From Arizona Central (Ian James):
The talks are proving difficult, though, with points of disagreement over how the cuts should be spread around and how much water should be used to soften the blow for farmers in central Arizona who have the lowest priority in the state’s pecking order of water users.
The state’s top water managers canceled a Thursday meeting of a group they call the Drought Contingency Plan Steering Committee, saying in a statement that they wanted to “give time for additional discussions and analysis related to the four essential elements involved in this process.”
Those elements include how much “mitigation water” would be lined up for growers in central Arizona through 2026, as well as a water conservation plan and other elements of the proposed deal.
The Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project said in a joint statement that progress is being made through discussions between groups of stakeholders, “which we believe will lead to Arizona’s Drought Contingency Plan.”
“The goal remains to complete the plan by the end of November,” the agencies said.
The biweekly meetings began in July and two more are scheduled on Nov. 8 and Nov. 29, by which time Arizona’s water managers hope to finish an agreement.
Much remains to be worked out by then.
“We have every possibility that they will come up with an agreement,” said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University. “But we’ve always known that there was a likelihood, some possibility, that they wouldn’t be able to get to agreement. If it were easy, we would have already had an agreement.”
Tribal leader calls proposal inequitable
The state’s water managers offered a proposal earlier this month, laying out a schedule of mitigation water deliveries that would go to farmers in central Arizona who would otherwise lose much or all of their water.
One potential approach for freeing up water to make an agreement work would be paying some high-priority entities, such as a tribe or agricultural water district, to leave some farmland fallow and send that water elsewhere.
But the proposal quickly ran into opposition, with the proposed numbers generating debate.
“When people are being asked to give up water or do without water, it’s a really big deal,” Porter said. “This is really about what are contract holders willing to give up?”
Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community rejected the initial proposal in a letter to the state’s top water managers.
“Tribes are deeply concerned about the prospect of drought being declared on the Colorado River as soon 2020, both on their respective tribal nations and economies, but also on the greater Arizona economy,” Lewis said in the Oct. 19 letter to Thomas Buschatzke of the state Department of Water Resources and Ted Cooke of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District.