Colorado-Big Thompson water units increasingly packaged for lease to N. #Colorado farmers #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Boulder. By Gtj82 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Patriot8790., Public Domain,

From The Longmont Times-Call (Sam Lounsberry):

As ownership of Colorado-Big Thompson water units shifts from agricultural interests to municipal control, farmers in the Longmont and Boulder areas are becoming dependent on the cities’ water rental programs.

And with more municipal control of the Colorado-Big Thompson system, the market has changed in focus from acquisitions to leasing programs for farmers.

Colorado-Big Thompson units can be bought, sold and transferred between water users anywhere within its manager Northern Water’s eight-county region without new uses having to be approved by a state water court, even when a deal involves users in different native stream basins. For that reason, the units have been attractive to those looking to buy in the water market — especially real estate developers needing to dedicate raw water to a municipality or water district to annex in new structures for utility service.

Farmers own less, but still get half

When the Colorado-Big Thompson project made its first deliveries in 1957, more than 85 percent of its water was owned by agricultural users.

In 2018, though, municipal and industrial ownership of the 310,000 Colorado-Big Thompson water units…crept to 70 percent, leaving just 30 percent owned by agricultural users.

But more than half of the system’s water still has been delivered to farmers in recent years, according to Northern Water data.

That discrepancy reflects how much Colorado-Big Thompson water — originally intended to be a supplemental supply late in the growing season — farmers are renting from cities such as Boulder and Longmont.

‘Nearly out of range’

Boulder last year leased 7,690 acre-feet of water, including 6,950 acre-feet of Colorado-Big Thompson water, and has leased an average of 3,410 acre-feet per year since 2000; Longmont last year leased 612 acre-feet of Colorado-Big Thompson water, along with some city shares of supply ditches that deliver water from native sources such as the St. Vrain River and Left Hand Creek, figures provided by the cities show.

Longmont revenues generated by its water rental program over the last four years total nearly $3.9 million; Boulder has generated $861,850. The reason for the discrepancy in revenue despite Boulder renting more Colorado-Big Thompson water than Longmont is Longmont rents more of its native water, and its rates for much of its Colorado-Big Thompson water are higher than Boulder’s.

But the rental market for water also is sliding out of reach for local farmers as outright purchases of Colorado-Big Thompson water have skyrocketed in price — units were sold for $36,000 apiece in an October auction. The water issue has been compounded by a weak commodity market for Front Range crops…

Northern Water in years wet enough to lease excess Colorado-Big Thompson water does so through a bidding system known as its regional pool, and how those bids shake out in the spring influences the overall rental market for water each year.

The minimum successful bid on an acre-foot of water in the spring 2010 regional pool was $22, but last year it was $132, Northern Water spokesman Brian Werner said, a six-fold increase over the decade.

No longer a ‘go-to’ supply

Developers aiming to annex housing into municipalities or water districts that don’t accept cash in lieu of dedicating new raw water units might be forced to look into acquiring shares of ditch companies delivering water from streams native to a city’s or district’s service area.

“We have 10 percent of that ag (Colorado-Big Thompson) supply yet to be transferred” to municipal or industrial control, Werner said, predicting about 20 percent of the system will likely stay under agricultural ownership for the foreseeable future.

“It’s slowed down. About 1 percent a year” is being transferred from ag to municipal and industrial control, Werner said. “Inside the next decade or so, (that system) goes off the table as a go-to water supply.”

Storage may preserve agriculture

With more interest in water markets individualized to native stream basins — as opposed to the trans-basin Colorado-Big Thompson market — applications to state water courts to change ownerships and uses of those native basin shares could pick up, as developers continue trying to satisfy their obligations to give new water to Northern Colorado’s growing municipalities.

One tribal nation could decide the fate of #Arizona’s #drought plan — @HighCountryNews #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification #lbdcp

Stephen Roe Lewis via the Gila River Indian Community.

From The High Country News (Elena Saavedra Buckley):

The Gila River Indian Community could pull out of the plan in light of a new bill threatening to undermine their water rights.

