Push for renewables vexes Western power supplier — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

From The High Country News (Keriann Conroy):

Colorado’s largest member-owned generation and transmission provider may be in trouble. Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which provides wholesale electricity to rural cooperatives in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Nebraska, is facing increasing pressure to let go of some of its contracts and to improve its renewable portfolio. But it appears unable to change fast enough to keep up with the times.

Most of Tri-State’s power is generated from coal- and gas-fired plants or large hydroelectric dams, but it is now facing regulatory hassles and the potential exodus of customers. Rural “distribution” cooperatives are currently waiting to see how much it would cost them to exit their contracts, while Colorado moves toward regulations requiring more renewables.

Colorado Green, located between Springfield and Lamar, was Colorado’s first, large wind farm. Photo/Allen Best

The controversy has escalated in recent weeks. Last month, more than 60 Colorado lawmakers weighed in on a dispute between Tri-State and one of its rural cooperatives, Delta-Montrose Electric Association, in support of the co-op. Tri-State is at odds with western Colorado’s DMEA, which wants to end its contract with the power supplier. The two sides are currently engaged in a dispute over how much the rural co-op should pay to exit and who should determine the price tag. DMEA wants Colorado’s Public Utilities Commission to determine a “fair, just and reasonable” fee, but Tri-State would prefer to set its own price. In a letter to the Public Utilities Commission on Jan. 14, 17 state senators and 35 state representatives urged the state’s Public Utilities Commission to “consider exercising its jurisdiction” over determining the exit fee. On Feb. 14, the PUC announced it would indeed exercise that jurisdiction and determine a fee, setting the stage for an announcement in coming weeks and a public hearing in June.

The dispute, which could have far-reaching consequences for Tri-State’s financial viability and the cost of electricity for many of Colorado’s rural residents, underscores the difficulties faced by communities who want to find new ways to generate power and to leave large legacy assets behind. In 2016, Kit Carson Electric, a cooperative in New Mexico, left its contract with Tri-State, paying a $37 million exit fee. The price was determined by Tri-State without regulatory oversight from the PUC and without any explanation of how Tri-State calculated it.

The ongoing conflict between Tri-State and DMEA raises large questions over Tri-State’s ability to change with the times, including how it plans to adapt its business model as more members become interested in generating their own renewable power.

In August 2018, the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit based out of Basalt, Colorado, that works to accelerate the cost effectiveness of renewable energy adoption through market solutions, released a report concerning Tri-State’s economic possibilities. RMI estimated that if Tri-State continues to rely on coal, rather than transition away from legacy assets and invest in renewable energy sources, it will cost its members $600 million through 2030. Worry over increased rates from dependence on coal may increase the pressure on other large co-ops to leave their contracts as they seek out more renewables, creating a downward spiral for Tri-State and its members.

If cooperatives continue to exit their contracts without the PUC determining the kind of “fair, just and reasonable” fee that DMEA is asking for, costs could rise even higher for the remaining members, as the burden of Tri-State’s debt shifts to fewer cooperatives. Tri-State’s largest member, Colorado’s United Power, wrote letters to other co-ops suggesting changes to Tri-State’s bylaws that would allow members to purchase more power outside of Tri-State, in light of its “increasingly outmoded” generation and transmission business model. La Plata Electric Association has been studying the costs of other power suppliers but has not yet made concrete plans to exit its contract.

Craig Station in northwest Colorado is a coal-fired power plant operated by Tri-State Generation & Transmission. Photo credit: Allen Best

Tri-State assures its members that it expects to meet Colorado’s renewable energy standards — by providing 20 percent “clean energy” — even though it is not legally required to until 2020. It currently claims to offer members a portfolio composed of 30 percent renewable energy, but the public information released in its annual report doesn’t add up. Tri-State has some small wind, solar and hydropower projects, which would comprise a small percentage of its portfolio. It also gets half its renewable portfolio from federally owned hydroelectric projects developed between the 1930s and 1950s, known as the Western Area Power Administration, or WAPA. However, most of Tri-State’s WAPA purchases are not included in Colorado’s renewable energy standards because they are considered “large hydro.” If you take its WAPA purchases out of the equation, Tri-State is nowhere near the 30 percent, or even 20 percent, that it claims.

