Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):
Funding supports the establishment or further development of watershed groups to address water quantity and quality issues in the West
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman announced that 27 entities were selected to receive a total of $2.6 million to establish or further develop watershed groups in order to address water quantity or quality through Cooperative Watershed Management Program Grants. Of the 27 entities selected, 19 are existing watershed groups, including one from the Virgin Islands, and 8 are establishing a new watershed group.
“Reducing conflict over water is an important goal,” Commissioner Burman said. “Working collaboratively with locally-led groups is the best path forward to reduce conflict and develop solutions that will lead to the long-term viability of watersheds.”
Selected entities may use their funding to develop bylaws, a mission statement, complete stakeholder outreach, develop a watershed restoration plan, and to conduct watershed management project design.
The Save Our Bosque Task Force in Socorro, New Mexico, is one of the groups selected to receive funding. It will receive $100,000 to update their 2004 conceptual restoration plan on the Rio Grande floodplain through Socorro County where flooding can devastate farms, infrastructure and small communities. Recent drought conditions have limited available surface water supplies in the watershed, increasing wildfire risk and reliance on groundwater, which also strains aquifers. The task force will work with the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District, New Mexico State Forestry and numerous other local, state and federal agencies to complete outreach to stakeholders.
The Coral Bay Community Council on the island of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands will receive $99,155 to complete a five-year update to its watershed management plan and develop a visioning document for the Coral Bay Watershed. The group has spent a significant amount of time characterizing source pollution into Coral Bay, including unmanaged stormwater, sediment transport and an inadequate solid waste system. In addition, back-to-back hurricanes in 2017 have increased the need for updated planning efforts. The council will hold stakeholder meetings to help inform the public of the importance of watershed planning and to incorporate diverse perspectives in the updated plan and visioning document.
Through WaterSMART, Reclamation works cooperatively with States, Tribes, and local entities as they plan for and implement actions to increase water supply through investments to modernize existing infrastructure and attention to local water conflicts. Visit https://www.usbr.gov/watersmart for additional information about the program.
At a presentation before hundreds of local and state officials, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman and a top aide warned that the risks to the lake are unacceptable. They said it’s urgent that Arizona officials resolve their differences over the drought plan and get on board with six other Colorado River Basin states that are moving toward adopting one.
Since the seven states approved a set of guidelines for managing the river’s reservoirs in 2007, the risks of Lake Mead dropping to very low levels has increased by three to six times, the bureau officials said.
They spoke at a briefing that also found once-warring Arizona Department of Water Resources and Central Arizona Project officials moving closer together on issues that had split them apart for well over a year. Both ADWR chief Tom Buschatzke and CAP general manager Ted Cooke enthusiastically endorsed the idea of a drought plan, although Cooke warned that the resulting reduction in river water use would boost water rates the CAP charges to Tucson, Phoenix and other municipal customers over time.
“We are not here to scare you. We are just presenting the best information we have,” Burman told a gathering that virtually filled a 275-person auditorium at the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe.
“Keeping our fingers crossed, hoping for good hydrology” and waiting for the current and future interior secretaries to ignore the laws of the Colorado River that require protecting its reservoirs from depletion is not how to deal with this problem, she said.
“It’s not how we’ve dealt with it in the past, and it’s not how Arizona wants to deal with it in the future,” said Burman, a longtime Arizonan who has worked for the Salt River Project utility and for former U.S. Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona in the past.
The bureau’s forecasts for how far and fast Lake Mead’s elevations could fall were most severe when the forecasters used what they called a “stress test.” It relies on computer models assuming a continuation of the last 30 years of unusually dry weather.
Less severe risks of such declines were predicted when the bureau relied on the river’s entire historical record, covering 1906 to 2015, which included several much wetter spells, including the wettest period on record for the river, in the early 20th century.
And if we repeat the hydrology from 1988-2015 – where dry years were punctuated by a few wet ones, not a great scenario but certainly not the worst case – Lake Mead has a one in five chance of dropping to 1,000 feet of elevation before 2026.
That should give you goosebumps, because it doesn’t just mean significant cuts to the water supply on which Pinal County agriculture and the state water bank relies. (That scenario, which will play out when the lake hits 1,075 feet, is already likely to happen in the next year or two).
If Lake Mead drops to 1,000 feet, that means massive cuts have already hit the water supplies fueling Arizona cities, and we’ll need to cut even more to keep the lake from spiraling into dead pool, where water levels have fallen so low that none can leave the lake.
That is a horrifying prospect.
