@USBR: Interior and states sign historic drought agreements to protect #ColoradoRiver #DCP #COriver #aridification

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

The Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation and representatives from all seven Colorado River Basin states gathered today and signed completed drought contingency plans for the Upper and Lower Colorado River basins. These completed plans are designed to reduce risks from ongoing drought and protect the single most important water resource in the western United States.

“This is an historic accomplishment for the Colorado River Basin. Adopting consensus-based drought contingency plans represents the best path toward safeguarding the single most important water resource in the western United States,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “These agreements represent tremendous collaboration, coordination and compromise from each basin state, American Indian tribes, and even the nation of Mexico.”

In addition to the voluntary reductions and other measures to which the basin states agreed, Mexico has also agreed to participate in additional measures to protect the Colorado River Basin. Under a 2017 agreement, Minute 323 to the 1944 U.S. – Mexico Water Treaty, Mexico agreed to implement a Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan but only after the United States adopted the DCP.

The Colorado River, with its system of reservoirs and water conveyance infrastructure, supplies water for more than 40 million people and nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland across the western United States and Mexico. The reservoirs along the river have performed well—ensuring reliable and consistent water deliveries through even the driest years. But, after 20 years of drought, those reservoirs are showing increasing strain; Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two largest reservoirs on the system and in the United States, are only 39% and 41% full respectively. And, while the basin experienced above-average snowpack in 2019, the total system storage across the basin began the water year at just 47% full.

“The urgency for action in the basin is real, and I applaud all of the parties across the seven states and Mexico for coming together and reaching agreement to protect the Colorado River,” said Burman. “I’m glad to finally say that ‘done’ is done.”

From The Arizona Republic (Ian James):

The Colorado River just got a boost that’s likely to prevent its depleted reservoirs from bottoming out, at least for the next several years.

Representatives of seven Western states and the federal government signed a landmark deal on Monday laying out potential cuts in water deliveries through 2026 to reduce the risks of the river’s reservoirs hitting critically low levels.

Yet even as they celebrated the deal’s completion on a terrace overlooking Hoover Dam and drought-stricken Lake Mead, state and federal water officials acknowledged that tougher negotiations lie ahead. Their task starting next year will be to work out new rules to re-balance the chronically overused river for years to come.

Figuring out how to do that will be complicated because the Colorado River, which supplies water for vast farmlands and more than 40 million people, is managed under a nearly century-old system of allocations that draws out more than what flows in from rain and snow in an average year.

The river’s reservoirs have fallen since 2000 during one of the driest periods in centuries, and global warming is cranking up the pressures by contributing to the declines in the river’s flow.

“Look at all we have accomplished by working together,” said federal Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, who signed the agreements alongside the states’ representatives. “All the states should be commended for finding a path forward.”

She called the deal historic and said it adds an important new chapter to the rules that govern the river.

“But our work is not done,” Burman said. “We know we have even greater challenges ahead.”

Federal and state officials began talking about the need for a drought deal in 2013, and the negotiations got underway in 2015.

The set of agreements includes two separate but interrelated drought contingency plans: one for states in the river’s Upper Basin — Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico — and the other for the Lower Basin states — Arizona, Nevada and California.

The drought plans are designed to prop up the levels of Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the nation’s largest reservoirs, between 2020 and 2026. Lake Powell is now 40% full, and Lake Mead sits 41% full.

During the talks on the agreement last year, Lake Mead had appeared headed for a first-ever declaration of a shortage by the federal government. But this winter left the Rocky Mountains blanketed with heavy snow, unleashing a bounty of runoff that’s expected to avert a shortage for another year.

“One good year is helpful,” Burman said. “But it doesn’t fix a 19-year drought and it doesn’t do anything to predict for us what’s going to happen next.”

The audience of water managers and government officials broke into applause after the signing and posed for photos with the Hoover Dam, its low water levels starkly outlined, in the background.

Missing from the celebration was the largest single user of the Colorado River, California’ Imperial Irrigation District, which is suing to challenge the deal.

A new reality driven by global warming

Water managers and supporters of the deal have praised the Lower Basin’s Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP, as “bridge solution” to get the region through the next several years until 2026 while reducing the risks of a crash. But they also stress that it’s merely a stopgap measure — a temporary fix on top of the existing 2007 guidelines for managing shortages — and that it will provide a short window of time to start to plan bigger steps.

