How three days in 1921 forever changed #Pueblo — The Pueblo Chieftain #ArkansasRiver

1921 Pueblo flood. Photo credit: University of Southern Colorado https://scalar.usc.edu/works/1921-the-great-flood/home

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Zach Hillstrom):

Over three days in June 1921, Pueblo experienced a natural disaster that forever changed the course of its history.

Even a century later, the effects of the Great Flood of 1921 can be seen throughout the Home of Heroes, particularly in the city’s infrastructure and economy, which were completely transformed by the devastating flood and Pueblo’s decades-long recovery.

Many Pueblo natives know most of the city’s seminal story by heart: a cloudburst brought heavy rains to the area on June 2, causing the Arkansas River – which was already prone to seasonal flooding – to swell. More intense rain on June 3 caused the Arkansas River to overflow Pueblo’s levee at just more than 18 feet and envelope downtown Pueblo in water.

By midnight on June 4, according to the Colorado Encyclopedia, the flooding peaked at more than 241 2 feet. The im- mense volume was enough to break levees in several spots and it took only two hours for Pueblo’s entire business district to become submerged.

Men stand outside the Union Depot in Pueblo (Pueblo County), Colorado. One man wears a badge. Shows water, mud and debris on the ground, and a flood damaged passenger car wrecked beside the stone depot. Probably a cleaning crew works on mud covered tracks nearby June 1921. Photo credit: Denver Public Library Special Collections

Damage from the flood, most of which occurred on the second day when both the Arkansas River and Fountain Creek overran their banks, was unimaginable. The flood inundated 300 square miles. More than 500 homes were carried away in the floodwaters along with 98 businesses or industrial buildings, 61 stores, 46 locomotives and more than 1,200 railroad cars. A local lumberyard caught fire; burning lumber was sent floating down flooded city streets. Telephone lines were destroyed, and corpses of cows, horses and other livestock littered the valley. A 1921 report on the flood by the United States Geological Survey estimated the total property damage to be more than $19 million. Adjusted for inflation, that equates to more than $280 million today. Other estimates go as high as $25 million in damage, or nearly $373 million today. The death toll was also catastrophic, though there’s no universally accepted total. Estimates range from fewer than 100 deaths to more than 1,500. The USGS report said 78 bodies were recovered in the aftermath, which is likely a fraction of the actual lives lost. Many bodies washed downstream and were either recovered months later or never found. And many of the dead were poor immigrants, making their absence more difficult for authorities to detect. But even after the water receded, mud and debris had been removed from city streets and the recovered dead were buried, the impacts of the flood on Pueblo were just beginning.

View of damage from the Arkansas River flood at the Union Depot rail yard in Pueblo (Pueblo County), Colorado. Denver and Rio Grande Western passenger cars are near the passenger platform. Damaged cars are turned over and logs and lumber is scattered across the rail yard June 6, 1921. Photo credit: Denver Public Library Special Collections

A recovery with dire consequences

In the aftermath of the flood, it became apparent that Pueblo’s infrastructure was not sufficient to prevent another devas- tating flood event. The city needed a new, larger river channel to ensure that when the Arkansas swelled from spring rains and Rocky Mountain snowmelt, it could not cause such destruction again. Legislation was passed at the Colorado Capitol to create the Pueblo Conservancy District, which set about building a new channel to divert the river away from Downtown Pueblo. “When it was set up years ago, the conservancy district had to move the river to its current location,” said Corinne Koehler, the current president of the Pueblo Conservancy District.

“Back then, that’s where a lot of the train tracks were, so they had to tear up and move the train tracks, they had to rebuild bridges, it was a multi-faceted project. It wasn’t just putting up a levee, they had to redo roads, bridges, anything that was destroyed that would have been crossing over the Arkansas River.” The levee was completed ahead of schedule in March 1926. And although its completion was a breath of relief for Pueblo in terms of preventing future floods, the creation of the conservancy district came with dire conse- quences to the Pueblo economy.

Peggy Willcox, a researcher with the Pueblo County Historical Society who helped write a recently published book about the flood entitled, ‘Mad River,’ said the district’s creation was a necessity following the flood, but the legislation enacted had major drawbacks for Pueblo.

“In order to create the conservancy district to pay for the flood control, they had to get the legislature to approve it,” Willcox said.

