SALT LAKE CITY — Representatives from the seven member states of the Colorado River Basin endorsed drought contingency plans Tuesday and transmitted a letter of agreement to Congress for action.
From there, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said hearings will be held next week in the Senate and the House to move forward with legislation formalizing those plans.
"Today is a very important day in the history of the Colorado River," Burman said. "Today the seven basin states have come together. … It is time for us to work with our congressional delegation so we can move forward and implement these (plans) this year."
In a teleconference from Phoenix announcing the plans' completion, Wyoming State Engineer Pat Tyrrell said the general intent of the plans and the subsequent legislation will be to protect water levels at both Lake Mead and Lake Powell by incentivizing additional conservation of water.
Burman said the process involved multiple environmental organizations, Native American tribes, farmers and others representing the 40 million users on the West's hardest working river.
A generous snowpack in the West is sitting at nearly 140 percent of average and may actually stave off an anticipated water shortage declaration in 2020 for the lower basin states.
But Burman warned Tuesday that one wet year doesn't erase 18 years of the driest period on the river in 1,200 years.
"It takes years to recover from the type of intense drought this region has experienced," he said.
Eric Millis, director of the Utah Division of Water Resources, said the plans are the culmination of years of hard work.
"The significance is that it provides protection to the upper basin uses and the state of Utah, and the entire basin and helps us deal with drought and climate change. It offers us that security and protection."
The components of the plans for the upper and lower basin states have to work in tandem, he added. For the upper basin, the magic number is keeping Lake Powell at 3,525 elevation, or 25 feet above the power pool elevation, Millis said.
Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico are the upper basin states while California, Arizona and Nevada are the lower basin states.