From KJZZ (Brett Jaspers) via KUNC:
As Arizona and other Colorado River states move ever closer to finishing the Drought Contingency Plan to boost Lake Mead, the federal government is moving forward on a parallel track. That path would create a federal plan in case the states don’t finish by the deadline.
But what is the deadline?
On Feb. 1, Burman gave everyone another month to wrap up. But that second deadline – March 4th – has passed too. Reclamation is now accepting input from governors in the Colorado River basin on what kind of alternate plan the Department of Interior should install if needed. That input is due March 19th. Another deadline.
All the while, Arizona is continuing to work on its various agreements.
Last month, Ted Cooke, General Manager of the Central Arizona Project, told reporters Arizona wouldn’t be done by March 4th.
“That’s an artificial deadline and these are very complex agreements and very complex negotiations,” he said. “We will take the time we need to do them properly. That being said, I don’t expect it to drag on for months and months and months.”
At the time, Cooke was confident all of Arizona’s internal deals would be done before the end of April. He also said it wasn’t clear to him what the federal government considered “done.
“We do not have a clear list of things that need to be completed by that day.” he said, referring to March 4.
Reclamation would not specify to KJZZ which of Arizona’s separate agreements absolutely must be signed, sealed and delivered for the state to join Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada in the “done” column. On the February 1st press call, Commissioner Burman did say “all” agreements need to be complete.
Estevan López, who was Reclamation Commissioner from late 2014 until the end of the Obama Administration, said he would want all of the sub-agreements to be signed. “So that nobody can get cold feet and say, ‘oh wait a minute. I want to change this aspect of it.’ Because then, one little thread starts unraveling the whole thing.”
López said a contingency plan – regardless of who writes it – absolutely needs to be in place by the time an important document gets released in early August. It’s called the August 24-month Study. This tells water users in the basin the projected level of Lake Mead and what amount of cutbacks the states must take. So that makes August the ultimate deadline.
Commissioner Burman has made it clear she wants the Drought Contingency Plan to come from the states. And they very well may get there. But just in case, the parallel federal process is moving forward.
“She’s doing it. She’s doing it incrementally,” López said, referring to Burman. “But if things don’t come together by July or August, I think Reclamation will do something.”
If it came to that, the states could very well contest the broad authority the feds say they have over the Colorado River. We know no one wants it to come to that – especially not for a river system that supplies water to about 40 million people.
But until we get there, we’re likely to keep hearing about deadlines.