Southwest Colorado has had a good snow year, with 159 percent of median snow-water equivalent as of March 14, but unless that trend continues, the Colorado River Basin could face some bad news.
At an hourlong presentation at the Four States Agricultural Exposition on Saturday, Carrie Padgett, education and outreach coordinator for the Southwest Basin Roundtable, provided an update on drought planning across the seven states that signed on to the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
Padgett explained that Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, California and the federal government are engaging in Drought Contingency Planning, a coordinated effort to reduce risks surrounding critical reservoir levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
According to the Colorado River Compact, the seven states could lose control over their water right if the upper basin states cause the flow at the Lee Ferry, on the bottom of Lake Powell, to exceed 750 million acre-feet for any consecutive 10-year period.
At a local level, Cortez adopted a conservation plan in November that seeks to reduce per capita water consumption from 200 gallons per day to 180 gallons per day. The plan includes metering water users and rebates for water-efficient appliances.
“Luckily, we had a great year this year, but if we have another couple of dry years, 2020 might be when it gets a little closer,” Padgett said. “But for right now, we’re fine.”
There might not be an immediate threat, but she said the variable hydrology and declining storage at Lake Powell pose real and immediate concerns. She said it’s best to take a proactive approach to planning to avoid getting into sticky situations.
“If we do fall out of compact compliance, it’s a pretty catastrophic event, so we always want to be prepared for that worst-case scenario,” Padgett said. “These recent droughts have really made everyone aware that we need to start planning more for that uncertain future.”