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Water Division

The Colorado River Commission holds and protects the rights of the State of Nevada to its share of Colorado River water under federal law and contracts, and represents the state before federal agencies, other states, and other countries and in all federal, interstate, and international discussions regarding a wide range of issues affecting the management and operation of the river.


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Colorado River – Physical Description:
Length = 1,450 miles

Major tributaries: the San Juan River (New Mexico), the Green River (Wyoming and Utah), the Gunnison River (Colorado), the Muddy River (Nevada), the Virgin River (Nevada), the Little Colorado River (Arizona), the Bill Williams River (Arizona), and the Gila River (Arizona).

Basin = 250,000 square miles

Average flow = 15 million acre-feet

Low – high river flow = 5 – 24 million acre-feet


The 1922 Colorado River Compact apportioned, in perpetuity, the exclusive beneficial consumptive use of 7.5 million acre-feet per year to the Upper Basin and 7.5 million acre-feet per year to the Lower Basin. One acre-foot (af) is 325,851 gallons, enough water for a family of four for one year.

The Upper Basin includes parts of the states of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.
The Lower Basin includes parts of the states of Arizona, California, and Nevada.

The 1928 Boulder Canyon Project Act authorized the division of the lower basin apportionment of Colorado River as follows:

  Arizona : 2,800,000 af/year
  California:    4,400,000 af/year
  Nevada: 300,000 af/year

The 1944 U.S.-Mexico treaty allocated 1,500,000 af per year to Mexico with an additional 200,000 acre-feet in a surplus year.

Arizona Water Banking

In 2001, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Colorado River Commission of Nevada and the Arizona Water Banking Authority signed an agreement that provides for the storage (“banking”) of 1,200,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water in Arizona for the benefit of Nevada users.

California Water Banking

In 2004, the Colorado River Commission, the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Metropolitan) entered into an agreement authorizing water banking of portions of Nevada’s Colorado River apportionment in California, in exchange for Metropolitan’s promise to redeliver the water in future years when it may be needed in southern Nevada. In 2004, and again in 2005, 10,000 acre-feet were banked under the agreement for a total of 20,000 acre-feet.

Shortage and Operating Criteria

In 2005, the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation initiated a formal process to develop Lower Colorado River Basin Shortage Guidelines and Coordinated Management Strategies for the Operation of the Lake Mead and Lake Powell under Low Reservoir Conditions. In response, the governors’ representatives of the seven Colorado River Basin states (including the chairman of the Colorado River Commission) submitted a “Seven Basin States’ Preliminary Proposal Regarding Colorado River Interim Operations” and a “Draft Agreement” between the Basin States water managers and users containing additional terms.

The States’ recommendation contained four key elements. First, the States proposed to manage the Colorado River reservoirs to minimize shortages and avoid curtailments. Second, the States identified actions in the lower basin to conserve water. Third, the States recommended a specific proposal for implementing shortages in the lower basin. Finally, the States recognized the need for additional water supplies to meet the current and future needs in the basin.

A draft environmental impact statement (EIS) was issued by the Secretary of the Interior in February 2007. Public comment of the draft EIS is due no later than Monday April 30, 2007. Final Action is anticipated by December 2007.

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