At Sold-Out Annual Colorado River Conference, Colorado’s Commissioner Stands Strong for State’s Water Users

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(Las Vegas, NV) This week, Rebecca Mitchell, Colorado’s full-time Commissioner to the Upper Colorado River Commission, addressed the more than a thousand Colorado River Water Users Association conference attendees at the 2023 annual meeting in Las Vegas. 

There, Commissioner Mitchell stood up for Colorado water users who live on the front lines of climate change and regularly take significant cuts to their water supply. 

“When we say there’s little water to conserve in Colorado, we’re not being uncooperative. It’s because we don’t have large reservoirs above our diversions,” said Commissioner Mitchell. “We divert directly from creeks, streams, tributaries, and the river itself. We use less water when there’s less available. When we have a bad snowpack, we can’t drain a massive reservoir to bail us out. Instead, our water users go without and aren’t compensated for it. Colorado communities are doing their part, and they feel the pain.”

This year's sold-out conference's theme was ‘Constructing a Resilient Future: Rebuilding From the Ground Up.’ The meetings, panels, and hallway conversations helped set the stage for ongoing negotiations on improving the management of the river’s largest reservoirs– Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Both reservoirs hit record lows in recent years as unprecedented drought and overreliance on the river continue to threaten a water supply for millions of people. The 30 Colorado River Basin Tribes, seven states, and Mexico are confronted with the extraordinary challenge of creating new operating rules for Lake Powell and Lake Mead to sustain and share this dwindling resource.

“My water users have let me know very clearly that they are not going to accept a deal that maintains the status quo and continues to allow the Lower Basin to drain the system at all of our expense, but especially at the expense of the Upper Basin,” Commissioner Mitchell said during a panel with the seven Colorado River Basin States. “Colorado water users are not interested in striking a deal that continues to allow Lower Basin overuse to deplete storage, drive the system to crisis, and then look upstream to us for help.”

Less water flows into Lake Mead than what Nevada, Arizona, and California take from it. This has resulted in a “structural deficit,” contributing to the reservoirs hitting critically low levels. During the seven-state panel, representatives from these Lower Basin states agreed that the deficit is their problem to solve in a Post-2026 Operations agreement. 

“Colorado has asked for the Lower Basin states to recognize this overuse, and I appreciate that they have publicly accepted responsibility for fixing the structural deficit,” Commissioner Mitchell said. “I look forward to working alongside Arizona, California, and Nevada, along with upper-division partners, to achieve this important goal of making sure we protect water users across the basin from another series of crises on the river well into the future.”