From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 5, Number 7 - May 12, 2005
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Compact meeting set for Pinedale

by Cat Urbigkit

Wyoming State Engineer Pat Tyrrell will join Wyoming's Upper Colorado River Commission Alternate Commissioners in holding three public meetings to discuss issues relating to the Colorado River compacts. The first meeting will be held Tuesday, May 24, at 7 p.m. in the Sublette County Library in Pinedale.

In particular, the ongoing drought and corresponding low water level in Lake Powell prompted Tyrrell to evaluate the need for more timely water use information in Wyoming's Green River Basin. Topics to be discussed include preliminary work undertaken by the State Engineer's Office to assess Colorado River compacts' administration and how the compacts address water-shortage conditions.

Tyrrell said earlier this year that Wyoming needs to be planning ahead for the possibility of a massive "call" on the river, with water regulation and restrictions.

This spring's meetings will kick off the process of gathering public comment on what should be incorporated into the state's plan in the event of a compact curtailment. Theearliestregulation of the Upper Basin would take place, should conditions deteriorate further, would be in 2007 or 2008.

The plan will serve as a last resort, Tyrrell said, adding that it could only be implemented once things were worked out with Lower Basin states to prove that a call for curtailment was valid.

Last week, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton announced her decision to maintain Colorado River water releases from Lake Powell at their scheduled level for the next five months because drought conditions in the Colorado River Basin have eased during the 2005 water year.

Norton's decision followed a mid-year review she had included in the 2005 Annual Operating Plan for the Colorado River Reservoirs to determine if levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead and the runoff forecast for these reservoirs warranted adjusting releases from Lake Powell for the remaining five months of this water year.

While affirming the ability of the Secretary to make adjustments to releases from Lake Powell as part of annual operations, Norton determined that an adjustment was not warranted at this time.

Norton's decision means that by Sept. 30 (the end of the 2005 water year) about 8.23 million-acre feet of water will have been released from Glen Canyon Dam.

Norton made her decision after detailed consultations with the Colorado River Management Work Group, which represents the seven Basin State governors, federal agencies, academic and scientific communities, environmental groups, the recreation industry, hydropower contractors and the public.

Norton noted that she had urged the basin states to develop a consensus plan on managing the river during drought, including reservoir levels and releases from Lake Powell. However, the states were unable to reach agreement.

Because of the need to improve coordinated management of the Colorado River reservoirs due to the current and future droughts, Norton informed the governors that the Interior Department will convene a meeting of the Colorado River Management Work Group by May 31, 2005, to determine the most appropriate way to address issues in the Colorado River Basin.

"At a minimum, these consultations should address the development of guidelines for Lower Basin shortages and conjunctive management of Lake Powell and Lake Mead," Norton said. "It is my expectation that the Department will complete these processes by December 2007."

"We do not underestimate the challenges facing us in this effort," Norton said. "The importance of the Colorado River to the Southwest for water supply, hydropower production, fish and wildlife, recreation and other benefits dictates that all parties work together to find creative solutions that will conserve reservoir storage and help to minimize the adverse effects of drought in the basin."

Under a 1922 compact, Colorado River water is divided between the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, and the Lower Basin states of California, Nevada and Arizona.

Lake Powell, one of two major reservoirs for the system, releases water for the Lower Basin States and to help fulfill U.S. treaty obligations to Mexico. Water released from Lake Powell, which is on the Arizona-Utah border, is stored at Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border for delivery to the Lower Basin States and Mexico.

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