Bureau of Reclamation
"To manage, develop, and protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public."
The Bureau of Reclamation helped develop the West by working with State and local entities to plan, construct and implement water storage and delivery and hydroelectric power projects. These projects generated economic growth, improved living conditions and generally enhanced the quality of life throughout the West. Today, Reclamation's multipurpose projects continue to provide safe and dependable water supplies for agricultural, municipal and industrial users. Clean, renewable hydroelectric energy is produced at Reclamation power plants and, at many projects, water quality is protected or improved. Equally important, substantial recreational benefits have been provided by these projects, damaging floods have been controlled, and new fish and wildlife habitat has been created.
Reclamation’s partnership efforts with the states, tribes, local and other entities to meet the traditional, current and future water needs of the Western States are still important today. The challenge of managing the water resources to meet these needs is substantial – much of the West is experiencing dramatic population growth, rapid demographic relocations, drought and impacts to aquatic ecosystems.
The Colorado River
The Colorado River – shared by seven States and the Republic of Mexico - has been called one of the most regulated rivers in the world. This regulation is both structural, with more than 20 major dams in the system, and verbal, through compacts, public laws and an international treaty, all part of “the law of the river.” Modern development of the river began in the early 1900’s; today, the river's reservoirs can store more than 60 million acre-feet of water, or approximately four years of average annual river flow.
The Bureau of Reclamation operates all the major dams on the river and, in consultation with the seven Colorado River Basin states, Tribes, environmental and power and recreational organizations and other parties and in accordance with the various components of “the law of the river,” prepares an Annual Operating Plan that guides the operation of these reservoirs each year.
The Colorado River Basin was divided geographically into an “upper” and a “lower” basin by the 1922 Colorado River Compact. Lee Ferry, 16 miles downstream of Glen Canyon Dam, is the boundary between the upper and lower basins.
Operationally, Reclamation’s Upper Colorado Region, headquartered in Salt Lake City, UT, manages the facilities that are in the “Upper Basin” – parts of Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. The Lower Colorado Region, headquartered in Boulder City, NV, manages the river and facilities in the “Lower Basin” – which includes most of Arizona as well as southern Nevada, southern California, and small sections of western New Mexico and southwestern Utah.
The Upper Colorado River Basin drains an area of more than 108,000 square miles, with major tributaries including the Green, Gunnison and San Juan rivers. Essentially, that includes all drainages to the Colorado River downstream to Lee Ferry and the Grand Canyon.
It is a region of diversity, from the snow packed mountains of Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah to the desert lands of southern Utah and northern Arizona. It encompasses sparsely populated rural areas and rapidly developing urban centers, placing ever-increasing demands on the Upper Basin states' share of the Colorado’s waters.
Reclamation works in partnership with the Upper Basin states - Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming - to develop their share of the Colorado River while striving to ensure that all requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and other applicable legislation, are fully honored. Additionally, Reclamation’s UC Region works closely with the Upper Colorado River Commission, created as an interstate administrative agency when Congress ratified the 1948 Upper Colorado River Basin Compact. The Commission, which represents the Upper Basin states, is responsible for, among other things, making findings of Upper Basin water use, determinations of water deliveries at Lee Ferry and determining the necessity and extent of any curtailment of use necessary to comply with the 1922 Compact.
The guiding force behind development and management of water in the Upper Basin is the Colorado River Storage Project Act (CRSP). This 1956 act allows comprehensive development of the water resources of the Upper Basin states to move forward, while providing for long-term regulatory storage of water to meet the entitlements of the Lower Basin.
There are four main storage units built as part of the CRSP: the Wayne N. Aspinall Unit in Colorado (Blue Mesa, Crystal and Morrow Point dams); Flaming Gorge Dam in Utah; Navajo Dam in New Mexico; and Glen Canyon Dam in Arizona. The key purposes of the storage units are to regulate the flow of the Colorado River, store water for beneficial consumptive use, provide for reclamation of arid and semiarid lands, provide flood control, and generate hydroelectric power. With the enactment of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, Endangered Species Act of 1973, and the Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992, benefits from the CRSP units are also provided for fish and wildlife and other environmental protection purposes.
