Senators split on Colorado River, urge states to continue dialogue

By Jennifer Yachnin | 03/07/2024 04:12 PM EST

As the Interior Department considers competing plans to manage one of the West’s largest rivers, lawmakers endorse their states’ respective bids.

The Colorado River as it flows around Horseshoe Bend.

A view of the Colorado River flowing around Horseshoe Bend on June 23, 2021, in Page, Arizona. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Western lawmakers split along regional lines in the debate over the future of the Colorado River this week but endorsed continued state negotiations as the Biden administration prepares a new operating plan for one of the nation’s major water sources.

The seven states that make up the Colorado River Basin — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming in the Upper Basin and Arizona, California and Nevada in the Lower Basin — unveiled competing plans Wednesday to address future shortfalls in the shrinking waterway.

A major point of contention in the plans is how to dole out the reductions: Under the Upper Basin proposal, Arizona, California and Nevada alone would be responsible for mandatory cuts, while the Lower Basin proposal says that in extreme circumstances all seven states would shoulder some of the burden.


Decades of persistent drought, combined with the impacts of climate change, have decimated the river’s flows, with some estimates suggesting it contains 20 percent less water compared with in 2000.