#ColoradoRiver: The Lower Basin #Drought Contingency plan sails through both chambers of the #AZleg #lbdcp #COriver #aridification

A raft coming out of Cataract Canyon into upper Lake Powell encounters the bathtub ring left by the receding reservoir. As Lake Powell, and Lake Mead, continue to see less and less water, it’s prompting water managers, including those at the Colorado River District, to coordinate on ways to send more water downstream. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

From The Arizona Republic (Dustin Gardiner, Andrew Nicla and Ian James):

Arizona lawmakers passed a historic Colorado River drought deal Thursday afternoon, about seven hours before a midnight deadline set by the federal government.

Gov. Doug Ducey promptly signed the legislation, clearing the way for Arizona to join in the three-state Drought Contingency Plan together with California and Nevada.

“There’s a lot more work to be done to ensure that Arizona is prepared for a drier water future,” Ducey said as he signed. A crowd of policy advisers and lawmakers applauded in the old state Capitol building…

The hours of rushed work by Arizona lawmakers could still be overshadowed, as a California irrigation district’s demands threaten to delay efforts to finish the Drought Contingency Plan, which aims to protect levels in Lake Mead…

The hours of rushed work by Arizona lawmakers could still be overshadowed, as a California irrigation district’s demands threaten to delay efforts to finish the Drought Contingency Plan, which aims to protect levels in Lake Mead…

“Today is also a historic day,” Ducey said. “We’re not going to wait 40 years for the next thing that’s going to happen on water. We’re going to continue it in this legislative session in terms of discussion and action.”

He signed an executive order to create a new water-conservation council that will recommend ideas to reduce the state’s use and prepare for future shortages…

Senators voted 27-3 to approve a package of bills that would make possible Arizona’s participation, together with California and Nevada, in the Lower Basin plan, which lays out plans for the states to share in water cutbacks between 2020 and 2026.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the Arizona House of Representatives voted 59-0, with one abstention, to pass the deal about 5 p.m. Thursday…

Senators voted 27-3 to approve a package of bills that would make possible Arizona’s participation, together with California and Nevada, in the Lower Basin plan, which lays out plans for the states to share in water cutbacks between 2020 and 2026.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in the Arizona House of Representatives voted 59-0, with one abstention, to pass the deal about 5 p.m. Thursday.

The American Canal carries water from the Colorado River to farms in California’s Imperial Valley. Photo credit: Adam Dubrowa, FEMA/Wikipedia.

From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Janet Wilson):

California’s Imperial Irrigation District and two others here will get the last word on the seven-state Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans. And IID could end up with $200 million to restore the badly polluted and fast-drying Salton Sea.

Thursday, as the clock ticked toward a midnight deadline set by a top federal official, all eyes had been on Arizona. But lawmakers there approved the Colorado River drought deal with about seven hours to spare. IID, an often-overlooked southeastern California agricultural water district, appears to have thrown a last-minute monkey wrench into the process.

Officials there were in “intense negotiations and discussions” with U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and California partners, an IID official and another with the state river board said. The district is also awaiting a meeting with USDA Secretary Purdue after talks with his staff about a Jan. 17 written request they sent him for the hefty federal funding to help restore the sea, and to help cope with further reductions of Colorado River imports…

Board President Erik Ortega said, “This isn’t an either/or proposition for IID; it is instead an honest effort by the district to improve the sustainability of the Salton Sea and to ensure the viability of the DCP (drought contingency plan).”

In its statement, IID said the $200 million pledge it requested “would represent a firm commitment to the environment, public health, water supply reliability, the agricultural industry and the future resiliency of the Colorado River.”


IID was forced in an earlier federal-state agreement to start sending some of its supply to urban San Diego and the Coachella Valley, diverting it from farmlands and the Salton Sea. The sea, actually California’s largest lake, has historically been a critical stop for millions of migratory birds on the North American flyway. It also sits in the middle of an arid desert.

Without the critical inflow from Colorado River water, the lake is now rapidly shrinking, potentially unleashing a major public health crisis. As its dry, cakey playa shoreline expands, experts say winds will whip up increasing amounts of dust and send it across much of Riverside County, potentially endangering children with asthma and others…

The Coachella Valley and Palo Verde water district boards approved elements of the plan, but also reserved the right to sign the final agreements after all the details have been hammered out.

