From Inkstain (John Fleck):
At Colorado Mesa University’s Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum [November 7-8, 2018] in Grand Junction, a distinguished panel of the Colorado River Basin brain trust cheerfully dodged an audience question about what the basin states’ Plan B is if Arizona can’t come to the internal agreement needed to sign on to a Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan.
“Arizona will figure it out,” said Chris Harris, Executive Director of the Colorado River Board of California.
With no one from Arizona on the panel to speak for themselves, it’s probably the best answer Harris could have given to an unfair question. Clearly the representatives of the federal government and the other six Colorado River Basin states can see what the rest of us can see regarding Arizona’s difficulties in coming to agreement on how to reduce water use to meet their obligations under the DCP. And they’re smart people, which means we have to believe they’ve thought about what a six-state, Arizona-less DCP might look like. But it would be unwise at this point to talk about it publicly.
Abigail Sullivan of Indiana University and colleagues published a fascinating new paper looking at Arizona’s DCP process that sheds some light on the current situation. It helps explain why a) Arizona’s current efforts to come to an agreement on a DCP have run aground, and b) why there’s reason to be optimistic that Harris’s answer to the question during the Grand Junction conference is ultimately probably the right one, and we won’t have to worry about how Plan B might work.
Sullivan and colleagues identify a window of opportunity that opened in 2016 “tied to declining Lake Mead elevations and perceived harm associated with inaction”. At the time, Arizona was staring at a formal shortage declaration that would have forced mandatory reductions in its supply of Colorado River water. And at the time, it appeared Arizona was on board with the complex shortage-sharing provisions in the DCP, which would importantly for the first time bring California voluntarily into the “we’re all gonna use less Lower Basin water” club.
And then the snows fell, and the window of opportunity closed:
“After continuing to decline throughout 2015 and 2016, increased winter precipitation in 2016–2017, combined with ongoing conservation efforts, raised Lake Mead’s elevation to 1089 feet in March 2017. After the period of increased precipitation in early 2017, evidence of short-term thinking related to the DCP emerged. In 2017, there were numerous instances of stakeholders planning or making decisions based on weather, as opposed to climate.”
From Inkstain (John Fleck):
Interesting letter from the Central Arizona Water Conservation District board leadership regarding Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan. Not sure what this means, seems kind of important. I guess we all need to set aside some time on Nov. 15 to find out.
“Please be advised that the Board of Directors of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District is holding a special meeting on November 15, 2018 to discuss a number of matters related to the Drought Contingency Plan in preparation for significant decisions that the Board may take up as soon as the December 6, 2018 regular Board meeting. We anticipate that a DCP Mitigation Proposal will result from the Board’s November 15 discussions, which we, the undersigned, as Delegates to the Arizona DCP Steering Committee, would like to present to the Steering Committee as soon as possible thereafter.”
From Inkstain (John Fleck):
Here, from the solution space, a proposal from Arizona’s Colorado River Indian Tribes to help Arizona reduce its use of the river’s water. The CRIT have some of the bestest most senior Colorado River water rights in the state:
“Attached to this letter is the proposal from the Colorado River Indian Tribes for System Conservation and Intentionally Created Surplus to assist the State of Arizona in its effort to adopt the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan.
“We live on the Colorado River. The River runs through the middle of our land. We understand the risks to the River with continued drought throughout the Basin. Our proposal is to protect the life of the River. We believe that adopting the Drought Contingency Plan by all the Basin States, including Arizona, is the best way to protect the River during the decades?long drought, as temperatures rise and our climate changes.
“We have been working with Reclamation and your respective staffs over the last few months to prepare a proposal that will make a difference for this process. This proposal is one that we know we can fulfill, and that Reclamation can verify. The attached documents detail our plan to make 50,000 acre-feet of water available for Compensated System Conservation each year for three years beginning in January 2020 for a total of 150,000 acre?feet of water. in addition, we will agree to forebear from increasing our consumptive use on the Reservation above an agreed upon baseline. This will provide the CAWCD with increased certainty about the supply available for use in Arizona. We are also creating up to 20,000 acre-feet of intentionally Created Surplus in our name to be used as a buffer for our on-reservation water use when the Overrun and Payback Policy is suspended during shortages.
“The Tribes are asking for $250 an acre-foot for the Compensated System Conservation portion of the proposal. This does not reflect the economic value of CRIT water for farming on our reservation or the value of the number one priority water in the Lower Basin. However, we are willing to accept this price in order to assist with the Drought Contingency Plan to protect the River.
“Our water right does not best serve the State of Arizona by placing it in Lake Mead as System Conservation. The value of our water will be realized when we have the Congressional authorization to make a portion of our water available for off-reservation uses within the State of Arizona and preserve the first priority of our right during shortages.
