Future of the Colorado River Project
White Paper 7. Evaluating the Accuracy of Reclamation’s 24-Month Study Lake Powell Projections
Full Paper including summary (2/18/2022)
This paper provides an analysis of the accuracy and bias of the 24-Month Study projections for future Lake Powell inflows and elevations and finds that in some years, the most probable projected inflows were higher than what actually occurred by as much as 7 million acre feet, and predicted reservoir elevations were higher than what actually occurred. We show that the hydrology used in 24-Month Study projections does not fully capture the risks of ongoing aridification of the Colorado River basin.
White Paper 6. Alternative Management Paradigms for the Future of the Colorado and Green Rivers
Full Paper (2/5/2021)
Video Summary (7/1/2021)
This paper describes how declining runoff and increased consumptive use will impact water supplies and ecosystems on the Colorado and Green Rivers, and considers how these risks can be addressed. The objective is to encourage wide-ranging and innovative thinking about how to sustainably manage the water supply, while simultaneously encouraging the negotiators of new agreements to consider their effects on ecosystems.
White Paper 5. Stream flow and Losses of the Colorado River in the Southern Colorado Plateau
Full Paper (9/23/2020)
A confounding uncertainty for predicting stream flow and losses in anticipation of renegotiation of the 2007 Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages concerns the accuracy and precision of those data. Several key gages that are not used in CRSS and are not considered part of the standard network of gages used to manage the Colorado River offer critical insight into understanding future watershed conditions. This paper discusses those gages and makes other recommendations to acknowledge and manage this uncertainty.
White Paper 4. The Future Hydrology of the Colorado River Basin
Full Paper (12/09/2020)
This paper summarizes the current understanding of future hydrology from the perspective of how that understanding can be incorporated into CRSS and other river planning models. We also provide scenarios that characterize and estimate plausible future drought conditions, based on the record of past droughts in historic and tree ring-estimated natural flow. Scenarios described in this report, although sometimes of low probability, are based on flows that have occurred in the past or can be reconstructed from the past record of streamflow. If such conditions have happened in the past, they might occur in the future, and these scenarios should be considered in future planning.
White Paper 3. Managing the Colorado River for an Uncertain Future
Full Paper (2/10/2020)
Colorado River managers face many uncertainties—issues like climate change, future water demand, and evolving ecological priorities—and are looking for new tools to help cope with this uncertain future. They need new ways to help classify uncertain conditions, manage for uncertain conditions, and to create models in the face of a slew of oncoming unknowns. To help Colorado River stakeholders think about, talk about, and better manage the future river, the Center for Colorado River Studies offers a new white paper that distinguishes four levels of decision-making uncertainty and suggest tools and resources to manage the different levels.
White Paper 2. Water Resource Modeling of the Colorado River: Present and Future Strategies
Full Paper (8/21/2019)
CRSS Schematic (high resolution)
The CRSS is an important water-policy planning tool that has been used by the Bureau of Reclamation and other stakeholders in numerous major efforts such as negotiation of the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the 2012 Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, and the 2015 Glen Canyon Dam Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan. Given the complexity of the CRSS, experts and stakeholders must invest significant resources to explore alternative paradigms to manage water supply in the Colorado River system, such as alternative strategies that might enhance water supply reliability and/or river ecosystem health. This white paper is the first of a series of papers to be produced in the coming months by the Future of the Colorado River Project that explore alternative management strategies for the Colorado River that might provide benefit to water-supply users and to river ecosystems.
White Paper 1. Fill Mead First – A Technical Assessment
The Fill Mead First (FMF) plan would establish Lake Mead reservoir as the primary water storage facility of the main-stem Colorado River and would relegate Lake Powell reservoir to a secondary water storage facility to be used only when Lake Mead is full. The objectives of the FMF plan are to re-expose some of Glen Canyon’s sandstone walls that are now inundated, begin the process of re-creating a riverine ecosystem in Glen Canyon, restore a more natural stream-flow, temperature, and sediment-supply regime of the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon ecosystem, and reduce system-wide water losses caused by evaporation and movement of reservoir water into ground-water storage.
This project explores alternative Colorado River water supply and river management strategies. Our goals are threefold:
- to develop new tools and approaches by which the river-ecosystem outcomes of water-supply decisions can be considered;
- to explicitly evaluate a range of water-supply management approaches that meet water-supply security and reliability needs of Colorado River water users; and,
- to identify, articulate, and evaluate alternative water-supply management approaches offered by traditional and non-traditional Colorado River stakeholders. Evaluations will be conducted from the perspectives of water supply and of river ecosystems, using traditional and non-traditional modeling approaches.