In Arizona, the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan now hinges on the approval of tribal nations. The plan is meant to levy water cuts to seven Western states, preventing the river and its reservoirs from reaching critical levels — but after a state lawmaker introduced legislation that undermines parts of the Gila River Indian Community’s water settlement, the tribe has threatened to exit the plan. Without tribal buy-in, Arizona’s implementation design will collapse, threatening the Basin-wide agreement. If the latter isn’t signed by Jan. 31, federal officials will scrap it and draw their own.

The Drought Contingency Plan’s fragile consensus between thirsty stakeholders highlights how tribal water rights, some of the most powerful in the West, can make or break deals in the arid region — where drought is a reality rather than an aberration.

Along with the Colorado River Indian Tribes, the Gila River Indian Community is contributing mammoth quantities of water for the plan, especially to sate vocal farmers in the Safford Valley with low-priority water rights. Gila River reached a deal with the state in December that, in total, gives up or sells approximately 640,000 acre-feet of water and brings them $90 million from the state and federal governments, according to their attorney Don Pongrace. With that water to conserve and distribute, Arizona will be able to handle the Drought Contingency Plan’s cuts.

The Gila River Indian Community is a water titan in the state. In 2004, after nearly a century of litigation, they reached their historic settlement through the Arizona Water Settlements Act, which delivers them over 650,000 acre-feet of water per year. They’ve created partnerships with cities like Phoenix to distribute resources, actions that have been called “the prototype of positive steps.”

The recent bill that aggravated Gila River leadership ignores many aspects of their settlement. House Speaker Rusty Bowers, an advocate for Pinal County agriculture during Drought Contingency Plan negotiations, hastily proposed it, trying to repeal a statute often called “use it or lose it”: If someone sits on water for more than five years without using it, they forfeit it to the state to reallocate elsewhere. “Use it or lose it” laws, common in Western states, were upheld in Arizona by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year after litigation from Gila River — the tribe wanted to prevent Safford Valley farmers from stockpiling water, which they say allowed them more resources than their annual allocations. By repealing forfeiture laws, water is more easily hoarded, and tribally-led litigation in high courts erased.

Kathleen Ferris, a Senior Fellow for the Kyl Institute of Water Policy at Arizona State University, doesn’t think Bowers’ bill is good policy in a drought. And not consulting the tribe, she said, is like “a slap in the face.”

Gila River’s governor, Stephen Roe Lewis, wrote to state water managers about the bill. “After all our hard work together, I am sorry that we are being put in this position, but this bill, introduced without warning and without discussion with (Gila River), represents a clear threat to our water settlement rights,” he wrote. Bowers did not respond to requests for comment from High Country News, and, in a statement, the Central Arizona Project reiterated their commitment to passing Arizona’s implementation plan.

Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

In theory, tribal water rights are some of the most dominant in the West. The Supreme Court determined in 1908 that when the United States created Indian reservations, they implied the existence of enough water for tribal members and irrigated farmland. But, unlike the Gila River Indian Community, many tribes’ rights aren’t quantified, making it easy for non-Native users to drink, bathe and farm with tribal water.

The Tribal Water Study, released in December by the Bureau of Reclamation and the Ten Tribes Partnership, aimed to gather data about how tribal water rights are used in the Colorado River Basin. It found that many water claims for Basin tribes, totaling millions of acre-feet, are unresolved, preventing the resource from reaching its rightful consumers. Settling those rights would manifest a long-held legal right that could also help rehabilitate tribal communities. “Water is only one factor in this economic disparity,” the study reads, “but when thousands of residents on tribal lands lack access to clean water and adequate sanitation, the path out of poverty is more difficult.”

T. Daryl Vigil, the water administrator for the Jicarilla Apache Nation and spokesperson for the Ten Tribes Partnership, described the high stakes of tribal water involvement. “If we’re going to be sovereigns, or act like them, then we really do have the opportunity to create what our future looks like,” he said. “The study was part of that process: Who are we going to be in the process of saving, or bringing back to life and creating balance, in the Colorado River?”

As the West’s struggle with drought deepens, tribes stand to act as influential parties in drought negotiations — or exit them, as the Gila River Indian Community has threatened, to protect what is theirs.

