5
Colorado River Basin Drought Planning Strategies and Organizations

Water managers in the Colorado River basin and across the U.S. West have long coped with occasional drought and water shortages. The drought of the early 2000s will surely be followed at some point by wetter conditions. Nevertheless, findings derived from tree-ring-based reconstructions, along with temperature trends and projections for the western United States, point toward a future in which droughts—some of them severe—are likely to recur with greater frequency and duration. And, as explained by the U.S. Geological Survey in describing possible impacts of drought conditions such as those experienced from the 1940s though the late 1970s across the region, “The region’s population has increased fourfold since the mid-1950s, creating the possibility of severe consequences if such a drought were repeated” (USGS, 2002). Increasing urban populations and water demands over the past two decades have highlighted the importance of drought planning in the context of urban water management. The value of preparing for, detecting, and responding to Colorado River drought conditions will only become greater in the future.

Drought is a recurrent phenomenon across the western United States; in fact, historical records show that drought occurs somewhere in the West almost every year (Wilhite, 1997a). Droughts are part of normal climate patterns in the Colorado River region but they do not occur with any clearly identified regularity and are difficult to forecast (see Box 2-3). Drought is a slow-onset event and drought conditions are often well under way before its presence is widely recognized. Moreover, the lack of universal standards for defining drought means that it is not always clear when drought has begun or ended.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability 5 Colorado River Basin Drought Planning Strategies and Organizations Water managers in the Colorado River basin and across the U.S. West have long coped with occasional drought and water shortages. The drought of the early 2000s will surely be followed at some point by wetter conditions. Nevertheless, findings derived from tree-ring-based reconstructions, along with temperature trends and projections for the western United States, point toward a future in which droughts—some of them severe—are likely to recur with greater frequency and duration. And, as explained by the U.S. Geological Survey in describing possible impacts of drought conditions such as those experienced from the 1940s though the late 1970s across the region, “The region’s population has increased fourfold since the mid-1950s, creating the possibility of severe consequences if such a drought were repeated” (USGS, 2002). Increasing urban populations and water demands over the past two decades have highlighted the importance of drought planning in the context of urban water management. The value of preparing for, detecting, and responding to Colorado River drought conditions will only become greater in the future. Drought is a recurrent phenomenon across the western United States; in fact, historical records show that drought occurs somewhere in the West almost every year (Wilhite, 1997a). Droughts are part of normal climate patterns in the Colorado River region but they do not occur with any clearly identified regularity and are difficult to forecast (see Box 2-3). Drought is a slow-onset event and drought conditions are often well under way before its presence is widely recognized. Moreover, the lack of universal standards for defining drought means that it is not always clear when drought has begun or ended.

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability Effective drought planning may be best accomplished in periods of water surplus, but there are often few compelling incentives to develop drought management plans during periods of high precipitation and “surplus” water. Human nature being what it is, droughts are not easy to anticipate and carefully plan for. For much of the 20th century the traditional approach for coping with periodic water shortages (and to spur development) in the Colorado River basin was to construct storage reservoirs with sufficient capacity to both support future growth and meet water demands during drought. This practice was viable for many years; however, this strategy requires access to untapped (and previously undammed) water sources, good reservoir sites, strong congressional support, and a citizenry willing to accept the environmental costs associated with dam construction. Not all these conditions exist as they did in the early and mid-20th century and the prospects for expanding storage capacity via large federal reservoirs are essentially at an end across the West. And, regardless of human desires, dams do not create water resources, they only allow storage of natural precipitation and streamflow. During the 1950s and 1960s, water storage capacity greatly expanded in the Colorado River basin, with Lake Mead and Lake Powell providing a combined storage capacity of roughly 55 million acre-feet—almost four times the river’s annual average flow. As a result, water supply problems afflicting the Colorado River basin today thus relate less to storage capacity (for example, in 2006 most of the basin’s reservoirs were well below capacity and could store much more water) and more to limited supply, as well as to incessant increases in water demands. Moreover, as former Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner John Keys stated, “The days of the large [dam] project with the federal government as the sole funding source are over” (Keys, 2006). This of course does not mean there will be no new water storage projects, but it does mean that new projects will require close cooperation between water users, and multiple parties to plan, finance, build, operate, and maintain facilities. This report notes that water projects of the future are less likely to entail new dams and reservoirs and more likely will be focused on urban water conservation, landscaping, education programs, and better management of existing supplies. Accordingly, there will likely be some shifts in how organizations and citizens cope with recurrent drought and water shortages.

