From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):
At a presentation before hundreds of local and state officials, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman and a top aide warned that the risks to the lake are unacceptable. They said it’s urgent that Arizona officials resolve their differences over the drought plan and get on board with six other Colorado River Basin states that are moving toward adopting one.
Since the seven states approved a set of guidelines for managing the river’s reservoirs in 2007, the risks of Lake Mead dropping to very low levels has increased by three to six times, the bureau officials said.
They spoke at a briefing that also found once-warring Arizona Department of Water Resources and Central Arizona Project officials moving closer together on issues that had split them apart for well over a year. Both ADWR chief Tom Buschatzke and CAP general manager Ted Cooke enthusiastically endorsed the idea of a drought plan, although Cooke warned that the resulting reduction in river water use would boost water rates the CAP charges to Tucson, Phoenix and other municipal customers over time.
“We are not here to scare you. We are just presenting the best information we have,” Burman told a gathering that virtually filled a 275-person auditorium at the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe.
“Keeping our fingers crossed, hoping for good hydrology” and waiting for the current and future interior secretaries to ignore the laws of the Colorado River that require protecting its reservoirs from depletion is not how to deal with this problem, she said.
“It’s not how we’ve dealt with it in the past, and it’s not how Arizona wants to deal with it in the future,” said Burman, a longtime Arizonan who has worked for the Salt River Project utility and for former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona in the past.
The bureau’s forecasts for how far and fast Lake Mead’s elevations could fall were most severe when the forecasters used what they called a “stress test.” It relies on computer models assuming a continuation of the last 30 years of unusually dry weather.
Less severe risks of such declines were predicted when the bureau relied on the river’s entire historical record, covering 1906 to 2015, which included several much wetter spells, including the wettest period on record for the river, in the early 20th century.
From The Arizona Republic (Joanna Allhands):
And if we repeat the hydrology from 1988-2015 – where dry years were punctuated by a few wet ones, not a great scenario but certainly not the worst case – Lake Mead has a one in five chance of dropping to 1,000 feet of elevation before 2026.
That should give you goosebumps, because it doesn’t just mean significant cuts to the water supply on which Pinal County agriculture and the state water bank relies. (That scenario, which will play out when the lake hits 1,075 feet, is already likely to happen in the next year or two).
If Lake Mead drops to 1,000 feet, that means massive cuts have already hit the water supplies fueling Arizona cities, and we’ll need to cut even more to keep the lake from spiraling into dead pool, where water levels have fallen so low that none can leave the lake.
That is a horrifying prospect.
And let me repeat this: There’s a one in five chance of it happening sometime in the next few years if something doesn’t change…
Here’s the bad news:
Reclamation says that if the plan was in place, it wouldn’t lower the risk of a shortage being declared. In fact, even with the DCP, Lake Mead likely will hit 1,075 feet before 2026, cutting water from the state’s lowest-priority water users (mostly Pinal County farmers, though it wouldn’t be limited to them).
That will hurt.
But here’s the good news: It would significantly lower the likelihood of the lake reaching critically low levels, requiring heftier cuts from cities and other higher-priority water users.
Here’s the video of the meeting. (Water folks on the hotseat.)
And the good people of Phoenix are cutting water use. Here’s a report from (Joshua Bowling) writing for The Arizona Republic. Here’s an excerpt:
Salt River Project officials say water use is down one-third, even though Arizona’s population has doubled.
But even as a historically dry winter and low snowpack numbers set reservoir levels back, officials say it isn’t all bad news.
Salt River Project announced in June that water use among its users has decreased by one-third since 1980, even though the state’s population has doubled since then.
That’s due to conservation efforts, recycling wastewater and recharging water underground for future use, SRP officials say. The agency managers and delivers water from the Salt and Verde rivers to users in Maricopa County.
From The Arizona City Independent (Jake Kincaid):
Top officials in the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project shelved disagreements from the last legislative cycle and presented a united front along with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on the need for reductions of Colorado River water.
Proposed reductions have the entire agriculture pool of Central Arizona Project surface water being slashed if Lake Mead goes into a Tier 1 shortage — below 1,075 feet elevation. This year analysts set Lake Mead at just 1,083 feet.
In a best-case scenario presented in the brief, basing predictions on hydrology going back to 1906, there is a 65 percent chance Lake Mead will drop below this level in 2026.