“Well the northern counties, some of them had been wanting a tunnel west from Denver ever since (Gen. William Jackson Palmer) built the (Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad), because there was no viable way to ship goods from Denver west on the D& RG.” Prior to that time, every train going west had to come through Pueblo. So northern Colorado counties, particularly in the Denver area, sought to bypass Pueblo by building a tunnel that could ship freight or passenger trains directly west.

West Portal Moffat Tunnel.

To get its conservancy district, Pueblo would have to approve the construction of the Moffat Tunnel – a railroad and water tunnel that cuts through the Continental Divide. It officially opened in 1928.

“They held Pueblo hostage,” Koehler said, “And said, ‘If you want a conservancy district and a levee, you have to vote for the Moffat Tunnel.” The creation of the Moffat Tunnel was the beginning of the end of Pueblo’s prominence as a railroad hub…

Aerial view of the flooded Arkansas River in Pueblo (Pueblo County), Colorado. Shows freight cars at the washed out Missouri Pacific Railway Company yard, railroad bridges over the river and the Nuckolls Packing Company building beside standing water. Photo credit: Denver Public Library Special Collections

Economic impacts in the aftermath of Pueblo’s great flood

Pueblo’s eventual fall from grace as Colorado’s primary railroad hub was far from the only way the flood devastated the city’s economy. In the days immediately following June 5, many businesses were severely damaged and closed their doors, some forever. “After the flood there were industries that never reopened,” Willcox said. “Pueblo was then the smelter capital of the world, that’s what they called it, and there were only two smelters left and both of them were severely damaged by the flood and never really reopened. ‘So that was a large number of jobs.” Not long after the flood, Willcox said, the CF& I steel mill shut down for several months due to a shortage of raw supplies as well as a lack of railroad access, as the flood heavily damaged lo- cal rails. Several smaller manufactories in flooded areas closed. Many of those that eventually reopened did so in cities outside of Pueblo where there were more workers and easier access to rail transporta- tion. But the bigger impact, Willcox said, was how the flood seemed to dry up investments from out-ofstate capitalists, which were common prior to 1921. “That money kind of dried up after the flood,” Willcox said. “The investment from outside of Pueblo diminished greatly.”

There was a decades-long recovery effort in Pueblo after the flood

With some of its most prominent economic drivers devastated by the flood, Willcox said Pueblo’s economy seemed to become more one-di- mensional. “It’s not so much that Pueblo never recovered, it’s that it never recovered the growth rate that it had prior to the flood,” Willcox said. “When you look at the city’s population and the number of industries that were here prior to the flood … Pueblo was a manufacturing center it was really a diverse group of manufactories. “And then after the flood some of them never came back but some of them were no longer as prevalent in the market as they had been and eventually died out. So I think, anecdotally, we became more dependent on the steel mill because of that.” Jonathan Rees, a history professor at Colorado State University Pueblo who has researched the flood extensively, said one of the biggest impacts of the flood was the opportunity cost Pueblo paid in the years that fol- lowed. “There’s the cost of rebuilding the town, there is the economic damage caused by the lost business but there’s also a cost as to what doesn’t happen because Pueblo has to spend so much time rebuilding from the flood,” Rees said. “Different things could have happened to Pueblo but didn’t because we were too busy trying to prevent future disasters.” In the 1920s, the United States economy was seeing one of its strongest periods of prosperity. But while other communities were able to leverage those desirable economic factors for improvement, Pueblo was stuck rebuilding. “You’re investing in the future in the sense that you’re trying to prevent future floods, but you’re not growing businesses, you’re not helping businesses that might not have been able to reopen, you’re not doing the kinds of things that cities that aren’t effected by the flood are doing at the same time,” Rees said.

“So when America is roaring, Pueblo isn’t.” After the Great Depression came the New Deal, and Rees said although Pueblo did benefit some from the New Deal, it likely would have had a greater effect on Pueblo and its growth if flood recovery efforts were not still taking place. As Pueblo struggled, its neighbor to the north, Colorado Springs, was put in a position to pros- per. “I would simply imagine that any program that came to Colorado Springs between 1921 and 1965, could have come to Pueblo under different circum- stances,” Rees said. “It’s safe to say that before World War II we were a much bigger place. We have certain advantages over Colorado Springs like our steady supply of water. However, we are engaged in rebuilding the entire downtown for a very long time.” Rees said that rebuilding Pueblo and redesigning its infrastructure was a necessary endeavor, but one that set Pueblo’s development back years, if not decades.

“While we’re doing that to guarantee our future existence, other places are taking advantage of good economic times or government programs in bad economic times to help become bigger and more economically active than they had before,” Rees said.