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability Regardless of when drought conditions might abate, the Colorado River basin states face some sobering prospects with regard to the balance between long-term water availability and demands. Increasing population growth and water demands mean that the Colorado River storage system will have less water available in storage and will take longer to recover in future droughts (Fulp, 2005a). Good drought detection, mitigation, and preparedness programs thus will be increasingly important. This chapter discusses issues of drought planning and coping with water shortages, especially in the rapidly urbanizing Colorado River basin. It identifies organizations, programs, and studies aimed at improving drought planning and response.1 It also discusses strategies that municipalities have used to help conserve water, especially during drought. FEDERAL-LEVEL PROGRAMS Drought Policy Legislation and the National Integrated Drought Information System The 1990s and early 2000s saw substantial efforts to enhance national-level drought preparedness, through federal legislation and through the creation of a National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS). The Western Governors Association (WGA) provided a strong impetus for these initiatives. In 1996, the western governors set a goal to change the way the nation prepares for and responds to droughts, calling for a national policy to be enacted “which provides for a comprehensive, coordinated and integrated approach to future droughts” (see http://www.westgov.org/wga/initiatives/drought2.htm). The western governors soon thereafter adopted the Drought Response Plan of 1996, which included recommendations to improve federal and state responses to droughts. The plan also called for the development of a national drought policy or framework to integrate federal, state, regional, and local actions. With strong support from WGA, the National Drought Policy Act of 1998 was signed into law. That 1998 act established the National Drought Policy Commis- 1 See http://wwa.colorado.edu/resources/colorado_river/management_use.html for a more extensive listing of some of these entities.

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability sion, which issued a report in 2000 that served as a basis for future drought-specific legislation. Then, in 2003, the National Drought Preparedness Act was first introduced in the U.S. Senate, with a companion bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives (different versions of that draft legislation currently are pending in Congress). In 2006, the NIDIS Act was introduced to enhance the nation’s drought early warning system, provide drought monitoring, and develop drought policy and planning techniques. The NIDIS is likely to be housed within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and will collaborate with partners such as the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska. As this report went to press, that bill had passed the U.S. House of Representatives and was awaiting consideration by the Senate. Bureau of Reclamation The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is one of three primary federal agencies with drought-related responsibilities (the other two are the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). Title II of the Reclamation States Emergency Drought Relief Act of 1991 (P.L. 102-250) authorizes the Bureau of Reclamation to undertake drought mitigation activities in consultation with other appropriate federal and state officials (of all 50 states and U.S. territories); tribes; and public, private, and local entities. The two major components of the program (1) relate to response activities during times of actual drought events for construction of temporary facilities, management, and conservation measures to minimize drought-related losses, and (2) provide assistance in preparing plans to prevent and mitigate effects from future drought events. This is usually contingent upon annual federal appropriations, frequently through an emergency supplemental bill (as opposed to sustained annual funding). The Bureau of Reclamation is involved in several drought-specific programs that provide technical assistance to state and local agencies (e.g., irrigation districts) regarding water management alternatives and system improvements. Examples of these activities include assisting project offices in forecasting water supplies, assisting in water transfers requiring use of Bureau of Reclamation project facilities, modifying project facilities or operations, and helping develop state drought indices. In managing its water storage and deliv-

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability ery system across the Colorado River basin, the Bureau of Reclamation considers ways in which it might help mitigate drought conditions; as this report went to press, for example, the Bureau of Reclamation released a draft environmental impact statement regarding coordinated operations for Lakes Powell and Mead under low reservoir conditions (http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/strategies/draftEIS/index.html). As explained in Chapter 2, the Bureau of Reclamation is responsible for implementing many provisions of the Colorado River Compact and the Law of the River, such as water delivery obligations from the upper basin to the lower basin, and from the United States to Mexico. In addition to legal obligations, the Bureau of Reclamation makes many operations decisions in an effort to balance different, often competing, management objectives. Reclamation employs real time data, weather and climate forecasts, and water demand forecasts as inputs to decision support systems used in systems operations. The Bureau of Reclamation makes these decisions on a variety of time scales, as reflected in documents such as its Annual Operating Plan. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Colorado Basin River Forecast Center The Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) is part of the National Weather Service and is located in Salt Lake City. The CBRFC issues operational forecasts for upper and lower Colorado River basin weather (along with local offices) and streamflow, on time scales ranging from minutes to seasons. The center provides forecasts of April through July runoff to the Bureau of Reclamation as the year progresses. Streamflow forecasts in the headwaters regions are issued jointly by the Natural Resources Conservation Service Water and Climate Center (located in Portland, Oregon) and by CBRFC. Forecasts of streamflow on the Colorado River mainstem are primarily developed by CBRFC, which maintains a technical database of river systems across the region.