Making predictions using hydrology records going back to only 1988, which means assuming the hotter, drier climate is here to stay, there is a 90 percent chance Lake Mead will drop below 1,075 feet in 2020 without a drought contingency plan, and a 40 percent chance it will drop that year even with the plan.
It is unlikely the agriculture pool of CAP water will survive even in the best of scenarios under the drought contingency plan.
Paul Orme, who serves as general counsel to five special districts in Pinal County, including Central Arizona Irrigation and Drainage District and Maricopa–Stanfield Irrigation and Drainage District, said that DCP is not really designed to preserve the agriculture priority pool.
But there is support for measures to mitigate the burden on agriculture. Stakeholders are working on fleshing out ideas that are “not ready for the press,” Orme said. He recently received a letter appointing him to represent Pinal County agriculture on the steering committee for the drought contingency plan.
“I think people generally agree it’s not fair for agriculture to bear the entire burden of DCP when it’s not really intended to benefit us,” Orme said. “The real purpose of DCP is to keep Lake Mead above 1,020 (feet). That’s really what the primary focus is, and that only protects the long-term allocations of the tribes and the cities — agriculture is long gone.”
Orme said that about 80 percent of the CAP surface water allotted to agriculture goes to Pinal County farmers, making up about half of their total water supply. Taking away CAP water would be economically devastating for agriculture and could ultimately result in about a third of farmland being taken out of production in Pinal County.
From Audubon (Haley Paul):
This almost 20-year drought is affecting water supplies across the Southwest. We already know the Colorado River System is over-extended — more water is taken out by water users than is put back in by snowpack and rainfall. Millions of people, businesses, birds, fish, and wildlife all rely on a healthy Colorado River and the water it provides.
Given today’s hydrologic trends, in order to stabilize our water supply and reduce the chance that Lake Mead declines more rapidly, we’ll need to incentivize those who would take their water to leave it behind Hoover Dam instead. Enter the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP).
The DCP, according to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, is a seven-year agreement to “buy down risk” on the Colorado River system. She said it in the first word: BUY. In other words, DCP is going to cost money.
A couple of reasons why DCP will cost money:
Certain water users will need a financial incentive, aka payment, to leave their water in Lake Mead, instead of using it.
Since some water users will be leaving more water in Lake Mead, less water will be coming down the 336-mile long Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal. When there is less water ordered, there is less water sold, yet the fixed costs to maintain this large piece of infrastructure remain. There are fewer units over which to spread costs. Therefore, cost per unit of water rises.
However, not implementing the DCP, not implementing a formal mechanism to encourage water users to leave more water in Lake Mead is far too risky, and potentially more costly, or catastrophic, to our economic and environmental livelihood. The cost of no DCP may be much greater than the cost of having a DCP.
DCP acts as an insurance policy to buy down risk. We buy down the risk of climate change and an over-allocated Colorado River system by using less water now. Our economies and our environment depend on it.
From The Phoenix Business Journal (Patrick O’Grady):
Such a scenario is extremely likely, according to new federal studies, and deciding who gets water first could impact businesses from agriculture to home building throughout the state.
The Wall Street Journal reported the Central Arizona Project and the Arizona Department of Water Resources are attempting to overcome differences on how to spread out less Colorado River water among its users. Arizona is the last of seven states using the river’s water to come up with a drought contingency plan.
Currently, Lake Mead’s water elevation sits at 1,077 feet, two feet away from a level that would signify cutbacks to California, Arizona and Nevada, all of which rely on the the lake to store their allotment of Colorado River water.
The challenge for Arizona is further cutbacks that could be triggered if the lake elevation falls to 1,025, which has a 40 percent chance of happening by 2026, according to a new U.S. Bureau of Reclamation report.
CAP and ADWR have not been able to find agreement on where cuts to water deliveries should happen, according to the WSJ. Agriculture could get the biggest impact, but many businesses would be affected.
Arizona gets about 40 percent of its water from the Colorado River.