And let me repeat this: There’s a one in five chance of it happening sometime in the next few years if something doesn’t change…
Here’s the bad news:
Reclamation says that if the plan was in place, it wouldn’t lower the risk of a shortage being declared. In fact, even with the DCP, Lake Mead likely will hit 1,075 feet before 2026, cutting water from the state’s lowest-priority water users (mostly Pinal County farmers, though it wouldn’t be limited to them).
That will hurt.
But here’s the good news: It would significantly lower the likelihood of the lake reaching critically low levels, requiring heftier cuts from cities and other higher-priority water users.
Here’s the video of the meeting. (Water folks on the hotseat.)
And the good people of Phoenix are cutting water use. Here’s a report from (Joshua Bowling) writing for The Arizona Republic. Here’s an excerpt:
Salt River Project officials say water use is down one-third, even though Arizona’s population has doubled.
But even as a historically dry winter and low snowpack numbers set reservoir levels back, officials say it isn’t all bad news.
Salt River Project announced in June that water use among its users has decreased by one-third since 1980, even though the state’s population has doubled since then.
That’s due to conservation efforts, recycling wastewater and recharging water underground for future use, SRP officials say. The agency managers and delivers water from the Salt and Verde rivers to users in Maricopa County.
Top officials in the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project shelved disagreements from the last legislative cycle and presented a united front along with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on the need for reductions of Colorado River water.
Proposed reductions have the entire agriculture pool of Central Arizona Project surface water being slashed if Lake Mead goes into a Tier 1 shortage — below 1,075 feet elevation. This year analysts set Lake Mead at just 1,083 feet.
In a best-case scenario presented in the brief, basing predictions on hydrology going back to 1906, there is a 65 percent chance Lake Mead will drop below this level in 2026.
Making predictions using hydrology records going back to only 1988, which means assuming the hotter, drier climate is here to stay, there is a 90 percent chance Lake Mead will drop below 1,075 feet in 2020 without a drought contingency plan, and a 40 percent chance it will drop that year even with the plan.
It is unlikely the agriculture pool of CAP water will survive even in the best of scenarios under the drought contingency plan.
Paul Orme, who serves as general counsel to five special districts in Pinal County, including Central Arizona Irrigation and Drainage District and Maricopa–Stanfield Irrigation and Drainage District, said that DCP is not really designed to preserve the agriculture priority pool.
But there is support for measures to mitigate the burden on agriculture. Stakeholders are working on fleshing out ideas that are “not ready for the press,” Orme said. He recently received a letter appointing him to represent Pinal County agriculture on the steering committee for the drought contingency plan.
“I think people generally agree it’s not fair for agriculture to bear the entire burden of DCP when it’s not really intended to benefit us,” Orme said. “The real purpose of DCP is to keep Lake Mead above 1,020 (feet). That’s really what the primary focus is, and that only protects the long-term allocations of the tribes and the cities — agriculture is long gone.”
Orme said that about 80 percent of the CAP surface water allotted to agriculture goes to Pinal County farmers, making up about half of their total water supply. Taking away CAP water would be economically devastating for agriculture and could ultimately result in about a third of farmland being taken out of production in Pinal County.
This almost 20-year drought is affecting water supplies across the Southwest. We already know the Colorado River System is over-extended — more water is taken out by water users than is put back in by snowpack and rainfall. Millions of people, businesses, birds, fish, and wildlife all rely on a healthy Colorado River and the water it provides.
Given today’s hydrologic trends, in order to stabilize our water supply and reduce the chance that Lake Mead declines more rapidly, we’ll need to incentivize those who would take their water to leave it behind Hoover Dam instead. Enter the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP).
The DCP, according to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, is a seven-year agreement to “buy down risk” on the Colorado River system. She said it in the first word: BUY. In other words, DCP is going to cost money.
A couple of reasons why DCP will cost money:
Certain water users will need a financial incentive, aka payment, to leave their water in Lake Mead, instead of using it.
Since some water users will be leaving more water in Lake Mead, less water will be coming down the 336-mile long Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal. When there is less water ordered, there is less water sold, yet the fixed costs to maintain this large piece of infrastructure remain. There are fewer units over which to spread costs. Therefore, cost per unit of water rises.
However, not implementing the DCP, not implementing a formal mechanism to encourage water users to leave more water in Lake Mead is far too risky, and potentially more costly, or catastrophic, to our economic and environmental livelihood. The cost of no DCP may be much greater than the cost of having a DCP.
DCP acts as an insurance policy to buy down risk. We buy down the risk of climate change and an over-allocated Colorado River system by using less water now. Our economies and our environment depend on it.
