The Colorado River Storage Project of 1956 Explained in Detail

Written by Kristen Holder
Updated: July 21, 2023
© Simon Morris / Flickr – License / Original
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The Colorado River Storage Project (CRSP) Act was passed on April 11, 1956. It took eight years to compile the information needed to create the act. The Colorado River Storage Project of 1956 regrouped projects that continue to help Upper and Lower Basin states along the Colorado River.

This Act allowed the Secretary of the Interior to move forward with the construction, operation, and maintenance of planned projects. The CRSP is still one of the largest and most complex pieces of the Colorado River’s Law of the River. The Law of the River is the extensive collection of laws, regulations, and other agreements that create the most extensive watercourse management system in the United States.

We’ll explain in detail the Colorado River Storage Project of 1956.

Infographic about the Colorado River.
The Colorado River runs through several states and carved the Grand Canyon.

What is the Colorado River Storage Project of 1956?

The Colorado River Storage Project Act of 1956 authorized the development of water management resources in the Upper Basin. The Upper Basin states were now going to develop portions of the Colorado River to their benefit.

The states that make up the Upper Basin of the Colorado River are Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado. The northeastern corner of Arizona, where the Navajo Reservation is located, is also a part of the Upper Basin. The main focuses of authorized development were water flow regulation, storage for consumption, arid land reclamation, flood control, and hydroelectric power generation.

The creation of Lake Powell is one of the major projects enacted as a result of the CRSP. Projects for tributaries were also approved. Affected tributaries are the Gunnison River, the Green River, and the San Juan River.

In times of drought, the Lower Basin uses the water in Lake Powell. This helps protect Upper Basin states from losing their water.

Upper Basin states have to deliver more water downstream when drought conditions exist. Lake Powell is important for all seven states because it stores excess water that the Upper Basin didn’t use for Lower Basin states.

Why is the Colorado River Storage Project of 1956 Important?

Colorado River at the California Arizona border
Colorado River at California/Arizona Border near Blythe, AZ

© Szwedo

The Colorado River Storage Project of 1956 is important because it provided means for developing the Colorado River for the Upper Basin states. It also allowed Upper Basin states to save their portion of water to which they were entitled under the Colorado River Compact of 1922. The developments in hydropower due to CRSP implementation support around 5.8 million customers.

The Upper Colorado River Basin Fund was also established. This allowed the United States Treasury Department to allocate funds necessary to complete the projects outlined in the Colorado River Storage Project Act. It also established a place of deposit for revenue generated by Storage Project implementation.

The revenue gained from any projects in the CRSP is used to pay back the US Treasury for the original loan that allowed construction. Around 600 million dollars of revenue has been generated to pay back the US Treasury, and the current debt is less than 233 million.

The funded construction projects helped change and continue to aid in the growth and development of the western United States.

What Dams Were Created by the Colorado River Storage Project of 1956?

The Navajo, Glen Canyon, Crystal, Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa, and Morrow Point Dams were created by the Colorado River Storage Project of 1956. Four units were established to manage these dams and their water resources.

Wayne N. Aspinall Unit in Colorado: Blue Mesa, Morrow Point, and Crystal Dams

The three dams that make up the Aspinall Unit are on the Gunnison River. This river is one of the major tributaries of the Colorado River.

The Blue Mesa Dam and its reservoir, the Blue Mesa Reservoir, are the first in this system. It is also the largest producer in this series of dams though its primary purpose is flood control. It’s responsible for sixty percent of the power generated by the Aspinall Unit.

The middle dam is the Morrow Point Dam and its reservoir of the same name. The Crystal Dam and the Crystal Reservoir are the final dams that Gunnison River water passes through before reaching the Colorado River. This unit provides seventeen percent of the power created by the CRSP.

Glen Canyon Unit in Arizona

Glen Canyon Dam
The Glen Canyon Dam.

©Alex Papp/

This unit is arguably the most significant contribution to the West made by the CRSP because it is responsible for 64% of the water storage capabilities of the entire Colorado River water system. The Glen Canyon Dam creates Lake Powell, a vital resource in delivering water to Lower Basin states. It is also responsible for the Glen Canyon Powerplant.

It allows all water released by Upper Basin states to be stored in Lake Powell for use during drier times instead of letting the water flow through the system and out into the ocean. This creates water resources easily accessed in times of drought by Lower Basin states without relying on the Upper Basin states for extra water.

Navajo Unit in New Mexico

The Navajo Dam and the resultant reservoir Navajo Lake are part of this unit. The San Juan River is a large tributary of the Colorado River, and it plays host to this dam.

This is the only unit created by the CRSP that doesn’t create hydroelectric power. It does provide needed flood control and supplies water for irrigation.

The Navajo Indian Irrigation Project was created by the CRSP to create needed water resources for the Navajo Reservation. The Navajo Dam was constructed, and later irrigation infrastructure was created to deliver water to the reservation.

Flaming Gorge Unit in Utah

The Flaming Gorge Dam and Flaming Gorge Reservoir are managed by this unit. It also has one associated power plant. This power plant creates around eight and a half percent of the energy created by the entire CRSP system.

It’s not directly on the Colorado River. Instead, it’s on the primary tributary called the Green River.

The Featured Image

The Colorado River near Granby, Colorado.
The Colorado River near Granby, Colorado during the fall.
© Simon Morris / Flickr – License / Original

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About the Author

I'm a fact-driven creative with a love of history and an eye for detail. I graduated from the University of California, Riverside in 2009 with a BA in Art History after a STEM-focused high school career. Telling a complex story with real information in a manner that's easy to digest is my talent. When I'm not writing for A-Z Animals, I'm doting on my 3 cats while I watch documentaries and listen to music in Romance languages.

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