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The Colorado River

The Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD) was formed to represent southwestern Colorado in water management and planning matters. Since 1941, SWCD has advocated for the protection, use, and development of Colorado’s interstate compact entitlements in the San Juan and Dolores River basins. SWCD plays an active role in negotiations among Colorado River water users within the state, serving in an advisory role to the State of Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Commission and regularly engaging with state and federal agencies and on interstate Colorado River management.

Map showing Colorado River Basin with delineation between Upper and Lower Basins, major dams, and areas receiving river water.
Post-2026 Guidelines 

At the end of 2026, several documents that dictate the management of the Colorado River are scheduled to expire. These include:

  • The 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead (2007 Interim Guidelines)
  • The 2019 Drought Contingency Plans
  • International agreements between the United States and Mexico pursuant to the United States-Mexico Treaty on Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande (1944 Water Treaty)

The Post-2026 process will be a multi-year NEPA process that will identify a range of alternatives and determine operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead and other water management actions for potentially decades into the future. Given the scope of the task, and the conditions facing the Colorado River Basin, the Department believes it is important to begin this process as soon as possible to provide ample time for a thorough, inclusive, and science-based decision-making process to be completed before the end of 2026 (Bureau Reclamation Website).

Throughout these processes, SWCD is committed to staying engaged and proactive to help conserve, develop, and use the water that Colorado is entitled to.


In 2023, the Bureau of Reclamation announced the following:

Notice of Intent and Request for Comments

“The Bureau of Reclamation announced its intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for post-2026 operations on June 16 and is now soliciting public comments on the scope of specific operational guidelines, strategies, and any other related issues that should be considered in the upcoming EIS. The Notice of Intent is available on the Federal Register. Comments are due on August 15, 2023.

Reclamation specifically requests input on how the purpose and elements of the 2007 Interim Guidelines should be retained, modified, or eliminated to provide greater stability to water users and the public through more robust and adaptive operational guidelines. Reclamation anticipates publishing a “scoping report” summarizing the formal input received soon after the close of the comment period.

It was published in the Federal Register on June 16, 2023.

Reclamation invites all Colorado River Basin partners, stakeholders and interested members of the public to provide oral and written comments.”

Ours and other scoping letters for Post-2026:

Southwestern Water Conservation District Scoping LetterUpper Colorado River Commission Scoping LetterSeven Basin State's Scoping LetterColorado Scoping Letter
Water Conservation Project Funding 

 Comments on phase 2 water conservation project funding in the Upper Colorado River Basin under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA):

Southwestern Water Conservation District’s Input Letter on Bucket 2 Funding 
West Slope Risk Assessment 

The SWCD, the River District, and the four West Slope Roundtables have undertaken a three-phased study to assess threats to Western Slope water development from basinwide constraints such as Lake Powell critical elevations and compact curtailment. The goal of the study is to inform local stakeholders as planning efforts move forward in the Colorado River basin.

In Phase I, it was determined that there is significant risk of Lake Powell reaching critical elevation 3,525 feet, which can be reduced (not eliminated) by Lower Basin states implementing their drought contingency plan and CRSPA reservoir reoperations. Phase I and II further explored the additional risk reduction by reducing consumptive use voluntarily. It was clear that reducing consumptive use had to be significant in order to bend the risk curve, and such reductions may need to be weighed against their costs. Phase III delved deeper into what curtailment may look like on the Western Slope, using specific basin data and various administrative scenarios, with the goal of preparing stakeholders to discuss objectively these possible futures and plan accordingly.

Executive Summary: Risk Study Phases I & IIPresentation: Risk Study Phases I & IIFinal Report: Risk Study Phase IFinal Report: Risk Study Phase II, Task 1Final Report: Risk Study Phase II, Task 2Final Report: Risk Study Phase III
Drought Plan 

The Secretary of Interior directed the seven Colorado River basin states to adopt a drought contingency plan (“DCP”). The DCP serves as an interim agreement until the 2007 Colorado River Interim Shortage Guidelines are renegotiated prior to their expiration in 2026.

The goal of the Upper Basin DCP is twofold: avoid compact violations or possible curtailment, and keep Lake Powell above target elevation 3,525’ to maintain power generation and crucial revenues for Colorado project operations and compliance programs.  The three main strategies for implementation of the Upper Basin DCP as drafted are 1) drought reoperations of the initial CRSP reservoirs, 2) supply augmentation via cloud seeding and invasive phreatophyte removal, and 3) exploration of a voluntary, temporary, compensated program to reduce consumptive use, a.k.a. demand management.

SWCD is supportive of Colorado’s participation in the Upper Colorado River drought contingency plan, and assert that any exploration of a program to reduce consumptive use in Colorado must have parameters that ensure the viability of Western Slope communities. For their full position, please see the links below.


*The* Drought Contingency Plan

SWCD, River District DCP LetterCWCB DCP Policy Adopted 11-15-18

Companion Agreement
Upper Basin Drought Response Operations Agreement
Upper Basin Demand Management Storage Agreement
Lower Basin DCP Agreement
Lower Basin Drought Contingency Operations
U.S. Department of Interior: Drought Conditions
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation: DCP Summary

Demand Management 

The Colorado Water Conservation Board has paused their investigation to evaluate the feasibility of a demand management program for Colorado.

The SWCD Board has adopted guiding principles addressing demand management. Click on the link below to download the latest guidelines:

SWCD’s Guiding Principles on Demand Management

The SWCD Board emphasizes that this is a living document that may be revised based on constituent input, developments in the demand management feasibility investigation, or other reasons.

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Water Bank 

Colorado River Water Bank Work Group

The Water Bank Work Group (WBWG) was conceived by the Southwestern Water Conservation District and the Colorado River District. Other participants are the state, the Front Range Water Council and The Nature Conservancy. The intent of the WBWG was to explore conservation efforts to prevent buy-and-dry of senior West Slope agricultural water rights by East Slope water providers, most of whom hold post-compact water rights.

A study evolved into sponsoring a pilot project program with irrigators being paid to demonstrate how reductions in consumptive use could be made. Another avenue being explored is how water banking could be structured to result in an overall net benefit rather than merely minimize impacts

In September 2020, the WBWG released the following study that evaluates the secondary economic impacts of demand management program in Western Colorado:

Upper Basin Demand Management Economic Study in Western ColoradoExecutive SummaryKey Findings

 For more information, please visit the River District’s website.

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