The Implications of Uncertainty in Administering Upper Basin Shortage

When I first started to seriously cover Colorado River water, I kept going around to smart water people asking the same question: when we finally hit the wall, and there is less water in the Upper Colorado River Basin than needed to meet the states’ needs – a “call”, in the legal lingo – how will the shortage determinations be made?

I’m a bit slow on the uptake, and it took a while for it to sink in that no one really knows. (It’s often questions I assume have obvious answers, but which don’t, that prove the most journalistically fruitful.)

Jennifer Pitt of the Environmental Defense Fund, in her testimony last week at the House Natural Resources Water and Power Subcommittee hearing in Las Vegas, made an important point about the implication of that legal uncertainty:

At present, without well-articulated agreements for how a “call” on the 1922 Compact would be administered among states of the Upper Basin, there appears to be a race among the states to develop the next big use of water, because for water users who don’t get their straw into the system first, their risk of curtailment increases. This ‘race to develop’ increases risk for many water users in the basin. It would be better to slow down on new developments and first work out interstate agreements on what happens in the event of a call on the Compact.


  1. this “race to develop” gig – is that behind the infamous pipeline from lake powell to st. george?

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