From The Arizona Report (Ken Lynch):
10 CAP Facts: The Canal that Made Modern Arizona
About those ten facts! Here they are:
The 336 mile-long canal, its pumping stations, and turnouts are operated entirely remotely from a control room in north Phoenix. A rotating team of three or four operates the secure facility 24/7/365, running the entire system from a bank of computers while monitoring a display that takes up two walls of a room the size of your basic city council chamber. It’s efficient, cost-effective, and pretty damn cool. The original Waddell Dam sits at the bottom of Lake Pleasant, intact. Completed in 1927, the dam was submerged when the lake was expanded to hold CAP water by the construction of the New Waddell Dam, completed in 1994. An acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons, the volume required to cover a square acre to a depth of one foot. If you are a ‘typical family of four,’ you use about one-third of an acre-foot per year, around 108,000 gallons. The CAP pumps water at a rate of roughly 3,000 cubic feet per second from Lake Havasu. That’s one acre-foot every 14 seconds. A typical family of four would be knocked into New Mexico standing in front of a stream that powerful. Only 4% of CAP water is lost to seepage and evaporation. Covering the canal was discussed early on. It would have quadrupled the construction cost and required untold billions in ongoing maintenance, basically forever. Those costs would have been passed to y-o-u. CAP water begins its journey by being pumped almost straight uphill more than 800 feet. This marvel of sheer power takes place at the massive Mark Wilmer Pumping Station (pictured below in 1981) at Lake Havasu and looks like the world’s most dramatic roller coaster climb. (Illustrating the importance of the legal water wars in Arizona, this very first facility on the CAP is named for Wilmer, a water attorney.) The canal is bigger and deeper than it looks. It’s hard to appreciate when you are concentrating on your driving, but the CAP is 80 feet across, narrowing to 24 feet at the bottom. Average depth is between 16 and 17 feet. There is a section serving as internal storage that is 160 feet wide and 80 feet deep. Water leaving Lake Havasu takes 3-4 days to make it to the end of the line. This means the canal is pushing relentlessly along at 3-5 miles per hour. It does not stop, and as mentioned above, it’s deep. Do NOT let the kids get near it and don’t ever enter the water yourself. It’s not meant for recreation. It’s dangerous. It’s against the law. You will be very sorry. The end of the line is 12 miles southwest of Tucson. Water arriving there is used to replenish Tucson-area groundwater. A woman named Nellie T. Bush commanded the “Arizona Navy” in the 1934 California water dispute. Bush owned the boats Arizona Governor Moeur commandeered in the mobilization, so he made her an admiral on the spot. A prominent Arizonan, Bush was a lawyer admitted to practice in California and Arizona. She became Justice of the Peace in Parker; was elected to the Arizona legislature, and was a delegate to the 1932 Democratic National Convention that nominated FDR for the first time. In 1982, Nellie T. Bush was inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame. The CAP uses 2.8 billion KwH of electricity per year: That’s enough energy to, well, push 1.5 million acre-feet of water 2,400 feet uphill for 336 miles. Water in Arizona also generates power, so part of almost everyone’s household electrical bill is water generated.
The CAP canal in the Phoenix area is marked by “Hayden- Rhodes Aqueduct” signs. CAP and ADOT put up the signs to call attention to the canal and memorialize the contributions of Senator Hayden and former Rep. John Rhodes, who was a driving force in the House when the 1968 authorization bill was signed.
Bonus to the bonus:
Rhodes went on to become known as one of three political leaders (Barry Goldwater and Pennsylvania’s Hugh Scott were the others) who delivered the news to Richard Nixon that he did not have enough support in Congress to stave off impeachment and probably faced conviction, triggering Nixon’s resignation from the Presidency in 1974.
From Parker Live (John Wright):
The Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) was one of many Arizona entities and stakeholders who met to discuss contingency plans to deal with the worsening drought conditions in the southwestern United States.
The water officials committed last Thursday to reach a multi-state plan by the end of the year to stave off potential shortages. The move comes after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been pushing western states to come up with solid plans about water usage, with steady declines in the Colorado River year on year…
Tribal water is increasingly being seen as part of the solution to the problem, by both the representatives of metropolitan areas, which require the highest water usage, and by tribes like CRIT who have rights to many hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water that they do not use.
A proposed CAP program would potentially allow tribes, who have senior rights, to store water behind Lake Mead, which could be a way to mitigate the shortage-created loss of water rights by central Arizona farmers, who need it to keep producing crops.
In such an environment, there are few such solutions, which has forced CRIT to the table. But the potential benefits to CRIT are also clear, according to the tribe’s water attorney Margaret Vick, with many of the state’s entities talking about creating positive solutions now rather than leaving it too late and having less desirable solutions imposed by the federal government later.
“We can buy insurance now to provide more certainty for the coming years,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “It’s Arizona’s history that we face problems head on.”