Determining the portion of renewables in Tri-State’s mix is difficult because of the company’s lack of transparency. In a 2015 annual report, Tri-State claimed that just over 5 percent of its power sold was generated by renewable sources. In more recent annual reports, however, Tri-State has chosen not to include production output for the third-party wind, solar and “small hydro” projects that it purchases, so the extent of these contributions to its portfolio are unknown. Additionally, Tri-State inflates its renewable claims by double-counting power from the local renewable sources of member cooperatives. While this is allowed under Colorado’s renewable energy standards, it enables Tri-State to claim the renewable generation produced by its member cooperatives, while its members are constrained by their contracts with Tri-State in meeting their own RES requirements of 6 percent generation. Tri-State’s contracts require each co-op to purchase 95 percent of its power from it, thus capping local renewable generation at 5 percent.

As Colorado’s other major utilities, including Xcel Energy and Platte River Power Authority, have announced specific targets and deadlines for transitioning to renewables, Tri-State has remained heavily reliant on coal without setting any renewable energy or emission reduction goals. Meanwhile, its members have become increasingly aware of the rising cost of coal dependence and shrinking cost of renewable development. This has sparked cooperative pressure on the power supplier to provide affordable electricity, as Colorado is currently witnessing with DMEA’s demands for a “reasonable and just” exit fee to protect other co-ops from unfair pricing.

Tri-State’s response to its members’ actions will become clear when its 2018 annual report is released this coming March, in addition to the results of its recent appointment of a new CEO. The report should provide comprehensive strategies for meeting renewable energy standards by the end of the year. Yet as more rural cooperatives look to DMEA’s model for a path forward, the future for Tri-State looks less than bright, unless it adds more renewables.

Keriann Conroy is a graduate student at Western Colorado University in Gunnison, Colorado, studying democratic practices and sustainability. Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org.

‘Why shouldn’t I try and save all you adults?’ – @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate

Photo credit: Haven Coleman Twitter Feed, https://twitter.com/havenruthie

From The High Country News (Jessica Kutz):

Every Friday since the beginning of this year, bundled in a burnt-orange puffy jacket, 12-year-old Haven Coleman has protested climate change in front of government buildings and businesses storefronts in Denver, Colorado. The reactions are mixed. Last week, a man flipped her off through his rolled-down window; other times, people shout words of encouragement or give a thumbs-up. At one of her strikes in February, I find her sitting cross-legged on the cold, hard cement steps leading to the entrance of the Denver City Council building, two posters propped up next to her. One sign has four hash-tagged words: #ClimateBreakdown #FridaysforFuture, #ClimateStrike and #GreenNewDeal written in large skinny black letters. The other proclaims: “School Strike for Climate.”

After about half an hour, an older gentleman in a neon-yellow T-shirt and worn blue jeans pauses to read Coleman’s signs. He doesn’t like what they say. “That’s to your disadvantage,” he tells her matter-of-factly. “You need school.” Coleman, a seventh-grader with long brown hair and expressive hand gestures, tries to come up with a quick response, but by the time she’s pulled her thoughts together, he’s already gone up the City Hall steps.

Around the country, other young climate activists have gone on similar solo strikes, cheering each other on from afar through Instagram and Twitter. They find encouragement from teens in other countries, like England and Belgium, where the youth climate movement has inspired a vast wave of students to ditch class on Fridays and flood into the streets to protest. Like many adults, they are energized by the eloquent, powerful and at times frightening speeches of Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, who has been protesting in front of the Swedish Parliament since last August.

WITH A FUTURE THAT looks increasingly perilous — a recent U.N. climate report gave world leaders just 12 years to act to avoid the worst effects of climate change — Coleman and her peers feel a sense of urgency. “Us kids, we are the only ones who are doing anything recognizing that our future is at stake,” Coleman said, with a hint of exasperation in her voice. “The reason why we are ‘climate striking’ is to try and get the attention of the adults, because we can’t vote — but we can influence senators.”

And grabbing the attention of adults is Coleman’s strong suit. She made headlines over a year ago, when she spoke at a town hall hosted in August 2017 by Republican Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who has received over $1.2 million dollars in campaign funding from oil and gas industries. The senator listened to Coleman’s heartfelt speech that day from the stage. Through tears, she pleaded with him to take action against climate change. She even offered to help. “If the carbon polluters’ money is holding you back, I can organize kids, adults and money and we can use social media and do grassroots,” she told him, as people in the crowd flashed green cards and cheered.

Gardner didn’t take her up on her offer, but the videos that surfaced of Haven’s speeches to Republican State Rep. Doug Lamborn, R, a known climate change denier, garnered the attention of another prominent figure, Al Gore. She had met him briefly once before at a training event. But months later, after hearing about her climate activism in Colorado, he invited her to be a part of his “24 Hours of Reality” project, a day of television programming centered on climate change. Coleman says her activism “has been going up from there.”

