Colorado River Compact Part 2

Can the Law of the Colorado River Adapt to an Increasingly Drier Hydrology?

A Two-Part Article by John McClow, UGRWCD Legal Counsel

PART 2 – Colorado River Compact

Adapting the Law of the River for a Dry Hydrology

Lake Powell storage levels began declining in 2000, and by the end of 2004 were at an alarmingly low elevation. As a result, the Upper Basin States requested that the Secretary of the Interior reduce releases from Lake Powell. Instead, she ordered the seven Colorado River Basin States to work with the Bureau of Reclamation to agree to address reservoir operations in dry hydrology. The parties complied, and the result is the Interim Shortage Guidelines, embodied in a Record of Decision signed by the Secretary of the Interior in 2007, which will remain in effect through December 31, 2025 (2007 Guidelines). The 2007 Guidelines provide for coordinated operation of Lake Powell and Lake Mead during the Interim Period, the objectives of which are to avoid curtailment of uses in the Upper Basin, minimize shortages in the Lower Basin and not adversely affect the yield for development available in the Upper Basin. Annual releases from Lake Powell are determined according to storage levels in Powell and Mead so that equalization of storage in the two reservoirs can be achieved as nearly as practicable each year. The Guidelines establish the conditions under which the Secretary of the Interior will declare a shortage in the Lower Basin and apportions the shortage between Arizona and Nevada. The 2007 Guidelines were the beginning of a new era of collaboration among the seven Colorado River Basin States and Reclamation to address the need to adapt the Law of the River to historically dry conditions.

The 2007 Guidelines were moderately successful in meeting their objectives. Still, by Summer 2013, the extent of the 2012-2013 drought created concerns among Colorado River Basin water managers, including the Secretary of the Interior. All of the models reached similar conclusions:  without adjustment to reservoir operations, there was a 20% probability that reservoir levels could reach critical levels within two years if current conditions continued. The seven states convened meetings of legal and technical working groups to develop a contingency plan to respond quickly to the models’ worst-case scenarios. The groups met with the states’ principals in early 2014 and presented a spreadsheet of possible actions for immediate drought response. It became clear that the solutions for the Upper and Lower Basins were sufficiently different that the groups should split and work on their plans separately, but with coordination between the Upper and Lower Basin teams. The result was a Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) for each Basin.

The Lower Basin DCP directs that as Lake Mead reaches lowering storage levels, the states must reduce their consumptive use of Colorado River water (called “taking shortages”) based on storage tiers contained in the 2007 Guidelines and supplemented by the DCP. The DCP also provides that California will also take shortages if Lake Mead declines to critical storage levels. Lake Mead storage has fallen to the point that in 2022 the DCP requires Arizona to take a shortage of 512,000 acre-feet and Nevada 21,000 acre-feet. The Lower Basin states announced the “500 Plus Plan” in December 2021. They pledged to collectively preserve 500 acre-feet of storage in Lake Mead in 2022 and 2023 – evidence of additional adaptation in response to the dry hydrology.

The Upper Basin DCP consists of three elements: (1) expand existing weather modification (cloud seeding) and phreatophyte removal; (2) extended operations of the upper CRSP reservoirs (Blue Mesa, Flaming Gorge, Navajo); and (3) development of a demand management program. Although its contribution is relatively small, the states have aggressively pursued the first element. To implement the second element, the Upper Basin States entered into a Drought Response Operations Agreement (DROA), which provides for additional releases from the upper CRSP reservoirs to maintain critical storage levels at Lake Powell. In July, the Secretary of the Interior exercised her emergency authority under the DROA to release 181,000 acre-feet from Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa, and Navajo Reservoirs. The states and Reclamation are developing additional criteria for future releases under the DROA. Reclamation does not presently contemplate further releases in 2022. The Upper Basin States are heavily involved in evaluating the advisability and feasibility of the third element, a demand management program that contemplates voluntary, temporary, compensated reductions in consumptive use by Upper Basin water users of all types for compliance with the 1922 Compact.

