Devin Stelter


The Colorado River Basin continues to face a now two decade-long drought sparked by the drastic effects of climate change on the region. Climate forecasting predicts that the adverse effects of climate change will only increase in severity in years to come. These effects have led federal, state, tribal, and private actors operating in the basin to search for innovative and effective solutions to the significant water scarcity problems that will persist into the future. A closely linked threat stemming from Colorado River water scarcity is the prospect of a “Compact call” on Upper Basin water by the Lower Basin states under the Colorado River Compact in the not-so-distant future. To proactively address this threat, as well as to improve water conservation efforts in the Upper Basin, this paper proposes that the State of Utah look to the Lower Basin Intentionally Created Surplus (ICS) program to implement a similar program for intrastate water banking and conservation in Utah. In so doing, the paper addresses the relevant pieces of the “Law of the River,” as well as the development of the current drought in the basin and recent stakeholder policy and conservation responses. The paper also examines likely legal and practical uncertainties surrounding a Utah ICS Program. By studying lessons learned from creative and progressive water management by other basin states, Utah can address state water scarcity, comply with Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan promises, and chart a path for the rest of the Upper Basin.