Haven Coleman questions Republican State Rep. Doug Lamborn in Colorado Springs last August.
Jonathan Caughran/YouTube video capture

THESE DAYS, ALL OF her energy is going into planning the U.S. Youth Climate Strike, a national event organized by Coleman and two other young climate activists, Alexandria Villasenor and Isra Hirsi. It will take place in solidarity with a global school strike for climate action on the same day, in which students plan to urge U.S. politicians to adopt the Green New Deal and to stem the effects of the “climate crisis.” Over 300 people have already signed on to lead strikes in their cities. With less than a month to go, events have been confirmed in 28 states. Coleman is confident that the movement will reach every part of the country.

Balancing school and planning a national strike can be challenging — to say the least — for a seventh-grader. She caught some flak from a teacher when she missed a math-tutoring session; she’d gotten stranded on a planning phone call with her climate strike co-leaders. When she tried to explain that she had just started the U.S. version of a European climate action movement, her teacher responded by telling her, “You better get your priorities together.” Coleman has missed several days of school to attend rallies in D.C. and speak at climate change events, but for the most part, she tries to balance school with her activism. On her Friday strikes, she squeezes in her protests early in the mornings or during lunch, though sometimes she ends up a little late for her classes.

School and activism have never harmonized for Coleman, anyway. When she lived in politically conservative Colorado Springs, she says the other kids “hated my guts” and shoved her into lockers. “It got pretty intense, and I ended up doing home school.” At her current school in Denver, she says her classmates don’t really get this “climate activism thing,” so she tries not to bring it up too often. “It is just hard because when people don’t really understand… It is sort of like I’m hunting for dragons or something,” she says.

It’s difficult not having people her age to turn to when she feels overwhelmed by climate change, Coleman said. “When you are dealing with such a heavy issue at such a young age, sometimes it just brings you down,” she says. In those moments, her parents help her through it —especially because “you don’t see a lot of kids being activists.” The strike on March 15 just might change that. “I hope that a ton of kids will flood into the streets,” Coleman says.

At one point, I ask Haven what motivates her to turn her feelings about climate change into real action, something many adults have failed to do. “I feel like I need to do something,” she says, “because why wouldn’t you want to save your future?”

“We can stop the worst effects, so why shouldn’t I try and save all you adults?”

Jessica Kutz is an editorial fellow for High Country News. Email her at jessicak@hcn.org.

Police-state tactics at the U.S.-Mexico border — @HighCountryNews

From The High Country News (Ruxandra Guidi):

Earlier this year, a journalist friend of mine (he asked me not to use his name for fear of reprisal) headed to Tijuana to interview some of the Central American migrants camped out in makeshift shelters throughout the city, looking for the best way to enter the U.S. and ask for asylum. When he attempted to cross the border on his return, my friend was taken to “secondary” screening. No reason was given, but a Customs and Border Protection agent asked him, over and over, “What did the migrants tell you?” After hours of waiting and intimidation, another agent gave him his card and asked him to reach out. “He told me he could use my help,” my friend told me.

This is not normal: CBP has no business questioning journalists about their work or trying to enlist them to give away information about their sources. But under President Donald Trump, the practice has become commonplace. Over the past year, journalists have complained to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) about being asked to provide information about the migrant caravan or to hand over video footage and submit to interviews over “potentially illegal conduct.” “Custom and Border Protection’s apparent use of secondary screening as a pretext for questioning journalists about their reporting is akin to treating the media as informants and is a worrying sign for press freedom,” said CPJ’s Alexandra Ellerbeck. That’s the sort of statement more commonly made about press freedom in Russia, Nicaragua or Thailand. Today, though, it is very much a U.S. story, and a very troubling one, alongside other recent policies and measures — deployment of National Guard along the border, the criminalization of humanitarian workers, the separation of migrant children from their parents and the extended detention of asylum-seekers — all done in the name of defending the homeland, and fighting crime and terrorism. What once happened elsewhere, under faraway authoritarian regimes, is now taking place in front of us and rapidly eroding the moral core of American society.

