From KJZZ (Bret Jaspers):
The news came as the heads of two big water agencies, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD), presented a plan to water stakeholders in hopes of pushing the group closer to a resolution.
Arizona needs to finalize an internal drought deal so that it can enter into an agreement with the other Colorado River Basin states…
“I fully endorse this plan, the state endorses this plan,” said ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke at Thursday’s meeting of the DCP Steering Committee. He said Ducey himself will “advocate strongly” to make sure the $30 million budget request gets passed.
Buschatzke also acknowledged several items still need to be worked out.
The plan builds on an earlier, three-year proposal from the CAWCD board put forward in case something longer could not garner support.
This new proposal takes the state through 2026, when an existing set of drought guidelines expires and will need to be renegotiated. The plan now on the table provides specific amounts of water and money to “mitigate” Pinal County farmers, cities, and Native American tribes for water they will lose under the DCP, although the mitigation volumes will decrease as the plan goes on.
“This is a bridge from having no shortage to having one, and then the new future — whatever that might be — after 2026,” said Ted Cooke, general manager of the CAWCD. “The mitigation program will be done by the end of 2025.”
The water for mitigation will largely come from 400,000 acre-feet of CAWCD water currently being stored in Lake Mead. Many stakeholders say using that for mitigation is against the intention of the drought plan in the first place. But Thursday’s framework creates a “Lake Mead Offset” component to make up for those drawdowns.
Money for the plan includes:
$60 million from the CAWCD. $30 million state appropriation proposed in Gov. Ducey’s upcoming budget. $8 million from a collection of non-governmental organizations in the Water Funders Initiative. $20 million to $30 million in federal money already required under existing programs. An unspecified amount of money, from both federal coffers and Central Arizona irrigation districts, for a groundwater infrastructure program for Pinal County farmers.
But Rob Anderson, with the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, said, “we think that economic development is an important message and that having nothing in there for developer mitigation is an issue.”
He noted a separate but related water agreement between CAWCD’s groundwater replenishment arm and the Gila River Indian Community appears stalled without approval from the Gila River council. That agreement is important to homebuilders and developers, as more water for replenishment means groundwater can be pumped out by new housing developments. Gila River Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis told stakeholders at Thursday’s meeting that he would work hard to get that agreement passed if the new DCP proposal moves forward.
Paul Orme, who represents Pinal County irrigation districts, was concerned about the lack of firm funding for groundwater infrastructure projects, among other things.