Phoenix approves historic #ColoradoRiver conservation agreement #COriver

Water flows near Phoenix, AZ. Tim McCabe / Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service., via Wikimedia Commons

From AZ Business Magazine:

Mayor Greg Stanton and the Phoenix City Council unanimously approved an agreement with tribal, state, federal and philanthropic leaders to help protect the Colorado River and preserve water levels in Lake Mead.

The agreement with State of Arizona, the Gila River Indian Community, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and the Walton Family Foundation will save the equivalent of 35 percent of the Colorado River water used by Phoenix residents each year. Specifically, it will fund a contribution of 13 billion gallons of Colorado River water to system conservation in Lake Mead this year.

The Colorado River – essential to Arizona’s water supply – is over-allocated and regarded as one of the most endangered rivers in the nation, and Lake Mead is at 40 percent capacity. To preserve the state’s long-term water supply, cities like Phoenix must take a more active and leading role, said Stanton. System-wide solutions like this agreement establish a long-term partnership between tribal, federal, state and local leaders and a philanthropic foundation that helps conserve precious water resources in Lake Mead.

“Smart water policy is essential to our economy and to every Arizonan,” Mayor Greg Stanton said. “This historic agreement shows how by thinking creatively and working together we can protect our future Colorado River water supply and safeguard against the continued drought and climate change that are directly impacting Lake Mead.”

“With this action we will continue to plan responsibly for the future of our city, through partnership and collaboration,” said Councilwoman Kate Gallego. “Sustainable solutions to our water supply needs require collaboration. This agreement not only supports the overall health of the Colorado River; it also establishes a long-term partnership that helps conserve precious water resources in Lake Mead.”

“With the largest Colorado River water entitlement delivered through the CAP system, the Community has the ability to meet our needs and still make its supply available elsewhere in times of need,” said Gila River Governor Stephen R. Lewis. “We consider this agreement a continuation of our commitments made to the United States in January that will allow Arizona parties to continue their negotiations and efforts to adopt a comprehensive plan that meets Arizona’s water supply needs and also addresses the severe drought on the Colorado River.”

“This agreement will allow for the creation of tools that will be effective in protecting Lake Mead,” said Thomas Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. “Those tools will be enduring and inclusive, allowing for participation by a broad group of Arizona water entitlement holders and other constituencies.”

Under the agreement, the Gila River Indian Community will contribute 40,000 acre-feet of its Colorado River allocation to system conservation. The City will contribute $2 million towards the program. While the financial commitment in this agreement is for one year only, it is anticipated that the State of Arizona, the City of Phoenix, the Walton Family Foundation, and others may continue those contributions into the future to develop a regional system conservation program that will be open to additional water contributors and additional funders.

“Phoenix continues to plan for conditions on the Colorado River to ensure it is well positioned to contend with shortages,” said Councilwoman Thelda Williams who chairs the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association. “We must protect and preserve the rivers and lakes that our city and state rely upon; this agreement is a prime example of working together with regional partners to create a smart approach for system conservation of the Colorado River and Lake Mead.”

“Economic development in the state of Arizona depends on a secure water supply,” said Councilman Jim Waring. “This agreement helps create resiliency on the Colorado River, economic security, and most importantly, certainty for the future of Phoenix.”

“The combined metropolitan areas in Arizona, Southern California, Colorado and Nevada served by the Colorado River represent the world’s 12th largest economy, and no matter how well Phoenix has planned to avoid a water shortage, the regional economy may suffer if reliable water supplies are threatened,” said Councilman Daniel Valenzuela. “This agreement shows the City of Phoenix is taking proactive steps to be sure we have enough water under any future circumstances.”

“Phoenix is a leader when it comes to smart, water supply planning, which is vital for our city’s future,” said Councilwoman Debra Stark. “As someone with a planning background, I know the importance of coming up with creative solutions for real issues. This agreement is a great partnership that has led to an innovative water conservation system.”

“I am proud that the City Council unanimously approved this agreement to help preserve the state’s long-term water supply through system conservation on the Colorado River and in Lake Mead,” said Councilman Michael Nowakowski. “With this vote, the City of Phoenix has a taken the lead in ensuring future generations will have a resilient water supply and a catalyst for economic prosperity.”

“I was part of the original water settlements for the City,” said Councilman Sal DiCiccio, “And it’s critical we continue to move forward with our conservation efforts. I am proud to support this innovative agreement that helps protect Phoenix’s precious Colorado River water supply.”

Funding for Phoenix’s portion will come from the Colorado River Resiliency Fund, which was approved by the Phoenix City Council in 2014. The Colorado River Resiliency Fund supports projects focused on water supply resiliency, including system conservation efforts.

“I particularly want to recognize the visionary leadership of Governor Stephen Roe Lewis and the Gila River Indian Community as we move forward with this partnership,” added Gallego. “The Gila River Indian Community has been an excellent partner for the City of Phoenix in this process, and I look forward to both our communities working together in the future. As a desert city, Phoenix knows the value of water and its importance for our future, and I’m extremely proud to take part in this innovative water resource partnership.”

Gila River watershed.

From The Arizona Republic (Alden Woods):

To stem falling water levels and help prevent a shortage, the Gila River Indian Community will leave 40,000 acre-feet of its river allocation in Lake Mead. In exchange, the city of Phoenix, state of Arizona and Bureau of Reclamation will each pay the tribe $2 million. The Walton Family Foundation will contribute $1 million.

The tribe’s water contribution is equivalent to 13 billion gallons of water, which equals 35 percent of Phoenix’s annual consumer use.

City and Gila River officials say it is the first agreement of its kind, with local, federal and tribal governments joining to conserve the region’s water. Cities have leased tribal water in the past but, under this deal, the water will not be used.

For years, the Colorado River system has been drained faster than it has been refilled. Water levels have dropped about 12 feet a year in Lake Mead, which today sits at 1,081 feet above sea level.

If that level falls below 1,075 feet, the secretary of the Interior will declare a shortage. Larger shortages would be triggered at 1,050 feet and 1,025 feet, severely reducing the city’s water access.

“It is unchartered territory,” Phoenix Water Services Director Kathryn Sorensen told the council. “Our economies can withstand controlled shortages of known quantities. We can plan for that, but it is difficult to plan for the unknown.”

Leaving water stored in Lake Mead will slow the decline in water levels and give water managers in the seven Colorado River states more time to work on long-term conservation plans.

It is the second water agreement between Phoenix and the Gila River community this year. In March, the city agreed to store 3,800 acre-feet of its water in aquifers along the Gila, restoring flow to the tribe’s namesake river. That deal allowed the city to set aside some of its Colorado River water in case of a future shortage. The city also paid the tribe a storage fee.

Already, that water has brought life back to the long-brown banks of the Gila. Birds and coyotes have returned, and plants have grown so quickly the tribe is now looking for volunteers to cut back the greenery.

Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis and Stanton are longtime friends from before their time in office.

“As neighbors, we can accomplish great things together,” Lewis said. “And historic agreements like this one make it easier to work on other matters that may impact our communities from time to time.”

The one-year agreement will be formally signed next month at the Gila River Indian Community, with hope that a long-term Arizona drought contingency plan will be in place by the end of the year.

Colorado River Basin including out of basin demands — Graphic/USBR

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