During the Mexican Revolution, 1910-1920, American and Mexican soldiers guard International Street in Nogales. The border marker still stands today.
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

One government agency in particular has come to represent this shift: Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE. It’s relatively new, founded after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But in its brief existence, ICE has built up a massive immigrant detention network, along with a history of abuses. ICE’s 2019 budget asked for almost $9 billion to run a system that would hold 52,000 people in detention every day. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen claims that 3,755 “known or suspected terrorists” have been prevented from traveling to or entering the U.S. But as of two years ago, the State Department declared there was “no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States.” The buildup of police and immigration enforcement is common to authoritarian regimes: Under military strongman Hosni Mubarak, Egypt boasted 1,500 policemen for every 100,000 people.

“There is no political blowback for ICE; in fact, they have the continued support from the president,” Mike Turner, who oversaw ICE’s San Diego office and retired from the agency 11 years ago, told me. “I look at the separation of immigrant parents and their children, and if I was to go back 15 years ago, I can’t believe we would have allowed that to be done the way that it was done. I can’t envision how they’re doing that from a moral and ethical stance.”

When I asked Turner how an agency that was created to combat terrorism became a deportation machine, he sighed, and measured his response. “I did not think we should be chasing every last undocumented person working at a fast-food restaurant,” he said. The Trump administration, however, has encouraged ICE to arrest and deport at will, setting the agency free from any previous restraints observed even during then-President Barack Obama’s record-high deportations.

Now we’re witnessing how the current regime has created the ongoing spectacle of a “border crisis” to support its immoral treatment of immigrants, people who try to help them and all who bear witness to their situation. It is worth repeating these truths again and again: Illegal crossings are currently at a 46-year low. The National Guard has no business enforcing immigration laws. Asylum seekers are not criminals. And ultimately, there is no need for razor wire along the border wall in Nogales, Arizona, nor for taller concrete planks along the San Diego border.

There is no real crisis at the border. The White House’s latest declaration of a national emergency there is the only real crisis — and it is undermining the rule of law and democracy in a manner disturbingly similar to what only happens in police states.

I used to cross the San Diego-Tijuana border regularly for work. Coming back into the U.S. by car meant getting stuck in a ridiculously long and slow-moving line of traffic until you reached a tollbooth, where a CBP agent asked whether you were a U.S. citizen, and sometimes wanted to see your passport. When I was asked what I’d been doing in Tijuana, I’d always tell the truth: I was out reporting — doing my job, talking to people. I hope the generations of journalists who come after me will be able to answer that question so honestly.

Contributing editor Ruxandra Guidi writes from Los Angeles, California. Email her at ruxandrag@hcn.org.

The Nature Conservancy is building a system to supply water to the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve for razorback sucker habitat

From KSLTV.com (John Hollenhorst):

The rescue project is on the Scott M. Matheson Wetlands Preserve, a property owned by The Nature Conservancy on the fringes of Moab alongside the Colorado River. Over the last few weeks, construction crews have been creating a special side-channel that will carry river-water into the wetlands during periods of higher water. It’s designed to mimic – on a small scale – the natural system of annual spring flooding that’s been disrupted over the last century or so by dams, diversions and other human activity.

“We don’t have the same magnitude of flood events, or the same duration, or even the same timing,” said Zach Ahrens, a fish biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, one of several agencies that have partnered on the project.

In the spring, the suckers spawn and hatch tiny babies in the main current of the river. The plan is to divert the higher spring flows through the new channel into a large pond in the Matheson wetlands. Actually, in recent years it hasn’t really resembled a pond because it contains so little water. The new channel is aimed at refilling it from time to time to give the larvae of razorback suckers an alternative, temporary habitat.

“Away from the main channel allows for a little bit warmer water, which allows the fish to grow more quickly,” Ahrens said. “It also allows them some refuge from the turbulent currents that occur during spring runoff.”

If they stay out in the main channel of the river, the larvae are highly vulnerable to being eaten by non-native fish that have taken over the Colorado. “They’re maybe a half an inch long,” Ahrens said. “They’re tiny little translucent noodle-looking things.”

But if they can spend a few months in an off-stream nursery, they can come out big and strong.

“If we can bring them into a safe harbor, into a nursery and give them the months they need to grow to a sufficient size, and then release them back into the river, then they can compete” Whitham said.

When they re-enter the Colorado River, they’ll have a better chance of stand up to hungry non-native predators that were accidentally or deliberately introduced in the last few decades.

“If we can help bring back these populations of native fish, who have been around for millions of years, and get them to sufficient sizes, then we’ll know that we’re doing something right,” Whitham said.

The project is being built in phases because all the funding hasn’t been lined up yet. The Nature Conservancy hopes to fill the gap with state and federal grants as well as private contributions.