Las Vegas Lake Mead intake schematic, courtesy SNWA.

From The Las Vegas Review Journal (Henry Brean):

Arizona would give up 192,000 acre-feet of water and Nevada would give up 8,000 acre-feet under the first round of annual cuts, set to kick in Jan. 1. California would join in the reductions, surrendering 200,000 acre-feet of water a year, should Lake Mead shrink another 41 feet from where it is now…

Congress still needs to pass federal legislation ratifying portions of the interstate deal, and California’s little-known but powerful Imperial Irrigation District has yet to give its final blessing.

The agricultural district is the single largest water user on the Colorado, with senior rights to more than 10 times as much river water as Nevada gets each year. Board members for the district gave conditional approval to the drought contingency plan in December, so long as the final package includes federal funding to stabilize the Salton Sea and stave off a looming environmental disaster in the California desert…

The series of escalating cuts by Nevada, Arizona, California and Mexico could eventually total more than 1.37 million acre-feet a year, but they won’t immediately halt Lake Mead’s decline. Only Mother Nature can do that, said Colby Pellegrino, director of water resources for the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

“(The Drought Contingency Plan) is designed to keep the system from failing” by stabilizing Lake Mead,” Pellegrino said. “That stabilization might occur lower down than Lake Mead is today.”

Next up for water managers on the river: More long and painful negotiations. Starting in 2020, the seven states will begin renegotiating the current operating guidelines for the Colorado and its two largest reservoirs. Those rules were adopted in 2007 and are set to expire in 2026.

If nothing else, Pellegrino said, the talks that led to the drought contingency plan have set the stage for the next round of water wrangling.

Panorama of the Hualapai Mountains taken from Kingman in December 2009. Photo credit Wikimedia.

Here’s the release from the Arizona Water Coalition (Michael Pauker):

The plan’s passage represents a major step toward security for the state’s water supply

The Water for Arizona Coalition today commended state lawmakers for voting to approve the state’s Drought Contingency Plan (DCP).

“Today, Arizona lawmakers made clear that they are willing to do what it takes to protect our water supply, even when that means making difficult compromises,” said ​Kim Mitchell​, ​Senior Water Policy Advisor at Western Resource Advocates​, “The passage of this plan will help Arizona prepare for a drier future while safeguarding our state’s vital water resources and lessening the impact to water users. We commend Governor Ducey, Arizona legislators, water managers, and stakeholders for all they have done to get our state’s plan over the finish line.”

“By passing DCP, the Arizona legislature has reduced the risk to the Colorado River, and taken a major step toward protecting people and critical habitat for birds and other wildlife,” said ​Sonia Perillo, Audubon Arizona’s Executive Director​, “We still face challenges​, including the ​likelihood of a water shortage in the near future, but this plan helps ensure that Arizona can prepare, and protect our communities and ecosystems.”

“It is increasingly likely that a decline in Lake Mead’s elevation will trigger a shortage declaration in the years ahead. Having a Drought Contingency Plan in place helps make sure that such a shortage, and the water cutbacks that will follow it, do not disrupt our economy and cause more pain than they need to,” said ​Kevin Moran, Senior Director for the Colorado River Program at Environmental Defense Fund and Chair of the Water for Arizona Coalition.​ ​“This plan conserves more water in Lake Mead through a mix of mechanisms and incentives to reduce water demand, including system conservation projects and water trading among cities, tribes and irrigation districts. I commend our legislature and Governor Ducey for recognizing the urgent need for conservation and other actions to protect ​the health of the Colorado River system that supports cities, farms and ranches, industry, tribal communities, wildlife, and recreation in the region.”

“Arizona’s climate is growing warmer and drier each year. Understanding that reality is what spurred so many diverse interests to compromise through the Drought Contingency Planning process,” said ​Jeff Odefey, American Rivers’ Director of Clean Water Supply.​ “This arduous process led to compromise and collaboration. As a result – Arizona’s communities and environment have a plan that is the first step toward a more secure water future.”

“Arizona’s business community knows that future prosperity depends on having a predictable water supply. That’s exactly what the Drought Contingency Plan ensures​—​that we’re ready with a plan when we need it,” said ​Todd Reeve​,​ D​ irector at ​Business for Water Stewardship​, “Lawmakers’ decision to pass the plan shows that they are serious about protecting our economy.”