CRSP Participating Projects
There are also 21 participating projects authorized by Congress; 16 of them are completed or nearly completed. Participating projects develop, or would develop, water in the Upper Colorado River system for irrigation, municipal and industrial uses, and other purposes. These projects participate in the use of revenues from the Upper Colorado River Basin Fund to help repay the costs of irrigation features that are beyond the ability of the water users to repay. More than 554,000 acre-feet of water is provided for irrigation with an annual gross crop value of more than $49 million. Also, more than 110 billion gallons of water are provided annually to meet all or part of the needs of more than 1.2 million people.
In addition to the participating projects, there are a number of older Reclamation projects dating back to the turn of the 20th century which provide water for local needs for people and farmlands in the Upper Basin states. Some, such as Fruitgrowers Dam, Grand Valley and the Uncompahgre Projects in Colorado, and the Strawberry Project in Utah, are among the oldest projects in the Bureau of Reclamation.
The CRSP main units and participating projects store the water that is the result of the limited precipitation that falls principally in the form of snow in the high mountains of the Upper Basin. This water is used for municipal, industrial, and agricultural purposes in the Upper Basin states, as well as to provide the required deliveries to the Lower Basin and Mexico. The combined total live storage capacity of the CRSP main units is 30.6 million acre-feet (MAF), with Glen Canyon Dam/Lake Powell providing for the greatest portion of the total storage capacity and controlling water releases to the Lower Basin and Mexico.
Under the terms of the 1922 Compact, the Upper Basin must deliver 75 MAF to the Lower Basin in any rolling 10-year period (an annual average of 7.5 MAF). Additionally, the Mexican Water Treaty of 1944 provides a 1.5 MAF entitlement of Colorado River water to Mexico annually.
The multi-purpose Colorado River Storage Project provides many significant benefits vital to the needs of the growing population of the Western United States. Foremost is the water storage capacity of Glen Canyon Dam/Lake Powell, which was designed to function like a “bank account” of water. This bank account can be drawn on in times of drought to provide for the needs of the Upper Basin states while meeting delivery obligations to the Lower Basin and Mexico. Without it, the Upper Basin states would have to curtail uses in order to meet Lower Basin delivery requirements during drought periods. As population growth and demand for water increases and the threat of continued drought remains, the vital importance of the CRSP is self-evident.
Another significant benefit provided by CRSP facilities is the generation of hydroelectric power. Glen Canyon Dam powerplant is the third largest powerplant in the Reclamation system, behind Grand Coulee on the Columbia River and Hoover Dam further south on the Colorado. Glen Canyon Dam has a maximum generation capacity of 1,320 megawatts. Additional power is also generated at other CRSP main unit hydroelectric powerplants including Blue Mesa, Morrow Point and Crystal dams in Colorado on the Gunnison River, Fontenelle Dam in Wyoming, and Flaming Gorge Dam in Utah, both on the Green River.
The Lower Colorado River Basin includes the last 688 miles of the Colorado River in the United States. This area is mostly desert, with some parts of the basin receiving only about four inches of precipitation a year. About 90 percent of the water supply in the lower Colorado River comes from snowmelt in the upper basin; the remainder is from inflows into the Colorado River mainstem from tributaries located below Lee Ferry.
Reclamation is the custodian of the waters of the Colorado River in the lower basin on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior, who functions as the “water master” for the lower river. Rights apportioned by compacts, legislation and a U.S. Supreme Court Decree spell out how much Colorado River water each of the lower basin states is entitled to receive when it is available.
Under the 1922 Compact, the lower basin receives, on average, 8.23 million acre-feet (MAF) of Colorado River water from the upper basin each year. This includes 7.5 MAF for the lower basin states, and 750,000 acre-feet for Mexico. The lower basin also contributes 750,000 acre-feet of water to Mexico each year, to meet the United States’ 1.5 MAF Colorado River water delivery obligation to that Nation as required by a 1944 treaty. In addition, an average of 20,000 acre-feet from the Paria River flows into the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam each year, resulting in a total flow of about 8.25 MAF annually from the upper to the lower basin.
All lower basin entities that use Colorado River water, or power from a Reclamation facility on the lower river, must have a valid contract with the Secretary for that water or power. The Secretary is required to prepare an annual report accounting for Colorado River water deliveries and use in the lower basin.
