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Comparison of U.S. Geological Survey and Bureau of Reclamation water-use reporting in the Colorado River Basin

October 11, 2019

The use of water in the United States is arguably one of the most important factors determining water availability at any specific place and time. Numerous local, State, and Federal entities develop, compile, and report water-use data, which can lead to confusing or conflicting information. This report was authored jointly by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) to compare and contrast the two agencies’ water-use information programs in the Colorado River Basin. The report also describes the legal drivers for each program, clarifies confusing terminology, compares the methods used, and contrasts the information reported by each agency. This detailed comparison demonstrates that these two Federal agencies have different missions, different programmatic drivers, and different user communities, all of which lead to different approaches to water-use data collection, analysis, and reporting. This report highlights those differences and explains why the USGS and Reclamation programs exist and how the data serve different user communities. Even though the two water-use programs are different by design and purpose, the program comparison presented in this report has identified opportunities for closer coordination and sharing of information between the USGS and Reclamation, as well as program components where agency collaboration can improve water-use estimate methodologies. This comparison effort emphasizes that it is incumbent upon each agency to clearly define the meaning of the terms used and the appropriate application of the reported information to avoid confusion or the accidental misuse of the information. An additional benefit of this comparison effort is the formation of a joint USGS/Reclamation water-use team that will continue to investigate opportunities to expand and coordinate future water-use data compilation and reporting.