Beyond the “Drought Contingency Plan” on the Colorado River

Brad Udall, Doug Kenney, and I wrote a thing about the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan and what comes next:

The plan is historic: It acknowledges that southwestern states need to make deep water use reductions – including a large share from agriculture, which uses over 70% of the supply – to prevent Colorado River reservoirs from declining to critically low levels.

But it also has serious shortcomings. It runs for less than a decade, through 2026. And its name – “Drought Contingency Plan” – suggests a response to a temporary problem.

As scholars who have spent years researching water issues in the West, we know the Colorado River’s problems are anything but temporary. Its waters have already been over-allocated, based on a century of false optimism about available supply. In other words, states have been allowed to take out more than nature puts back in.

Key bit:

An effective long-term plan should solve the overuse problem in the Lower Basin, while preparing for extended and unprecedented low flows. It should revisit a number of long-standing assumptions about how the river is managed, including the Upper Basin’s so-called “delivery obligation” to the Lower Basin, which leaves the upper states – Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico – bearing the burden of climate change, while the Lower Basin states remain free to overuse. And it will have to address the reality that there is not enough water for users in the Upper Basin to continue exporting ever more water to growing cities like St. George, Utah, and Colorado’s Front Range.

Big thanks to Jennifer Weeks and the folks at The Conversation for hosting and helping.


  1. Once again, it should address that, even with climate change, it’s too cold to grow much shite in most of the Upper Basin, which is also sparsely populated.

    But, you keep wanting to not say that.

  2. I saw a presentation from the Central Arizona Water Conservation District the other day. One of the slides showed future water levels with a side bubble titled ‘climate change’. The person giving the presentation said something about that not looking right and suddenly it had an ‘X’ through it with ‘a drier, hotter future’ written in above it.

    How do we get serious when we remain in denial?

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