Published: Feb. 13, 2006

Across the West this month, local newspapers reported that the seven Colorado River states finally reached an agreement on a consensus recommendation for managing the river under drought conditions, as directed by Secretary of Interior Gale Norton.

This was especially exciting news to researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder's Center for Advanced Decision Support for Water and Environmental Systems or CADSWES, who developed and support RiverWare, the modeling tool that played a key role in this long and difficult negotiation.

"This is a great example of the kind of water management activity that RiverWare is intended to support," said Edie Zagona, director of CADSWES. "RiverWare empowers stakeholders such as the Colorado Basin states to develop and evaluate operational plans that previously could only be modeled by the water management agencies."

The Bureau of Reclamation, one of CADSWES' largest research sponsors, used RiverWare to build a computer simulation model of the Colorado River. The model can be used to evaluate the effects of various operational strategies on the water supply to the seven states and Mexico during a range of hydrologic scenarios, including extreme droughts.

The Bureau of Reclamation used RiverWare to provide technical modeling support to the Basin States Technical Modeling Work Group Committee over the past 18 months. RiverWare, which also is used by individual states and water districts, is provided by CADSWES through the CU Office of Technology Transfer.

Carly Jerla, while a graduate student at CADSWES, developed a special version of the Bureau of Reclamation's RiverWare model of the Colorado River as part of her research on new drought management strategies for the basin. Both the model and her research results have proven to be useful to the states in reaching a mutually agreeable proposal. Now a bureau employee, Jerla maintains an office at CADSWES where she continues to provide technical modeling support to interested stakeholders while maintaining close ties with the developers and support staff.

"The Basin States discussions over the past 18 months were truly informed discussions all the way up through the final hours of negotiation," Jerla said. "Our ability to quickly produce various model runs to inform their discussions kept the process moving forward on the technical front."

The Basin States committee's proposal was sent to Norton on Feb. 3 and will be considered in the development of alternatives to be studied by the Bureau of Reclamation as provided by the National Environmental Policy Act. A draft Environmental Impact Statement is slated to be completed in December 2006. The final EIS is anticipated in September 2007 and a Record of Decision will be issued in December 2007.

In addition to the Bureau of Reclamation, RiverWare research and development at CADSWES is supported by the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers. RiverWare is used by more than 75 agencies, consultants, universities and research institutes and plays a key role in the management of several basins, including the Rio Grande, Pecos, Tennessee, Truckee-Carson and Yakima Rivers. CADSWES carries out research in many areas related to modeling and water management, develops computer tools to improve management and provides training and user support in the use of the tools.

"We commend the Basin States in their ability to come together," said Terry Fulp, manager of Bureau of Reclamation's Boulder Canyon Operations Office on the Colorado River. "This model was key to the negotiation of their recommended plan of operation. This is a big first step, and there is lots of work still to do."

For more information about CADSWES visit