The latest E-Newsletter is hot off the presses from the Hutchins Water Center

Slide from Becky Mitchell’s presentation at the recent Water Course shindig from the Hutchins Water Center.

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

WATER COURSE MATERIALS POSTED
Presentation slides and some streaming links for the Hutchins Water Center’s recent 3-evening Water Course are now posted here. Topics included CO Water Law, Impacts of Drought & Aridification, and Drought Contingency Planning, and we had a stellar slate of speakers.

@SenatorBennet, @SenCoryGardner & Colleagues Introduce #PFAS Action Plan of 2019

Widefield aquifer via the Colorado Water Institute.

Here’s the release from Senator Bennet’s office:

Bipartisan bill would designate PFAS chemicals as hazardous substances under our environmental protection laws

U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), with a bipartisan group of colleagues, today introduced legislation that would mandate the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), within one year of enactment, declare per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) as hazardous substances eligible for cleanup funds under the EPA Superfund law, and also enable a requirement that polluters undertake or pay for remediation.

“It is inexcusable that the Trump administration continues to delay action to address PFAS contamination across the country,” Bennet said. “This bipartisan bill will ensure contaminated sites are cleaned up and resources are available to communities in Colorado so they have access to safe drinking water. Passing this measure is one of many steps we must take to address this public health threat with the urgency it requires.”

“This bipartisan legislation will allow EPA to pursue polluters responsible for PFAS contamination and provide the communities remediation options through Superfund,” Gardner said. “PFAS contamination is a serious issue facing our communities and we need to act quickly to address this challenge. I will continue working to make sure Coloradans have access to clean and safe drinking water.”

In May 2018, former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that EPA would propose designating PFOA and PFOS, two specific PFAS chemicals, as “hazardous substances” through one of the available statutory mechanisms, including CERCLA Section 102. Nearly a year later, on February 14, 2019, EPA released its long-anticipated PFAS Action Plan. The plan included another commitment by EPA to make that designation for PFOA and PFOS, but did not identify the available statutory mechanism it would use, nor how long the designation process would take to complete.

Clear and swift action from Congress to list PFAS as hazardous substances under CERCLA would advance the action already proposed by EPA, enabling the agency to protect human health and the environment in an expeditious manner.

Bennet’s reaction to the EPA’s plan, and his record of two years of work to address PFAS in Colorado and across the country, is available HERE.

In addition to Bennet and Gardner, original cosponsors include U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-DE), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Gary Peters (D-MI), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jack Reed (D-RI), Lisa Murkowski (R-AL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Joe Manchin (D-WV). U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) led the introduction of companion legislation in the House of Representatives earlier this Congress.

The bill text is available HERE.

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Jakob Rodgers):

The senators’ PFAS Action Plan for 2019 comes after the Environmental Protection Agency was criticized by environmental groups and affected residents for not going further in its plan for addressing the chemicals.

The bipartisan legislation — Bennet is a Democrat, Gardner a Republican — mandates the EPA declare all perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, man-made compounds also known as PFAS, as “hazardous substances” within one year of the bill’s passage. The designation would clear the way for the EPA to use Superfund money to clean up contaminated sites, while opening the door for the government to sue polluters for cleanup costs.

“It seems like a positive step,” said Meghan Hughes, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “It really could be a driver for PFAS groundwater investigations and contaminations (cleanups) across the state.”

[…]

The legislation does not address any other aspect of the EPA’s oversight of those chemicals, such as whether the agency should regulate the chemicals in a similar fashion as lead, cyanide and mercury.

Should it pass, it’s impact on southern El Paso County — where the drinking water of tens of thousands of Security, Widefield and Fountain residents was tainted — remained unclear Friday.

The Air Force is in the midst of a yearslong process to address the chemicals that is similar to the federal Superfund program, due to the decadeslong use of a firefighting foam containing the toxic chemicals at Peterson Air Force Base that was detected in groundwater.

The Air Force is still investigating the contamination — a process that was expected to take years. And any cleanup steps — such as removing the chemicals from the Widefield aquifer — have not been announced, nor has money been allocated for such cleanup efforts.

In the meantime, water districts serving Security, Widefield and Fountain have spent millions of dollars installing treatment systems and piping in water from elsewhere to remove the chemicals from residents’ tap water to nondetectable levels.

