AbstractFrom the Rocky Mountains in the US to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, the Colorado River is one of the most managed and monitored rivers in the world. As decreasing river flows from drought and climate change continue to impact the Colorado River Basin, the US federal government, seven US states, and Mexico have signed agreements that would reduce deliveries, including a Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), an agreement among the US states and the Bureau of Reclamation, and Minute 323 (a treaty agreement between the US and Mexico). As part of the DCP, the US Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) committed to increasing conservation efforts to augment storage in Lake Mead. This paper presents an analysis of Reclamation’s Decree Accounting Reports that record water deliveries and conservation savings from 1964 to 2019. Overall, this analysis illustrates that (1) the agency has implemented significant conservation actions over the last three decades, (2) the agency has responded to increased accounting needs as dictated by national and international management agreements, (3) some actions have resulted in environmental costs, and (4) future actions could be designed to avoid environmental harms while also augmenting Lake Mead levels. As climate change continues to constrain Colorado River water supply, detailed accounting may help reveal areas for potential efficiencies or demonstrate where the greatest levels of savings have been reached while ensuring that environmental and social benefits are preserved.Practical ApplicationsOver the last 100 years, humans have changed the path and personality of the Colorado River by distributing water to cities, communities, and agricultural fields to support over 40 million people. Throughout the twentieth century, the US federal government, seven US, and Mexico signed agreements enabling development of Colorado River water. By the early 21st century, as it became evident that water demands and climate change were reducing available supplies, these same governments signed agreements to reduce pressure on the river. All these agreements have, in part, been tracked by the US federal agency that manages the river, the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), through Decree Accounting Reports. Since 1964, these reports have recorded how water is or is not accounted for that might be important to the future of the river. This paper examines those reports and reveals four main findings: (1) Reclamation has implemented numerous water conservation projects, (2) they have responded to new management agreements, (3) some of their actions have impacted the environment, and (4) there are proactive ways they can reduce environmental impacts and bolster water supplies in the future.

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