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Are you as smart as a WRA policy expert?
Check your answers to see how much you know about the Colorado River and its importance to the West!
1. How many states, both in the U.S. and Mexico, rely on water from the Colorado River?
Communities in seven U.S. states, and two states in northern Mexico, depend on the Colorado River for water. It supports drinking water for upwards of 40 million people, drives a multi-billion-dollar recreation economy, and provides essential habitat for dozens of fish, birds, and other aquatic species along its course through the Southwest. It earns its nickname: “The Hardest Working River in the West.”
That’s why WRA is so committed to safeguarding this vital river. We’re working to ensure it remains flowing for generations to come.
2. This agreement was put into place in 1922 to divvy up the Colorado River’s water between the seven southwestern U.S. states. It provides the framework for how the river is governed to this day.
a. The Colorado River Compact
The foundation of the Law of the River — the collection of legal agreements, compacts, court decrees, international decisions, and congressional acts that govern the Colorado River — is the Colorado River Compact of 1922. Unfortunately, it promised to deliver more water to states than the river reliably provides, causing the river to be overallocated throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
Right now, these decades of overallocation are coming to a head, as populations grow and climate change continues to warm up and dry out the West. This is causing a crisis on the river – its flows are declining and reservoirs are at all-time lows. WRA is advocating for a variety of policy solutions to address these issues.
3. In this year, the Colorado River Basin U.S. states and the federal government created a set of interim guidelines to update how we manage the river together as a region in response to ongoing drought conditions.
Despite the river being overallocated, there was enough actual water in the river to meet annual demands throughout the 20th century. In the early 21st century, it became clear that increasing demands on Colorado River water were overcoming available supplies.
In 2007, in response to these changing conditions, the Colorado River Basin states and federal government created the Interim Guidelines to update how we manage the river together as a region. This agreement coordinated water releases from Lake Powell and Lake Mead to provide more certainty for Colorado River water users.
But the Interim Guidelines did not account for the dramatic impact climate change is currently having on the river. Additionally, they lacked important provisions speaking to river health.
While the guidelines are set to expire in 2026, initial discussions about the update are already underway. They provide a rare and historic opportunity to protect the Colorado River for future generations. WRA will be active in these negotiations, advocating for a new agreement that better protects the Colorado River and the communities that depend on it.
4. In the next few months, key decision makers will convene to begin to negotiate updates to those Interim Guidelines. Why are these negotiations so important for the West?
d. All of the above
The renegotiations are coming as scientists say that hotter and drier is in the West’s future. It is a pivotal moment for states in our region to plan for less water in the Colorado River.
The re-negotiations are an opportunity to do just that. WRA will use our policy expertise to promote water-saving solutions that will both improve river health and make communities dependent on Colorado River water more resilient to the impacts of climate change.
The negotiations will also offer a chance to address major inequities in Western water management. Discussions leading up to the first Interim Guidelines lacked meaningful input from the 30 Indigenous tribes of the Colorado River Basin. On paper, tribes hold 20% of the water rights throughout the Basin. However, they experience major inequities in water infrastructure and development that leave many Indigenous communities without consistent access to clean water. In the upcoming discussions, we have the opportunity to create a more inclusive process.
If you answered these questions correctly, congratulations! You are a Colorado River expert!
Check out WRA’s recent podcast to learn even more about how WRA is working to protect this important water source.
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