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessment The Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessment (RISA) program combines scientific expertise from government and academic institutes to support research that addresses climate-related issues of concern to policy planners and decision makers at a regional level. Colorado River region RISA programs include the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado, the Climate Assessment of the Southwest at the University of Arizona, and the California Applications Project at Scripps Institution of Oceanography (http://www.climate.noaa.gov/cpo_pa/risa/). All these programs contain research foci concerning climate variability and change, in concert with water supplies and impacts on socioeconomic sectors. The RISA programs work with water managers to assist them in using climate information in decision making. U.S. Department of Agriculture The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and its Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) are involved in several drought-related programs. USDA provides a variety of drought assistance programs, including disaster assistance and emergency loans. The NRCS promotes drought awareness and preparation through its “Defending against Drought” program (see http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/feature/highlights/drought.html). NRCS also sponsors the National Water and Climate Center, which provides information on snowpack and water supply forecasts in the western United States. STATE-LEVEL PROGRAMS Drought is usually experienced initially at the local and regional levels, and given the limited history of national-level programs to address drought, states have emerged as important innovators in ways to reduced long-term vulnerability to drought (http://www.drought.unl.edu/mitigate/status.htm). A 1997 paper prepared for the Western Water Policy Review Advisory Commission noted that, “In the United States, States are clearly the policy innovators for drought management” (Wilhite, 1997b). Much of the innovation on the

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability drought preparedness and planning front has taken place in the past three decades. During the U.S. drought of 1976–1977, no state had a formal drought plan, and in 1982 only three states had drought plans. But as of October 2006, 37 states had drought plans, 2 states delegated planning to local authorities instead of having a single state-level plan, and 2 states were in the process of developing a plan. Only nine states today do not have formal drought plans (Wilhite, 1997b). All the Colorado River basin states have some type of formal drought action or management plans, with varying emphases on mitigation, response, and delegating drought planning to local entities. In fact, one of the first states to develop a drought plan was Colorado (Wilhite, 1997b). When Colorado developed the plan in 1981 it was one of the three states in the nation with a drought plan. The plan has since been revised in order to improve the state’s capacity to cope with water shortages. The Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan is administered by the Office of Emergency Management under the authority of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources (http://cwcb.state.co.us/Conservation/pdfsDocs/ColoradoDroughtResponsePlan.pdf). More information, including an up-to-date and comprehensive listing of the various state-level drought planning programs in the Colorado River basin (and the entire nation)is available through the National Drought Mitigation Center (http://drought.unledu/plan/stateplans.htm;). Western Governors Association and the Western States Water Council The Western States Water Council (WSWC) is headquartered in Midvale, Utah and was created by the WGA in 1965. Its purposes are to (1) accomplish effective cooperation among western states in conservation, development, and management of water resources; (2) maintain state prerogatives while identifying ways to accommodate legitimate federal interests; (3) provide a forum for the exchange of views, perspectives, and experiences among member states; and (4) provide analysis of federal and state developments in order to assist member states in evaluating impacts of federal laws and programs and the effectiveness of state laws and policies. The 17 western contiguous states and Alaska are members of the WSWC, which has a full-time staff at its Midvale headquarters and issues reports on many different western water policy issues, including drought (see WGA

