A New Colorado River Compact

The Colorado River Compact allocates Nevada 300,000 acre-feet of the river’s water, by far the smallest amount among the compact’s seven U.S. states. Drought conditions have reduced the amount of water available and climate change has reduced snowpack in the Rocky Mountains that feed the Colorado River and increased evaporation in reservoirs leading to even lesser supplies of water. On top of that, the Colorado River Compact is inherently flawed due to the fact the original negotiators overestimated the amount of water available to be allocated in the first place. The water determination was based on an unusually wet period and failed to take dry periods into account. The compact allocates less water than has ever been available. The only way to fix the river’s fundamental supply-demand problem is to go back to the beginning.

Seven states signed on to the Colorado River Compact in 1922. The Upper Basin states are Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, and New Mexico; and California, Arizona, and Nevada make up the Lower Basin states, as they are known. These meetings culminated with the establishment of the compact, the first interstate agreement designed to apportion water between states sharing an interstate river. The river is some 1,500 miles long and dammed in 15 locations on the main stem. Hundreds of tributaries are dammed as well, and according to estimates, water capture affecting the Colorado can collectively hold five times the river’s annual flow.


The upper basin states on the Colorado River — Wyoming, Colorado New Mexico, and Utah — were worried that the lower basin states — California, Arizona and Nevada — were taking too much water and were growing too fast, and they wanted a way to control the amount of water flowing to the lower basin states. Glen Canyon Dam was built as their way to hold back water so they wouldn’t have to give more than they were legally required to those states in the south.