“We’re in a moment where we’re going to take a pause and recognize the progress we’ve made. But I think it needs to be a short pause so that we get working on the renegotiation of the guidelines,” said Kevin Moran, who leads the Environmental Defense Fund’s Colorado River program. “I think it’s in everyone’s interest that we move those conversations as quickly as possible forward.”

[…]

When water officials finished negotiating the last set of rules for dealing with a potential shortage in 2007, they had expected those rules to work through 2026. But only halfway through that period, they realized the measures weren’t nearly strong enough. And that forced them to negotiate the new set of drought agreements to finish off the period…

Adapting that system to a hotter planet, Moran said, will require posing tougher questions and looking at ways of boosting conservation and managing demand for water across the Colorado River Basin.

“The modeling looking forward would say we probably ought to be planning for somewhere between 15 and 35% additional reduction in flows driven by climate change,” Moran said. He said climate models present an outlook that is “very dire” and demands action…

A shortage is unlikely next year

Cynthia Campbell, a water adviser for Phoenix, said the challenges that lie ahead for negotiators are sobering.

“They know that they have a daunting task ahead of them, beginning in 2020, to try to come up with new operating rules that are going to keep us sustainable further into the 21st century,” Campbell said. “When they come back, Arizona is certainly going to be on the business end of cuts.”

There’s no way around that, she said, because the state holds the junior-most position in the water priority system. Under the framework that emerges from the next round of negotiations, she said, the state will probably face bigger reductions during a shortage than under the newly signed drought plan.

The latest projections by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation show that in 2020 it’s unlikely a shortage will be declared at Lake Mead. The reservoir’s level now stands at 1,088 feet above sea level, about 13 feet higher than the threshold that would trigger a shortage declaration…

Critics: Arizona plan is not sustainable

Arizona water officials have called the state’s internal plan a landmark consensus agreement that effectively “shares the pain” and will address the water shortfall for the next several years.

But Arizona’s plan has also drawn criticism.

Some experts and environmentalists are concerned about the plan’s promotion of more groundwater pumping in parts of the state. They say using state money to drill more wells in Pinal County will only lead to declining aquifers. They also argue the state missed an opportunity to do more to encourage conservation.

“It is positive that the Colorado River basin states are looking at cutting back on river water use, but it is unfortunate that our state has chosen to augment the river water with more groundwater pumping,” said Sandy Bahr, director of the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “Sadly, the Arizona plan is not sustainable and is designed to keep Arizona doing more of the same — unsustainable and thirsty agriculture and more and more sprawl development.”

She said looking past 2026, all the states should consider the river’s long-term water deficit, the effects of climate change, and how to do more for conservation while considering the health of the river.

“It is way past time for a Colorado River sustainability plan that centers on a healthy river that flows all the way to the sea and that provides for people, plants, and animals along the way,” Bahr said. “There is not time for patting ourselves on the back. We need to do more, now.”

In the meantime, even as the drought has eased across the West with the wet winter, concerns remain that the 19-year run of mostly dry years could continue. Earlier this month, a group of experts in a state advisory group recommended to Gov. Doug Ducey that a declaration of drought in Arizona should remain in effect.

Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, called the Drought Contingency Plan “a huge incremental step forward.”

“It sets us up to have good conversations about what we need to do to deal with the projections of our drier future, climate change forcing reductions in flow, etcetera,” Buschatzke said. Discussions on the next round of plans should start soon in Arizona, he said, because “keeping the momentum going is really important.”

Update: May 21, 2019

From Inkstain (John Fleck):

Now that we have a DCP, what does this mean in practice?

According to the most recent Bureau of Reclamation 24-month study, Lake Mead is projected to end 2019 at elevation ~1,085 feet above sea level. Prior to the DCP, Lower Basin water users (Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California) got a full allocation of water as long as Lake Mead’s elevation was above 1,075. Under the DCP, a new shortage tier has been added between elevations 1,090 and 1,075. The result is that, for the first time in the history of Colorado River management, there will now be mandatory water use reductions on the Colorado River.

What does this mean in practice? I ran down a quick summary this morning of the relevant data, comparing recent use with the cuts mandated under the DCP. It shows that, at this first tier of shortage, permitted use is less than the voluntary cuts water users have been making since 2015:

In other words, all of the states are already using less water than contemplated in this first tier of DCP reductions.

CU asks city to consider different CU Boulder South flood mitigation plan — CU Boulder News

Boulder. By Gtj82 at English Wikipedia – Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons by Patriot8790., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11297782

From CU Boulder Today:

CU Boulder today asked the Boulder City Council to consider a flood mitigation option that would support both the community’s life safety needs and the university’s need to use a reasonable amount of its CU Boulder South property in the future to meet its mission to serve Colorado.