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability [2006] for a WSWC-WGA report on water needs and strategies; see WGA [2004] for a report on drought response). The WSWC has also been instrumental in promoting federal legislation and related actions aimed at drought mitigation. The WGA has played a pivotal role in western drought activities since the Texas-Oklahoma-New Mexico drought of 1995-1996, which led to the formation of the Western Drought Coordinating Council (WDCC) in 1997. Since then, drought has been present in each successive year through 2006 somewhere in the 11 westernmost states. The WDCC led to the formation of the National Drought Policy Commission in 1999 and the Interim National Drought Council in 2000. These groups stimulated several more activities of relevance to the Colorado River at the federal level, in which the WGA played a major role, including development of the NIDIS. Interstate Cooperation on Colorado River Water Shortages An issue strongly related to drought planning and mitigation across the Colorado River basin is depleted storage levels and Colorado River flows. The Colorado River Compact and its provisions for allocating river flows among states represent a management framework and philosophy with numerous interstate ramifications. Since Lake Powell initially filled in the early 1980s, there had always been ample water in the lake to meet water release obligations to the lower basin, and the basin states had never developed shortage guidelines. Since then, however, population and water demands in the basin states have steadily increased and have put additional demands and pressures on Lake Powell and other water storage facilities. The Colorado River water supply-and-demand dynamic was changing rapidly and led to an interesting paradox as drought conditions deepened in the early 2000s. For example, at that time there were still concerns over how the basin states might share “surplus” waters in Colorado River reservoirs and, in January 2001, then-Secretary of the Interior Babbitt approved a set of rules known as Interim Surplus Guidelines (Garrick and Jacobs, 2006). But very quickly, the drought of the early 2000s brought the issue of interstate cooperation on coping with Colorado River water shortages to a head, and “[f]ew imagined the transition from surplus to shortage would occur so soon”

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability (Garrick and Jacobs, 2006). As the drought of the early 2000s reached full swing the states began discussing how they might better cooperate in coping with Colorado River water shortages. The drought prompted the basin states to request the Secretary of the Interior to operate Lake Powell and Lake Mead differently; namely, the upper basin states requested that Lake Powell releases be reduced from the traditional minimum of 8.23 million acre-feet per year if the drought continued. The Secretary countered, challenging the basin states “to work together and present to her an alternative acceptable to all seven states for her to include in the EIS she had instructed the Bureau of Reclamation to prepare” (Anderson, 2006). In a notable development, the seven basin states, via a February 3, 2006 letter to the Secretary of the Interior (Appendix A), developed a preliminary shortage management proposal. The proposal, developed in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation and its long-range planning model—the Colorado River Simulation System—attempts to balance competing demands within the existing Law of the River framework (Garrick and Jacobs, 2006). The actual decision regarding shortage guidelines is not final and is subject to an environmental impact statement that is considering how to address the issue of limited water availability during times of low reservoir conditions (the Bureau of Reclamation released its draft EIS in February 2007; see http://www.usbr.gov/lc/region/programs/strategies/draftEIS/index.html). The cooperation reflected by the February 2006 letter from the basin states—which includes agreements on the coordinated management of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, along with other specific provisions—will be an increasingly important part of viable drought preparedness strategies. MUNICIPAL-LEVEL PROGRAMS Several municipalities that use Colorado River water have drought education, preparedness, and response programs, many of which have been successful in reducing urban water demands and in increasing water use efficiencies. In California, for example, the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California is a consortium of cities and water districts that provides drinking water to nearly 18 million people in parts of Los Angeles, Orange, San Diego, Riverside, San Bernardino, and Ventura counties. MWD has several

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability initiatives aimed at water conservation and recycling. Its water conservation programs are guided by MWD’s “Integrated Resources Plan” and by the California Urban Water Conservation Council’s Memorandum of Understanding Regarding Urban Water Conservation in California. In Colorado, Denver Water provides water to over 1 million people in the Denver metropolitan region and surrounding communities and water districts (Kenney et al., 2004). Denver Water has an extensive water conservation program that includes xeriscaping education and assistance, advice on self-audits, irrigation efficiency, and other water saving measures. These programs have good potential for helping conserve water supplies and proved effective at reducing water uses in the early 2000s. Through a combination of measures, Denver Water and several other water providers in Colorado’s Front Range were able to reduce per capita water uses in 2002. Periods of mandatory water restrictions were especially effective, resulting in per capita savings ranging from 18 to 56 percent, as compared to 4-12 percent savings during periods of voluntary restrictions (Kenney et al., 2004). In Nevada, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) is a cooperative agency governed by seven water districts and municipalities in the region, including the cities of Boulder City, Henderson, and Las Vegas. It relies heavily on the Colorado River, from which it derives 90 percent of its water. SNWA promotes water conservation and efficiency through water restrictions, water savings rebates, and several other programs (e.g., xeriphytic landscaping and modern irrigation technologies). SNWA also issued a Drought Plan in 2005, which was developed initially in response to the drought across the region in the early 2000s. The plan outlines water demands, conservation goals, and drought response measures. SNWA’s efforts have paid off, as Southern Nevada’s consumptive water use declined by about 20 billion gallons between 2002 and 2005, despite the fact that the region added nearly 250,000 new residents in this same period (http://www.snwa. com/html/drought_index.html). Although there have been many innovative urban water conservation programs and strategies across the Colorado River region in the past decade, no organization or program formally documents or otherwise coordinates these various urban water conservation measures, regional water forecasting techniques, or drought planning strategies.

