April 02, 2019

Udall, Heinrich Introduce Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan Bill

As climate change threatens water security, Western Senators collaborate on bill to implement drought plan that will protect future Colorado River flows, including San Juan-Chama project water

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, along with every Colorado River Basin senator, introduced the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act.  

The bipartisan, bicameral legislation was developed to ensure the wide-reaching Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) forged between the seven Colorado River Basin states and Indian tribes can be implemented while fully respecting important environmental protections in the process. 

“In New Mexico, we live by the saying ‘agua es vida’ -- water is life -- because we know how vital this precious resource is to preserving our economy, our environment, and our way of life in the West, especially as climate change threatens our water supplies,” Udall said. “Drought is the new normal, and this legislation is an important step in securing sustainable water supplies throughout the Southwest, and minimizing future conflicts and litigation. The Drought Contingency plan is the product of close collaboration between Colorado River Basin states, the federal government, and Indian Tribes at a time when climate change is making New Mexico and the Southwest hotter and drier, and putting a strain on our already scarce resources. For New Mexico, the plan will protect future flows from the San Juan-Chama project, which brings water from the Colorado River Basin into New Mexico. By working together – rather than against each other – we were able to devise a plan that will benefit everyone, from Indian Tribes and farmers to the growing communities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque.”

“As climate change continues to disrupt our environment, it’s critical that we do everything we can to ensure equitable and fair access to water,” said Heinrich. “New Mexico’s cities, farmers, and tribes all rely on water from the Colorado River Basin, and the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act will ensure that all New Mexicans can count on having they water they need to live and work even in times of drought.”

In addition to Udall and Heinrich the legislation is co-sponsored by the other 12 Senators from the Colorado River Basin including U.S. Senators Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). 

Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee introduced the House companion bill and played a key role in advancing solutions to address the historic drought in the Colorado River Basin. 

“New Mexico appreciates Congress’ willingness to work expeditiously to introduce and pass law to implement the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans.  These plans are a collective effort, supported by local, state and federal stakeholders in a bi-partisan fashion.  They will help reduce the risk to New Mexico, and all six other Colorado River Basin States of potentially severe effects of drought, now and in the future,” said John D’Antonio, State Engineer, New Mexico.

The Colorado River Basin drains more than 246,000 square miles across seven states and Mexico. More than 40 million people in New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming depend on the river for drinking water, farming irrigation, and hydropower. Since 2000, the Colorado River has experienced its most severe drought in 100 years of record keeping and what may be the one of the driest periods in the last 1,200 years according to paleo-records. 

The Drought Contingency Plan – otherwise known as the DCP – was negotiated between the seven Colorado River Basin States and Indian tribes to respond to this prolonged drought.  The agreement establishes new water conservation measures to protect reservoir levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell. The bill and underlying agreement use voluntary water reductions and innovative management strategies to avoid historic lows in Colorado River reservoirs, which would trigger dramatic water delivery cuts to the seven states, including the Colorado River basin water that is transferred to the Rio Grande basin in New Mexico via the San Juan-Chama project.

The full text of the legislation is available HERE.

Seven environmental advocacy groups sent a joint April 1 letter urging Congress to support the seven Colorado River Basin States Drought Contingency Plans. The letter, notes that Lakes Powell and Mead “could reach critically low levels as early as 2021 if conditions do not significantly improve. Declining reservoirs threaten water supplies that are essential to the economy, environment, and health of the Southwestern United States.”