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.

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