About the Water for Arizona Coalition

The Water for Arizona Coalition comprises Arizonans who support policies and innovative practices to ensure a reliable water supply to meet the state’s needs. Organizational support is provided by solution-oriented groups like Business for Water Stewardship, American Rivers, Audubon Arizona, Environmental Defense Action Fund, and Western Resource Advocates, which collectively have over 60,000 Arizona members, as well as hundreds of hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreators across the state. Kevin Moran, a long-time Arizonan and former government relations consultant, is the Chairman of the Coalition.


@USBR Commissioner Burman to hold media availability, February 1, 2019, regarding the status of #ColoradoRiver Basin #Drought Contingency Plans #COriver #aridification #DCP

Brenda Burman. Photo credit: USBR

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):

On Friday, February 1, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman will conduct a media availability to discuss the status of Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plans.

Recognizing growing risks in the basin, Reclamation and the basin states have worked for several years to develop meaningful drought contingency plans (DCPs) for the upper and lower Colorado River basins. The governor’s representatives from each state endorsed a Reclamation goal to complete DCPs by the end of 2018. The four Upper Basin States approved their DCP in December 2018. During last December’s Colorado River Water Users Association Conference, Burman set a January 31, 2019, deadline for completion of all DCPs.

WHO: Brenda Burman, Reclamation Commissioner; Brent Rhees, Reclamation Regional Director – Upper Colorado Region; Terry Fulp, Reclamation Regional Director – Lower Colorado Region

WHAT: Media availability to discuss the status of Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plans

WHEN: 9 a.m. MST, Friday, February 1, 2019

WHERE: Dial in: 888-324-9315, Passcode: 6634067

Challenge accepted: Snow planking – News on TAP

How Denver Water’s employee wellness program builds comradery and a healthier workforce.

Source: Challenge accepted: Snow planking – News on TAP

#Drought news: conditions improve over north-central and northeastern #Colorado

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor.

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


Colder than normal temperatures dominated most of the United States for the week, especially areas east of the continental divide. The eastern half of the country remained quite wet, with most areas east of the Missouri River recording above-normal precipitation for the week. The cold settled in as a polar vortex descended south and arctic air blasted the Midwest, Great Lakes and portions of the Plains at the end of the current period…

High Plains

The colder than normal temperatures were also impacting most of the High Plains, where temperatures were about 5 degrees below normal over most areas. The region was mostly drier than normal for the week, with only areas of the Dakotas, southeast Nebraska, and eastern portions of Colorado and Wyoming receiving slightly above normal precipitation. The conditions did not warrant any changes to the drought status this week in the pockets of remaining drought in North Dakota and eastern Colorado…


Temperatures were mixed in the region as they were below normal through the Rocky Mountains and above normal through the rest of the region. It was a mainly dry week over much of the West with only areas of the central and northern Rocky Mountains into the Great Basin recording above-normal precipitation. The driest conditions were along the coastal areas of Washington, Oregon, and California, where departures were 1-2 inches below normal. Even with a dry week, a reassessment of conditions was done, which allowed for quite a few improvements over California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and Oregon. In most of California, a full category improvement was done in response to the short-term indicators. Nevada had conditions improve by a full category in both the eastern and western portions of the state. In Utah, severe drought was improved in the northern portions of the state while in Oregon, extreme drought was eliminated from the southern part of the state. Severe drought conditions were eliminated from the western part of Arizona while conditions improved over north-central and northeastern Colorado. Moderate drought was expanded in central Idaho where the upper elevation snow accumulation has been lagging and dry conditions have been developing over the last 6 months…


The colder than normal temperatures made their way into the South, with most of the region having temperatures 3-6 degrees below normal for the week. Most of the region was dry, but above-normal precipitation was recorded from southern Texas up into Louisiana and Arkansas, with departures of up to 1.50 inches above normal for the week. The rains in southern Texas did allow for some improvement to the drought status there, but abnormally dry conditions were expanded in other portions of southern Texas as well as farther north in the panhandle…

Looking Ahead

Over the next 5-7 days, there will continue to be an active storm track across the country where a significant storm will impact the West coast and into the intermountain West and Southwest, bringing the chance for significant precipitation. The eastern half of the United States will also have good chances of widespread precipitation, with the greatest amounts over the Tennessee valley and lower Mississippi basin. High temperatures during this period look to be warmer than normal, with the warmest highs over the central Plains and South with departures of 9-12 degrees above normal. Cooler temperatures will impact the West coast and New England with departures of 3-6 degrees below normal.