FromThe Phoenix Business Journal (Patrick O’Grady):
Such a scenario is extremely likely, according to new federal studies, and deciding who gets water first could impact businesses from agriculture to home building throughout the state.
The Wall Street Journal reported the Central Arizona Project and the Arizona Department of Water Resources are attempting to overcome differences on how to spread out less Colorado River water among its users. Arizona is the last of seven states using the river’s water to come up with a drought contingency plan.
Currently, Lake Mead’s water elevation sits at 1,077 feet, two feet away from a level that would signify cutbacks to California, Arizona and Nevada, all of which rely on the the lake to store their allotment of Colorado River water.
The challenge for Arizona is further cutbacks that could be triggered if the lake elevation falls to 1,025, which has a 40 percent chance of happening by 2026, according to a new U.S. Bureau of Reclamation report.
CAP and ADWR have not been able to find agreement on where cuts to water deliveries should happen, according to the WSJ. Agriculture could get the biggest impact, but many businesses would be affected.
Arizona gets about 40 percent of its water from the Colorado River.
The 336 mile-long canal, its pumping stations, and turnouts are operated entirely remotely from a control room in north Phoenix. A rotating team of three or four operates the secure facility 24/7/365, running the entire system from a bank of computers while monitoring a display that takes up two walls of a room the size of your basic city council chamber. It’s efficient, cost-effective, and pretty damn cool.
The original Waddell Dam sits at the bottom of Lake Pleasant, intact. Completed in 1927, the dam was submerged when the lake was expanded to hold CAP water by the construction of the New Waddell Dam, completed in 1994.
An acre-foot equals 325,851 gallons, the volume required to cover a square acre to a depth of one foot. If you are a ‘typical family of four,’ you use about one-third of an acre-foot per year, around 108,000 gallons.
The CAP pumps water at a rate of roughly 3,000 cubic feet per second from Lake Havasu. That’s one acre-foot every 14 seconds. A typical family of four would be knocked into New Mexico standing in front of a stream that powerful.
Only 4% of CAP water is lost to seepage and evaporation. Covering the canal was discussed early on. It would have quadrupled the construction cost and required untold billions in ongoing maintenance, basically forever. Those costs would have been passed to y-o-u.
CAP water begins its journey by being pumped almost straight uphill more than 800 feet. This marvel of sheer power takes place at the massive Mark Wilmer Pumping Station (pictured below in 1981) at Lake Havasu and looks like the world’s most dramatic roller coaster climb. (Illustrating the importance of the legal water wars in Arizona, this very first facility on the CAP is named for Wilmer, a water attorney.)
The canal is bigger and deeper than it looks. It’s hard to appreciate when you are concentrating on your driving, but the CAP is 80 feet across, narrowing to 24 feet at the bottom. Average depth is between 16 and 17 feet. There is a section serving as internal storage that is 160 feet wide and 80 feet deep.
Water leaving Lake Havasu takes 3-4 days to make it to the end of the line. This means the canal is pushing relentlessly along at 3-5 miles per hour. It does not stop, and as mentioned above, it’s deep. Do NOT let the kids get near it and don’t ever enter the water yourself. It’s not meant for recreation. It’s dangerous. It’s against the law. You will be very sorry.
The end of the line is 12 miles southwest of Tucson. Water arriving there is used to replenish Tucson-area groundwater.
A woman named Nellie T. Bush commanded the “Arizona Navy” in the 1934 California water dispute. Bush owned the boats Arizona Governor Moeur commandeered in the mobilization, so he made her an admiral on the spot. A prominent Arizonan, Bush was a lawyer admitted to practice in California and Arizona. She became Justice of the Peace in Parker; was elected to the Arizona legislature, and was a delegate to the 1932 Democratic National Convention that nominated FDR for the first time. In 1982, Nellie T. Bush was inducted into the Arizona Women’s Hall of Fame.
The CAP uses 2.8 billion KwH of electricity per year: That’s enough energy to, well, push 1.5 million acre-feet of water 2,400 feet uphill for 336 miles. Water in Arizona also generates power, so part of almost everyone’s household electrical bill is water generated.
The CAP canal in the Phoenix area is marked by “Hayden- Rhodes Aqueduct” signs. CAP and ADOT put up the signs to call attention to the canal and memorialize the contributions of Senator Hayden and former Rep. John Rhodes, who was a driving force in the House when the 1968 authorization bill was signed.