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability There are also few efforts to compare and contrast the many water conservation activities at the municipal or household levels, or to compare historical strategies and initiatives for coping with drought conditions, across the region. Several organizations and studies, however, have promoted drought preparedness activities and better management of urban and other water resources during drought periods. OTHER ORGANIZATIONS AND INITIATIVES The National Drought Mitigation Center The National Drought Mitigation Center (NDMC), located at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, helps people and institutions develop and implement measures to reduce societal vulnerability to drought. The center stresses drought preparedness and risk management (as opposed to crisis management) in coping with drought. Most of NDMC’s services are directed to state, federal, regional, and tribal governments that are involved in drought and water supply planning. Its primary activities include maintaining an information clearinghouse and drought portal; drought monitoring, including participation in the preparation of the U.S. “Drought Monitor” (see below) and maintenance of the Drought Monitor website (http://www.drought.unl.edu/dm/monitor.html); drought planning and mitigation; drought policy; advising policy makers; collaborative research; K-12 outreach; workshops for federal, state, and foreign governments and international organizations; organizing and conducting seminars, workshops, and conferences; and providing data to and answering questions for the media and the general public. The NDMC also participates in international projects, including establishment of regional drought preparedness networks in collaboration with the United Nations’ Secretariat for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. In response to a series of droughts in the West and a developing drought in the northeastern United States, the Drought Monitor was first posted on the Internet on May 20, 1999. The Drought Monitor is both a process and a product. The process involves electronic receipt of weekly input from about 150-200 federal, regional, state, and uni-

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability versity drought specialists offering information on climate and on impacts in their geographical or topical area of expertise. Drought Monitor participants are from the NDMC, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and USDA. These groups synthesize information on drought and its impacts and determine a weekly classification at every location in the country. This is vetted in an iterative national exchange, with the product being the Drought Monitor map posted at the NDMC website. By all accounts this experiment has been successful in generating discussions that have stimulated several operational products and important research questions (see a series of articles in a 2002 issue of the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society: Heim, 2002; Keyantash and Dracup, 2002; Redmond, 2002; Svoboda et al., 2002). Urban Water Management and Collaboration Many nonprofit organizations and recent studies focus on the issues of drought, water shortages, urban water management, climate change and variability, and the links between these topics. It would require an extensive effort and resources to identify and describe all the groups and experts involved in these studies, but this section provides select examples of these initiatives. In doing so, it demonstrates that organizations, experts, and citizens in the Colorado River states are increasingly realizing the importance of urban water management, population growth, and limited water supplies. The Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA) was established to enhance personal relations and communications among water agencies from the seven Colorado River basin states (see also http://www.crwua.org/). It convenes a well-attended annual conference in Las Vegas, with a timely theme and a variety of presentations and poster sessions. CRWUA and its annual conferences have surely enhanced communication among water users and officials across the region. The CRWUA considers the full spectrum of water-related issues of relevance and interest to its members. On the urban water front, the California Urban Water Conservation Council (CUWCC), headquartered in Sacramento, was created to increase efficient water use statewide through partnerships among urban water agencies, public interest organizations, and private entities. Its goal is to integrate urban water conservation best management practices into the plan-

