WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Department of the Interior has initiated a formal process to develop future operating guidelines and strategies to protect the stability and sustainability of the Colorado River. The new guidelines will replace the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead, set to expire at the end of 2026.
The public process will gather feedback for the next set of operating guidelines, including new strategies that take into account the current and projected hydrology of the Colorado River Basin. The Basin is currently facing an historic drought, driven by climate change, that is increasing the likelihood of warming temperatures and continued low-runoff conditions, and therefore reduced water availability, across the region.
“The Biden-Harris administration has held strong to its commitment to work with states, tribes and communities throughout the West to find consensus solutions in the face of climate change and sustained drought,” said Deputy Secretary Tommy Beaudreau. “Those same partnerships are fundamental to our ongoing work to ensure the stability and sustainability of the Colorado River Basin into the future. As we look toward the next several years across the Basin, the new set of operating guidelines for Lake Powell and Lake Mead will be developed collaboratively based on the best-available science.”
“Developing new operating guidelines for Lake Powell and Lake Mead is a monumentally important task and must begin now to allow for a thorough, inclusive and science-based decision-making process to be completed before the current agreements expire in 2026,” said Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton. “The Bureau of Reclamation is committed to ensuring we have the tools and strategies in place to help guide the next era of the Colorado River Basin, especially in the face of continued drought conditions.”
The process announced is separate from the recently announced efforts to protect the Colorado River Basin through the end of 2026. The Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement to revise the December 2007 Record of Decision will set interim guidelines through the end of 2026; the new process announced will develop guidelines for when the current interim guidelines expire.
The Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement asks the public to consider the past 15 years of operating experience since adoption of the 2007 Interim Guidelines, as well as how the best-available science should inform future operational guidelines and strategies that can be sufficiently robust and adaptive to withstand a broad range of hydrological conditions. The NOI also asks the public to consider how and whether 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 throughout the Colorado River Basin. The NOI will be available for public comment until August 15, 2023.
While the post-2026 process would only determine domestic operations, the Biden-Harris administration has committed to continued collaboration with the Republic of Mexico. It is anticipated that the International Boundary and Water Commission will facilitate consultations between the United States and Mexico, with the goal of continuing the Binational Cooperative Process under the 1944 Water Treaty.