Bonus to the bonus:
Rhodes went on to become known as one of three political leaders (Barry Goldwater and Pennsylvania’s Hugh Scott were the others) who delivered the news to Richard Nixon that he did not have enough support in Congress to stave off impeachment and probably faced conviction, triggering Nixon’s resignation from the Presidency in 1974.
The Colorado River Indian Tribes (CRIT) was one of many Arizona entities and stakeholders who met to discuss contingency plans to deal with the worsening drought conditions in the southwestern United States.
The water officials committed last Thursday to reach a multi-state plan by the end of the year to stave off potential shortages. The move comes after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has been pushing western states to come up with solid plans about water usage, with steady declines in the Colorado River year on year…
Tribal water is increasingly being seen as part of the solution to the problem, by both the representatives of metropolitan areas, which require the highest water usage, and by tribes like CRIT who have rights to many hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water that they do not use.
A proposed CAP program would potentially allow tribes, who have senior rights, to store water behind Lake Mead, which could be a way to mitigate the shortage-created loss of water rights by central Arizona farmers, who need it to keep producing crops.
In such an environment, there are few such solutions, which has forced CRIT to the table. But the potential benefits to CRIT are also clear, according to the tribe’s water attorney Margaret Vick, with many of the state’s entities talking about creating positive solutions now rather than leaving it too late and having less desirable solutions imposed by the federal government later.
“We can buy insurance now to provide more certainty for the coming years,” said Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. “It’s Arizona’s history that we face problems head on.”
Burman said other states would pressure her agency to limit Arizona’s water deliveries if it doesn’t agree on an effective drought plan, and predicted that there would be lawsuits. The agency has said it would rather the states negotiate a solution that includes all entities with rights to the river.
For the first time in well over a year, a clear path exists for completion of Arizona’s share of a three-state drought plan for the Colorado River.
The plan would step up already-approved requirements for cuts in water deliveries to Arizona, Nevada and eventually California as Lake Mead drops below certain key levels.
While many hurdles and potential disputes remain, water officials said last week they’re ready to work together and hold public meetings to solicit comments on the plan from various water users and other interest groups. The first such meeting will be held July 26 in the Phoenix area.
Officials hope to have a plan ready for the Legislature to approve next year, with “zero no votes,” said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke at Thursday’s briefing in Tempe on the drought plan.
Officials laid out four key elements of a drought plan Thursday but said the details will be worked out by a steering committee of water officials and interest group representatives that will meet publicly.
The key elements are:
A plan for what to do with what officials call “excess water,” Central Arizona Project water that isn’t used in a given year by the city, irrigation district or Indian tribe that has the rights to it.
A plan to mitigate the drought plan’s impacts on farmers, who will take the biggest hit by far from future cuts in CAP water deliveries.
A plan to allow tribes to leave some of their water in Lake Mead and take it out later, when necessary.
An overall “Arizona Conservation Plan,” whose purpose and details were not made clear.
At the briefing, officials from the federal government, the state water department and the CAP said the tribes’ role in this plan will be crucial. But the details of setting up a program for how it would happen remain unknown.
When Lake Mead drops below 1,075 feet at the end of any year — the threshold for the first shortage on the river — Pinal County farmers would lose all their CAP water. That would likely force them to resume what everyone agrees is unsustainable groundwater pumping to stay in business. But at a news conference following the briefing, CAP General Manager Ted Cooke demurred in response to a question about whether and how some water belonging to other parties could be reallocated to agriculture. “I don’t really want to get ahead of the conversation,” Cooke said.
Whether to let the dwindling supply of “excess” CAP water stay in Lake Mead to prop it up, or whether CAP officials should continue to sell it to other parties such as its own sister agency that recharges it into the ground to serve future growth. With Lake Mead falling, Cooke said, “There will not be very much … excess water very much longer.”
Fights and litigation would only delay a coordinated response to continued high temperatures and slipping water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell.
“The situation in Arizona is a topic of a lot of discussion in the Upper Basin,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water.
He said Arizona’s internal conflict has led to political problems in Colorado.
“It puts pressure on Denver Water as a municipal utility, taking water out of the Colorado River, and it exacerbates historic animosities and relationships between Western Colorado and Denver Water.”
Lochhead sent a letter to the Central Arizona Project in April threatening to pull out of a program to conserve water unless the lower basin made real progress on its plan.
Shortage is so imminent, California has even agreed to take reductions — something the current rules don’t require it to do.
“And you have to ask yourself, given the position that you are in, why would you let that opportunity go by?” said Pat Mulroy, a longtime water leader in Nevada who is now at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
But before it can sign a Lower Basin plan, Arizona needs its own internal deal.
