Drought Contingency Plan Triggered for the Colorado River

Signs of worsening drought conditions in the American West are triggering early actions for states that depend on water from the Colorado River.

1 minute read

January 21, 2021, 11:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Page, Arizona

The Glen Canyon Dam, with Page, Arizona in the background. | KaryB / Shutterstock

"Increasingly bleak forecasts for the Colorado River have for the first time put into action elements of the 2019 upper basin drought contingency plan," reports Luke Runyon.

Runyon adds: "The 24-month study released in January by the Bureau of Reclamation, which projects two years of operations at the river’s biggest reservoirs, showed Lake Powell possibly dipping below an elevation of 3,525 feet above sea level in 2022 That elevation was designated as a critical threshold in the agreement to preserve the ability to produce hydropower at Glen Canyon Dam."

The states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Wyoming will face "enhanced monitoring and coordination" in response to the drought forecast—and the trigger is intended to give water officials from those states advanced warning and time to prepare for the drought.

Similar drought response actions for the states on the lower basin of the Colorado River went into effect the year it was signed, according to Runyon, and Nevada, Arizona, and Mexico are already dealing with reduced water allotments.

Seven U.S. states and two Mexican states signed the historic Drought Contingency Plan in 2019. Since then, drought conditions have expanded across the river's watershed. In 2020, exceptional drought conditions reached 65 percent of the watershed.

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