In addition to the Drought Contingency Plans, the United States has negotiated supplements to the 1944 Treaty. Mexico has agreed to share shortages by taking reductions in its deliveries in amounts comparable to the shortages taken by the Lower Basin States under their DCP.

What Does the Future Hold?

Despite these significant collaborative efforts by the Colorado River Basin States and the Bureau of Reclamation to adapt the Law of the River to changing conditions, reservoir levels have continued to decline, so a significant challenge remains. As the states and Reclamation begin renegotiating the 2007 Guidelines – to further adapt to drier hydrology – all parties have pledged to continue collaborating on mutually beneficial solutions to address that remaining challenge. History indicates that they will succeed.

Rebie Hazard UGRWCD Board Member Profile Copy Copy

Rebie Hazard was appointed to the UGRWCD Board of Directors in June 2003 representing Division 2, Saguache County. Her current term expires in 2023. She is also a Board member of the Saguache County Planning Commission and serves on the Advisory Board for the Saguache County Master Plan. She has also served on the Colorado River Water Conservation District Board of Directors since 2005.

Rebie owns and operates the Flying M Ranch on Cochetopa Creek.  In addition to being a working cattle ranch, the ranch also accommodates hunting and fishing enthusiasts.  It has been in the Hazard family since 1916.  Rebie’s great great grandfather settled with his family in the area in 1868 and Rebie’s grandfather was instrumental in the economic development of Saguache and an active player in the history of the area.  Saguache is a Ute word that means “blue earth” or “water at blue earth” which is appropriate considering Saguache County is located in a high alpine valley with the second largest aquifer in the nation.  Saguache prides itself on its fresh, clean water that they say rivals any bottled water since no chlorine or fluoride is added to their drinking water supply.

Rebie is the longest-serving member on the current UGRWCD Board of Directors. As such, she has seen a lot of changes in her 19 years of service. “I am very proud to see all that the District has accomplished during my tenure,” Rebie said. “Huge strides have been made in the Watershed Management Planning process as over 200 potential water improvement projects have been identified and prioritized and dozens of these have already been completed or are underway.”

Rebie is a member of the District’s Water Administration Committee, Grant Committee and the Finance Committee and has also witnessed the growth of resources in the District.  “When I was appointed to the Board in 2003, the District had revenues of less than three quarters of a million dollars,” said Rebie.  “Now, less than 20 years later, our revenues have almost tripled to nearly two and a quarter million dollars. I’m especially pleased how much of this has been leveraged to receive matching funds from other grantors and government agencies for improvement projects in our watershed.”

As a member of the Planning Commission for Saguache, Rebie understands the challenge of meeting the needs of our growing populations with limited water resources.  “For the future, we have to figure out how to accommodate more people living and playing in this basin with less water than we have now,” said Rebie. “I believe with the proper amount of conservation and cooperation, we can responsibly use our limited water supply, but the District will have to be the leader in educating our population about changes to our way of life to make this possible.”

UGRWCD General Manager Sonja Chavez said she is very grateful for Rebie’s many years of service to the District. “Rebie has such a great understanding of the needs of the rural agricultural water users since she manages a working ranch,” said Sonja. “This coupled with the fact that she has such a long history with the Upper Gunnison District, the Colorado River District and with Saguache County is such an asset to our Board and the decisions we make.  We are so appreciative of her knowledge and experience.”  

When Rebie has a spare moment from her ranching responsibilities and her service to the various Boards she’s involved with, she enjoys collecting antiques and treasures from the Old West, fishing, hunting and spending time with her children and grandchildren.