Two other communities in Colorado — in Boulder and Adams counties — also have discovered the chemicals in their drinking water. Both contamination sites were near fire departments that used the same toxic firefighting foam that was a mainstay at Peterson Air Force Base, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

The @USBR March 4th deadline is upon all of us in the #ColoradoRiver Basin but the spotlight is shining on #Arizona and #California #DCP #COriver #aridification

All eyes are on Arizona and California with Brenda Burman’s extended deadline coming up on Monday. They are dealing with the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, which really should be a plan to address the declining supply and increasing demand that causes an annual deficit. (H/T Eric Kuhn over at Inkstain.

From Arizona Central (Ian James):

Water poured into an artificial wetland next to the Gila River near Sacaton as Arizona’s leading proponents of a Colorado River drought plan celebrated the state’s progress in moving toward a deal.

Leaders of the Gila River Indian Community touted the restoration project as an example of putting water back into a river that has was sucked dry over the years, and a symbolic step in promoting sustainable water management in the state. The inauguration ceremony on the reservation featured traditional singing by men and boys who shook gourd rattles in unison.

Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis said the community, which has agreed to contribute water under the proposed Colorado River deal, is playing a vital role in helping to finish the three-state Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP.

“This is very important and very historic,” Lewis told the audience of community members, politicians and water managers. “It goes beyond politics. It goes to the benefit and the future sustainability and existence of all of us here.”

[…]

Caption: Imperial Valley, Salton Sea, CA / ModelRelease: N/A / PropertyRelease: N/A (Newscom TagID: ndxphotos113984) [Photo via Newscom]

Unresolved issues remain

Yet even as Arizona’s top water officials expressed optimism about finishing the drought agreement after months of difficult negotiations, they also voiced concerns that unresolved issues in California still could upend the entire deal.

More than 250 miles to the west in California’s Imperial Valley, leaders of the irrigation district that controls the largest share of Colorado River water were still discussing a key condition of their participation. Imperial Irrigation District officials announced at a meeting on Friday afternoon that the federal Bureau of Reclamation has agreed to their condition that the drought package include linkage to funding for the Salton Sea.

They said federal officials will write a strong letter of support backing IID’s requests for $200 million in Farm Bill funding for wetlands projects around the shrinking sea. The projects are aimed at keeping down dust along the shorelines and salvaging deteriorating habitat for fish and birds.

Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, the U.S. solicitor and staff are finalizing a letter stating that “they consider the restoration of the Salton Sea is a critical ingredient of the drought contingency plans and cannot be ignored, and they stand prepared to help the IID with the Department of Agriculture to try to get funding in whatever way possible,” said IID attorney Charles Dumars.

He cautioned that it was “a building block, nothing more,” but said it was a big one that could be used to persuade Agriculture Department officials to allocate funds for the receding lake…

The board also voted unanimously to oppose a supposed “white knight” offer by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California’s general manager, Jeffrey Kightlinger, to provide IID’s portion of water to be kept in Lake Mead if the agency doesn’t sign on to the drought plan.

Several board members and people in the audience chided the Los Angeles-based agency for trying to interfere in their process, saying it was ignoring the public-health issues at the Salton Sea created by the withdrawal of Colorado River water…

IID officials also discussed a timeline that Burman and her staff presented at a recent meeting in Las Vegas. The aim, Martinez said, is to have agreements adopted by all parties…in Phoenix on March 14 or 15 to sign a joint letter to Congress endorsing the plan…

Gila River watershed. Graphic credit: Wikimedia

Arizona working to wrap up its part

The Gila River Indian Community’s involvement is key because the community is entitled to about a fourth of the water that passes through the Central Arizona Project, and it has offered to kick in some water to make the drought agreement work.

Arizona’s plan for divvying up the water cutbacks involves deliveries of “mitigation” water to help lessen the blow for some farmers and other entities, as well as compensation payments for those that contribute water. Those payments are to be covered with more than $100 million from the state and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which manages the CAP Canal. Much of the money would go toward paying for water from the Colorado River Indian Tribes and the Gila River Indian Community…

Gov. Ducey signed a package of legislation on Jan. 31 endorsing the Drought Contingency Plan. Arizona still needs to finish a list of internal water agreements to make the state’s piece of the deal work.

State officials have presented a list of a dozen remaining agreements, two of which would require the approval of the Gila River Indian Community. But Cooke said not all the agreements need to be signed for the three-state deal to move forward.

Cooke said he’s focused most of all on finishing a framework agreement for Arizona focusing on “intentionally created surplus,” a term for unused water that is stored in Lake Mead.