River Stakeholders

Colorado River Water Use Highlights:

Utah Colorado River Water Use in the Upper Basin[1]

[1] This information is based on data from the Utah Water Budget Model (2017-2020) and the Updated 2016 Upper Division States Depletion Demand Schedule. Percentages are relative, are approximations only and are subject to change as new methods are employed to characterize consumptive use.

[2] Water that is contractually exported to the Wasatch Front is used for both agricultural and municipal and industrial purposes.

Utah remains committed to ensuring the Colorado River remains a viable resource for the current and future generations who depend on its water.

The river is a vital source of both municipal and agricultural water for Utah, supplying more than a quarter of all water used statewide.

This commitment is underscored by the actions of Utah’s executive and legislative leadership, who have, in the last two years, allocated nearly a billion dollars for water conservation, development and infrastructure. The bills focus on agricultural water optimization, funding water reuse and desalination projects, installing secondary water meters, paying property owners to replace grass with water-efficient landscaping, monitoring groundwater, water education and more.

Legislation specific to the Colorado River includes funding to enhance data management capabilities and expand a pilot program to promote agricultural water conservation in the Colorado River watershed. The program will include temporary, voluntary and compensated reductions in consumptive water use while considering demand management, market drivers and scalable drought mitigation plans.

Utah is actively involved in the development of post-2026 operational guidelines and strategies for Lakes Powell and Mead. In a letter to the Bureau of Reclamation dated Aug. 15, 2023, Utah’s Colorado River Commissioner reaffirms the state’s commitment to work with its Colorado River Basin states, the Bureau of Reclamation, Tribes and other key stakeholders to develop a consensus alternative for consideration and evaluation. Recommendations in Utah’s letter include but are not limited to, addressing the imbalance between water supply and demand and structuring Lake Powell releases based on hydrologic conditions and storage. Utah also signed a joint comment letter submitted by the other three Upper Division States and a collective seven Basin States letter.

At the local level, water districts throughout Utah are implementing a variety of drought mitigation measures, including additional infrastructure investments, conservation programs, reuse projects and municipally mandated water efficiency standards for new construction. Communities in southern Utah have banned non-functional grass in all new commercial, institutional and industrial developments. Since 2000, Utah’s population has increased 50%1 while its per capita water use has decreased more than 25%.2 Utah topped the list of fastest-growing states in the nation in 2023.

Utah also holds the highest ranking of any state for its economy and fiscal stability. Ensuring a safe, adequate water supply for Utah’s expanding economy and growing population are key priorities amongst state leaders. To ensure water does not impede Utah’s high performance, state water providers are actively planning decades in advance.

In 2020, the state updated its Statewide Water Infrastructure Plan to consider needed investments in water resources. The plan identified $13 billion in water conservation, $21 billion in the repair and replacement of aging infrastructure and more than $15 billion in new infrastructure and water supplies to meet Utah’s water demands through 2070.

Fortunately, Utah enjoyed a record-setting water year in 2023, bringing statewide reservoir storage up to 77%, compared to 45% last year. Snow water equivalent (SWE) peaked on April 8 at 30 inches, which is 216% of normal. Nine of Utah’s 16 major watersheds reached a record-high SWE level in 2023.

Utah’s economy ranks as the best of any state in 2020 with its high Domestic Gross Product growth rate (3.4% compared to the national average of 1.9%), high employment growth and low unemployment rate. The state is currently home to more than 3 million residents, which is expected to nearly double by 2065.

To prepare for the state’s ongoing economic and population growth, Utah legislators passed the Concurrent Resolution Concerning the Protection, Development and Beneficial Use of Utah’s Colorado River Compact Allocation during the 2020 general session.

The resolution encourages the state and its water providers to “expeditiously develop and place to beneficial use wherever in the state the need may arise, the water apportioned to Utah under the compacts, consistent with the Law of the River; … continue to explore and implement practices that promote water efficiency and water conservation; and … coordinate and cooperate with the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, and the other Colorado River basin states in the timely implementation of the Drought Control Plans and the completion of the re-consultation on the Colorado River Interim Guidelines, while ensuring that the state’s lawful interest in Colorado River waters is fully protected.”

Utah currently uses approximately 1 million acre-feet of water annually of its 1922 compact allocation. The state has reduced the estimate of its remaining developable water supply to account for uncertain hydrology and climate change. After subtracting current use, evaporation, and the climate change reserve, Utah still has a significant amount of water available annually for development.

Of the remaining amount available for development, water has been reserved for tribal water right settlements with the Navajo Nation and Ute Indian Tribe and the Lake Powell Pipeline, an approximately 140-mile pipeline that would provide a secure, long- term water resource for southern Utah.

Utah has reduced its municipal and industrial per capita water use more than 20% between 2000 and 2018. In late 2019, the Utah Division of Water Resources published Utah’s Regional M&I Water Conservation Goals with the target of further reducing the state’s per capita use an additional 16% by 2030. The state is involved in conservation pilot programs, drought planning and demand management.