2022 Grant Funding Announced


The Board of Directors of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD) voted recently to award over $306,001 to organizations and individuals in the Upper Gunnison Basin for projects that will enhance water supply or improve stream conditions. Projects awarded included efforts to improve water system supply and efficiency, delivery structure or system improvements, restoring or enhancing riparian habitat, and addressing water quality. These were a diverse group of projects throughout the Upper Gunnison Basin. Here is a breakdown of project amounts awarded by sub-basin:

  • Tomichi Creek $80,000
  • Gunnison River $34,000
  • Lake Fork $7,500
  • Quartz Creek $12,000
  • Slate River $40,000
  • East River $26,071
  • Ohio Creek $43,500
  • Municipal $25,000
  • Basinwide Projects $37,930

All recipients were required to provide a 50 percent cost match and their projects had to be consistent with the District’s purpose, mission, and objectives.

This year’s funding distribution the largest since the program originated in 2009.  

“The Grant Committee was very impressed with the number and quality of the grant applications that we received this year,” said Sonja Chavez, general manager. “The District Grant program is a prime example of the District’s allocation of tax revenues as a direct benefit to water users in the District.  Plus, I am delighted to report that these grant funds are being leveraged 3:1 from other sources through the required match.”

The UGRWCD Funding Assistance Program follows an annual cycle with applications due in February each year.  If you have a water project in mind, please call the District at (970) 641-6065 to schedule a consultation.

Andy Spann UGRWCD Board Member Profile

Andrew “Andy” Spann was appointed to the UGRWCD Board of Directors in June 2016 representing Division 7, Gunnison River Basin. Andy’s current term expires in 2022, although Andy reports that he will be submitting a letter of interest to Judge Steven Patrick in hopes of serving another term on the Board.

The acorn didn’t fall far from the tree when it comes to involvement in water issues. Andy’s paternal grandfather, Lee Spann, served on the Upper Gunnison District (“District”) Board of Directors from May 1982 to June 1998.  Andy’s father, Ken Spann, served on the District Board from July 2001 to June 2016.  In addition, Lee served on the Colorado River District Board of Directors and Ken served on the Gunnison Basin Roundtable. Andy’s sister, Laura Spann, is the program coordinator for the Southwestern Water Conservation District (SWCD). Laura oversees the SWCD’s financial assistance program and Water Information Program, serves as an alternate for the district on the Water Congress State Affairs Committee, and monitors state water policy. She also serves on Water Education Colorado’s board of directors.

Andy’s maternal grandfather, John Porter was a board member of the Montezuma Valley Irrigation Company; Southwestern Water Conservation District; Colorado Water and Power Authority; Colorado Water Congress; Colorado Foundation for Water Education; Colorado Water Trust; and the seven-state Colorado River Water Users Association. He served on the San Juan/Dolores Basin Roundtable and Colorado Inter-Basin Compact Committee, and was a negotiator for the Colorado Ute Indian Water Rights Settlement Act of 1988. For 22 years, he managed the Dolores Water Conservancy District. He received many accolades for his water leadership, including the Colorado Wayne N. Aspinall Award, Water Leader of the Year in 2000, and the Citizen Award from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, as well as tribute from the Colorado House of Representatives in 2017.

“A lot of the conversations during our family get-togethers revolve around water issues,” said Andy.  “As ranchers, we see firsthand the effects drought and climate change have on our operations, particularly with respect to water availability.”

Andy was born and raised in Gunnison where his family has ranched for six generations since 1878.  Following his high school graduation, Andy attended Colorado State University in 2005 to study agricultural science and crop production. Andy’s interest in mechanics drew him to transfer to Wyotech College in Laramie, WY where he earned his associates’ degree in chassis fabrication and high performance engines. Andy returned to the Gunnison Valley and has been working full-time on his family’s ranch for over a decade.

Andy said that climate change and the past 20 years of dry conditions, which scientists are now terming a “megadrought,” unfortunately means the Spann Ranch, which has been in the family for six generations now, will likely not be able to continue doing business as usual.

“With diminishing snowpack and a shortened or nonexistent monsoon season, our pastures just can’t support the number of cattle we’ve traditionally fed,” said Andy. “Like most ranchers in the Gunnison Basin, we are going to have to adapt our operations.”