The 6-10 day outlooks show that almost the entire country is showing above-normal chances of above-normal precipitation, with the greatest probabilities over the Midwest and into New England. A few areas are projected to have above-normal chances of below-normal precipitation, including the Florida peninsula and portions of northern California and into the Pacific Northwest. The greatest probability of above-normal temperatures is over the eastern third of the United States and into Texas as well as in Alaska. The West and High Plains have the greatest probabilities of below-normal temperatures, with the greatest chances over North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and portions of northern Wyoming and Idaho.

Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention Day 2 #cwcac2019

A boater, Steve Skinner, makes his way toward Skull Rapid in Westwater Canyon. Future potential releases of water from Blue Mesa Reservoir down the Gunnison River and into the Colorado River could alter flows in Westwater, and boost water levels in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

I’m heading to Westminster for day 2. You can follow along at @CoyoteGulch or the Twitter hash tag #cwcac2019.

Cloud seeding part of efforts to put the brakes on #snowpack decline #aridification

Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

A lot of the current water scarcity problems in the Southwest could be eased if it just snowed more and with a regular frequency in the high country of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming. More snow means more time to deal with the Colorado River’s fundamental supply and demand imbalance.

The onus to correcting that imbalance often falls more on the demand side of the equation, with myriad policy pushes that either incentivize or force people to use less water. On the supply side, options are limited.

There’s one tempting proposition for western water managers currently feeling the pressure to dole out cutbacks to users due to the region’s ongoing aridification — inducing clouds to drop more snow.

For decades, states have invested in weather modification programs, also known as cloud seeding, in the hopes of boosting precious snowpack. The practice showed up in a recent agreement among Colorado River Basin states, and investment is expanding, with water agencies in Wyoming and Colorado for the first time putting funds toward aerial cloud seeding, rather than solely relying on ground-based generators.

State cloud seeding programs. Graphic credit: The Huffington Post

#AZleg: Senate Water and Agriculture Committee approves #LBDCP 6-1, now on to the the full House and Senate #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Brenda Burman, commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, after a panel discussion at the Colorado River Water Users Association on Dec. 14, at Caesars Palace, in Las Vegas. Earlier at the conference, Burman gave water managers in Arizona, California and Nevada until Jan. 31 to reach consensus on a set of regional agreements designed to bolster water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Arizona Central (Andrew Nicla and Dustin Gardiner):

A state Senate committee voted 6-1 Wednesday evening to pass a pair of measures that outline how the state would share looming cutbacks on the river’s water and work with other states to take less.

The bills now head to the full Senate and House. Both chambers are expected to pass the bills Thursday, an effort that could stretch into the night as they rush to meet a federal deadline…

By and large, the measures have gained bipartisan support, with sponsors on both sides of the aisle.

But there are critics who say the state is failing to grasp the enormity of what’s causing the historic shortage in the first place. They worry the plan doesn’t do enough to prepare for the impacts of climate change or promote conservation.

Sen. Juan Mendez, D-Tempe, cast the lone vote in opposition in the Senate Water and Agriculture Committee. He said the plan isn’t a long-term solution.

“We owe the future a more earnest plan,” he said. “We live in a desert in a prolonged drought and it’s only going to get hotter. It’s not crazy to consider limits on our sprawling development and industrial agriculture.”


Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, said the plan gives Pinal County farmers crucial funding to improve their groundwater irrigation systems. He said those farmers make significant contributions to the state and national economy.

“We’re helping get this infrastructure built so that they can pump this water and so that we can eat, so that we can wear these clothes that we have,” Gowan said. “Everything is farmed or mined.”

Part of helping to ensure those farmers get that needed funding, Gowan said, is changing a crucial word in the intent clause from “may” or “will” to “shall.”