Burman said other states would pressure her agency to limit Arizona’s water deliveries if it doesn’t agree on an effective drought plan, and predicted that there would be lawsuits. The agency has said it would rather the states negotiate a solution that includes all entities with rights to the river.
From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):
For the first time in well over a year, a clear path exists for completion of Arizona’s share of a three-state drought plan for the Colorado River.
The plan would step up already-approved requirements for cuts in water deliveries to Arizona, Nevada and eventually California as Lake Mead drops below certain key levels.
While many hurdles and potential disputes remain, water officials said last week they’re ready to work together and hold public meetings to solicit comments on the plan from various water users and other interest groups. The first such meeting will be held July 26 in the Phoenix area.
Officials hope to have a plan ready for the Legislature to approve next year, with “zero no votes,” said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke at Thursday’s briefing in Tempe on the drought plan.
Officials laid out four key elements of a drought plan Thursday but said the details will be worked out by a steering committee of water officials and interest group representatives that will meet publicly.
The key elements are:
A plan for what to do with what officials call “excess water,” Central Arizona Project water that isn’t used in a given year by the city, irrigation district or Indian tribe that has the rights to it. A plan to mitigate the drought plan’s impacts on farmers, who will take the biggest hit by far from future cuts in CAP water deliveries. A plan to allow tribes to leave some of their water in Lake Mead and take it out later, when necessary. An overall “Arizona Conservation Plan,” whose purpose and details were not made clear.
At the briefing, officials from the federal government, the state water department and the CAP said the tribes’ role in this plan will be crucial. But the details of setting up a program for how it would happen remain unknown. When Lake Mead drops below 1,075 feet at the end of any year — the threshold for the first shortage on the river — Pinal County farmers would lose all their CAP water. That would likely force them to resume what everyone agrees is unsustainable groundwater pumping to stay in business. But at a news conference following the briefing, CAP General Manager Ted Cooke demurred in response to a question about whether and how some water belonging to other parties could be reallocated to agriculture. “I don’t really want to get ahead of the conversation,” Cooke said. Whether to let the dwindling supply of “excess” CAP water stay in Lake Mead to prop it up, or whether CAP officials should continue to sell it to other parties such as its own sister agency that recharges it into the ground to serve future growth. With Lake Mead falling, Cooke said, “There will not be very much … excess water very much longer.”
From KJZZ (Bret Jaspers):
The Rest Of The Basin Looks On
Fights and litigation would only delay a coordinated response to continued high temperatures and slipping water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell.
“The situation in Arizona is a topic of a lot of discussion in the Upper Basin,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water.
He said Arizona’s internal conflict has led to political problems in Colorado.
“It puts pressure on Denver Water as a municipal utility, taking water out of the Colorado River, and it exacerbates historic animosities and relationships between Western Colorado and Denver Water.”
Lochhead sent a letter to the Central Arizona Project in April threatening to pull out of a program to conserve water unless the lower basin made real progress on its plan.
Shortage is so imminent, California has even agreed to take reductions — something the current rules don’t require it to do.
“And you have to ask yourself, given the position that you are in, why would you let that opportunity go by?” said Pat Mulroy, a longtime water leader in Nevada who is now at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
But before it can sign a Lower Basin plan, Arizona needs its own internal deal.
One sticky subject is what to do about farmers in central Arizona, who would take a big hit under the current rules.
“How do we find a way to make things less painful for them?” Cooke asked. “Not completely painless, but less painful.”
Another big issue is determining who gets to decide when certain conserved water stays on Lake Mead.
It’s a major question that Buschatzke said was still “under discussion.”
“We will work that out,” Cooke said.
To get to “yes,” Buschatzke and Cooke agreed they’ll have to avoid letting side issues divert the talks.
Buschatzke said his task is “to find a collective way to create a package where everyone is better off with the package, even though there might be individual pieces of that package that they might not particularly like 100 percent.”
From Arizona Public Media (Casey Kuhn):
Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke says partnerships will be crucial to finally getting a drought contingency plan (DCP) approved.
“Or the result will be that somebody perceives that they’re being ‘stuck’ with the outcome of doing DCP and that will make it much more difficult to have the folks coming together when we do go to the Legislature: ‘We all think this is a good thing. Let’s do it. Please approve it.”
The next step is assembling a large committee of stakeholders such as agriculture operations and tribal leaders who hold water rights.
Water officials hope to craft a plan that gets Arizona lawmakers’ approval, and then have the Department of Water Resources director put it into action next year.