One sticky subject is what to do about farmers in central Arizona, who would take a big hit under the current rules.
“How do we find a way to make things less painful for them?” Cooke asked. “Not completely painless, but less painful.”
Another big issue is determining who gets to decide when certain conserved water stays on Lake Mead.
It’s a major question that Buschatzke said was still “under discussion.”
“We will work that out,” Cooke said.
To get to “yes,” Buschatzke and Cooke agreed they’ll have to avoid letting side issues divert the talks.
Buschatzke said his task is “to find a collective way to create a package where everyone is better off with the package, even though there might be individual pieces of that package that they might not particularly like 100 percent.”
Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke says partnerships will be crucial to finally getting a drought contingency plan (DCP) approved.
“Or the result will be that somebody perceives that they’re being ‘stuck’ with the outcome of doing DCP and that will make it much more difficult to have the folks coming together when we do go to the Legislature: ‘We all think this is a good thing. Let’s do it. Please approve it.”
The next step is assembling a large committee of stakeholders such as agriculture operations and tribal leaders who hold water rights.
Water officials hope to craft a plan that gets Arizona lawmakers’ approval, and then have the Department of Water Resources director put it into action next year.
“The whitewater boating has been spectacular to date,” said Rob White, manager of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. “With the hot weather, (visitors can) cool off by enjoying a whitewater boating trip on the Arkansas River.”
White credits the cooperation between federal, state and local officials working with public and private water users to manage flows in the river.
“In such a dry year as this, it takes a lot of cooperation from a variety of water interests to ensure a great whitewater boating season,” White said. “We appreciate the fact that Pueblo Water moved some of its water from Clear Creek to Lake Pueblo in late June.
“In addition, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District has assured us that we will have 10,000-plus acre feet of water available for the Voluntary Flow Management Program this summer.”
The flow management program is used to buoy water flows of 700 cubic feet per second through Aug. 15, so rafters and kayakers can take advantage of summer boating opportunities.
“The additional flow management program water helps ensure great flows for rafting and kayaking through the hottest of the summer months,” White explained…
During the rest of the year, the flow management program is used to protect and enhance the fishery by boosting minimum flows to protect trout. As a result, the Arkansas River has been named a gold medal fishery because of its world-class brown and rainbow trout fishing opportunities.
Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Peter Soeth):
The Bureau of Reclamation has allocated more than $4 million for federal, state, and tribal projects to prevent, contain, control, and monitor invasive quagga and zebra mussels in the West. This funding advances actions announced by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke in June 2017 as part of the initiative called “Safeguarding the West: Actions to Strengthen Federal, State, and Tribal Coordination to Address Invasive Mussels.” This funding builds on $1 million in 2017 to support initiatives by the federal government, as well as work by the Western Governors’ Association, western states, and tribes to protect western ecosystems, water infrastructure, and hydroelectric facilities from invasive mussels.
“For more than a century, Reclamation and its partners in the West have invested in water infrastructure that is today at risk from invasive quagga and zebra mussels,” Commissioner Brenda Burman said. “The funding we are announcing today will be used on efforts to prevent their spread while improving ways to manage facilities when the first sign of these invasive mussels is detected.”
“The fight against invasive mussels in the West requires collaboration and partnership at all levels of government, including, importantly, those between Reclamation and Western states,” said the Western Governors’ Association. “With this new funding, western states will be able to enhance invasive mussel management at many levels, including research, monitoring, prevention, and enforcement.”
Highlights of the funded projects include these actions:
Purchasing inspection and decontamination stations to inspect and decontaminate boats leaving the lower Colorado River in California and Nevada, including supporting the National Park Service at Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
Supporting the Salish Kootenai Tribe at Flathead Lake Aquatic Invasive Species program.
Developing vulnerability assessments for facilities and infrastructure at risk of mussel infestation in the Columbia River Basin.
Assisting the State of Arizona in providing law enforcement support at inspection stations.
Funding research for the State of Montana and Reclamation on viability of veligers in residual water in boats.
Supporting watercraft inspection stations at Reclamation reservoirs in Nebraska and Kansas.
Implementing the state Aquatic Invasive Species Management Plan at water bodies owned by Reclamation in Utah.
Analyzing water quality to determine which water bodies should be prioritized for invasive mussel monitoring and prevention in California.
Continuing and enhancing water quality and quagga mussel monitoring program at high-priority programs in the Pacific Northwest and various reservoirs in the upper Colorado River Basin.
