Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2020UT303B

Dynamic, Adaptive Management of the Colorado River to Enhance Water Supply and River Ecosystem Outcomes

Institute: Utah
Year Established: 2020 Start Date: 2020-03-01 End Date: 2021-02-28
Total Federal Funds: $44,521 Total Non-Federal Funds: $59,357

Principal Investigators: John Schmidt

Abstract: Colorado River managers face changing, uncertain future water supplies, demands, and river ecosystems whose future states can only be described as scenarios without rank or probability of occurrence. Currently, a bi-national treaty, basin compacts, Supreme Court rulings, interim guidelines, drought contingency plans, and agreements – collectively called the Law of the River – use point estimates with bounds, probabilities, and schedules of reservoir releases that are functions of reservoir storage to manage for uncertainties in future water supplies, demands, and river ecosystems. This project will explore alternative dynamic and adaptive management to enhance Colorado River water supply and river ecosystem outcomes. Five tasks will (1) Identify signposts for the conditions when water supply and river ecosystem outcomes becomes undesirable, (2) Identify alternative reservoir operations and water allocation policies to switch to improve outcomes, (3) Construct pathways to link signposts and alternative policies, (4) Simulate water supply and river ecosystem outcomes for pathways over time in response to scenarios of future, uncertain changes in water supply, demand, and river ecosystems, and (5) Use model results to identify better signposts, policies, and pathways to improve water supply and/or river ecosystem outcomes. Resulting adaptive policies will be presented visually as maps and decision trees. The proposed work to identify adaptive policies will extend an ongoing Future of the Colorado River Project at Utah State University that is suggesting alternative management paradigms for Colorado River parties to consider as parties renegotiate the Interim Guidelines and Drought Contingency Plans that expire in 2026.