“And Pueblo was essentially holding in place for most of the 20th century.”

View of a flood on Fountain Creek in Pueblo (Pueblo County), Colorado. Shows a washed out railroad bridge partly buried in mud and silt in the creek. A Denver and Rio Grande Western train is beside the creek in the distance. June 1921. Photo credit: Denver Public Library Special Collections

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

When it came to covering the flood of June 3, 1921, The Colorado Daily Chieftain, also known as The Pueblo Chieftain, went to extraordinary measures to keep the citizens of Pueblo informed as news of the devastation unfolded. It all started with a Saturday, June 4, 1921, special edition emblazoned with the all-caps headline, “FLOOD EXTRA.” The two-page special edition had no photographs and no advertisements. It even had empty space at the bottom of the second page, a testament to how hastily it was put together. A June 9 edition of the Chieftain reported, “it was utterly impossible” to print regular editions of the paper, “because of the failure of electric power and gas,” and the editor promised to republish the extra editions “when regular conditions are restored.” That first extra edition was chock full of stories about “The largest flood visiting Pueblo since Decoration Day 1894,” which “gutted the business and wholesale business districts of the city.” Initially, the paper announced, “More than a score of lives were reported lost when both the Missouri Pacific and the Denver and Rio Grande passenger trains were swept into the river near Nuckolls Packing company. Many others were reported dead.”

View of flooded buildings, debris and flood water from the Arkansas River in Pueblo (Pueblo County), Colorado. Shows submerged commercial buildings, houses and telephone poles in Goat Hill (Tenderfoot Hill) in northeast Pueblo June 6, 1921. Photo credit: Denver Public Library Special Collections

Puebloans faced rebuilding one-seventh of the city

By June 12, the newspaper reported the city faced “the necessity of rebuilding about one-seventh of its present area. It is inconceivable that this great industrial city, so favorably located for commerce, should drop out of existence or shrink to the proportions of a village.” That same issue shared stories of large objects moved by the flood waters like a freight car forced sideways through a brick apartment house, another freight car carried a block and a half and a 3,000-pound safe that traveled across Union Avenue.

There also was an instance of a body in a steel casket that traveled a distance of more than a mile. Tales of Puebloan’s generosity were shared as both known and unidentified bodies were laid to rest with flowers paid for by “warm sympathetic hearts. Pueblo’s undertakers and florists have bestowed the humane tribute in every case, whether high or low, rich or poor, black or white, known or unknown.” Official water depths were reported including the McCarthy block, at North Main and Union, where the water reached a depth of 12-feet-6 inches. The width of the flood was reported as one mile “through the center of the city’s business section, with losses totaling more than $3 million.” The city’s drinking water was finally declared safe to drink on June 12. One story reported that P.A. Payne of Pueblo, who had been arrested by Colorado Springs police on a bootlegging charge, was saved from certain death as “the flood sweat away every vestige of the house.” Another story reported the body of Missouri Pacific passenger train Engineer S.G. Evans was recovered 10 miles downriver and shortly afterwards, “the body of a two-day old baby was recovered in the same district.” By June 15, the newspaper looked to the future and urged, “The matter of making the Arkansas flood proof is the big subject now in hand. ‘Pueblo’s flood was not one of something breaking, accidental or unforeseen, but has been a real live danger of the past and is a remaining danger of the future unless checked,” one prominent businessman, who was unnamed, was quoted. The June 15 issue also had a story under the headline, “How the flood left the heart of Pueblo,” indicated that once the water subsided, the mud was “over 2 feet deep” and “workers prodded through the mud in search of victims buried in the slime.” The June 16 issue of the newspaper had a story about the brave dog “Casabianca” who stayed on a shed roof for three days even though the distance to the dry land was short. Other dogs even waded out to visit her, but she stayed put until her owner arrived and carried her to safety along with a bundle of clothes which she had apparently been guarding. By June 16, the newspaper also was reporting on damage downstream of Pueblo in La Junta.

View of a small house that was carried by the flood waters of the Arkansas River and came to rest against the side of a brick garage in Pueblo, Colorado. The garage has damaged walls. Two men pose beside the garage. Ruts in the deep mud are near the buildings. Photo credit: Denver Public Library Special Collections

From KOAA (Caitlin Sullivan):

A high-risk zone, could this happen again?

Meteorologically speaking, an event like this can and will happen again. The largest floods in state history generally happen along the front range, specifically along main rivers (Arkansas, Cache La Poudre, Big Thompson, South Platte, etc.).