As Arizona stares down the Drought Contingency Plan deadline, the potential absence of the Gila River Indian Community’s contribution is a glaring empty space. Despite Lewis’s warning, Bowers told the Arizona Capitol Times that he won’t budge on his bill. “I’m not going to back down,” he said, while also acknowledging that it will “really mess it up” if the Community backs out. If it happens, he said, he’ll just have to find that water “somewhere else.”

“No, no,” Ferris said in response to the idea. “There isn’t water anywhere else.”

Elena Saavedra Buckley is an editorial fellow at High Country News. Email her at or submit a letter to the editor.

Gila River watershed. Graphic credit: Wikimedia

Job opportunity: Water Resources Engineer, Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Great blue heron, Jackson Lake. Photo credit: Colorado Parks and Wildlife, December 2017.

From email from Karlyn Armstrong:

Would you be able/willing to post this on Coyote Gulch? This is the next generation of Bahman’s position (he is retiring). It should be a good gig!


Karlyn Armstrong, P.E.

Click here for the job description and to apply.


This position maintains primary statewide responsibility to plan, manage, evaluate, and oversee the acquisition, administration, protection, and use of water resources associated with the statewide system of 42 state parks and the recreational uses of these water resources in cooperation with the larger CPW Water Resources Section (WRS) and the regional offices. This position also will have primary responsibility to address water resource and water rights engineering needs associated with the statewide hatcheries system in cooperation with the WRS and the Hatcheries Section.

New rules limiting clean water protections ignore stream science — @HighCountryNews

Here’s an interview with Dr. Ellen Wohl from Emily Benson and The High Country News:

What happens to part of a river network affects all of it.

On Dec. 11, the Trump administration announced plans to cut back the number of wetlands and creeks protected under the Clean Water Act, which regulates water pollution in the U.S. The new rules would leave about half the nation’s wetlands and all of its ephemeral streams — those waterways, common in the West, that flow only after rainfall or snowmelt — without federal safeguards.

The proposed guidelines, which will almost certainly face years of lawsuits, are a stark departure from how previous administrations have interpreted the act — and a sharp divergence from research on how to protect clean water. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers argued that the new rules were informed by science. But the agencies did not conduct a new scientific assessment of which waterways the Clean Water Act should cover; instead, they relied on a comprehensive report prepared by the EPA in 2015. That report, on how streams and wetlands are connected to downstream waters, highlights the importance of the very waterways the new guidelines would leave unprotected.

High Country News recently caught up with Ellen Wohl, a river researcher and professor at Colorado State University who served on the scientific review committee for the 2015 EPA report, to find out how scientists view the new guidelines.

High Country News: Does this proposed rule match what researchers know is important for protecting clean water?

Ellen Wohl: Absolutely not. It’s diametrically opposed to how the scientific community understands rivers as ecosystems, and river function.

Most of us, when we think about rivers, we think of the type of river that we would fish or boat on, or really big rivers; we don’t think of the river that we could jump across. But if you spread your hand and you look at it, and you say, ‘I don’t care about the little stuff, so I’m going to cut off the first two joints of every finger,’ and you’ve got a palm and some stubs left, your hand’s not going to be very functional.

Wohl said that when scientists study streams, they don’t just consider the main channel; they think of “the entire river network.”

It’s the same thing with a river network. Those small streams, which constitute 70 to 80 percent of the total channel length in any river network, are critical to the functioning of the whole system. Any spot on a particular river is connected to what’s underneath the ground, it’s connected to what’s on the adjacent hill slopes, it’s connected to what’s up- and downstream.

HCN: Can you give me an example?

EW: Nitrate pollution is a big, big issue around the world, including much of the Western U.S. One effect of having too much is the big dead zones … off the near-shore area of most major rivers. We have reduced the ability of rivers to process that nitrate, to take it up biologically and keep it from just flowing downstream.

A lot of that nitrate uptake occurs in the little rivers. Rivers can take up nitrate if they are physically complex, (if they have) secondary channels, abandoned channels, a floodplain, floodplain wetlands. So if you bury them, if you pave them, if you channelize them, if you dewater them — if you do all the things that you cannot do as much if they’re protected under the Clean Water Act — you lose all that.