The operational priorities in the Lower Basin are (1) flood control, river regulation and improved navigation; (2) water conservation and storage; and (3) hydroelectric power generation. Water is released from Hoover, Davis and Parker Dams only when requested by downstream users, or when required by flood control regulations. Under normal conditions, only enough water is released to meet downstream orders and the river channel is dry below the last diversion point, Mexico's Morelos Dam, west of Yuma, Arizona. Unless the dams are being operated under flood control criteria, all water releases from these facilities are routed through hydroelectric generators. Water cannot be released from any of these facilities solely for the purpose of generating power. But, the water releases are scheduled to the extent possible to generate the maximum amount of power at the times when it is most needed. Power requirements are provided to Reclamation by the Western Area Power Administration, which markets the power from all of Reclamation’s hydroelectric facilities in the Colorado River Basin.
Colorado River water stored in Lake Mead and released from Hoover Dam has significant benefits. In an average year, about 9.5 MAF of water (more than three trillion gallons) is released from Hoover Dam, helping meet the domestic needs of more than 20 million people and irrigating about 2.5 million acres in the U.S. and Mexico. The three Reclamation hydroelectric power plants on the lower river, with a rated generating capacity of nearly 2,500 megawatts with full reservoirs, generate more than 6 billion kilowatt hours of power in an average year. That’s enough electricity to meet the needs of more than 2.5 million people.
The Boulder Canyon Project, authorized in 1928, includes Hoover Dam, the Imperial Diversion Dam and the All-American Canal. This Act also established the Colorado River water allocations for the states of Arizona, California and Nevada. Hoover Dam, completed in 1935, harnessed the Colorado River, and made it possible to develop smaller downstream projects.
The Parker-Davis Project includes Davis Dam, north of Laughlin, Nev., and Bullhead City, Ariz., and Parker Dam, north of Parker, Ariz.
Davis Dam, completed in 1953, was constructed to meet a requirement of the 1944 U.S.-Mexico Treaty to even out the releases from Hoover Dam and regulate the river for the delivery of water to Mexico. Davis Dam formed Lake Mohave, which is now part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area (which also includes Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam, and more than 1.5 million acres of land surrounding the reservoirs).
Parker Dam, completed in 1938, created Lake Havasu. Colorado River water is pumped from Lake Havasu into coastal southern California through the Colorado River Aqueduct and into central Arizona through the Central Arizona Project aqueduct. Water was first pumped into California from Lake Havasu in 1941; water deliveries from Lake Havasu into central Arizona began in 1985.
Laguna Dam, about 20 miles north of Yuma, Ariz., was the first Reclamation structure constructed on the lower Colorado River. Completed in 1909, the dam is part of the Yuma Project, which delivered water to users in both Arizona and California. This function is now filled by the Imperial Diversion Dam, just upstream of Laguna. With completion of the Gila Project in the 1950s, Colorado River water began to flow to the Yuma Mesa and into the Gila River Valley of Arizona. In 1957, Palo Verde Diversion Dam began diverting water into California's Palo Verde Valley, near Blythe. The Robert B. Griffith Project, constructed in partnership with the Las Vegas Valley Water District, provides municipal water for the Las Vegas Valley. This project was completed in 1982. And the Central Arizona Project, constructed by Reclamation from 1973-1993, delivers water from the Colorado River to cities, Indian Tribes and agricultural users in central and southern Arizona.
The Yuma Desalting Plant, part of the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Project, was constructed to desalt irrigation return flows from the Wellton-Mohawk Valley in southwestern Arizona, to help ensure Colorado River water delivered to Mexico met the terms of a 1973 salinity agreement. Although the plant underwent testing and a limited run in 1992-1993, the United States has been able to meet the requirements of that agreement without operating the plant. It is currently in “ready reserve,” capable of being brought on line should the need arise. In spring 2007, the plant was operated at 10 percent capacity for 90 days, to validate operating cost estimates, demonstrate the use of current technologies, improve overall operational readiness, and measure potential water quality impacts of operation on the Cienega de Santa Clara in Mexico.
Reclamation’s programs in the lower Colorado River basin are today focused on fulfilling its water and power delivery obligations, while also continuing to work closely with the states, local entities and others to investigate future water needs, and seek and implement improved water and power management strategies. This work includes participation in wastewater recycling and reuse, water conservation, and environmental protection and restoration programs.