The north-south oriented Rockies create a barrier for wind flow, forcing air to rise and condense along the front range, creating rain and thunderstorms.

During the June 1921 flood, a persistent easterly flow of warm and humid was funneled along the Arkansas River from wide-open Pueblo county into the sharper canyon in Fremont county. This led to 5 days of heavy rain totaling over 6 inches in Florence and Pueblo. This rain was most intense the night of June 3rd and the morning of June 4, where a cloudburst (extremely heavy burst of rain) led to the Arkansas river cresting at a whopping 24.66 feet.

At its peak, the Arkansas river flow was at 103,000 cubic feet per second (cfs), where the levees were built for 40,000 cfs at the time.

Pueblo levee Arkansas River.

The main concern about future floods is whether infrastructure can withstand them. Pueblo was able to rebuilt just a few years after the flood and increased the city’s ability to withstand another flood of 1921.

#Drought news: Much of E. #Colorado, S. #NE, #KS and N.W. #SD into S.W. #ND received well over 150% of normal precipitation for the week

Click on a thumbnail graphic to view a gallery of drought data from the US Drought Monitor website>

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:

This Week’s Drought Summary

Precipitation this past week was most active in the southern Plains and the Mid-Atlantic into the Northeast, helping to ease and improve drought in those regions. Some precipitation also occurred in the South and portions of the Midwest, but the Southeast and Southwest remained dry through the week. For the time of year, temperatures were well below normal over most of the country, with departures of 9-12 degrees below normal in the Dakotas. Portions of the Southeast and Southwest did have pockets of above-normal temperatures, but even those areas were close to normal…

Colorado Drought Monitor one week change map ending June 1, 2021.

High Plains

Temperatures were 4-6 degrees below normal, with even greater departures in the Dakotas where some areas were 8-10 degrees below normal for the week. Much of eastern Colorado, southern Nebraska, Kansas and northwest South Dakota into southwest North Dakota received well over 150% of normal precipitation for the week. In Nebraska, abnormally dry conditions were improved over the north central, southwest and extreme southeast portions of the state while moderate drought expanded over northeast Nebraska. Severe drought was introduced over southeast South Dakota, with an expansion of moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions too. Southern Kansas and eastern Colorado had improvements to abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions while Wyoming had a mix of improvements and degradations to moderate and severe drought in the state…

West

The warmest temperatures in the region were over California and Nevada, where departures for the week were 3-6 degrees above normal. Most of the rest of the region was near normal for temperatures. Most of the West was dry for the week but eastern New Mexico and western Montana received enough precipitation to allow for some improvements to their drought status. Impacts are building in the region with water cutback anticipated on Lake Mead as it is currently 37% full and fell below the critical 1,075-foot level triggering cutbacks to Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico. Abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions were improved over western Montana while New Mexico had a large area of exceptional drought improve due to recent rains. In Washington, conditions continue to dry out, and abnormally dry and both moderate and severe drought conditions continued to expand…

South

Much of the region had abundant precipitation during the week with many areas recording over 200 percent of normal rain. Along with the precipitation, cooler than normal temperatures were widespread with most areas 3-6 degrees below normal for the week. The ongoing wet pattern allowed for continued improvements over most of Texas during the week, with most areas having a full reduction of the previous drought intensity level. Southeast Oklahoma had moderate drought and abnormally dry conditions removed while portions of western Oklahoma also had abnormally dry conditions improve…

Looking Ahead

Over the next 5-7 days, it is anticipated that much of the West as well as the central Plains will remain dry. The southern Plains and portions of the Carolinas are expected to see the most rain. Warmer than normal conditions are supposed to dominate the West and into the northern Plains, with departures of 12-15 degrees above normal in portions of California and Nevada. Cooler than normal temperatures are expected over the southern Plains and South in response to the anticipated rain.

The 6-10 day outlooks show the majority of the country has above normal chances of recording temperatures above normal during the period with the northern Plains, upper Midwest, and into the Northeast having the greatest likelihood. Cooler than normal temperatures are expected over Alaska, the West Coast, and into the southern Plains. It is anticipated that dry conditions will continue to dominate the Plains and West with the highest likelihood over the Great Basin. The greatest odds of above normal precipitation will be along the Mississippi Valley and into the southern Plains.

Here’s the one week US Drought Monitor change map.

US Drought Monitor one week change map ending June 1, 2021.

Just for grins here are the early June US drought monitor maps for the past few years.