HCN: The new rule would strip protections from wetlands that don’t have a surface connection to a protected river or lake — that are only connected via groundwater, for example. Does it make sense to treat wetlands that have a surface connection differently than ones that don’t?

EW: Scientifically, no. They’re disconnected in the ways we can see on the surface, but there are subsurface connections. They don’t sit there in isolation like some special creation; they are integral to the functioning of the whole watershed and the river network. Those disconnected surface wetlands are vital ecologically for a wide variety of organisms, from migratory birds to the communities that live (there) year-round, and they are not disconnected in the ways that matter.

HCN: Is there a specific place or landscape you could point to where these little streams and subsurface connections are particularly important?

EW: Pawnee National Grasslands. It’s what all of eastern Colorado would look like without irrigation: It’s shortgrass prairie, bunchgrasses, small sagebrush, prickly pear cacti. Many of the channels are intermittent (streams with sections that are sometimes dry), so they’ll have what the biologists call refuge pools, places that retain water throughout the year.

The plains fish … are mostly small-bodied fish. They’re “super fish” in that they can survive things that kill a lot of other fish: very high water temperatures, low dissolved oxygen. They’re tough, but they can’t survive desiccation. So, if you lose protection for some of these small channels, the refuge pools will dry up — and that will be the end of these species.

HCN: Do you see any reason for hope?

EW: I’d like to get people to think about rivers in a broader sense, of not just the pretty streams that we do whitewater rafting and trout fishing on, but as the whole river network. They are an integrated ecosystem, and they’re important. Is there reason for hope? I see evidence that people are starting to think that way more.

HCN: Like what?

EW: The regional example I’ve used is the Pacific Northwest. They have a very different attitude toward rivers than anywhere else in the U.S., and I think it’s because of the focus on salmon. They get it — a salmon can’t survive without a watershed. It needs to migrate upstream, it needs spawning habitat, it needs rearing habitat. They’ve made the connection between a particular fish that everybody is excited about and the whole watershed.

Even though there are these national rules, and even if they go into effect, there are things you can do locally to protect your local river. If people feel strongly about this, I would encourage them to become active in, or form, local watershed groups. Then you get the immediate benefits of a clean, healthy river. So adopt a river, and care for it.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Emily Benson is an assistant editor at High Country News, covering Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies. Email her at or submit a letter to the editor.

#ColoradoRiver: “If nothing is signed by Jan. 31, 2019, then we are basically jumping over a cliff and we don’t know what’s at the bottom or how deep it is” — Sarah Porter #Arizona #COriver #aridification #lbdcp

Hoover Dam, located near Las Vegas, was completed in 1936 and creates Lake Mead. Photo/Allen Best

From (Ian James and Dustin Gardiner):

With just [two] days until that deadline, many pieces have yet to fall into place for Arizona to finish its part of the agreement and join California and Nevada in endorsing the Drought Contingency Plan.

The plan’s success or failure will turn on the actions of a few key players, including leaders of the Legislature, tribes, farmers, cities and the state’s water managers.

If any of the main players pull out, the state’s carefully negotiated compromise could unravel and the plan could fall apart. Just such a breakdown seemed possible this week, when the Gila River Indian Community warned that the introduction of another water bill could kill the deal.

If Arizona fails to sign the three-state Drought Contingency Plan, the federal government would be in charge of dictating water cutbacks. Water users that rely on the Central Arizona Project canal have the lowest priority among the three states on the lower river and would be first in line for cuts. If the federal government takes charge of deciding the reductions, that also might unleash a cascade of lawsuits.

To finish the agreement, the state Legislature would need to pass a package of legislation making the deal possible and allowing for its signing. Whether that will happen before the deadline isn’t clear.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers said this week that while lawmakers are working hard to get a deal done, meeting the deadline isn’t his chief priority.

Burman has warned that if Arizona or any other state doesn’t sign on in time, the Interior Department will ask all seven states that rely on the river for recommendations on what the government should do to prevent reservoirs from continuing to fall.

A race to ‘dead pool’

Supporters of the deal, including Gov. Doug Ducey and the state’s top water managers, say failing to act in time would put Lake Mead on course to decline more rapidly and would signal an inability to come up with water solutions within the state.