In a letter to council members (PDF), the university recommended that Boulder refrain from further investing in Variant I – 500, a flood mitigation option that would curtail the university’s future ability to develop its CU Boulder South property. Located at U.S. 36 and Table Mesa Drive, the 308-acre parcel of university-owned land is under consideration for annexation into the Boulder city limits.

CU Boulder has recommended that the city seriously consider another plan—Variant II – 500—which was previously recommended by the city’s Water Resource Advisory Board and experts hired by the city.

If the university and city reach agreement on annexation terms, CU Boulder would use the property in the future to develop limited academic buildings and housing for faculty, staff, upper-level undergraduate students and graduate students. Other planned uses include recreation fields, expanded hiking and biking trails and other value-added features for the Boulder and university communities.

In all, CU Boulder is seeking to develop just 129 acres of the site designated as public use in the most recent Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan update, while 30 acres would be used for recreation fields. The university would donate 80 acres to the city for flood mitigation, with the balance remaining undeveloped.

Arriving at a mutually acceptable flood mitigation plan for the land is key to the agreement between the university and the city after years of ongoing discussions. In order to make progress in the negotiation process, city officials in November asked CU to submit an annexation application ahead of schedule. CU complied by filing an annexation application on Feb. 4.

The next day, city officials decided to move forward with a flood mitigation plan known as Variant I – 500, the only proposed flood mitigation plan among several considered by the city that the university repeatedly has said it cannot accept.

If the city moves forward with Variant 1 – 500, the university would not be able to develop the entire 129 acres allocated for public use on its own property, said Frances Draper, CU Boulder’s vice chancellor for strategic relations and communications.

“The university is dedicated to working with the city, and local residents whose homes are in the floodplain to achieve safety,” Draper said. “At the same time, we must be good stewards of the university’s resources for the benefit of the state of Colorado, to educate students and engage in research. The university has offered significant community benefits while striking a good balance to achieve effective use of this site to serve the needs of students in the coming decades.”

Despite its objection to the city’s intent to pursue Variant I – 500, CU worked to create a path forward in its annexation application by offering three options that would make it possible for CU to work with the city’s chosen flood mitigation plan.

However, in a March 28 response, the city made it clear none of CU Boulder’s alternatives would be feasible, precipitating the university’s response for a study session and further discussions.

May 2019 #Drought Update — Colorado Department of Natural Resources

Click here to read the update (Tracy Kosloff/Taryn Finnessey):

As a result of consistent fall and winter precipitation, near record breaking snowpack, and near normal reservoir storage levels, the Drought Task Force has made a recommendation to Governor Polis to deactivate the Colorado Drought Mitigation and Response Plan statewide.

While April ended with slightly below average precipitation across the state, May has started off cool and wet and, following a brief warmup, is forecast to end in a similar fashion. ​May through August is an important period for precipitation accumulation east of the continental divide as much of the annual precipitation falls during this time. ​Water year to date precipitation remains above average statewide, with some areas still seeing spring snow accumulation. Stream flows have increased reflecting the start of runoff season and reservoir levels are responding.

US Drought Monitor May 16, 2019.
  • As of May14th, only 11 percent of the State is classified as abnormally dry. This spring has seen the record lowest amount of drought coverage over the contenital United States, according to the US Drought Monitor, which has been tracking conditions since 2000.
  • El Niño conditions remain, and are likely to continue through summer (70 percent chance) of this year. Historically summer during an El Niño are more likely to be wet than dry, and the NOAA Climate Prediction Center outlooks for the June-July-August period show increased chances of wetter-than-average conditions.
  • Current SNOTEL Water Year to-date precipitation in 118 percent of average, with all basins above average.
  • SNOTEL snow water equivalent statewide is 155 percent of median with all basins above normal. These figures can fluctuate greatly during the spring season when snowmelt has begun, but storms can still result in accumulation.
  • Statewide reservoir storage as of May 1, is 90 percent of average and increasing as the runoff season begins with widespread above average streamflow forecasts. Blue Mesa Reservoir, heavily impacted by the 2018 drought, has increased more than 26 feet in elevation since April 1 and has seen an increase of more than 55,000 acre-feet since May 1.
  • Flooding in post wildfire burn scars remains a concern and is being monitored closely. The daily flood threat bulletin can be accessed May 1 through September 30 ​HERE​.