Uinta County Herald | Colorado River Compact meeting draws large crowd

EVANSTON — A large crowd of ranchers, politicians and other interested parties filled the auditorium of Lyman Intermediate School on Tuesday, July 12, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., to hear two Wyoming experts provide an update on the Colorado River Compact, ongoing regional drought and potential impacts on Wyoming.

Wyoming Water Division IV Superintendent Kevin Payne and Water Natural Resources Division Senior Assistant Attorney General Chris Brown were the guest speakers. Sponsors for the event were the Uinta County Conservation District, Uinta County Weed & Pest, Jones and DeMille Engineering (of Roosevelt, Utah), and Western AgCredit.

Kerri Sabey of the Uinta County Conservation District opened the meeting.

“This is strictly an information meeting; this is not a public hearing or an opportunity to protest the pact,” she said. “This is for informational purposes only. If time remains, there will be an opportunity to ask questions after the speakers have concluded.”

Sabey then introduced the speakers and informed the audience that lunch would be served after the event. She said maps of the Colorado River Basin were available at the check-in table, and when they ran out, people could order a copy from a link on the Conservation District’s website.

“The Colorado River is the most regulated river in the world, and it’s a complex issue. Most of what I want to talk about today is the relationship between Wyoming and the other states involved,” Brown said. “The Colorado River system includes the entire Colorado River Basin, which covers nearly 250,000 square miles. This supplies water to seven US states and two Mexican states. This system supplies water to 40 million people and 5.5 million acres of irrigated land that has an economic value of about $1.4 trillion per year.

The system, Brown said, has the capacity to store four years of average annual flow. The Colorado River Basin includes other outer water-served areas: Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Denver and Colorado Springs, Albuquerque and the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico, Los Angeles, San Diego and the Imperial and Coachella.

Brown said California’s Imperial Valley is the biggest user of water and the region is experiencing substantial growth.

Brown said the three major laws regarding water allocation are the Compact of 1922 and later the treaty with Mexico in 1944 and the Upper Colorado River Basin Compact of 1948.

There are three methods available for allocating interstate flows between states, Brown said. The first is a US Supreme Court decision that allocates water among states based on equitable considerations and provides for an equitable allocation.

The second is through interstate pacts; an agreement between two or more states allocating the use of water from interstate watercourses with the consent and approval of Congress. The final method is action by Congress, which becomes federal law.

The 1922 Compact was created due to a problem between Colorado and Wyoming. Colorado asserted that it was entitled to as much water from the Colorado River as it needed, and the Wyoming Constitution stated that Wyoming had first water rights. The case went to the United States Supreme Court and Wyoming won.

The pact divided the geographic area into two main areas: the Upper Basin (Wyoming), which had legal water use rights, and the Lower Basin, which maintained a legal obligation to use the water. A problem for the Upper Basin was the large amount of water needed by the Lower Basin, especially the Imperial Valley.

The main problem in the Lower Basin is that the areas are flooded in the spring and then dry up in the summer. At the time of the 1922 Compact, Colorado needed a dam to store water but did not have the financial means to build it and needed help from the federal government. The Upper Basin refused to allow Colorado to build the dam.

The Compact agreement of 1922 divided the use of beneficial consumption between the upper and lower basins. The 1922 Compact does not allocate water, it allocates “the exclusive use of beneficial consumption” of water. If it is not used, the right to water is lost. The total distribution for the upper basin is 7.5 MAF (million acre feet) and 8.5 MAF for the lower basin.

In 1944, the treaty with Mexico decreed that any water beyond the quantity used by the states concerned would be given to Mexico. Any shortfall in water quantity for Mexico must come from both the upper basin and the lower basin to meet the now designated 1.5 MAF for Mexico.

The Upper Colorado River Basin Compact of 1948 divided the upper basin allocation between Arizona, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming. The 1948 Compact also established the Colorado River Commission (UCRC); provisions established for possible reduction of Colorado water use; and established the State Engineer with responsibility for implementing reduction in Wyoming to maintain compact compliance.

“The primary insurance policy for the upper basin was the Colorado River Storage Project Act (CRSP) of 1956,” Brown said. “Federal dollars were provided for the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam which created Lake Powell; and the Aspinall, Flaming Gorge and Navajo dams and projects in Wyoming: Fontenelle, Eden and Lyman.

Brown then showed graphs of the severe drop in inflow to Lake Powell and Lake Mead due to the continuing drought. He said the Bureau of Reclamation announced on May 3 two separate Urgent Drought Response actions that will help sustain Lake Powell by nearly 1 MAF of water from May 2022 through April 2023.

To protect Lake Powell, more water will flow into Lake Powell from Flaming Gorge and less water will be released downstream. Also, less water will be released from Lake Powell into the Glen Canyon Dam.

Ensuring that Lake Powell does not fall below the target elevation of 3,525 feet helps to ensure compact compliance and continued upper basin water use and development. It also maintains hydroelectricity at Glen Canyon Dam and minimizes adverse effects on upper basin resources and infrastructure.

“It took a year for all of our agencies working together to develop the Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA),” Brown said. “We realize there will be a serious impact on recreation and these facilities and on endangered species. And we realize the cuts are affecting real people in the lower pelvis. We want to make sure people understand and know the reasoning behind the cuts and the need to reduce water usage.

Brown summarized by saying that irrigation is the largest use of the annual allocations and that agriculture has 70% beneficial consumption use rights. The state of Wyoming decides how to reduce and meet compliance, the question is how, Brown said.

Superintendent Payne then addressed the audience and summarized irrigation methods and ways to conserve.

“Regulation is flow-based. We have to look at efficiency and flood irrigation only has a 50% efficiency rating,” Payne said. “Using hand lines and wheel lines provides 60% efficiency and using a center pivot will bring efficiency rates of 70-90%.”

Payne said what is needed is a basin-wide conservation effort, the installation of measuring devices, a monitor at the reservoirs and current gauges. Regulations require the construction and maintenance of head valves and allow the use of metering devices. The agency is considering requiring more pie-shaped pivots.

“When to regulate and how much regulation is what we’re dealing with,” Payne said. “We are working on a mapping project to prioritize water use and reservoir priorities.”

Payne said the Live Stream Storage Law states that the regulation and use cannot impact other users, cannot interfere with the rights of others, and cannot harm anyone else. . He said there are solutions for water users in petitions and exchanges. Users can exchange water with another source if it is available to them and will not affect other users and can be administered. Users can also apply for a Temporary Water Use Agreement (TWUA) on a two-year basis.

Payne said the agency was looking at how to retain as much water as possible, and Brown said he was working with the Colorado River Compact on a plan to meter, conserve and regulate water use.

Brown concluded, “We will continue to work with the laws we have and develop solutions. It’s a complicated problem. »

Brown and Payne stayed after the meeting closed to answer questions and visit people.