Colorado River Storage Project

Colorado River Storage Project map
Colorado River Storage Project map

The 1956 Colorado River Storage Project Act has had a significant impact on the development and management of water in the Upper Colorado River Basin. The 1956 act authorized construction of the Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP) which allowed for comprehensive development of the water resources of the Upper Basin states (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming) by providing for long-term regulatory storage of water for purposes including, regulating the Colorado River, storing water for beneficial use, allowing Upper Basin States to utilize their Colorado River Compact apportionments, providing for the reclamation of arid lands, control of floods and generation of hydroelectric power. The Colorado River Storage Project is one of the most complex and extensive river resource developments in the world.

There are four initial storage units built as part of the CRSP:

and a number participating projects (16 of which have been completed or are in process of completion). The purposes of the CRSP identified in the 1956 act include regulating the flow of the Colorado River, storing water for beneficial consumptive use, providing for reclamation of arid and semi-arid lands, providing flood control, and generating hydropower. The CRSP also provides for recreation and improves conditions for fish and wildlife.

During the 1960's and 1970's, public concern over the environment resulted in new federal environmental laws. The enactment of the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act, the 1973 Endangered Species Act, and the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act outlined new requirements for the protection and enhancement of fish, wildlife, and the environment. Administration of these laws has modified the operation of CRSP facilities.

The dams of the CRSP main storage units have a combined live storage capacity of 30.6 million acre-feet and power generation capabilities to provide over five billion kilowatt-hours of energy annually. Glen Canyon Dam is the largest of the CRSP facilities and is the key unit for controlling water releases to the Lower Basin. In 1970, the Criteria for Coordinated Long-Range Operation of Colorado River Reservoirs (Operating Criteria) was established to provide for the coordinated operation of reservoirs in the Upper and Lower basins and set conditions for water releases from Lake Powell and Lake Mead. In accordance with the Operating Criteria, an objective release of 8.23 million acre-feet per year is targeted for downstream delivery.

The multipurpose CRSP has not only been integral to the development of the arid West, it has also played a vital sustaining role through extended periods of drought. The many benefits provided by the CRSP are essential to life in the West today.

CRSP project mapThe Upper Colorado River Basin Fund (Basin Fund) was established under Section 5 of the CRSP Act. The CRSP Act 'authorized a separate fund in the Treasury of the United States to be known as the Upper Colorado River Basin Fund... for carrying out provisions of this Act other than Section 8'. Money appropriated for construction of CRSP facilities, except recreation and fish and wildlife facilities constructed under Section 8, is transferred to the Basin Fund from the General Fund of the Treasury. Revenues derived from operation of the CRSP and participating projects are deposited in the Basin Fund. Most of the revenues come from sales of hydroelectric power and transmission services. The Basin Fund also receives revenues from M&I water service sales, rents, salinity funds from the Lower Colorado Basin (as a pass-through for the Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program), and miscellaneous revenues collected in connection with the operation of the CRSP and participating projects. Revenues and appropriated funds are accounted for separately in the Basin Fund.

Basin Fund revenues must first be used to repay costs associated with the operation, maintenance, and replacements of, and emergency expenditures for, the CRSP initial units. The fund is then used to repay the United States Treasury Department for the following:

  • The construction costs of the CRSP initial units allocated to the power purpose (with interest thereon)
  • The construction costs of the CRSP initial units allocated to irrigation
  • A portion of salinity investment and operation costs
  • The construction costs of the participating projects allocated to the irrigation investment and above the irrigator's ability to pay

The Basin Fund also supports the following:

  • Cost sharing for Colorado River Basin Salinity Control Program (approximately $2.0 million annually)
  • The major portion of the cost of the Glen Canyon Adaptive Management Program (currently almost $9.5 million annually)
  • Cost sharing for the Upper Colorado and San Juan Endangered Fish Recovery Implementation Programs (currently approximately $7 million annually)
  • Water quality studies
  • Consumptive use studies

The approximately $16.5 million per year of power revenues expended for the Glen Canyon Adaptive Management Program, the Upper Colorado River Recovery Implementation Program, and the San Juan Basin Recovery Program are expenses that are not built into the firm power rates. This arrangement benefits the programs in that they do not need to seek annual appropriations from Congress for these funds. However, this does have an impact to Western in times when firming power purchase expenses are high (due to drought or experimentation) because the moneys are transferred to the program and are not available to purchase the power needed to meet contractual requirements. The Basin Fund is managed by Western. Approximately $120 million in revenue is needed each year to fund Reclamation and Western operation and maintenance needs. Western is responsible for transmission and marketing of CRSP power, collecting payment for the power, and transfer of revenues for repayment to the United States Treasury Department. A change in the amount of available capacity or energy could potentially affect the revenue derived from the sale of energy and the contributions to the Basin Fund, or rates charged to power customers.

CRSP project mapThere are many benefits associated with the multi-purpose Colorado River Storage Project.

  • The Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP) has been integral to the development of the arid West by providing water and hydropower for sustained growth and enhanced quality of life
  • Today, the water storage and other benefits of the CRSP contribute significantly to the needs of the growing population of the West.
  • The 1956 Act authorizing the CRSP, represents a key piece of the overall Colorado River management structure outlined by Law of the River.
  • The CRSP primary units and participating projects conserve the very limited precipitation which falls primarily in the form of snow in the high mountains for municipal, industrial, agricultural, and other beneficial use.
  • CRSP storage is allowing the Upper Colorado River Basin to develop its apportionments of the Colorado River while assuring the required water delivery to the Lower Colorado River Basin as defined in the 1922 Colorado River Compact.
  • The CRSP provides long-term carry-over storage that has a leveling effect on the erratic Colorado flows varying from four to 22 million acre-feet annually.
  • The dams associated with the CRSP initial units (Glen Canyon, Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, Crystal, Navajo) have a total combined live storage capacity of 30.6 million acre-feet, providing for the water needs of millions of people in the seven Colorado River Basin states.
  • Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, the key feature of the CRSP, function like a bank account of water that is drawn upon in times of drought. Without it, during drought periods, the Upper Basin states would realize additional shortages in order to meet Lower Basin delivery obligations.
  • The CRSP is a key facto