@Interior and @USBR seek formal input from governors to protect #ColoradoRiver Basin #DCP #COriver #aridification

The Colorado River at Horseshoe Bend, upstream of Glenwood Springs. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

Here’s the release from the Reclamation:

Media Contact: Lower Basin: Patricia Aaron, 702-293-8189, paaron@usbr.gov
Upper Basin: Marlon Duke, 801-524-3774, mduke@usbr.gov

The Department of the Interior, through the Bureau of Reclamation, submitted a notice to the Federal Register today seeking recommendations from the governors of the seven Colorado River Basin states for protective actions Interior should take amid ongoing severe and prolonged drought. This notice recognizes the need for prompt action to enhance and ensure sustainability of Colorado River water supplies throughout the southwestern United States.

Recognizing growing risks in the basin, Reclamation and the basin states have worked for several years to develop meaningful drought contingency plans 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. However, efforts among the Lower Basin states of California and Arizona have delayed DCP completion past the January 31, 2019, deadline set by Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference last December.

“Nobody questions the growing risk and urgent need for action along the Colorado River,” said Commissioner Burman. “Completion of drought contingency plans is long overdue. Action is needed now. In the absence of consensus plans from the Basin states, the federal government must take action to protect the river and all who depend on it — farmers and cities across seven states.”

The Colorado River is a vital water resource in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. It irrigates nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland and sustains life and livelihood for over 40 million people in major metropolitan areas including Albuquerque, Cheyenne, Denver, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Diego and Tucson. Since 2000 the Colorado River Basin has experienced its most severe drought in recorded history and the risk of reaching critically low elevations at Lakes Powell and Mead—the two largest reservoirs in the United States—has increased nearly four-fold over the past decade.

For more information: Drought Contingency Plan Summary: https://www.usbr.gov/dcp/

From The Arizona Republic (Ian James):

A top federal water official announced Friday that because California and Arizona haven’t finished Colorado River drought plans, the Interior Department is asking the governors of all seven states that rely on the river for recommendations on how to prevent reservoirs from continuing to drop.

Federal Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman said there has been tremendous progress toward a deal, including the Arizona Legislature’s quick passage of drought legislation before a Thursday night deadline.

But she said that doesn’t change the fact that the states haven’t completed the Drought Contingency Plan for the river’s lower basin, which aims to reduce the risks of Lake Mead falling to perilously low levels.

“Neither California nor Arizona have completed all of the necessary work,” Burman told reporters on a conference call. “Close isn’t done.”

Arizona officials insisted they succeeded in meeting Burman’s deadline, but the federal government’s decision to put out a call for input seemed geared toward sending a message that Washington will only wait a little longer for the states to sign off on the remaining details.

Even though the federal government is stepping in, the states still could handle the situation on their own — if they act within the next month. Burman said that while the government asks the states for recommendations, the whole process could be called off and the notice could be rescinded if California and Arizona sign the plan.

“If all seven states are able to complete the Drought Contingency Plan before March 4, we will rescind and terminate that request,” Burman said.

The federal government plans to receive input from the states for a 15-day period starting March 4. The notice says the Interior Department is considering “potential federal actions to revise Colorado River operations in an effort to enhance and ensure sustainability of Colorado River water supplies for the southwestern United States.”


Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Ducey’s office, said the deliberations in Arizona are done. He said the state took the necessary action before Burman’s Jan. 31 deadline.

“We met the deadline yesterday with the passage of the legislation,” Ptak told The Arizona Republic. “And now it’s time for California, the lone state that has not passed DCP, to do so.”

In California, water agencies including the Imperial Irrigation District and Coachella Valley Water District failed to meet the deadline to sign on.

IID’s board, which holds the largest entitlement to Colorado River water, has placed conditions on participating. They’ve said they want to be the last to review and sign the deal, and they want $200 million in federal funds for projects to control dust and build wetlands around the shrinking Salton Sea…

Burman said following Arizona’s “giant step” of approving the drought plan in the Legislature, there still are several agreements within the state that need to be completed.

“Arizona took a very important step yesterday and I applaud their efforts,” she said. “But we’re not done yet.”


The legislation that Ducey signed on Thursday includes a resolution granting Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke the authority to sign the plan on the state’s behalf.

The resolution also includes provisions saying that other steps should occur for Buschatzke to put pen to paper: Congress should authorize the Interior secretary to enter into the agreement, and all parties in other states must have authorization to sign.

Theoretically, that shouldn’t present a major hurdle if all seven states are on board. Burman said while the states were formulating the plans, “they determined they would like to see federal legislation.”

It’s not clear how long it might take for Congress to act.

Senator Martha McSally said Friday she will work on passing the federal legislation once the Lower Basins states are ready. She said Ducey and state lawmakers achieved a “historic agreement.”

“However, our work is not yet finished,” McSally said in a statement. “We await approval of the DCP by water users in the State of California. Then, Congress must pass legislation authorizing Acting Department of Interior Secretary (David) Bernhardt to implement the DCP agreements.”


Burman said she hopes the states will complete the agreements, at which point “we anticipate terminating our request for input” from the seven states’ governors.

But she also made clear that the federal government is prepared to act if necessary. She pointed out that when the Supreme Court issued its landmark opinion in 1963 and a related 1964 decree settling a dispute over Colorado River water in the case Arizona v. California, the court found that the Interior secretary has “broad authority” in managing the river.

“We are looking to the governor’s representatives to come to us with their solutions. It’s better to have consensus,” Burman said. “We’re at a point where two roads are diverging in the woods, and we need to decide which path we’re going to follow.”

She said the states have shown tremendous efforts to make progress on the deal in a limited timeframe.

“While we are getting closer, we are still not done,” Burman said. “Only done will protect this basin.”


Desert Sun Reporter Janet Wilson in Palm Springs, Calif., contributed to this story.

Environmental coverage on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow The Republic environmental reporting team at http://environment.azcentral.com

From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

On Friday morning, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, a federal agency that manages waterways and dams across the West, submitted a formal notice asking each Colorado River Basin state to submit comments about how to manage the river in lieu of a drought plan. In December, Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman told the states that the states had until Jan. 31 to finish negotiating a drought deal that has been in the works for about three years.

Despite Friday’s action, Burman said the agency’s preferred approach would be to implement the drought plan, which is nearly complete. If a plan is approved before March 4, when states start submitting comments, Burman said the agency would rescind its action. But if Arizona and California, the two states that have not finished the plan, cannot come to an agreement before then, Burman vowed to move down a path giving her broad authority to manage the river.

Such an action, Burman said, was not the agency’s “preferred approach.”

“However, any further delay elevates existing risk for the basin to unacceptable levels,” Burman told reporters. “The basin is teetering on the brink of shortage and there is a potential for Lake Powell and Lake Mead to decline to critically low elevations in the very near future.”

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