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Grand Canyon Flow Management Delayed Again (AZ)

Posted: 05/25/2023
By: Kestrel Kunz and Hattie Johnson

On May 22, the federal government announced it was postponing planning efforts for the Colorado River basin in order to assess a new proposal brought forward by the lower Colorado River Basin states. This is a big turn of events since we reported on this two weeks ago and called you all to take action. While it’s important that consensus was made to reduce consumptive use by the lower basin states, there are a lot of unanswered questions and much more work to be done.

The proposal from the lower Basin states includes a total of 3 million acre-feet of water cuts (12.3% of Lake Powell’s capacity) by 2026. The majority of the water cuts, 2.3 million acre-feet, would be compensated by the federal government under the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 and the remaining 700,000 acre-feet would be uncompensated, voluntary reductions. The lower basin proposal emphasizes that their plan, if approved, will not require the federal government to step in and dictate mandatory water cuts for each state. The states don’t want to be told what to do and the federal government doesn’t want to be sued, but rather than reaching a stalemate the federal government is considering adopting this plan. 

What we don’t know yet is what this will mean for river flows in the Grand Canyon below Glen Canyon Dam. The Bureau of Reclamation is taking this time to analyze this proposal using its models for reservoir operations and river flows. While we are in somewhat of a waiting game, it is our job to ensure that this analysis fully considers the impacts to the environment and recreation opportunities in the Grand Canyon. 

The comments that we collected from the river community are still very relevant and we will ensure that they are resubmitted during the next public comment phase slated for late Summer or Fall of this year. The best thing that you can do is to be ready to continue to engage on this when the next draft plan is released and help ensure the voice of river enthusiasts is heard loud and clear. 

While the robust snowpack has given the Colorado River Basin a small reprieve, at least something that we can all agree on is that it is not nearly enough to bring water use into balance with what the river provides. While we work through this confusing and nail biting short-term planning process, we also anticipate that the long-term (after 2026) planning for river management will kick off in just a couple weeks. 

Photo by Hattie Johnson of Kat Jacaruso Crystal Rapid


Kestrel Kunz

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