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The Bureau of Reclamation Releases Moving Forward Phase I Report

On May 12, 2015, the Bureau of Reclamation issued its Moving Forward Phase I Report on opportunities and potential actions to address future water supply and demand imbalances projected by the 2012 Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study.  The Phase I Report produced twenty-five opportunities identified by three workgroups (municipal & industrial, agriculture, environmental and recreational flows) for funding, incentives, data and tools, outreach and partnerships, coordination and integration, infrastructure improvements and flexible water management.  Phase II of the effort, due later this year, will select and implement pilot projects.

The Phase I Report compiles baseline information to provide a context for assessment of opportunities and potential actions.  Increased conservation, efficiency and reuse are critical parts of proposed actions (see table).  There is also a role for economic incentives and market mechanisms.  What is missing is any indication of funding sources—water users, taxpayers or parties who benefit from proposed actions.

Opportunities for Potential Future Actions
(order does not imply prioritization)

M&I Conservation and Reuse Agricultural Water Conservation, Productivity and Transfers Environmental and Recreational Flows
· Increase outdoor water use efficiency· Increase end-user understanding of water use· Increase integration of water/energy efficiency programs and resource planning

· Expand non-federal goal-setting and tracking

· Increase funding for water use efficiency and reuse

· Increase integration of water and land use planning

· Expand resources for water conservation

· Reduce system water loss with metrics and benchmarking

· Use outreach and partnerships to increase water use efficiency and reuse

· Adopt conservation rates and incentives

· Adopt regulations to increase water use efficiency and reuse

· Increase/maintain productivity· Improve conveyance infrastructure· Pursue strategic reductions in consumptive use from deficit irrigation, crop selection and fallowing

· Enhance use of banking, transfers or exchanges

· Encourage efficient water management through planning, reporting, and data management

· Foster agricultural water use through sustainable funding and incentive programs

· Increase/maintain productivity and water management through soil health

· Develop sustainable funding for environmental and recreational flows· Use market-based mechanisms to benefit ecological and recreational resources· Incorporate watershed management

· Develop partnerships to protect or improve ecological and recreational resources with payments

· Investigate opportunities to use voluntary water management to protect or restore environmental and recreational flows

· Facilitate enhanced coordination among programs

· Support capacity-building of existing or new stakeholder coalitions


The Phase I Report includes some interesting background information.  First, there has been significant progress made in reductions in municipal & industrial water use (see chart below).  The greatest reductions have been made in the Middle Rio Grande and Southern Nevada.  The smallest reductions have been made in Los Angeles.

M&I Water Conservation

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Second, there have already been significant investments in reuse.  By 2012, the major metropolitan areas in the Colorado River Basin had developed 328,400 AF of non-potable reuse and another 379,600 AF of indirect potable reuse of water for a total of 708,800 AF.  The areas of greatest development (relative to potential) were Middle Rio Grande, Southern Nevada, Central Arizona and the Front Range (see chart below).  Southern California and the Wastach Front are areas with untapped potential.

click to enlarge

click to enlarge

Third, agriculture has also been on an increased efficiency trend.  While irrigated acreage and water use has been effectively constant (no change in water use per irrigated acre), the economic productivity of agriculture has increased by 25% since 1980.  In other words, increased resource management on the farm has allowed agriculture to generate more from the same amount of water.

Like many, JOW awaits the next phase in Reclamation’s process where pilot programs will be selected and implemented.  Given all the actions already implemented throughout the basin, in terms of water conservation, reuse and transfers, what will be the new “R&D” behind the pilot programs?  Perhaps the greatest potential for progress will be in the area of environmental and recreational flows, which has historically lagged behind activities in municipal, industrial and agricultural water use.


Written by Rodney T. Smith, Ph.D.