Andy serves as a member of the Grant Committee, Legislative Committee and Water Administration Committee for the UGRWCD Board.  In addition, he serves as the agriculture representative on the Taylor Local Users Group, which was established to provide recommendations to the Bureau of Reclamation on operational flow releases from Taylor Park Reservoir.

“Being a TLUG representative has been one of the most challenging and yet important responsibilities I have assumed for the District,” said Andy.  “It is a diverse, vocal group of individuals who all have a vested interest in water released from Taylor Reservoir.  In spite of our different water user perspectives, I think the group as a whole has done a commendable job of reaching a consensus that best serves the interests of all water users while also taking into account that we’re dealing with a limited resource that has also been affected by climate change.” 

Andy said that he sees one of the biggest challenges for the District going forward is the proper management and allocation of water during these times of drought and population growth. “Agriculture has deep roots in the history of this valley, and I hope it can continue to be a driver in our economy,” said Andy.  “But as climate change, development and increased population put pressure on our watershed, we are all going to have to learn to adapt, cooperate and come up with creative solutions to sustain our way of life.”

“Director Spann is such a valuable asset to our organization for many reasons, but most importantly because of his history in this basin and his agricultural experience and knowledge of the water resources in this area,” said Sonja Chavez, general manager of the UGRWCD. “We couldn’t be more grateful that he chose to continue carrying on his family’s water legacy.”

With Andy’s long hours working on the family ranch and attending District Board and committee meetings, he doesn’t have much spare time, but in those rare moments when he can get away, he enjoys spending time with his wife, Megan, and daughters, Parker and Layne, as well as hiking, hunting, snowmobiling and fishing. An avid horseman, Andy is also a member of the Gunnison Stockgrowers Association.

Gunnison River Festival Announces 20th Anniversary and NEW Events


The 20th Anniversary of the Gunnison River Festival will be celebrated June 10-12, 2022.  There will be three great days of “Celebrating the Rivers” of the Upper Gunnison Basin, including the favorite Taylor Downriver Raft and Kayak races, new educational seminars, dry land and in-flow clinics, and the return of the popular whitewater events and Hooligan Race, where participants create their own rafts hoping they will float through the Gunnison Whitewater Park.

“We are so excited to be able to mark this milestone by returning to a full-fledged river festival, including some of the popular events that were held at the very first River Festival,” said Joellen Fonken, director of the Gunnison River Festival, a nonprofit organization whose title sponsor is the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District.  

Joellen noted that it’s been fun to go back through the historical records and see how the river festival has grown and evolved over the years. “We are looking forward to having Bob Jones and some of his original festival cronies involved in this year’s anniversary celebration.  All of us involved with the festival are proud and gratified to see how it has grown in numbers and served to educate so many individuals about the significance of our watershed,” said Joellen.  


In addition to a full slate of activities for the actual Gunnison River Festival, this year residents and visitors to the area also got to spruce things up to get ready for the June festival.

On Saturday, April 23rd, the UGRWCD and Gunnison River Festival partnered with the City of Gunnison and Western Colorado University to help with the Community and River Clean-Up Day.  The District would like to thank the volunteers who braved the cool, windy conditions to  help pick up trash along sections of the Gunnison River and Tomichi Creek and clean-up brush and debris along the banks. For their efforts, the volunteers were treated to a “taco for trash” compliments of the UGRWCD.  Pulled pork tacos were served by 5 B’s BBQ at Jorgensen Park to the wonderful volunteers who diligently brought back their filled trash bags.  The District hopes to team up with the City and Western again next year for the Community and River Clean-up, which takes place annually in honor of Earth Day. Hope you can join us next April!