“If nothing is signed by Jan. 31, then we are basically jumping over a cliff and we don’t know what’s at the bottom or how deep it is,” said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University. She said the drought plan would give Arizona and other states a degree of control over their water future…

The Legislature: ‘It takes time’

Lawmakers received a first draft of the proposed legislation from Ducey’s office on Jan. 16.

On Thursday [January 17, 2019], the Central Arizona Project board voted to support the package of legislation and a proposed resolution that would grant Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke the authority to sign the Drought Contingency Plan on Arizona’s behalf.

The legislation is based on a plan that emerged from a series of meetings and negotiations over the past seven months.

The plan focuses on spreading the water cutbacks among entities and lessening the economic blow for those with the lowest priority, providing “mitigation” water to farmers in central Arizona while paying compensation to other entities that would contribute. The proposed legislation includes several tweaks to state law to make the plan work.

The Legislature is expected to take up the measures…possibly Tuesday [January 29, 2019], just two days before the federal government’s deadline. Bowers, R-Mesa, said he expects that the bills will be heard in the House Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee on Tuesday, and that the House might suspend some procedural rules to expedite the measures.

Asked about the federal government’s deadline, Bowers said: “That’s not my major concern.”

“The most important thing to me is to get the deal done right,” Bowers said in an interview with The Arizona Republic.

If the Legislature takes a few extra days to pass the legislation, that would be at odds with Ducey’s emphatic calls for meeting the Jan. 31 deadline. But Bowers said “it takes time” for so many lawmakers to vet the issue.

“We’re just cranking along,” Bowers said. “Everybody wants to get this thing done.”

If lawmakers get behind the plan, it could sail through quickly. But it’s also possible that some groups and their allies in the Legislature could try to tack on unrelated water legislation, which might elicit opposition and derail the agreement.

“We need the stakeholders and we need Arizona legislators to help shepherd this DCP through,” said Kim Mitchell, senior water policy adviser with the group Western Resource Advocates. “We hope to see some momentum on DCP passage and show that we can get this done.”


The tribes: Bringing water to the deal

Arizona’s plan involves more than $100 million in funding pledges from Ducey’s administration and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which manages the CAP Canal. Much of the money would go toward paying for water from the Gila River Indian Community and the Colorado River Indian Tribes.

Without the tribes’ participation, the deal wouldn’t work.

But the Gila River Indian Community has warned that if certain proposals are pushed into the package at the last minute, that could kill the deal. For one thing, the Community’s representatives said earlier this month that they wouldn’t accept an “offset” proposal that would have given the CAP board discretion to potentially draw stored water out of Lake Mead.

Another squabble erupted several days ago over a separate water bill sponsored by Bowers.

Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community strongly opposed the legislation, House Bill 2476, in a letter to the state’s top water managers and said it would “interfere with litigation in which the Community has prevailed.”

He was referring to a 2017 ruling by the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which found that a group of farmers in Safford gave up rights to Gila River water under the state’s water rights forfeiture law because they hadn’t diverted the water for more than five years.

Lewis said if the bill goes forward and changes parts of the water rights forfeiture law — often described as “use it or lose it” — then the Community “will be put in the unfortunate position of having to choose between preserving our water settlement and moving forward with DCP.”

Lewis said the Gila River Indian Community wants to see DCP pass but would actually be “better off financially” without it…

Bowers said the bill was one of two mistakenly introduced last week. He said a legislative staffer filed the bills without realizing he wanted to wait until after the drought plan is approved. Bowers said he plans to hold the bills until after a drought plan is finished…

The Colorado River Indian Tribes divert water to a swath of farmlands along the river, growing crops including alfalfa, wheat and cotton. The Tribes have agreed to take 10,000 acres of farmland out of production for three years, leaving the fields dry and freeing up the water so that it can be kept in Lake Mead.

In return, the tribes would receive $38 million, including $30 million from the state and $8 million contributed by non-profit groups.