Reclamation projects in the Colorado River Basin have created some of America's premier recreational opportunities. Activities abound, both above and below the dams. Often such activities are on streams and rivers that would normally run low each summer, or at best not have sufficient water to provide a quality habitat or recreational experience.
Boating, camping, fishing and many other outdoor activities are readily available. Two of the reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, have become international destination areas. The Lake Mead National Recreation Area, the Nation’s first national recreation area, was created around Lake Mead as Boulder Dam Recreation Area in 1937. In 1953, following the construction of Davis Dam, Lake Mohave was added to the LMNRA. Visitor centers at Flaming Gorge, Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams provide information about Reclamation, water management, and the purpose and function of the specific dams and hydroplants. Hoover Dam also offers in-dam tours of a portion of the powerplant and dam. Many of the visitor areas also provide cultural and archaeological interpretive opportunities, and well designed facilities for persons with disabilities. In most instances, the recreational areas on Reclamation projects are managed by other Federal agencies or by state or local entities.
There are 54 reservoirs in the Upper Colorado Region with 32 of them in the Colorado River drainage. Their combined water surface totals 267,295 acres available for recreation and 2,750 miles of shoreline. Annually, more than 9 million visitors use the reservoirs and other project features in the upper basin.
The three major reservoirs on the Colorado River in the Lower Colorado Region provide more than 206,000 acres of water surface when full, and, including river shoreline, more than 1,900 miles of shoreline for year-round recreational pursuits, supporting a multi-billion dollar recreation industry.
Reclamation must ensure its actions do not adversely impact endangered species or their habitats and are not likely to jeopardize their continued existence. Reclamation also must promote the recovery and conservation of endangered species and their habitats. The construction and operation of mainstem and tributary dams on the Colorado River system has been identified as one of several factors affecting the decline of native fishes and other species. .
Although most of the dams on the Colorado River were constructed 20 to 50 years prior to passage of the Endangered Species Act, they are not exempt from its requirements. Reclamation works with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the seven basin states, water and power users, Native American Tribes, and environmental groups to develop programs to protect and preserve these species while still allowing needed water use. Numerous activities are under way throughout the basin to accomplish these goals.
In the Upper Colorado Region, an endangered fish recovery program was developed for the river and its tributaries in the upper basin, including the Green River. A similar plan has been developed for the San Juan River. These plans will allow for the operation of the dams in compliance with the Endangered Species Act.
Environmental and cultural resource protection or improvement programs and activities are also conduced in the Lower Colorado Region. The Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program (LCRMSCP) is one of the most significant of these programs.
Implemented in 2005 after more than 10 years of study and preparation, the LCR MSCP is a coordinated, comprehensive, 50-year multi-agency partnership effort involving federal and state agencies and organizations, Native American Tribes, conservation groups and others. The program’s purposes are to protect the lower Colorado River environment while ensuring the certainty of existing river water and power operations; address the needs of threatened and endangered wildlife under the Endangered Species Act; and reduce the likelihood of listing additional species along the lower Colorado River. Reclamation, in consultation and partnership with a Steering Committee consisting of representatives from the 56 participating entities, is the primary implementing agency for this program.
The LCR MSCP covers areas up to and including the full-pool elevations of Lakes Mead, Mohave and Havasu and the historical floodplain of the Colorado River from Lake Mead to the U.S.-Mexico Southerly International Boundary, a distance of about 400 river miles. Conservation measures currently focus on the area from Hoover Dam to the border, but may include the Grand Canyon in the future.
The LCR MSCP is designed to create or restore riparian, marsh and backwater habitat for four listed endangered species and 16 other species native to the lower Colorado River, and protect and enhance an additional two listed and four non-listed species. In addition, the MSCP partners will participate in existing recovery programs for endangered razorback sucker and bonytail when those programs are finalized for the lower Colorado River. Presently, existing populations of these fish are maintained and augmented through a rearing and stocking program that also preserves their genetic diversity.
The Department of the Interior will provide 50 percent of the program's estimated $626 million cost (2003 dollars), and California, Nevada, and Arizona will jointly provide the other 50 percent (CA-50%, NV-25% and AZ-25%). The implementation activities are based on adaptive management principles, which allow program conservation measures to be adjusted over time based on monitoring and research. Additional information is available at http://www.lcrmscp.gov/.