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Shaped By #Storage: The How and Why of Storing #Water in #Colorado — Headwaters Magazine

Here’s an excerpt from the Spring 2021 issue of Headwaters Magazine (Caitlin Coleman):

INTO THE MODERN STORAGE ERA

Most Coloradans rely on some form of water storage in order to live. Water is collected when available and later released when and where it’s needed. Water storage is a necessity, providing year-round access to water that would otherwise come in a rush each spring as snow melts into runoff and flows hurriedly out of state.

“If we were to leave it up to the natural systems, we would be dry for a big part of the year,” says Lauren Ris, deputy director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. (Ris also serves on the Water Education Colorado Board of Trustees.)

Farview Reservoir Mesa Verde NP

The Ancestral Puebloans, who once inhabited the Four Corners region, knew this and relied on water storage like Morefield Reservoir, which anthropologists indicate was used between 750-1100 A.D. and is still evidenced by mounds in Mesa Verde National Park.

Standley Lake sunset. Photo credit Blogspot.com.

Years later, upon settlement by non-native populations including land grant recipients, homesteaders and miners, reservoir construction proved vital to sustain a larger population. Dams were rapidly constructed in the late 1800s through 1910, primarily for agricultural water needs. In the early 1900s some 290 dams were built in Colorado, the most dams erected in a single decade.

Grays and Torreys, Dillon Reservoir May 2017. Photo credit Greg Hobbs.

The 1930s through 1970s brought a boom of reservoir construction to meet the demands of the state’s growing municipal water needs. Toward the end of this municipal era, the 1960s saw the greatest water storage volume constructed in any decade, with more than 1.8 million acre-feet, including two of the state’s largest water bodies: Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison and Denver Water’s Dillon Reservoir.

Graphic credit: RogerWendell.com

The rapid construction of big storage projects in Colorado and the West slowed starting in the 1970s as environmental laws and community concern about environmental impacts grew stronger and project permits became more difficult to obtain. The 1980s Two Forks dam and reservoir project debate and subsequent veto, where local community groups raised enough opposition to stop a planned 615-foot dam southwest of Denver, was a turning point. Two Forks marked the very end of the era in which big reservoirs were the primary answer to Colorado’s water supply, and the start to substantial community involvement.

The past 10 years have brought the fewest new dams and least amount of new storage volume in 120 years. Yet the call for storage from stakeholders across the state continues. Through the 2015 statewide water planning process, basin roundtables — stakeholder groups who have been working together on a regional, river-basin-wide scale to develop water priorities, assessments and goals — developed Basin Implementation Plans. All of the eight plans identified the need for new, restored or better-maintained storage.

Amid Dire #ColoradoRiver Outlook, States Plan to Tap Their #LakeMead Savings Accounts — Circle of Blue #COriver #aridification

Lake Mead on the Colorado River, a major source of water for MWD. Photo/Allen Best

Here’s an in-depth look at the Lower Colorado River Basin’s intentionally created surplus accounts in Lake Mead from Brett Walton, that’s running in Circle of Blue. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

This year and next, Arizona and California intend to draw on water they banked in the big reservoir, even as water levels drop.

A complex and arcane water banking program in the lower Colorado River basin, adopted in 2007 and later amended, was designed to incentivize water conservation, prevent waste, and boost storage in a waning Lake Mead.

The program has already proved its worth, lifting Lake Mead dozens of feet higher than it otherwise would have been and nurturing collaboration among states that will need to work together to surmount daunting challenges of water availability. In the next two years, the program will be tested in another way, becoming a small but important source of water for Arizona and California even as the lake continues to fall to levels that haven’t been witnessed in several generations.

Water managers in the basin view the program, called intentionally created surplus or ICS, as a flexible tool for adapting to a drying climate. It is a tool that they will soon call upon. Bill Hasencamp from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, a large regional wholesaler, told Circle of Blue that the district intends to draw between 100,000 and 150,000 acre-feet from its savings this year.

Arizona officials, meanwhile, plan to use 69,100 acre-feet of ICS credits to reduce mandatory cutbacks that will be required in 2022 if Mead declines as projected. The state already used this maneuver to deal with a cutback last year, albeit in a smaller amount. Instead of taking a big cut in one year, ICS allows Arizona to “smooth the reduction,” as Chuck Cullom of the Central Arizona Project put it. CAP delivers the bulk of Arizona’s Colorado River allocation and is first in line in the state when cutbacks are required.