On Thursday and Friday, June 9 and 10th, the UGRWCD will host its first annual Upper Gunnison Basin Water Roundup, a conference bringing together water experts to share their collective knowledge with each other but most importantly with the general Upper Gunnison basin community water user. The conference will include various presentations from experts in forest and watershed health, wildfire risk assessment, drought, wet meadows and riparian restoration, sage grouse habitat restoration, broader Colorado River basin issues, and the annual Colorado River District’s State of the River presentation.  The conference will be held at the I-Bar Ranch and Event Center located just 250 feet from Tomichi Creek at the base of W Mountain just east of Gunnison. Conference participants will have the opportunity to camp at the I-Bar for the conference and are encouraged to stick around the I-Bar Friday evening, June 10th for a concert by Grammy-nominated reggae pioneers, The Wailers, and traditional Jamaican food catered by Jermaines. “This concert will be a great way to wrap up the last day of the conference and the first day of the festival,” said Joellen.

For a complete schedule of Gunnison River Festival events, please visit as events and festivities are still being added to the schedule.  You can also check out the UGRWCD’s website at and our Facebook and Twitter pages for regular updates.

Spring 2022 Newsletter

Springing into Summer

Sonja Chavez, General Manager


Here in the valley, snow has completely disappeared from agricultural fields and lawns and in the high country, it is melting quickly. It’s hard every year not to go crazy buying seed or getting excited about what you can grow. If you’re a local, you know not to make the mistake of putting out your tender flowers or garden vegetable seedlings too early and aren’t fooled by this mild recent weather. 

One of our goals as a District is to stay abreast of the latest data, studies and technology that help us manage Upper Gunnison basin water supplies. The science of hydrology, meteorology and water forecasting continue to advance and we are seeing significant research dollars and scientific effort being put into headwater communities like the Upper Gunnison basin to improve ways to measure and predict snowpack like aerial snow flights, understanding groundwater surface water interactions, dust on snow and soil moisture content. 

In the meantime, the District is doing everything it can to closely monitor water supply and drought conditions. We’re also serving as a critical information hub on all local water related information, assisting federal agencies in coming up with improved plans to better manage water supply while minimizing local economic impacts, addressing rangeland resiliency, implementing critical studies that further our understanding of harmful algal blooms in Blue Mesa Reservoir, advocating for our water users and helping them access critically needed water infrastructure dollars, and getting projects on the ground that improve water use efficiency, management, habitat and protection of critical water resources.

Related to the above, I am pleased to announce that the District’s Board of Directors has approved $306,001 through our District Grant Program for diverse water projects in the Upper Gunnison Basin.  Projects this year will promote drought tolerant xeriscape, modernize irrigation infrastructure, further research on remote sensing tools for tracking soil moisture, further potable water loss studies, restore stream channels and foster local stewardship, so we look forward to their commencement.  You can read more about the Grant funding awards in this issue.

Our Board of Directors and staff are also delighted to inform water users that this June 9th and 10th, the District will host what I hope is the first of many “Upper Gunnison Basin Water Roundup” annual conferences where we highlight local water issues and creative problem solving and bring together state, regional and local water policy leaders and experts in hydrology, watershed and fire science, habitat restoration, and most importantly you, our Upper Gunnison Basin water users, who have a vested interest in the health of our watershed.  There’s nothing quite like meeting face-to-face to share important information and learn what our peers are working on in the Basin. This year’s Water Roundup will also kick-off the 20th Anniversary Celebration of the Gunnison River Festival, so be sure to read the article in this issue to get all of the details.  We will have the registration link for the Water Roundup on our website at so be sure to check back soon to take part in this conference, which is sure to be informative and fun! This is for you!

Finally, if the long-range weather forecast holds true, it looks like we’re going to have another warmer, dryer summer, so as always, I encourage each of you to pay attention to local drought warnings, do your part to reduce your carbon footprint, and practice water conservation.  You will read and hear from us throughout the summer on radio and in newsprint reminding everyone to be conscious of water use and if you need a reminder in or around your home, come see us for a yard sign, water bottle, cell phone dry bag, or one of our other promotional items that includes important messaging about water conservation. If everyone commits to doing their part, we can weather this weather!

Lawrence and Sun Ditch - before

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