Zinke leaves unfinished business at the Interior Department — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News (Carl Segerstrom):

On the second day of 2019, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke tweeted out his resignation letter to President Donald Trump. After less than two years in office, he claimed to have “restored public lands ‘for the benefit & enjoyment of the people,’ improved public access & shall never be held hostage again for our energy needs.”

That appears to be Zinke’s view of the legacy his abbreviated tenure will leave on the Interior Department’s more than 500 million acres of land and roughly 70,000 employees. Critics might interpret his garbled syntax as a confession: that he turned over public land to industry — pushing oil and gas leases in sensitive habitat, rescinding environmental protections and shrinking national monuments. But what, really, did Zinke accomplish?

Ryan Zinke wore many hats as Interior Department Secretary, effective bureaucrat wasn’t one of them. Credit: Department of the Interior via The High Country News

The answer: Probably not much. The methane Zinke allowed gas drillers to flare can’t be unburnt, the oil and gas leases he sold are probably good for at least 10 years, and the institutional knowledge of departed agency workers will be difficult to restore. Still, the flippant way Zinke executed his many rollbacks and policy changes leaves them vulnerable to be overturned, either by the next administration, Congress or the courts.

“The cumulative landscape impact is significant,” said Brett Hartl, the government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “(But) I am optimistic that almost everything they’ve done can be undone. We can win in court because most of the things they are doing violate the laws they are addressing.”

Zinke — a Navy veteran, former oil pipeline functionary and Montana congressman — was not coy about his determination to achieve something he called “energy dominance.” Nor was he shy about favoring industry over all other public-lands users. Following the lead and executive orders of President Donald Trump, Zinke cut environmental regulations, shrank Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, and censored climate science while pushing out agency scientists and staff. By reducing fracking safeguards, slashing methane waste regulations and cutting protections for migratory birds, Zinke’s Interior Department has made it easier to develop oil and gas on public lands.

The Interior Department’s deregulatory agenda.

Yet only a handful of rules — which create policies that require a lengthy and public process to undo — have been finalized in the last two years. Many of the actions taken by the administration have been done through secretarial orders, internal memos and staffing decisions, many of which can be reversed on day one of a new administration.

For example, policies that have lead to the censoring of climate science could be immediately discarded. New leadership at Interior could also terminate every politically appointed agency head and staffer. For instance, Zinke’s childhood friend Steve Howke, a former credit union executive with no Interior Department experience, would no longer be in charge of reviewing the department’s grant applications.

From a staffing standpoint, Zinke’s legacy will come less from temporary political appointees than from the loss of rank-and-file workers. The departures of career staffers, who left after questionable reassignments, interference in climate research, and policies that incentivized early retirements, will make it harder to rebuild a workforce that is shrinking despite increased visitation on public lands.

The legal actions of the Trump administration’s Interior Department are also vulnerable in federal courts. “We see a pattern of attempts to suspend compliance with agency rules” that doesn’t adhere to the Administrative Procedures Act, said Hana Vizcarra, the staff attorney for Harvard Law’s Environmental and Energy Law Program.

As Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., takes the lead oversight role as the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Trump’s opponents could gain more leverage. “Information from oversight in the house could give ammunition to litigants or spur interest in further lawsuits,” Vizcarra said. If, for example, the committee unveiled new information that showed rules were made at the request of regulated industries, “it could impact what a court considers reasonable or arbitrary,” and undermine the agency’s ability to defend its actions, she said.

In the end, Zinke will probably be remembered more for his hat collection, bluster, multiple scandals and ethics investigations and vacations taken on the taxpayer dime than for any policies he implemented, good or bad. One thing is certain, though: The drive for “energy dominance” at the expense of the environment will endure for as long as Trump remains president, particularly under the leadership of now acting-Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who is generally seen to be more competent than Zinke.

“In some sense, Ryan Zinke really was Trump’s mini-me in terms of flailing around and fumbling very loudly, but really not having a clear policy direction other than deregulation and handing over federal authority to manage public lands,” said Erik Molvar, the executive director of Western Watersheds, a conservation group that opposes grazing and energy development on public land. “Now, we could be turning over the helm to cold-blooded professionals who are industry lobbyists that really know how to get things done.”

Carl Segerstrom is a contributing editor at High Country News, covering Alaska, the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies from Spokane, Washington. Email him at carls@hcn.org.