From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):
With a federal deadline of Jan. 31 for the states to forge a collaborative Drought Contingency Plan, Arizona remains the lone holdout. The plans for each of the states — California, Arizona and Nevada in the Lower Basin, and Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming in the Upper Basin — outline strategies for reducing demands on the Colorado River before water storage in the already record-low Lake Mead and Lake Powell drop to catastrophically low levels.
If Arizona lawmakers — who convene on Jan. 14 — fail to approve a not-yet-finalized drought plan intended to buoy Lake Mead, now only 39 percent full, the federal Bureau of Reclamation said it will step in on Jan. 31 and take action to prop up it and Lake Powell. And no one wants that, especially after the states have spent several years hammering out plans to help the Colorado River during a drought that has lasted nearly two decades.
With climate change drying the West, the drought appears to be more of a permanent situation than something that will fade away with a few snowy winters. So water managers are no longer praying for precipitation. They are looking for ways to reduce demand.
Arizona’s water-saving plan is close, said James Eklund, a commissioner of the Upper Colorado River Water Commission, which in October unveiled the four-state Upper Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan.
“California has its ducks in a row. We are really waiting on Arizona right now,” Eklund said. “When they meet next week, we are hoping that they tee this up right out of the gate, and ratify essentially what we understand that most of the stakeholders, if not all the stakeholders, are behind.”
The Upper Basin’s plan tweaks how Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico store and allot water. The plan creates a conservation bank water from Upper Basin reservoirs in Lake Powell, before it reaches Lake Mead.
This would allow Upper Basin states to store water they have conserved through demand-reduction measures, shifting water from Flaming Gorge in Wyoming, Blue Mesa in Colorado and Navajo in New Mexico. Flaming Gorge is the most robust right now, at 87 percent full while Blue Mesa, near Gunnison, filled only to is parched, 30 percent of its capacity.
California is making moves in case Arizona fails to reach agreement. On Jan. 6, California water managers started pulling more than 600,000 acre-feet of its excess water out of Lake Mead. The state is relocating its excess water in Lake Mead to storage in Southern California
in case Arizona fails to approve a plan and the federal government steps in with an emergency shortage plan that locks the state’s water in the Nevada impoundment.
Eklund said California’s Plan B drawdown on the already beleaguered Lake Mead is not irreversible.
“If we get the contingency plans across the finish line then California can essentially back water up into Mead to undo their contingency-contingency withdrawal out of the bucket,” he said…
“Failure it not an option. If we don’t get this across, there will be disappointment all around,” [James Eklund] said. “We are so close. Tantalizingly close.”