Dead Pool Diaries: Colorado River 2022 Year in Review

abandoned boat at Lake Mead

A looming, invisible threat

A review of Calendar year 2022 on the Colorado River

Colorado River reservoir storage dropped 3.1 million acre feet this year, but there is a proposal now being circulated among the Basin States to cut use by that much to bring the system into balance.

Total Storage

Total year end storage in Lake Mead, Lake Powell, and a handful of key Upper Basin reservoirs (Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa, and Navajo)

  • end of 2022: 16.5 million acre feet
  • end of 2021: 19.6 maf
  • start of the 2000s: 51.8 maf

Source: USBR Hydrodata

a looming, visible threat

Lower Basin Use

Total Use by the Lower Basin States: 6.669 maf, 89 percent of their base allocation of 7.5 million acre feet under the Supreme Court’s Arizona v. California decision. The state by state breakdown:

  • Nevada: 223,512 acre feet, 74.5 percent of their base allocation
  • Arizona: 2,015,097 acre feet, 72 percent of their base allocation
  • California: 4,430,670 acre feet, 100.7 percent of their base allocation

This is Arizona’s lowest withdrawal from the main stem of the Colorado River since 1992.

Mexico received 1.45 million acre feet, 97 percent of their base allocation under the US-Mexico treaty.

Source: Dec. 31, 2022 USBR Lower Basin end of year tally

Total Upper Basin Use

We don’t know yet. It takes a while for the Upper Basin Consumptive Uses and Losses reports to emerge.

I’ll leave a “maybe 4 million acre feet?” placeholder here for now.

Lake Mead Shipwrecks

Total Lake Mead Shipwrecks – sunken speedboats emerging as the reservoir wastes away – that I saw on my pre-Colorado River Users Association bike ride earlier this month: 3.

Cuts needed next year to stabilize the system

Per Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton, testifying before Congress last year, we need 2 to 4 million acre feet of cuts to stabilize the system.

There was a proposal discussed at the Colorado River Water Users Association meeting in Las Vegas earlier this month (in closed basin states meetings, not in the open sessions) that calls for 2.6 million acre feet in Lower Basin cuts from the 7.5 million acre foot AZ v. CA baseline and 500,000 acre feet in Upper Basin contributions.

That would be a 1.8 million acre foot cut from 2022 levels in the Lower Basin, and another 500,000 acre feet in the Upper Basin.

The proposal came from the Southern Nevada Water Authority, and seems to have been embraced by the other states not as the solution, but as the starting point for a discussion over the next month, with the hope of a Basin States “consensus proposal” by the end of January. This is a good sign. Daniel Rothberg of the Nevada Independent kindly posted the full proposal, as submitted by SNWA Dec. 20 to Interior in response to the agency’s request for comments on its Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, and Colton Lochhead covered it for the Review-Journal.

I’m hoping to write more about this last bit as soon as my Covid fog clears (caught it at CRWUA and I’m mostly laying around feeling sorry for myself, doing crosswords, not riding my bike, and thinking and writing poorly, hence the brevity – perhaps that’s not a bad thing – I successfully did the Friday New York Times crossword, which I’m usually not smart or patient enough for).