From Audubon (Haley Paul):
Feds don’t want to gamble on risky water future—and give new urgency to complete the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan.
Coming off the Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas, southwest states have been issued a new deadline to complete the Drought Contingency Plan; otherwise, the federal government will step in.
Remember, this Drought Contingency Plan is a suite of agreements detailing proactive actions designed to reduce water use to stave off precipitous declines in water levels in the reservoirs on the Colorado River.
The Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), Brenda Burman, said that Arizona and the other lower basin states have until January 31, 2019 to approve their respective commitments to the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). After that, the Feds say they will act by opening up a notice in the Federal Register, where they will solicit comments from the seven Colorado River Basin states on what federal actions can best reduce the “unacceptably high” risk to Lakes Mead and Powell and the Colorado River. The comment period will be open for 30 days. After that, USBR will determine how it will protect the system ahead of their August 24-month study (where USBR determines what the following year’s water operations will be—namely what level of shortage Lake Mead is likely to be in, and the cuts each state will receive).
While Arizona and California may be close to the completion of DCP, Burman commented “close isn’t done” and “only done will protect this Basin.” She elaborated with sobering statistics on the bad hydrology, and the need for action in the form of DCP completion. This push for action by our federal government is a big deal.
As the Arizona Legislature opens up its 2019 session on January 14, there is much work to accomplish in a short amount of time. The Arizona Legislature must authorize the Arizona Department of Water Resource’s participation in the DCP.
Jennifer Pitt, National Audubon Society’s Colorado River Program Director, recently stated, “The Drought Contingency Plan is the key to avoiding really catastrophic problems for people and wildlife and birds in the Colorado River Basin.”
Audubon supports the passage of the DCP because it builds on a collaborative framework decided by the affected water stakeholders and it gives us a chance to adapt to these long-term changes in our water supply. If the collaborative approach fails, decisions on how to manage Colorado River water could become more disruptive, potentially decided through the courts or by federal officials. The DCP is key to avoid more catastrophic shortages in Lake Mead if the hydrology continues on its current trajectory.
The current way that Arizona envisions engaging in the DCP is through what Arizona stakeholders are calling the Implementation Plan. In general, the Implementation Plan allows for certain water users to be mitigated for the losses they would experience under DCP’s water cuts by temporarily providing them with water that has been stored in Lake Mead. This mitigation, delivering actual water to lower priority water users, is what Central Arizona water stakeholders have asked for in return for accepting the DCP. Should the states not meet the January 31 deadline, as water master in the Lower Colorado River Basin, the Feds could mandate shortage volumes without this kind of “soft landing” deal for water users.
Lake Mead is at its lowest point since the Hoover Dam was built, meaning there is less water to go around. To reduce water withdrawals from the Lake, as part of Arizona’s Implementation Plan, water users in the Lower Colorado River Basin would be financially compensated to reduce their water use. The water they don’t use will remain in Lake Mead, ensuring we contribute more water to the Lake than we take out. That reduces the chances the Lake declines beyond the point it can deliver water. Given the state of our hydrology, this is currently the best bet to avoid the risk of catastrophic water shortages that impact people and birds across the entire river basin.
Stay tuned as the deal comes together and start of the Arizona Legislative session nears.
From The Phoenix New Times (Elizabeth Whitman):
First, the good news: The negotiators of Arizona’s Drought Contingency Plan have crafted the most detailed, concrete proposal to date laying out how Arizona will deal with expected cutbacks to its supply of Colorado River.
“We’re closer than we’ve ever been, and I think we’re in closure range,” said Ted Cooke, co-chair of the steering committee of the Drought Contingency Plan and general manager of the Central Arizona Project, after a three-and-a-half-hour meeting Tuesday.
Now, the bad: The partial shutdown of the federal government is squeezing these negotiators. A January 31 deadline set by the government approaches inexorably. Meanwhile, a last-minute push on Tuesday by homebuilders to receive more water in the plan threatens the precarious balance of the existing proposal.
“Right now, not having [our legal counsel] at work is very difficult, for us. It’s hard to move forward,” Leslie Meyers, Phoenix area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation, told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s hard to get some of the agreements done.”
The bureau, which is under the Department of the Interior, remains funded during the shutdown because it’s funded through energy and water appropriations. But the Office of the Field Solicitor, which does legal work for the Department of Interior, is not. If the shutdown continues, Meyers said, it was possible that their legal counsel would be brought back to work, albeit with no pay…
The Arizona Legislature and Governor Doug Ducey must also approve the plan and authorize Buschatzke to sign it before January 31. The legislative session begins January 14…
On Tuesday, homebuilder representatives brought talks to a boil again by reiterating a demand for water that generated sharp rebukes from some participants.
Their demand is one of the few remaining outstanding issues of Arizona’s Drought Contingency Plan: They want 7,000 acre-feet of water per year to go to developers and homebuilders. The Central Arizona Project, which is putting $65 million into the Drought Contingency Plan, supports the idea. The Arizona Department of Water Resources, along with the city of Phoenix, the private water company EPCOR, the development group Valley Partnership, and several others are against it.
