and augmentation techniques that will be used to prevent or minimize the effects of shortages, identifying and suggesting solutions for factors that will interfere with plan implementation. The Secretary should amend reservoir operating criteria by stating the conditions under which he will declare a water supply shortage, the amounts to be released during a shortage, the storage levels to be maintained in low-flow years, and the amount of water each subbasin must provide for the Mexican water treaty commitment.

    Agency Affected:


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