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability ning and management of California's water resources. A memorandum of understanding was signed by nearly 100 water agencies in 1991; since then, CUWCC has grown to 354 members (see http://www.cuwcc.org/home.html). Groups such as CRWUA and CUWCC have contributed greatly to sharing information on urban and other water practices among professionals. Studies and Workshops on Drought, Climate Change, and Urban Water Management The issues of drought monitoring, preparedness, impacts, and response are frequent topics at workshops and meetings, with a variety of sponsors and participants, across the western United States. The interest surrounding drought impacts in the western United States and Colorado River basin is not new (Box 5-1, for example, describes a major drought study conducted in the early and mid-1990s). There is no question, though, that the drought of the early 2000s sparked intense interest across the region in drought-related topics. The drought of the early 2000s and its implications for the Colorado River Compact were the focus of the University of Colorado Natural Resources Law Center Annual Conference in July 2005 (http://wwa.colorado.edu/resources/colorado_river/hard_times_ con-ference/index.html). The New Mexico School of Law Water Policy Conference featured discussion of federal and state institutional responses to drought at its annual conference in May 2005. And in September 2006 a meeting of the NIDIS was convened in Longmont, Colorado, with participants from federal and state agencies, the NDMC, and the WGA. Other examples of recent studies on urban water and water shortages across the region include a 2003 study from Western Resources Advocates in Boulder, Colorado (WRA, 2003) that compares urban water efficiencies across the Colorado River states; a 2006 report on the linkages between water utility operations and drought and climate change (e.g., AWWA and UCAR, 2006); and a 2006 report on Arizona water management innovations,

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability BOX 5-1 Colorado River Basin Severe Sustained Drought Study In the early 1990s the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Department of the Interior provided funding for a study on the effects of a major drought on the Colorado River basin. The Severe Sustained Drought (SSD) study was overseen by the Powell Consortium and was conducted by an interdisciplinary team of water resources experts from across the region. It included studies in several topical areas, including tree-ring reconstructions of historic runoff, hydrologic analyses of the probability distribution of river flows, engineering simulations of the functioning of water management facilities and institutions, and legal and institutional analyses of interstate water allocation rules (Lord et al., 1995). The study lasted roughly 10 years and one of its primary products was a series of papers published in a 1995 edition of the Water Resources Bulletin, the journal of the American Water Resources Association. The SSD study led to several interesting findings and was by all indications a useful exercise in thinking about long-term impacts of, and system responses to, severe drought. One interesting point regarding the SSD exercise was the construction of a severe drought scenario. SSD participants wanted to consider extreme drought conditions, and consulted the long-term tree-ring record in a search for severe conditions. Consultant Ben Harding of Hydrosphere Resource Consultants in Boulder, Colorado, worked with the SSD team to create a drought of unprecedented severity, “just the worst kind of drought you could possibly contemplate” (quoted in Jenkins, 2005). Drought conditions in the early 21st century, however, exceeded even this worst-case scenario used in the SSD, in part “because … water uses in the Lower Basin are higher (than was modeled)” (Jenkins, 2005). with an emphasis on managing scarce water supplies in the face of rapid urban growth (Colby and Jacobs, 2006). Organizations such as the CRWUA and CUWCC generally do not have the mandate or resources to gather and systematically evaluate information and issue reports on water use and conservation experiences across the region. There have also been few studies aimed at broad comparisons of urban water management across the entire Colorado River basin (the 2003 study from Western Resource Advocates represents an exception). As discussed above, most drought-planning across the region has tended to be at the municipal and state level; there are signs of increasing cooperation on this front in the

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability form of initiatives like the National Drought Policy Commission and NIDIS. Knowledge of successful and innovative programs for managing urban water during shortage periods tends to be anecdotal, reducing the chances that water managers will benefit by learning of experiences from across the region. A systematic project or study to document and synthesize urban water use strategies from across the region would be a useful reference for municipalities in the Colorado River region, could further encourage interstate cooperation on drought planning, and could provide useful information to other parts of the nation that are experiencing increased water demands and are challenged to meet water demands during periods of drought—especially since it is increasingly appreciated that drought and water shortages are not limited to the arid western states. COMMENTARY The drought of the early 2000s placed heavy demands on the Colorado River basin storage system. Despite sharp drops in storage levels in many of the system’s primary reservoirs, the system demonstrated significant capacity to cope with extended drought conditions and in many respects performed as designed. Whether the system could have adequately handled a longer or more severe drought, however, is an open question and one that should cause water managers and elected officials to consider the basin’s capacity to cope with severe, long-term droughts. This is an especially important issue given the collective evidence from tree-ring-based reconstructions of Colorado River flows, trends and projections that reflect increasing temperatures, and rapidly growing population and urban water demands. Drought conditions tested the region’s institutional capacity to cope with water shortages and gave rise to positive developments in terms of interstate cooperation, scientific information exchange, and a heightened awareness that—even without future severe drought—increasing water demands will continue to stress water supplies. The February 2006 letter from the seven basin states to the Secretary of the Interior that approved a preliminary shortage management proposal bodes well for future cooperation. It will surely be something that the states can build upon in future interstate negotiations regarding drought and water shortages.