They point out that through a recent agreement for the Gila River Indian Community to supply water to the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District for the next 25 years, developers and homebuilders have plenty of water for the future.
However, that deal requires the Drought Contingency Plan to go through.
Spencer Kamps, vice president of legislative affairs for the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona and a steering committee member, said that homebuilders wanted more certainty than that, given that the Legislature has to approve of the Drought Contingency Plan…
What befuddled the members, however, was his demand for more water. Kamps asked, as developers have requested before, for 7,000 acre-feet to be included in the Drought Contingency Plan. This, he said, would be a backstop, just in case the Drought Contingency Plan, and thus the deal with Gila River Indian Community, did not go through…
Governor Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community pointed out that the deal signed with the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District was “self-executing.” Once the Drought Contingency Plan went through, he would sign it; he was authorized to do so by the tribal council in December.
Sounding strained, he said he thought this matter had been taken care of in December. He added, “I hoped that we wouldn’t still be talking about this issue as we’re doing today.”
Cynthia Campbell, water resources adviser for the city of Phoenix, said that including water for developers was “quizzical at best.”
“It’s hard to understand how this even works,” she said, adding that a major flaw in the request was that it wasn’t clear where the additional water would come from. “The city of Phoenix will not support a DCP that includes that,” she said flatly.
Doug Dunham, of the private water provide EPCOR, echoed Campbell’s comments before Cooke quietly suggested that this issue would not be resolved that day.
From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):
Four key issues remain unsettled as negotiators for a Colorado River drought-adaptation plan wrap up discussions and prepare to send a complex package of water-saving proposals to the Arizona Legislature.
Farmers, developers and officials of the $4 billion Central Arizona Project said Tuesday they still aren’t satisfied with various provisions in a proposed drought contingency plan aimed at propping up imperiled Lake Mead. Because of that, negotiations over details will probably have to continue even when the Legislature starts debating the plan next week.
But leaders of the prolonged effort to produce a drought contingency plan for Arizona say they’re optimistic of getting the issues resolved and a legislative sign-off in time to meet a federally imposed Jan. 31 deadline to adopt the plan.
Tuesday, during the eighth meeting of an advisory committee working on the plan, members groped for solutions and compromises but those remained elusive, although progress was made.
“There are only four issues left. We have 82 things that we’ve solved,” CAP general manager Ted Cooke said at a news briefing after the meeting of the 40-member advisory committee that’s worked since July on the drought plan…
But at Tuesday’s advisory committee meeting, these unsettled issues emerged:
Pinal farmers are scheduled to get 105,000 acre-feet of CAP water in both 2020 and 2021 if shortages are declared for 2020, less than half what they get now. In 2022, that supply will be whittled to 70,000 acre-feet a year if the river is running low due to dry weather.
Farmers, however, want 105,000 acre-feet of CAP water for 2022 as well, and it’s uncertain where that extra water would come from.
Tim Thomure, a committee member and Tucson Water’s director, said he would be prepared to offer 35,000 acre-feet annually for two years, water that would be placed on Pinal County farm fields.
But making that offer will require four changes in state law to make it easier for the city of Tucson to use or sell “credits” it would gain from storing the water on those fields to allow it to pump additional groundwater elsewhere, he said. State Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke praised Thomure’s proposals as “creative,” but said some other interests whom he didn’t name might not support more water for farmers out of concern that it wouldn’t be fair to other water users.
Paul Orme, lobbyist for four irrigation districts, wants more “certainty” about getting federal funding to help pay for the farms’ new groundwater wells, whose expected cost has escalated from $30 million to $50 million. The state and CAP have agreed to pay or support future legislation to provide close to half those costs. But Orme noted that competition for the federal funds with farmers in other states will be fierce, although Bureau of Reclamation officials in Arizona will support the Pinal farmers’ quest. The Central and Southern Arizona Home Builders Associations want 7,000 acre-feet of “mitigation” CAP water set aside to serve future suburban development, although officials say there is no alternative source of water to fulfill that request. The Gila River Indian Community has already agreed to lease 33,000 acre-feet of its CAP water for future suburban growth — once it’s certain that the drought plan will pass the Legislature.
The homebuilders groups say they want the extra 7,000 acre-feet included in the plan as a matter of “certainty,” and that pool of water could be removed once it’s clear the Gila Indian deal will go through. A Phoenix-based developer group, the Valley Partnership, disagrees, with its director Cheryl Lombard saying its members see no need for the extra 7,000 acre-feet.
CAP and the Salt River Project utility are at odds over a plan for the utility to replace some water now stored in Lake Mead, which CAP wants to remove from the lake to help mitigate farm water losses. As the plan would work, the utility would supply CAP 50,000 acre-feet from 2021 to 2025. Cooke said his agency has legal, contractual and hydrological concerns with the idea.
He acknowledged that, currently, that issue is “the only one I don’t know how to (solve). But we’ll figure out a way to solve that.”