Conducting watercraft inspections at Navajo and Elephant Butte reservoirs in New Mexico.
Invasive mussels pose challenges for Reclamation and others who manage water. Invasive mussels are prolific breeders and settle on or within water facility infrastructure such as water intakes, gates, diversion screens, hydropower equipment, pumps, pipelines and boats. Infested water and hydropower infrastructure can fail or choke off water transmissions. The mussels also negatively impact the natural ecology, which can be detrimental to native and endangered species, including native fisheries. To learn more about invasive mussel management and research at Reclamation, please visit https://www.usbr.gov/mussels.
A four-year pilot program that paid ranchers and farmers in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico about $200 per acre-foot of water saved by fallowing fields in order boost water levels in Lake Powell will be put on hold after 2018.
On Wednesday, the five members of the Upper Colorado River Commission unanimously passed a resolution to that effect at a board meeting.
“Although the pilot (program) has helped explore the feasibility of some aspect of demand management programs, it does not provide a means for the upper (basin) states to account, store and release conserved water in a way which will help assure full compliance with the Colorado River Compact in times of drought,” the resolution said.
“Demand management” generally means finding ways to save, or conserve, water by paying willing irrigators to divert less water from streams and rivers by fallowing some of their fields for all, or part, of an irrigation system.
This year, $3.9 million is expected to be paid out to ranchers and farmers in the upper basin, which will make it the biggest year of the program, but that will be it for the System Conservation Pilot Program in the upper basin.
The ending of the program in the upper basin does not mean the commission is giving up on getting more water into the upper Colorado River system in order to raise water levels in Lake Powell, as that interest continues to grow as the drought that began in 2000 lingers.
“I view it more of a change in direction rather than a value judgment of system conservation,” said Pat Tyrrell, who represents Wyoming on the commission and also is the Wyoming state water engineer.
In introducing the proposed resolution, Tyrrell said “there are some things (the pilot program) simply cannot do.”
The pilot program “does not allow the upper (basin) states to sufficiently investigate storage or the additional administrative, technical, operational, economic and legal considerations necessary to explore the feasibility of demand management as part of its ongoing emergency drought contingency planning efforts,” the resolution adopted by the commission states.
Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District based in Glenwood Springs, supported the commission’s decision.
“I think it is an appropriate temporary halt in the Upper Colorado River Commission’s support for the SCPP,” he said after the meeting in Santa Fe. “Mainly because in order for a conserved consumptive use program like this to work, the upper basin needs a pool of water designated in Lake Powell that we can use as a water bank. We don’t currently have that, and until that’s there, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of our of society’s resources on the program.”
Lake Powell is 53 percent full today, and if the water level in the huge reservoir falls much further, it will mean that first, hydropower can no longer be produced by the turbines in Glen Canyon Dam, which forms the reservoir, and second, that not enough water can physically be released to meet the upper basin state’s obligations under the Colorado River Compact to send water to the lower basin states, which include California, Arizona and Nevada.
So while there is room in Lake Powell to hold more water sent down from the upper basin states, there is no way to securely store the water from a legal perspective. Today, any water that reaches Powell is fair game to be sent on to Lake Mead and the lower basin states, which defeats the purpose of sending water there to bolster its operational water level.
But there is a legal way to protect such a pool of water in Lake Mead. It’s called an “intentionally created surplus” (ICS). Water managers in the upper basin states would like to see something similar created in Lake Powell through federal legislation, although they prefer the term “demand management storage” to distinguish it from “intentionally created surplus,” which is a term shaped by, and tied to, the 2007 interim guidelines that currently dictate how Lake Powell and Lake Mead are managed together.
The pilot program began paying ranchers and farmers in 2015 to fallow fields and let water run down the river system toward Lake Powell. Originally set-up as a two-year program, it was extended for one year in 2017, and then another in 2018.
The program has paid for fallowing in both the upper Colorado River basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico and in the lower basin states.
The overall system conservation program initially was funded by an $11 million pool provided by the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Denver Water, in partnership with Reclamation.
The Walton Family Foundation also contributed financially to the upper basin program through a contribution to Denver Water (the Walton Family Foundation also supports Aspen Journalism), and Trout Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy invested a lot of staff time to help make the program work.
The funding for the program, which includes both a lower basin and an upper basin component, grew over the years, with the upper basin eventually having access to a $9.5 million pool of funds, according to Amy Haas, the incoming executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission.
(Haas is replacing Don Ostler, who is stepping down into a consulting role after 14 years at the commission. Haas, who is from New Mexico, is the current general counsel of the commission and officially starts as executive director on July 1).
