Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation:
Colorado River Basin States make important progress towards adopting effective Drought Contingency Plans in 2018
In December 2017, Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman called on the seven Colorado River Basin States and water entitlement holders in the Lower Colorado Basin to continue developing Drought Contingency Plans (DCPs) in response to ongoing historic drought conditions in the Basin and reduce the likelihood of Colorado River reservoirs – particularly Lake Powell and Lake Mead – further declining to critical elevations. All seven Colorado River Basin States have been working diligently throughout 2018 on a set of draft DCP agreements that would implement Drought Contingency Plans in the Upper and Lower Basins. The agreements include an Upper Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan and a Lower Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan.
The Upper Basin DCP is designed to: a) protect critical elevations at Lake Powell and help assure continued compliance with the 1922 Colorado River Compact, and b) authorize storage of conserved water in the Upper Basin that could help establish the foundation for a Demand Management Program that may be developed in the future.
The Lower Basin DCP is designed to: a) require Arizona, California and Nevada to contribute additional water to Lake Mead storage at predetermined elevations, and b) create additional flexibility to incentivize additional voluntary conservation of water to be stored in Lake Mead.
The Upper and Lower Basin DCPs contain actions in addition to the provisions of the December 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The Upper and Lower Basin DCPs are available for download here: Upper and Lower Basin DCPs – Final Review Draft. (PDF – 668 KB)
From The Los Angeles Times (Bettina Boxall):
After years of stop-and-go talks, California and two other states that take water from the lower Colorado River are nearing an agreement on how to share delivery cuts if a formal shortage is declared on the drought-plagued waterway.
Under the proposed pact, California — the river’s largest user — would reduce diversions earlier in a shortage than it would if the lower-basin states strictly adhered to a water-rights pecking order. California’s huge river take would drop 4.5% to 8% as the shortage progressed.
With occasional years of relief, the river that greens farm fields and fills faucets from Colorado to California has been stuck in drought since 2000. A shortage declaration has been looming over the seven-state basin for more than a decade, only to be narrowly averted time and again when rain and snow in the upper basin pushed reservoir levels above the trigger point.
But flows into Lake Powell — one of the Colorado’s two massive reservoirs — fell to a little more than a third of the average for the April-through-July period this year. And September’s inflow was negligible, less than 1% of the average. Looking at those numbers, federal officials say the U.S. Interior Department could declare a shortage in 2020.
“It’s pretty clear we’re in a deepening long-term drought cycle,” said Jeffrey Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which has been importing Colorado River water to the region since the early 1940s. “It’s in everybody’s interest to prevent the system from cratering.”
The basin’s entire storage system is 47% full. Lake Powell, which stores runoff from the upper basin and releases it to Lake Mead, is 45% full. Mead, the source of Southern California’s river water, is 38% full.
The Interior secretary has never declared a shortage on the Colorado. But it has been known for years that the river is over-allocated. The basin states divvied up the flows in the early 20th century — a period that in hindsight was unusually wet and presented an unrealistic picture of what the Colorado could produce year in and year out.
Diversions are regulated by a complicated system of river compacts and water rights that call for Arizona and Nevada to take the first cuts in times of a lower-basin shortage. California, with some of the oldest river rights, is further down the line.
The sprawling Imperial Irrigation District and other farm districts in southeastern California control roughly 75% of California’s 4.4 million-acre-foot share. Imperial is the single largest user on the entire length of the river, which starts at the Continental Divide in the Colorado Rockies and has an average annual flow of roughly 15 million acre-feet.
Metropolitan has nearly doubled its base allocation of 550,000 acre-feet through agreements with Imperial and other irrigation districts that fallow crop land and sell their unused river supplies. Those deals would help cushion Metropolitan, which serves Southern California, if a shortage is declared. (An acre-foot is enough to supply more than two households for a year.)
Metropolitan would also benefit from water it has been able to bank in Lake Mead under 2007 drought guidelines that have allowed states to leave unused portions of their river allocations in the reservoir. Under the previous use-it-or-lose-it rules, states had to take their full allocation every year.
The 2007 framework specified that the Department of the Interior would declare a shortage when Lake Mead’s elevation hit 1,075 feet. Nevada and Arizona, which have rights junior to California, would then start delivery reductions.
Under the proposed drought contingency plan, Arizona and Nevada would continue to take the first cuts, which would be deeper than outlined in 2007. At the same time, California would reduce its river diversions when Mead levels hit 1,045 feet — earlier in the shortage than previously envisioned.
California’s cuts, shared by Imperial and Metropolitan, would increase as the lake level dropped but be no greater than 350,000 acre-feet a year.
Arizona is still working out the details of how to apportion its cuts among in-state users. And the lower-basin water districts have yet to approve the drought plan, which parties are hoping to finalize by December.
From Water Edcuation Colorado (Jerd Smith):
Colorado and three other states could set aside up to 500,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Powell in coming years, enough to serve 1 million homes, under a far-reaching agreement to protect the drought-stricken Colorado River and water supplies for 40 million people in the American West.
“We are in a very dire situation in the Colorado River Basin and it could be more dire if this year’s snowpack looks like last year’s snowpack,” said James Eklund, who represents Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Commission.
Eklund’s comments came Tuesday in a conference call with more than 200 people, including water officials from across the Colorado Basin and members of the public. The call unveiled a series of agreements that will, if formally approved by Congress and others, constitute a first-ever basin-wide drought plan designed to avoid mandatory water cutbacks among those who rely on the Colorado River.
