Shondiin Silversmith

(Arizona Mirror) The guidelines and strategies set in place to protect the stability and sustainability of the Colorado River, which supplies more than one-third of Phoenix’s water, are set to expire at the end of 2026.

This has prompted the Department of the Interior to initiate the formal process on Thursday, where the Bureau of Reclamation will work to develop the post-2026 Colorado River reservoir operational guidelines and strategies for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

“Developing new operating guidelines for Lake Powell and Lake Mead is a monumentally important task and must begin now to allow for a thorough, inclusive and science-based decision-making process to be completed before the current agreements expire in 2026,” Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton said in a statement.

The Colorado River Basin is currently facing a historic drought, the effects of climate change, and continued low-runoff conditions, reducing water availability across the region.

The new guidelines being developed by the Interior Department will replace the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which are set to expire at the end of 2026.

The Interior Departments’ process is separate from the Lower Basin Plan submitted by Arizona, California, and Nevada in May. The Lower Basin Plan outlines how Arizona, California, and Nevada have agreed to conserve 3 million acre-feet from the Colorado River through the end of 2026. The process announced by the Interior Department will develop guidelines for when the current interim guidelines expire.

“The Bureau of Reclamation is committed to ensuring we have the tools and strategies in place to help guide the next era of the Colorado River Basin, especially in the face of continued drought conditions,” Touton said.

Through the public process, the Department of Interior will gather feedback for the next set of operating guidelines, which includes new strategies that factor in the current and projected hydrology of the Colorado River Basin.

“The Biden-Harris administration has held strong to its commitment to work with states, Tribes and communities throughout the West to find consensus solutions in the face of climate change and sustained drought,” Deputy Secretary of Interior Tommy Beaudreau said in a statement. “Those same partnerships are fundamental to our ongoing work to ensure the stability and sustainability of the Colorado River Basin into the future.”

As part of the notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement, the Department of Interior stated that it would ask the public to consider the past 15 years of operating experience since the adoption of the 2007 Interim Guidelines. It will also ask the public to consider how science should inform future operational guidelines and strategies.

Through the process, the Department of Interior will ask the public to consider whether any of the 2007 Interim Guidelines elements should be retained, modified or eliminated.

The Notice of Intent will be available for public comment until Aug. 15 and can be viewed on the Federal Register website. The Bureau of Reclamation will host three virtual public meetings to provide summary information and receive oral comments on July 17, 18 and 24.

“As we look toward the next several years across the Basin, the new set of operating guidelines for Lake Powell and Lake Mead will be developed collaboratively based on the best available science,” Beaudreau said.

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