Haas said she expects the system conservation program in the lower basin will continue if pending legislation in Congress is approved to re-authorize the program, and she clarified that the commission’s resolution passed this week only applies to the upper basin program.
In the first three years in the upper basin, 45 fallowing efforts were funded, including 15 in Colorado, at an average cost of $205 an acre-foot of conserved consumptive use — water that would have otherwise been consumed by various crops.
And not all of the funds in the system went to irrigators, as two municipal projects were also involved in the first three years of program, including one with the Pueblo Board of Water Works.
In those three years, about 22,116 acre-feet of water was left in the upper Colorado River system at a total cost of $4.6 million.
Individual contracts in the first three years of the program ranged from $6,300 to $635,000, depending on the number of acres fallowed and for how long.
The 22,000 acre-feet of water sent down to Lake Powell in the first three years of the pilot program represents a tiny drop in a big bucket, as the reservoir holds 24.3 million acre-feet of water when full.
It’s also not clear how much of the non-diverted water reached Lake Powell. Program administrators knew there was no guarantee the water would make it past other diverters without the legal ability to “shepherd” the water downstream.
On the other hand, fallowing projects were chosen in part because of their locations. Water from the Colorado River not consumed in the Grand Valley, for example, has a decent chance of making it through Westwater and Cataract canyons to reach Lake Powell.
However, officials said the experimental effort was not ever meant to physically change the level of Lake Powell, but to see what lessons could be learned from setting up such a program.
According to a candid report on the program released by the commission in February, the lessons learned in the upper basin included that the program was valued by some ranchers and farmers, but distrusted by others, that the program was hard to administer due to the many individual contracts required, and that in order for the program to really make a difference, it would need to be dramatically scaled up, and the resulting saved water would need to be securely shepherded to, and held in, Lake Powell or some other reservoir, and not just sent into the river system.
On June 22, Scott Yates, the director of Trout Unlimited’s Western Water and Habitat Program, issued a statement praising the program.
“We’re extremely proud to have worked with agricultural producers interested in the System Conservation Pilot Program,” Yates said. “The SCPP has proved the enormous potential for water demand management to address drought and climate impacts on the Colorado River Basin’s water supplies.
“We’ve learned that there is significant interest among ranchers and farmers for a program that compensates them for voluntary, temporary reductions in water use. That was a key question about SCPP — would agricultural producers respond to market-based incentives? The answer is an unqualified ‘yes.’
“TU believes that the SCPP in the Upper Basin has been successful in allowing producers to explore whether using their water right in this innovative way can benefit their operations. Many participants embraced the SCPP approach, especially if such a program can operate over the longer-term,” Yates said.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on the coverage of rivers and water. The Times published this story in its print edition on Friday, June 22, 2018.
The Colorado River has already reached its peak flow for the season, and that’s lousy news when it comes to fire danger, water supply for farmers and residential users, recreational opportunities and the health of numerous fish species, among other things. And while Victor Lee, an engineer with the Bureau of Reclamation, isn’t ready to hit the panic button yet, he concedes that bad can still turn worse.
“If we end up with several dry years, the situation can change pretty quickly,” Lee says. “And even more problematic is the total water going into Lake Powell right now. It’s much less than average, and that could have very severe consequences for the upper-basin states of Wyoming, Utah and Colorado.”
Brenda Alcorn, senior hydrologist for the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, notes that the low peaks “are indicative of the poor snowpack and poor runoff this year, and what we’ve got is pretty much what we’re going to get. We’ve reached the bottom line in terms of volume — and we’re not expecting a lot of water to flown down into Lake Powell this year.”
She adds that “this is one of the earliest peaks we’ve seen” for Colorado River flow. “Last year was a pretty good runoff year, but in general during the last fifteen years or so, we’ve definitely been on the dry side, with a few wet years mixed in. It does appear to be a trend, and that leads to earlier peaks and lower volumes.”
Lee elaborates on Alcorn’s points.
“Two elements to focus on would be the earliness of the peak and the magnitude of the peak,” he points out. “We’re dealing with the low snowpack, but upstream, in the upper basin, we’re not extremely low. If we move further south in the state, though, the snowpack gets very low. In some places, it’s the lowest snowpack and forecasted runoff in the historical record, as far as the earliness of the peak. And that’s concerning for water management, because it’s an indication there may not be so much water later on in the year that we would normally have — flows that are adequate to meet agricultural demands or biology needs or even recreational needs.”