Seven states comprise the Colorado River Basin: Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California.
Among the agreements is a drought plan covering the Lower Basin states, which include Nevada, Arizona and California. A second drought plan covers the Upper Basin States, which include Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico. Additional agreements that involve collaboration among all seven states, Mexico, Indian tribes with claims to the river, and the federal government are also included.
In the announcement Tuesday, the Lower Basin and Upper Basin states agreed to one another’s drought plans and to take steps to begin implementing them. The announcement has been months in the making, stalled at various times by political disputes.
“The Lower Basin has taken off any hold that it had in the negotiations, and we have done the same with them,” Eklund said. “We’ve progressed to the point where we’re holding hands now and moving forward together.”
The Upper Basin Drought Contingency Plan has two components: The first involves new storage in Powell and an aggressive 500,000-acre-foot water savings plan, in which water users in each of the four Upper Basin states would voluntarily agree to reduce water use. Their saved water would then be stored in a protected pool in Lake Powell. Any farmer or city that contributes to the drought pool would be paid.
How those water savings would be achieved and who would pay for them has yet to be determined and each Upper Basin state would have to agree to participate, said Karen Kwon, an attorney with the Colorado Attorney General’s Federal and Interstate Water Unit who has been helping write and negotiate the agreements.
The second component involves a new operating agreement that would allow water to be released from Blue Mesa Reservoir in Colorado, Navajo Reservoir in New Mexico and part of Colorado, and Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming and Utah and sent down to Powell in times when it is needed.
Officials hope the agreements can be approved by water users, the states and Congress and finalized next year, Kwon said.
“I think this is really hopeful,” said Melinda Kassen, senior counsel at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Trust who also sits on Colorado’s Interbasin Compact Committee, a group that monitors water issues within the state and between its major river basins.
“We’ve been talking about this kind of account in Lake Powell for a number of years, but the Lower Basin would never consider it. They didn’t want us to be able to store water in Powell that wasn’t subject to [use by the Lower Basin]. That position has changed now. That’s what makes this announcement so important,” Kassen said.
The agreements come after a devastating year in which Colorado and other states saw some of the lowest snowpacks and streamflows on record. Flows into Lake Powell were roughly one-third of average and Powell and Mead are now just 44 percent full on a combined basis.
Since 2007, the Colorado River Basin has been operating under a set of interim rules designed to protect Powell and Mead from dropping so low that either power production or expected water deliveries would be impacted.
But those rules were based on much higher projected river flows than have materialized since then.
“The drought we’re in is actually drier than we had anticipated under the 2007 guidelines,” Kwon said.
As water levels in Powell and Mead have dropped, alarm among water officials has been rising.
Colorado and other Upper Basin states are legally required to deliver 8.23 million acre-feet of water from Lake Powell in any given year. Because this year was so dry, even more was needed, and under the 2007 interim guidelines the Upper Basin states had to release 9 maf from their dwindling supplies in Powell.
At the same time, Lower Basin states have watched supplies in Lake Mead decline as well. Under the plan unveiled Tuesday, these states would have to take additional steps to use less water and leave more in Lake Mead. All told, they hope to store an additional 100,000 acre-feet of water in Mead, an amount they hope will keep the giant reservoir operational.
Kwon describes the drought agreements as a Band-Aid designed to keep the river system functioning until a new set of interim guidelines are written in 2026 that better reflect the lower snowpacks the region is now routinely seeing.
How successful Colorado will be in creating a water-saving program is unknown. The trick will be getting Front Range and West Slope water interests on the same page. The state’s Western Slope interests have been concerned for years that they would be the first forced to give up water in a situation such as the one the state faces now.
Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs, said he’s grateful the process is moving forward. But he said the West Slope would have to see the state formally adopt a policy that would, in effect, guarantee that any water conservation plan is voluntary, that users are paid, that it is temporary in nature, and that it draws water equally from the Front Range and the West Slope. Without such a policy, Mueller said it would be difficult to support Colorado’s drought contingency plan.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
From Western Resource Advocates:
Today, Western Resource Advocates welcomed the release of tentative agreements shared by the seven states in the Colorado River Basin, an effort to provide water security to the 40 million people who rely on the river.
According to the latest hydrologic reports, 2018 has been one of the driest years on record, adding to the stresses on the river, which supplies water to some of the fastest-growing communities in the United States. In August, the Bureau of Reclamation reported that water levels in Lake Mead are falling so fast that mandatory cutbacks of the water delivered to Arizona and Nevada could be required by 2020.
Western Resource Advocates is among the group of businesses, water experts, local governments, and conservation organizations working together to find the best ways to protect the health of the Colorado River while meeting the needs of cities, farms, and businesses.
Bart Miller, Healthy Rivers Program Director for Western Resource Advocates, issued the following statement about the progress:
“The proposed Drought Contingency Plans shared this week are a significant step in the right direction for the farmers, communities, and businesses who depend on the Colorado River for drinking water, recreation, and irrigation. While much work remains to be done, we applaud the progress that has been made so far, and we encourage all of the major parties to stay at the negotiating table and continue to be transparent as the documents move toward becoming final.
“After years of drought and over-use, the Colorado River is at a crisis point. We must take decisive, proactive steps now, or states across the West will lose water they rely on. We believe that collaborative solutions can be found to mitigate impacts to water users, protect our communities, encourage appropriate economic growth, and preserve the iconic rivers, habitat, and species of the American West.”