Bureau of Reclamation
The mission of the Bureau of Reclamation is to “manage, develop, and protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public.”
Established in 1902, Reclamation is best known for the dams, powerplants, canals and other water conveyance infrastructure it constructed and maintains across the 17 western states. Water from those projects led to homesteading and promoted the economic development of the western United States. On the Colorado River, Reclamation’s projects include the iconic Hoover Dam and Glen Canyon Dam. Its multipurpose projects continue to provide safe and dependable water and power supplies for agricultural, municipal and industrial users.
Today, Reclamation is the largest wholesaler of water and second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the United States. It maintains 492 dams and 338 reservoirs and provides 10 trillion gallons of water to more than 31 million people in the western U.S. each year. It provides 140,000 western farmers with irrigation water for 10 million acres of farmland, which produce 60% of the nation’s vegetables and 25% of its fresh fruit and nut crops. Its 53 hydroelectric powerplants provide an average of 40 billion kilowatt hours of clean, renewable electricity. Its 289 recreation sites welcome about 90 million visitors each year. Overall, Reclamation’s facilities, projects and operations contribute more than $48 billion each year to the national economy and support about 387,777 jobs.
In the Colorado River Basin, Reclamation coordinates its work between two regional offices—the Lower Colorado Region and Upper Colorado Region—which function within the Lower and Upper Colorado River Basins as defined by the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
Upper Colorado Region
In the Upper Colorado Region, Reclamation works in partnership with the Upper Basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming), other federal agencies, Native American Tribes, water users, power customers, environmental groups and other stakeholders to identify and implement creative and collaborative solutions to Colorado River water issues. It operates federal water and power infrastructure for the benefit of the entire Upper Basin, according to the comprehensive Law of the River, and helps facilitate the states’ development of their apportioned share of Colorado River water.
Additionally, the Upper Colorado Region works closely with the Upper Colorado River Commission, an interstate administrative agency created by Congress under the 1948 Upper Colorado River Basin Compact. The Commission, which includes commissioners from all four Upper Basin states and the federal government, 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.
Colorado River Storage Project
Congress authorized the Colorado River Storage Project Act (CRSP) in 1956 to enable comprehensive water resource development in the Upper Basin, along with long-term regulatory water storage meet river flow requirements for the Lower Basin.
More information about the Colorado River Storage Project, its benefits to the west, and Reclamation’s management of key project facilities is available here: Learn More ⟶
CRSP Initial Projects
- Glen Canyon Dam ⟶
- Flaming Gorge ⟶
- Aspinall Unit ⟶ (Blue Mesa, Morrow Point & Crystal Dams)
- Navajo Dam ⟶
Lower Colorado Region
The Lower Colorado Region coordinates with the Lower Basin states (Arizona, California and Nevada) to administer Reclamation’s role as the custodian of the lower Colorado River on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior, who functions as the “water master.” Rights apportioned by compacts, legislation and a U.S. Supreme Court Decree spell out how much water each Lower Basin state is entitled to receive. Arizona is allotted 2.8 MAF, California 4.4 MAF and Nevada 300,000 acre-feet. Each basin also contributes 750,000 acre-feet of water to Mexico annually, to meet the United States’ 1.5 MAF Colorado River water delivery obligation, as required by the 1944 Water Treaty with Mexico.
The Lower Colorado Region seeks creative ways to meet the changing and contemporary needs of the Colorado River Basin. Its operational priorities include (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. The Western Area Power Administration 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, 9.5 MAF of water is released from Hoover Dam, helping meet the domestic needs of more than 30 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 generate more than 6 billion kilowatt hours of power in an average year; enough electricity to meet the needs of more than 2.5 million people.
Lower Basin Projects
- The Boulder Canyon Project includes Hoover Dam, Imperial Diversion Dam and the All-American Canal
- The Parker-Davis Project includes Davis Dam and Parker Dam.
- The Robert B. Griffith Project serves Southern Nevada.
- The Central Arizona Project serves Arizona.
- The Yuma Project serves irrigated farmlands in Southwestern Arizona and Southeastern California.
- The Palo Verde Diversion Dam serves irrigated farmlands in Southeastern California.
Recreation at Reclamation Projects
Reclamation projects in the Colorado River Basin have created some of America's premier recreational opportunities. Boating, camping, fishing and many other outdoor activities are readily available. The Colorado River’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, have become international destination areas. 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 power plants. 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.
Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program
Salinity in the Colorado River impacts agricultural, municipal and industrial water users across the basin. The Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Act was authorized by Congress in 1974.
Under the program, which was amended in 1984 and 1995, Reclamation uses a variety of approaches to improve salinity-related water quality in the river.
Reclamation operates its Colorado River facilities and programs to balance the needs for water and power resources with the responsibility to protect habitats, ecosystems and species in and along the river. It must also promote the recovery and conservation of endangered species and their habitats. The construction and operation of dams on the Colorado River system is 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, the Upper Colorado River Fish Recovery Program was developed for the river and its tributaries in the upper basin, including the Green River. A similar plan, the San Juan River Basin Recovery Implementation Program, was developed for the San Juan River. In addition, the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program provides a process for cooperative integration of dam operations, downstream resource protection and management, and monitoring and research information. These plans allow for the operation of the Upper Basin dams in compliance with the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center measures effects of Glen Canyon Dam operations on the resources along the Colorado River from Glen Canyon Dam to the inflow of Lake Mead.
Environmental and cultural resource protection and improvement programs and activities are also conducted in the Lower Colorado Region. The Lower Colorado River Multi-Species Conservation Program is the most significant of these programs. This 50-year program is designed to create or restore riparian, marsh and backwater habitat for 27 species native to the region.