Potential shortages also exacerbate longtime conflicts within the state over water use, as Lee, who works directly on the Colorado-Big Thompson and Fryingpan-Arkansas projects, knows from personal experience…
Low flows also impact the Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.
“There are four species of fish that are native to the Colorado River that are considered endangered: the humpback chub, the bonytail chub, the Colorado pikeminnow and the razorback sucker,” Lee goes on. “And there’s a stretch of water between the Gunnison River confluence in Grand Junction that, if it didn’t have extra water during the September-October period, would be de-watered. That would affect the fish’s ability to move from the lower to the upper portion of the river, so we release water from the reservoirs at different times to make sure that doesn’t occur. But we also need to meet the needs for irrigation and agricultural users, as well as municipal and industrial water users. So there are a variety of concerns over that, in addition to concerns about biology and also water quality.”
The upper Colorado River basin “isn’t in as much pain as other areas of Colorado,” Lee acknowledges. “All of the reservoirs are expected to fill or get near to full, in part because we’ve had several previous years of quite a bit of water — and there’s a lot of water in the system right now. But in the southern part of the state, they don’t have much water at all. They’re definitely in pretty severe-to-extreme drought conditions at this point, which has very significant consequences for what water’s available for a variety of different uses.”
Here’s the release from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Marlon Duke):
On May 24, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, together with Wyoming Governor Matthew H. Mead, Senators John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, and Representative Liz Cheney, announced collaborative plans to expand operational capacity at Fontenelle Reservoir. Governor Mead developed the Wyoming Water Strategy in 2015, which highlighted the Fontenelle Project.
For several years, Wyoming has sought to place riprap (rock or other material that protects against erosion) to expand the operating capacity of Fontenelle. The expansion will increase flexibility in operating the dam and reservoir – bolstering the region’s ability to resist frequent droughts in the arid West – all without increasing the footprint of the reservoir. Additional reservoir capacity will also make possible the creation of new water supplies which would be available for contracting and sale.
“Water is Wyoming’s most important natural resource,” said Governor Mead. “It is critically important to not only Wyoming but to our country. We need to address water challenges using all the best tools – like conservation, planning and infrastructure. As a headwaters state we recognize the need to protect and develop our water.”
“I applaud Commissioner Burman’s announcement that the Bureau of Reclamation will increase operational flexibility at Fontenelle Reservoir in southwest Wyoming,” said Senator Barrasso. “For years, I’ve been working to expand storage at Fontenelle. This announcement brings us one step closer to that goal. In order to start construction on this project, we must pass the Fontenelle Reservoir legislation. As chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, I included this bill in the bipartisan America’s Water Infrastructure Act. I’m confident we will pass this important water infrastructure legislation and make sure that communities in Wyoming have access to a reliable source of water.”
“I am glad that the Bureau of Reclamation and Wyoming are working together to help expand capacity at the Fontenelle Reservoir,” Senator Enzi said. “Water storage projects like this are vital to meet today’s water needs and keep water supplies secure and flexible into the future. I am also hopeful that Congress will act soon and Pass the Wyoming delegation’s legislation designed to help further along the Fontenelle project.”
“I’m pleased the Bureau of Reclamation is moving forward to expand the operational capacity of the Fontenelle Reservoir to help protect one of Wyoming’s most important resources,” Representative Cheney said. “The Fontenelle Reservoir expansion will help combat the effects of drought, help ensure our water infrastructure is properly developed and provide the potential for new commerce and recreation activity by creating new water supplies to be available for contracting and sale. This decision by the Bureau of Reclamation is an important and welcome step for Wyoming.”
Under existing law, Wyoming can apply for project funding under the Colorado River Storage Project Basin Fund Memorandum of Agreement. On April 30, Reclamation concluded that it would consider funding the project under this authority, and invited Wyoming to submit a funding request. Under the MOA, many Western water storage projects have received funding from Reclamation for operation, maintenance, and replacement activities. This federal funding can only be used to improve Colorado River Storage Project facilities and operations.
As an alternative to expanding operational flexibility under MOA funding, Wyoming is seeking Congressional approval to create additional water supply for contracting. Two bills which would authorize this plan, Senate Bill 199 and House Resolution 648, have been introduced by the members of the Wyoming Congressional Delegation.
“Reclamation is pleased to be a partner in the state and the delegation’s efforts to upgrade crucial water infrastructure at the Fontenelle Project,” said Commissioner Burman. “Improving access to reliable water supplies is a key priority for Reclamation and the Administration.”
“This is a great project,” said Governor Mead. “I am pleased to see it move forward.”