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability The interstate cooperation and initiative exhibited by the Colorado River basin states in their February 2006 letter to the Secretary of the Interior is a welcome development that will prove increasingly valuable—and likely essential—in coping with future droughts and growing water demands. Several developments during the drought of the late 1990s and early 2000s promoted communication among the climate sciences community and Colorado River water managers. Many conferences and workshops on drought and water availability were convened and several federal-level initiatives—such as the 2000 report from the National Drought Policy Commission, and support for development of NIDIS—point to a greater emphasis on drought preparedness and communication among climate scientists and the water management community. Lines of communication that were opened and strengthened among the climate science community and Colorado River water managers during the early 2000s drought represented a welcome development. The hydroclimatic sciences community studying drought and water resources across the Colorado River region is large and diverse, encompassing many research topics and themes. It may be impractical for elected officials and federal, state, and municipal water system administrators to follow all relevant developments in these scientific fields; but periodic discussions among climate science experts and water managers can help water system decision makers stay abreast of recent developments. It can also allow water managers to help frame scientific questions and lines of inquiry that would be useful for the water management community. Strong and sustained two-way dialogue will also help climate scientists better understand the legal and political context of decision making, budgets of administrative units, and issues of concern to the water management community. A commitment to two-way communication among scientists and water managers is important and necessary in improving overall preparedness and planning for drought and other water shortages. Active communication among people in these communities should become a permanent fixture within the basin, irrespective of water conditions at any given time. Such dialogue should help scientists frame their investigations toward questions and topics of importance to water managers, and should help water managers keep abreast of recent scientific developments and findings.

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability The Colorado River Compact and much of the Law of the River were framed during an era in which water for irrigation was of paramount concern. This emphasis on Colorado River water for irrigated agriculture has been in a state of flux for many years. Environmental concerns caused a shift in Colorado River management priorities beginning in the 1970s, and marked increases in urban population growth and water demands over the past two decades have made urban water supplies a much higher priority than in an earlier era of Colorado River development. Sharp population growth in nearly every urban area served by Colorado River water has caused municipal water managers to think broadly and creatively about efficient water management and ways to limit per capita water uses. States and municipalities across the region have sponsored many creative and useful water conservation, landscaping, and public education programs, but they have not been documented or coordinated in a systematic fashion across the basin or region (the 2003 study from the Western Resource Advocates has been mentioned). Therefore, it is not easy to obtain comprehensive knowledge of the full spectrum of these practices (and successes or setbacks); this state of affairs limits the ability of water managers to learn about experiences from other urban areas in the region. The science and practice in the related fields of demographic projections and regional water demand forecasting lags behind advances in hydrologic and climate sciences. Moreover, linkages between possible changes in climate and Colorado River water availability, and urban water use programs and strategies, have not been comprehensively documented and explored. Urban water supply-and-demand issues have moved to the fore on the western water landscape. It is therefore important that municipalities and water utilities in the region have good information on future, regional water demands as well as information on successful water utility practices—including drought management—across the region. A thorough investigation of these topics could be used as an action plan to guide and coordinate future urban water management and conservation initiatives across the region. A comprehensive, action-oriented study of Colorado River region urban water practices and changing patterns of demand should be conducted, as such a study could provide a more systematic basis for water resources planning across the region. At a minimum, the study should address and analyze the following issues:

OCR for page 133
Colorado River Basin Water Management: Evaluating and Adjusting to Hydroclimatic Variability historical adjustments to droughts and water shortages, demographic projections, local and regional water demand forecasting, experiences in drought and contingency planning, impacts of increasing urban demands on riparian ecology, long-term impacts associated with agriculture-urban transfers, and contemporary urban water polices and practices (e.g., conservation, landscaping, water use efficiency technologies). The study could be conducted by the Colorado River basin states, a U.S. federal agency or agencies, a group of universities from across the region, or some combination thereof. The basin states and the U.S. Congress should collaborate on a strategy for commissioning and funding this study. These groups should be prepared to take action based on this study’s findings in order to improve the region’s preparedness for future inevitable droughts and water shortages.