“We look forward to working with Governor Ducey and our Representatives in Congress to pass
the federal legislation necessary to make this happen.”
From The Farmington Daily Times (Hannah Grover):
Approximately 19 years of drought in the Colorado River basin have led the seven states that rely on water from the river and its tributaries to look at ways they can avoid severe water crises.
That could have major impacts for San Juan County residents, according to Rolf Schmidt-Petersen, who serves as the bureau chief for the Colorado River basin for the Interstate Stream Commission.
“The issue that we’re talking about today and the plans that we are talking about today are very important for the Upper Colorado basin,” said Schmidt-Petersen during a San Juan Water Commission meeting on Wednesday…
That potential [pre-1922 call] could impact many water rights in San Juan County. Schmidt-Petersen cited the Navajo-Gallup project and the water rights in the Hammond area near Bloomfield as some of the post-1922 water rights.
The potential challenges the seven states that rely on the Colorado River could face in the future led to the two basins drafting drought contingency plans, which were released in October.
The upper-basin plan has two aims — ensuring the water level in Lake Powell does not drop below a certain point and developing a system for storing water in certain reservoirs, including Navajo Lake.
Schmidt-Petersen said Navajo Nation was not included in the process of drafting the plan.
The draft drought contingency plan can be read at http://ucrcommission.com.
From Arizona Public Media (Vanessa Barchfield and Tony Davis):
The gap between Pinal County farmers and the Gila River Indians over how to protect the Colorado River and Lake Mead is far wider than the interstate highway separating their communities.
Farmers Dan Thelander and Cindi Pearson grow cotton, alfalfa, grains, melons and other crops on fields amidst a bevy of dairies, cattle feedlots and small towns west of Interstate 10 and south of Casa Grande.
They’re worried that one version of a plan to stave off a catastrophe at Lake Mead is unfair and will threaten their long-term livelihood, along with the entire agriculture economy that has thrived in Pinal County since World War II.
Gila River Tribal Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis runs the Indian nation from his office in Sacaton, just east of Interstate 10 and a 50-minute drive from the non-Indian farmers.
He says a version of the water-saving plan favored by Pinal farmers is not only unfair, but will cost the tribe close to $200 million. Plus, it will slow the tribe’s efforts to heal its own agriculture economy, one wiped out 150 years ago when its water was “stolen” by non-Indian farmers living upstream, Lewis said.
These conflicting views are part of a broader controversy that has created an impasse among water interest groups. It’s jeopardizing the odds of Arizona approving a three-state plan to prevent imperiled Lake Mead from dropping to catastrophically low levels.
The Drought Contingency Plan’s goal is to reduce Arizona, Nevada and California’s take from the Colorado River over the next decade or so. Its goal is also to cut Central Arizona Project deliveries more than originally planned during early shortages of the river’s water.
That would delay more severe cuts that could slash supplies belonging to Arizona’s highest-priority users of Colorado River water through the CAP: Phoenix, Tucson and their suburbs, and the Gilas, the Tohono O’Odham and other tribes.
But non-Indian farmers, tribal leaders, cities, developers and other interest groups can’t agree on what to cut.
All are represented on a 41-member steering committee that’s trying to settle on a plan by November’s end and to get it approved next year by the Arizona Legislature.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has told the states that at least the outlines of drought plans for the river’s Lower and Upper basins should be in place by the end of 2018…
Thelander noted that the farms have known for a long time that their days on CAP water are numbered. The Pinal farmers signed an agreement with the U.S. in 2004 to get a discounted rate for CAP water. In return, they agreed to give up their CAP supplies entirely by 2030. This was in a federal water-rights settlement law that provided CAP rights to the Gila and Tohono O’Odham tribes.
Until now, Thelander planned to gradually switch to groundwater pumping, assuming he and his irrigation district could get some new wells online by then. While he’ll most likely be retired by 2030, his son is 31 and Thelander, 63, says his farm could continue “for the rest of my lifetime” if the CAP water holds out. But if his CAP supplies went away in 2020 — when the Colorado River’s first shortage could be declared — his Maricopa-area farm would drop from 1,700 to 775 acres, reducing crop yields 45 percent, he said. The other farm would drop to 350 acres.
“That size of farm would not be economically viable — I don’t think we would keep farming it,” he said. Thelander said that under the 595,000 acre-foot plan, farms would get 35 percent of their current supplies over the next seven years. Cities and tribes would get 78 to 96 percent of their current supplies at various times. When Mead drops to 1,025 feet, under any plan, cities and tribes would still get water while non-Indian farms would get none..
In reply, Gila Gov. Lewis invoked an earlier history: His tribe and its forebears have farmed for more than 1,000 years and have canal systems of that era that were engineered almost on a par with those of ancient Egypt.