Chairman Dennis Patch said he thinks Arizona’s plan will benefit tribes and the state as a whole — in part because it would keep more water in the river and prevent it from drying up like other rivers in Arizona. He pointed to the history of the Gila River and the Santa Cruz River, which have been heavily drained over the past century by diversions and groundwater pumping. And he said if everyone insists on sticking to water rights they hold on paper, it could put the river’s reservoirs on course for a crash.

“We’re afraid like everybody else is afraid. You could dry that river up with ‘paper water,'” Patch told The Republic. “And so we want to show everybody what real water needs to be contributed to this effort to keep the lake above that level and to help Arizona.”

Patch stressed that for all the parties that have been involved in the negotiations, it’s in everyone’s best interest for Arizona to sign the Drought Contingency Plan…

The farmers: Seeking certainty

Not everyone in the agriculture business in Arizona faces imminent water cutbacks. But farmers in Pinal County have the lowest priority and are in line for the biggest reductions in water deliveries.

Arizona’s plan would lessen the economic blow for the farmers by providing them with a limited amount of “mitigation” water for the next three years.

Agricultural irrigation districts in the county are seeking state and federal funding to pay for new wells and other infrastructure that would enable them to pump more groundwater.

The CAP board has authorized $5 million, and Ducey has proposed an additional $5 million to help. But the Pinal farmers say they’re hoping for more state money to help with an application for a federal grant and get closer to the estimated $50 million it will take to drill wells, buy pumps and build other infrastructure to carry groundwater to their fields.

To help them during the transition, the farmers have asked for “backstop” measures to ensure they’ll get a steady amount of Colorado River water for three years — even in the event of a more serious “tier 2” shortage. A deal with Tucson would make that possible but as a condition the city has requested other tweaks in the state’s groundwater law, which have been included in the package of legislation.

Farmers in Pinal County produce crops including alfalfa, wheat, cotton and cantaloupes.

Until recently, the growers had expected to receive Colorado River water until 2030 under the terms of a 2004 water settlement. They faced a decreasing schedule of water deliveries between now and 2030. Under the drought plan, those cutbacks will come much more quickly.

Paul Orme, a lawyer representing Pinal irrigation districts, said the farmers expect they’ll need to leave about 40 percent of their fields dry and fallow. Still, he said they support the vast majority of the provisions in proposed legislation. He said the package now seems “pretty darn close to the finish line.”


In pressing for funding, the farmers have cited a University of Arizona economic study, which found that Pinal County ranks in the top 3 percent of all U.S. counties for total crop sales. The researchers said that in 2016 farms and related businesses contributed nearly $2.3 billion in total sales to the county’s economy.

The cities: Protecting the economy

Arizona’s cities have lined up to call for swift passage of the drought plan, saying it’s critical for the economy.

The Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, which represents cities that supply water to more than half the state’s population, argues that the concerns of Pinal County growers have been addressed, and it’s time to finish the deal…

Brett Fleck, the association’s senior water policy analyst, examined the economic data and said all agriculture-related businesses in Pinal County represented about 0.2 percent of Arizona’s economy in 2016.

“Arizona’s golf industry contributes roughly twice as much to the state’s economy,” Fleck wrote in the analysis. He said the economic data “make it clear that the potential risk to Arizona’s economy due to agricultural water cutbacks from CAP is significantly smaller than purported.”

The association has also disagreed with concerns voiced by the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona.

Representatives of developers have called for a provision conditionally granting them a certain amount of water as a “backstop” for the first three years of a shortage. Officials in Phoenix and other cities have argued that’s unnecessary because the Gila River Indian Community has already agreed to a deal that would provide water for future development if the drought plan is signed.

Cynthia Campbell, a water adviser for Phoenix, said she thinks the deal has “gelled” and is close to being done…

Ducey and Arizona water managers

The governor and the state’s top water managers are campaigning to get the deal passed swiftly.

Ducey posted an image of Lake Mead and its growing “bathtub ring” on his Facebook page and Twitter profile, with a recent comment by former Gov. Bruce Babbitt: “This is the moment.”

During a budget briefing this week, Matt Gress, the governor’s director of strategic planning and budgeting, presented a chart showing two likely scenarios for Lake Mead: one with the Drought Contingency Plan or one without.