These amounts are small but significant, especially in these times. An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons, or the amount of water that will flood an acre of land to a depth of one foot. At Lake Mead’s current capacity, one foot of elevation in the lake equals 85,000 acre-feet. These ICS uses, at the high end, amount to two and a half feet of elevation in Lake Mead.

At the same time that water users plan to tap their savings, scholars in the basin are calling for more analysis of the ICS program, especially as Lake Mead’s decline accelerates. They would like to check how the system responds to ICS use under a range of water supply scenarios.

Ever since the mid-2000s, the last time that water supplies in Colorado River reservoirs reached critically low levels, the biggest water users in Arizona, California, and Nevada have been stashing water in Lake Mead, in preparation for another emergency to come — and in an attempt to avoid a catastrophic collapse of the region’s water storage system.

With the federal government now projecting that Lake Mead will drop precipitously in the next two years — perhaps to levels not seen since the Great Depression, when the country’s largest reservoir was first filled — that emergency has arrived.

“While Colorado River water users have invested billions of dollars to reduce consumption and increase resiliency, the situation we face today is real and urgent,” John Entsminger, the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said at a House Natural Resources subcommittee hearing on May 25…

Because of record-high temperatures and a drying climate, the basin is also dangerously parched. Thirsty soils gulp melting snow before it reaches streams. Lake Mead, which is just 36 percent full, is in poor health. So is Lake Powell, located upstream and only 34 percent full.

Brad Udall: Here’s the latest version of my 4-Panel plot thru Water Year (Oct-Sep) of 2019 of the #coriver big reservoirs, natural flows, precipitation, and temperature. Data goes back or 1906 (or 1935 for reservoirs.) This updates previous work with @GreatLakesPeck

Creating Surplus

ICS was conceived during negotiations between the seven states that led to a milestone agreement in 2007 that transformed how the basin operates. At the time, Lake Powell had experienced the driest five-year period in the region in a century and there were unresolved questions about delivering water under such conditions. The 2007 Interim Guidelines, which expire at the end of 2025, were a landmark document that secured three substantial changes.

First, the guidelines developed a formula for determining how much water is released from Lake Powell into Lake Mead. The releases are designed to keep the reservoirs roughly in balance.

The guidelines also set Lake Mead elevations at which lower basin states would be required to reduce their withdrawals. The first of these shortage tiers — at 1,075 feet above sea level — is expected to be breached next year. (Mead is currently at 1,073 feet, but for shortage determinations, it is the projected level in the following January that matters. Right now that projection is 1,066 feet.)

The third change was establishing intentionally created surplus, or ICS. The program allows big water users in the lower basin to open a savings account in the lake. To bank water in their account, they must take an action that reduces water consumption. That banked water is credited to the user that created it. ICS is not conservation in the household sense of simply using less. It is not taking a shorter shower or only watering the lawn once a week. ICS is instead more comparable to a personal savings account. Water banked now becomes an asset that can be withdrawn later, subject to certain conditions…

With a bit of linguistic maneuvering, the rules were written so that agencies like Met could create “surplus” by investing in conservation. Say, for example, that Met paid to line a canal with concrete so water would not seep into the soil, or paid farmers to fallow their fields. The Bureau of Reclamation, playing the oversight role in the lower basin, checks that the lining kept water in the canal and the alfalfa fields were not irrigated. That amount of water — the difference between what would have been delivered without the intervention and what was actually delivered — would then be credited to Met in the form of ICS, minus a small percentage that is the lake’s share.

A few years later these rules were altered to bring Mexico into the program. U.S. entities can pay a counterpart in Mexico for conservation and reap the ICS asset. The rules were changed again in 2019, in an agreement called the Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP, that welcomed certain tribal nations into the fold. Banked water is now subjected to a one-time tax of 10 percent, a cut that is credited to the storage system as a whole.

Aerial photo – Central Arizona Project. The Central Arizona Project is a massive infrastructural project that conveys water from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona, and is central to many of the innovative partnerships and exchanges that the Gila River Indian Community has set up. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=326265

Only six entities have created ICS, according to Jeremy Dodds, who is responsible for ICS accounting and verification at the Bureau of Reclamation. Those six are some of the largest water users in the basin: Met, Gila River Indian Community, Colorado River Indian Tribes, Southern Nevada Water Authority, Imperial Irrigation District, and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which manages CAP. Within the four categories of ICS, there are limits on the ICS each water user can create, the amount they can take out in a year, and the total amount stored.