This project is being conducted in recognition of the impending re-negotiation of the Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Formal discussion of those Guidelines is to begin in 2020. The Future of the Colorado River (FCR) project is organized within the Center for Colorado River Studies at Utah State University.
Consulting Team for the Future of the Colorado River Project
Jack Schmidt • Leader of the Future of the Colorado River Project and Janet Quinney Lawson Chair in Colorado River Studies
Professor of Watershed Sciences and former Chief of the U.S. Geological Survey Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center (2011-2014). Winner of the National Park Service Director’s Award for Natural Resource Research for his career of applied science study of the large regulated rivers of the National Park system. Co-awardee of the Department of the Interior Partners in Conservation Award for activities associated with implementing a controlled flood pulse into the Colorado River delta in Mexico (2013).
David Tarboton focuses on advancing the capability for hydrologic prediction by developing models that take advantage of new information and process understanding enabled by new technology. This includes the use of hydrologic and geographic information systems and digital elevation models that take advantage of spatially distributed information for hydrologic prediction. He has developed and supports open source software packages implementing many of the research capabilities developed.
Bethany Neilson's current research projects focus on understanding the role of groundwater/surface water exchanges on instream temperatures and carbon fluxes in areas of continuous permafrost, on longitudinal solute trends in a karst mountainous watershed, on instream temperature and habitat in areas influenced by beaver dam complexes, and on nutrient transport in regulated river reaches.
Kevin Wheeler has worked on the Colorado River for over twenty years, including facilitation of negotiations between the United States and Mexico. He developed tools to bring stakeholders together to understand policies and expand their capabilities to develop new solutions. He worked with the Bureau of Reclamation and a variety of stakeholders to facilitate modeling for the Interim Surplus Guidelines, the Multi-Species Conservation Program, the Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations, the Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study, and Minute 319 of the 1944 USA-Mexico Treaty.
Brad Udall has an extensive background in water and climate policy issues, including as Director of the Western Water Assessment (University of Colorado), as the first Director of the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment (University of Colorado), and currently as the first senior water and climate research scientist/scholar at the Colorado Water Institute (Colorado State University). He has written extensively on the impacts of climate change on water resources in the American West.
Lael is Outreach Coordinator for the Center for Colorado River Studies. In addition to a passion for science and communication, she has a love for ecology and big-picture landscapes that make rivers and river research an especially attractive field. She has worked for the Center since its inception maintaining the website, facilitating communication and assisting in the organization of off-site workshops on various topics.
Advisory Committee for the Future of the Colorado River Project
Anne Castle, served as assistant secretary for water and science in the U.S. Department of the Interior from 2009 to 2014, and is Senior Fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy and the Environment. She leads projects on water law and policy issues, drawing on her extensive experience engaging with community and governmental leadership to help construct creative and practical solutions to water challenges throughout the West.
Eric Balken is Executive Director at the Glen Canyon Institute. Eric grew up in Salt Lake City, falling in love with Utah’s mountains, rivers, and deserts. As a teenager, he volunteered for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, gaining experience in public land surveys, cataloguing records, and grassroots organizing. Eric has a degree in Environmental Studies and Geography and is credited with founding Students for Water Conservation at the University of Utah.
John Weisheit is Conservation Director at Living Rivers/Colorado Riverkeeper, which empowers a movement to instill a new ethic of achieving ecological restoration, balanced with meeting human needs. They work to restore inundated river canyons, wetlands and the delta, repeal laws which represent the river's death sentence, reduce water and energy use and their impacts on the river and recruit constituents to aid in reviving the Colorado.
John Fleck is the director of the University of New Mexico Water Resources Program. He wrote about science for the Albuquerque Journal for 25 years and wrote The Tree Rings’ Tale, a book for middle-school aged kids about the climate of the West. His latest project is an optimistic book about the future of the Colorado River, called Water is for Fighting Over: and other Myths About Water in the West, published by Island Press.
With more than three decades of environmental law, policy, and advocacy experience, Mary is a nationally respected environmental lawyer and nonprofit program manager, and provides environmental analysis and advocacy services to non-profits, foundations and other organizations. Ms. Kelly's areas of expertise include water law and policy, ecosystem restoration law and policy, U.S./Mexico border environmental issues, strategy development, grant writing, strategic fundraising and non-profit management.
Eric Kuhn is former General Manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District. He has served on the Engineering Advisory Committee of the Upper Colorado River Compact Commission and on the Colorado Water Conservation Board. In 2006 Eric was appointed an at-large representative on the Colorado Interbasin Compact Committee. He is writing a book about how Colorado River hydrology and how the past and current understandings colored the Colorado River Compact of 1922 and present day policy issues.