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Development of Lower Colorado River Basin Shortage Guidelines & Coordinated Management Strategies for Lakes Powell and Mead
Under Low Reservoir Conditions

About the Project

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In May 2005, the Secretary directed Reclamation to develop specific Colorado River Lower Basin shortage guidelines and coordinated reservoir management strategies to address operations of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, particularly under low reservoir conditions. It was anticipated that, among other elements, these strategies would identify those circumstances under which the Secretary would reduce annual water deliveries from Lake Mead such that use of mainstem water by the Lower Division states (Arizona, California, and Nevada) is below the 7.5 million acre-feet (maf) apportionment (a “Shortage”) pursuant to Article II of the Decree in Arizona v. California.

Reclamation issued a Federal Register notice on June 15, 2005 which gave public notice of the proposed Action and solicited public input on the content, format, mechanism, and analyses to be considered during the development of the proposed shortage guidelines and reservoir management strategies. A series of public meetings were held and the level of public interest and comment was high. The outcome of this process was a decision by the Secretary to begin a formal NEPA process and preparation of an EIS.

On September 30, 2005, Reclamation published a Notice of Intent to prepare an EIS and described the proposed Action as having two elements: 1) adoption of specific (interim) Lower Basin Shortage Guidelines, and 2) coordinated reservoir management strategies to address operations of Mead and Powell under low reservoir conditions. In November 2005, Reclamation held four public scoping meetings in the Colorado River Basin (Salt Lake City, Utah; Denver, Colo; Phoenix, Ariz; and Henderson, Nev.) to introduce the project and solicit public comments on the scope. Comments received during the scoping process identified a broad range of concerns regarding the availability and reliability of Colorado River water supplies. While many of the concerns related to operations during drought and under low reservoir conditions, there were other comments that expressed a need to consider other water supply, water management, and operational strategies or programs that could improve the availability and reliability of Colorado River water supplies. After thorough consideration of these issues and comments, the Interior Department determined that the Proposed Action will address this broader range of issues and comments.

The Proposed Federal Action now has four key elements and they are:

  • Shortage strategy for Lake Mead and the Lower Division states
  • Coordinated operation of Lakes Powell and Mead
  • Mechanism for the storage and delivery of system and non-system water in Lake Mead
  • Proposed modification/extension of the existing Interim Surplus Guidelines

Environmental Review Process

Pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Reclamation conducted public scoping meetings in November 2005 in support of the preparation of the EIS. A Scoping Summary Report that summarizes the issues raised during scoping and describes the Interior Department’s assessment of the scope of the environmental analysis that will be included in the draft EIS was published in March 2006. The next step in the EIS process is to develop the project’s range of alternatives. Reclamation’s goal is to develop a sufficient number of alternatives that will permit the evaluation of the full range of operational elements being considered under the Proposed Action. This will enable Reclamation to identify the water supply management and operational strategies that provide the greatest benefit and that best meet the purpose and need of the Proposed Action. The proposed alternatives will be completed and made available to the public in May 2006.

Webmaster: Colleen Dwyer, cdwyer@lc.usbr.gov
Updated: March 2006