New Colorado River Guidelines are Only the Beginning

Much attention is focused right now on rewriting Colorado River operating rules, to replace the soon-to-expire 2007 reservoir operating guidelines. But there is a growing frustration that the struggle to solve that relatively narrow problem “mass balance” problem (how much water, and where?) leaves out a range of incredibly important issues:

If a reminder of this reality were needed, it was provided in the majority of comments submitted as part of the EIS scoping process, summarized by Reclamation as urging a “more holistic view of the system to include the integrity and health of the river and its tributaries,” a perspective which, among other things, includes a consideration of “environmental justice,” “preserving natural and cultural values,” and “acknowledging and incorporating the rights and authorities of all Basin sovereigns.”

That’s from a new policy brief from my friends and colleagues at the Colorado River Research Group, a collaborative of researchers across the basin whose mission is to provide “an independent, scientific voice for the future of the Colorado River.” The brief grew out of conversations among the group’s members about both the strengths, as well as the shortcomings, of the current process.

We are mindful that much of what CRRG has been advocating for is directly on the table in the various proposals now being considered for post-2026 river management:

New and improved reservoir management strategies are clearly needed and, at a minimum, will need to accomplish the following items discussed in earlier Colorado River Research Group (CRRG) publications:

  • Address those rules that have institutionalized the structural deficit, largely at the expense of
    protecting (and recovering) reservoir storage;
  • Better integrate the latest science about climate change and ongoing basin aridification, as well as real-time seasonal weather data, into the planning and operational framework;
  • Improve incentives, opportunities, and mechanisms for all water users to participate in
    conservation programs and other efforts promoting system flexibility and resilience; and,
  • Interface with new agreements with Mexico focused on protecting reservoir levels, habitat
    restoration, and shortage-sharing.

But there are so many other important issues left untouched by the P26 process (sorry, yes, some of us have started shortening it to “P26”) that the list we came up with among CRRG members is too long to blockquote here in a blog post – click through to read the white paper, it’s not too long.

What we advocate for in the paper is that the other issues not be lost in our rush to solve the mass balance problem.

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