In either case, the reservoir fell into a shortage. But the chart showed a growing space between the two lines. Without the plan, Gress noted, the reservoir is projected to fall into a high-risk zone in the coming years, approaching a point at which “you won’t have enough water to get through Hoover Dam.”


The CAP board has similarly stressed the urgency of finishing the agreement. As the board voted to support the draft legislation this week, the final page of the agenda was emblazoned with an illustration of Hoover Dam and the declining reservoir behind it, with the words: “YOUR WATER. YOUR FUTURE. PROTECT LAKE MEAD”

Still, there wasn’t unanimous support for everything in the legislation among the 15-members of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District Board.

Jennifer Martin, a board member who is also a Sierra Club water expert, cast the lone “no” vote. She said the plan “represents significant state subsidization of increased groundwater pumping, and I see that as a step backwards.”

Board member Jim Holway said he couldn’t support a provision that would give Tucson considerably more long-term storage credit when treated sewage effluent is used to replenish the groundwater. He said increasing the credits for effluent would be “taking us further from safe yield” for those aquifers. He abstained, while saying he supports the drought plan overall…

Aside from the legislation, there are 15 related agreements between parties in Arizona that spell out details of the plan and that have yet to be signed.

CAP General Manager Ted Cooke said he hopes the Legislature passes the resolution and the accompanying legislation in time to meet the deadline. He said it’s doubtful that the 15 other agreements will be signed by Jan. 31.

“The deadline is the commissioner’s deadline,” Cooke said. “It will be up to her to determine whether or not what we complete by the 31st is sufficient in her mind to have achieved ‘done,’ even if all these other individual elements are not achieved.”

Signing the three-state plan may also take more time, he said. That’s because the proposed resolution grants Buschatzke authority to sign on Arizona’s behalf provided two other steps occur: Congress must authorize the federal Interior secretary to enter into the agreement, and all parties in other states must have authorization to sign…

The feds: Delay increases risk for all

The federal Bureau of Reclamation, which manages reservoirs on the Colorado River, has said the deadline stands.

If the parties haven’t finished their work to complete the Drought Contingency Plan by Jan. 31, the Interior Department plans to publish a notice in the Federal Register.

“In that notice, we will ask all seven States’ Governor’s representatives for their specific recommendations for prompt Departmental action,” said Patti Aaron, a spokeswoman for the bureau. “We will ask for actions to reduce the risk the Basin is facing.”

Aaron said if this occurs, the states will have 30 days to submit recommendations and the Interior Department will consider the input in deciding on a course of action before August.

From the Associated Press (Felicia Fonsceca) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expects an agreement from all seven states Thursday. If the deadline isn’t met, the agency will ask the states to weigh in on how the overtaxed river water should be allocated ahead of a projected shortage in August. Without a consensus plan, the federal agency has said it will make the rules…

The deadline requires only that the states sign off on the drought plan for the river that serves 40 million people in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California. There is no legal requirement to figure out exactly how states will live up to the reductions outlined.

Under existing guidelines, Arizona would be first hit and hardest if Lake Mead, on the state’s border with Nevada, falls below 1,075 feet.

Arizona has the lowest priority rights to the river. If the drought plan is approved, cuts would be spread more widely and eventually loop in California.

Arizona lawmakers want to see how the plan will affect their constituents before they vote, and tweaks to a handful of measures that are expected to be introduced will create more uncertainty. The Gila River Indian Community, for example, said it would pull support for the drought plan if other legislation attacks its water rights gained in a federal settlement…

Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico had their plans done in December. If Arizona’s proposal collapses and the federal government steps in, those states could put some of their plans in motion to meet their obligation to other states, water managers said. That includes sending water from reservoirs upstream of Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah line to keep it from dropping so low that water could not be delivered to Lake Mead.

“In terms of signing ink on documents, we have been really waiting to have a seven-state package that has seven state flags on top of a cover letter,” said James Eklund, Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission…

n California, the Metropolitan Water District, a major user of Colorado River water, is pumping more to ensure the 500,000 acre-feet of water it has stored behind Lake Mead won’t be stranded if the reservoir [is operated under the 2007 shortage sharing guidelines].