The tribe welcomed a succession of other people to the area, from Spaniards to Mexicans to Mormons and later American settlers, he added. But there “are some sad chapters to this history as well. … When our water was taken away from us 150 years ago, when we had to mobilize our resources to fight for our water back,” he said.
He referred first to the historical diversions of the Gila River carried out by non-Indian farmers upstream, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, that stripped the tribe of the river’s water and its agricultural heritage, and second, to the 2004 water-settlements act.
Today, the Gilas see the water fight not only as an economic issue but as a moral issue, Lewis said in an interview at tribal offices.
“We can’t divorce ourselves from history. We are in a defensive posture,” he said. “All we are asking for is to be treated fairly and equitably at the table.”
The Gilas are not exactly water paupers, since their entire CAP supply of 311,000 acre-feet a year gives them by far the single biggest share of project water.
But in his Oct. 19 letter, Lewis wrote that the current mitigation proposal not only gives the farms a better deal than before, it fails to compensate for the harm to tribes.
Under the current plan, tribes and some Phoenix-area cities would lose more than half of another pool of CAP water known as non-Indian agriculture water when Mead falls below 1,075 feet. That pool used to belong to farms, but was turned over to tribes and cities in 2004…
Once Mead drops to 1,045 feet, water deliveries in that category would be axed.
These cuts amount to a nearly $200 million loss to the tribe over seven years, said tribal attorney Jason Hauter.
“What concerns our community is that there’s been no discussion for any mitigation for the non-Indian ag pool,” Lewis said. “What was discussed was a bailout for Central Arizona agriculture. If non-Indian ag is going to get more than they otherwise would get under the guidelines, then everyone else has to be mitigated. It’s only fair.”
Mesa Republican Rep. Rusty Bowers, a steering committee member who chairs a key House committee handling water issues, said he doesn’t like the conditions the Gilas are setting for accepting a drought plan: “Is this their version of vengeance?”
Lewis said tribal leaders are only trying to protect “what is rightfully ours” — water gained in the 2004 settlement.
Loss of the non-Indian agricultural water will prevent the tribe from storing as much underground as it would like and will slow the growth of tribal farms, Lewis said.
The Gila community now stores much of its CAP water in farms and artificial recharge basins in Central Arizona. In return, the tribe gets credits it can sell to developers, cities and businesses, which use the credits to pump out water elsewhere.
Today, about 60 tribal farmers grow cotton, alfalfa and traditional Gila crops such as tepary beans on nearly 36,000 acres, said David DeJong, director of the tribe’s Pima-Maricopa Irrigation Project. The tribe’s goal is to boost that to 77,000 acres by 2030.
Lewis and Hauter emphasized they’re not necessarily against CAP mitigation for non-Indian farmers. The tribe has proposed another plan to the state, the CAP and the U.S. and is looking for other potential water supplies, said Hauter.
“We see ourselves as a moral conscience in this overall discussion,” Lewis said. “For generations, we’ve seen water taken away from us. We see the devastation it brings to the people. It’s one thing we don’t want to be visited on anyone.”
From KJZZ (Bret Jaspers):
Negotiations in Arizona are heating up over an additional plan for when the Colorado River is deemed “in shortage.”
Stakeholders have been working on a deal in earnest since the summer, with biweekly meetings of what’s called the Drought Contingency Plan Steering Committee.
But Thursday’s planned committee meeting was canceled to “give time for additional discussions and analysis,” according to a statement from the Central Arizona Water Conservation District and the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
The next public meeting will be Nov. 8, and formal talks will now almost certainly last beyond Thanksgiving.
From the Arizona Department of Water Resources:
While Arizona water managers and affected stakeholders have been meeting almost daily over the past several months to finalize the state’s Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), plans have been underway on a parallel track for several years to ensure the framework is in place for the entire Colorado River Basin DCP.
Chronic, often severe drought in the Southwest is seriously straining the Colorado River system. With Lake Powell less than half full and Lake Mead below 40 percent of capacity, the seven Colorado River states are preparing to act should Lake Mead continue falling toward critical surface levels. At the same time, some states – including Arizona – are developing drought contingency plans supporting intrastate needs to contend with future Colorado River shortages.
Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released drafts of the Upper Basin DCP and Lower Basin DCP documents. This gives the first glimpse at what will be included in the interstate agreement amongst the Upper Basin and Lower Basin states. These documents contain actions that are in addition to the provisions of the existing system-wide agreement, formally known as the Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
According to the Bureau’s website:
- 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.
These documents show the interstate framework into which the intrastate (in our case, AZDCP) will fit. AZDCP work continues and we anticipate our intrastate implementation plan and framework will be completed by the end of November, prior to the December Colorado River Water Users Association meeting, at which point the entire plan will come together.