#Colorado water managers studying #LakePowell levels issues — @AspenJournalism #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Colorado River Basin in Colorado via the Colorado Geological Survey

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith) via The Aspen Times:

About 120 water managers gathered Wednesday to discuss how to keep enough water in Lake Powell and avoid a demand from downstream states for more water under the Colorado River Compact, and they agreed to keep studying potential solutions.

The meeting, held at the Ute Water Conservancy District, brought together members of four Western Slope basin roundtables to discuss the third phase of an ongoing “risk study” that seeks to define how much water might be needed to flow toward Lake Powell during a sustained dry period instead of being put to use growing crops.

Basin roundtable boundaries

The basin roundtables operate under the guise of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, a state agency charged with planning to meet the state’s water needs and its obligations under the interstate water compact negotiated in 1922.

If Lake Powell — which today is 52 percent full and at 3,610 feet in elevation — drops below 3,490 feet, then the hydropower plant in Glen Canyon Dam, which backs up the Colorado River to form Lake Powell, won’t be able to continue producing electricity.

And as the water level in the reservoir falls, it also makes it increasingly hard to release the volume of water necessary for the upper Colorado River basin states to meet their obligation to the lower basin states under the compact.

“I don’t want to project that it’s coming, but the possibility of it happening exists,” said Karen Kwon, an attorney at the Colorado Attorney General’s Office who works on Colorado River issues, about the potential for a “compact call.”

And she told the audience of water managers and users that the “hydrology is tanking” as the upper Colorado River basin continues to be mired in an 18-year dry period.

An ongoing study conducted by a consultant for the Colorado River Water Conservation District has found that a series of severely dry years could produce the need to send 1 million acre-feet — about 10 Ruedi Reservoirs full of water — down to Lake Powell to keep it at sustainable levels.

“Those are big volumes of water,” Carron said, and not easy to find in a pinch, especially after water in big upstream reservoirs such as Flaming Gorge also has been released to bolster water levels in Lake Powell.

The water is envisioned to come from ranchers who voluntarily agree to fallow their fields, which in Colorado are mainly fields of alfalfa, in exchange for money, and send the water toward Lake Powell instead of using it for irrigation.

But there is a long list of unanswered questions about the concept, including where the water from the “conserved consumptive use” effort could be stored until needed.

John Carron of Hydros Consulting of Boulder, who is leading the water-modeling study, showed a graphic Wednesday of a “hypothetical” reservoir, or “water bank,” near the Colorado-Utah state line that would hold 1 million acre-feet of water, but he also said the saved water could be stored in Lake Powell itself or in existing reservoirs in Colorado.

“The best place to put it is in Lake Powell,” said Eric Kuhn, the former general manager of the Colorado River District, who continues to work part-time for the district.

However, right now there is no way, at least from a policy or legal standpoint, for the upper basin states to store water in Lake Powell in a designated, and protected, pool of water within the reservoir, as there is in Lake Mead.

And, Carron said, trying to “bank” 1 million acre-feet of water in existing reservoirs in the upper basin states is problematic.

Alden Vander Brink, the manager of the Rio Blanco Water Conservation District in Rangely, and a board member at the Colorado River District, asked why not work toward building new “wet water” storage projects.

Vander Brink is currently leading an effort to gain approval for a dam and reservoir called the Wolf Creek Reservoir, which would hold up to 1.2 million acre-feet of water from the White River.

A lot of questions were posed but left unanswered at Wednesday’s meeting, including the true cost of trying to reduce the risk of Lake Powell dropping too low, how water left in rivers and streams could be guaranteed to reach the big reservoir, how a compact call would actually unfold and who it would affect, and how much money it might take to entice ranchers to fallow fields and participate in a large water banking or “demand management” program.

Rachel Richards, a Pitkin County Commissioner who serves on the Colorado River Basin roundtable, said Wednesday she was concerned that a demand management program doesn’t try to solve a water shortage problem while at the same time allowing new growth and development to make the problem worse.

She also said the solution to the state’s water shortages should be equally shared on both sides of the Continental Divide.

At the end of the meeting, none of the attendees disagreed with the proposal to keep studying the issue. A proposed outline of the next phase of the study is to be brought back before the basin roundtables and then to the directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board for their review and approval.

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times on the coverage of rivers and water. More at http://www.aspenjournalism.org.

#ColoradoRiver: The Pueblo Board of Water Works pulls out of 2018 System Conservation Program #COriver

From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

Pueblo Water’s decision comes after four states and Denver’s municipal water agency accused the Arizona agency — the Central Arizona Water Conservation District — of undermining Lake Powell elevations by manipulating the complicated supply-and-demand rules that govern water orders.

“Given our recent knowledge of the actions taken by [CAWCD] we cannot, in good conscience, participate in the program,” Seth Clayton, Pueblo Water’s executive director, wrote in the letter.

The letter, dated April 18, comes as the Arizona agency is set to meet next week with negotiators for the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The Colorado River is split into two basins with two main reservoirs. The Upper Basin stores water in Lake Powell and the Lower Basin stores water in Lake Mead, 30 miles outside of Las Vegas.

The Arizona agency at the center of the controversy, CAWCD, has kept quiet in recent days, despite increasing media attention, so as not to affect the outcome of those discussions.

The Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada are also scheduled to meet on May 2, although that meeting had been scheduled before the letters to CAWCD were reported last week. The commissioner for the Bureau of Reclamation had been invited to that meeting.

The Pueblo letter confirms what Upper Basin water managers feared — that Arizona’s actions would dissuade water users from joining the conservation program. The program, which is in its pilot phase, pays water users to conserve. The hope is that the conserved water, by not leaving the system, will boost the elevation of Lake Powell. The Arizona agency has said it wants to maximize the amount of water it gets from the Upper Basin, which stores water in Lake Powell.

“[Upper Basin water users] do not want to be putting water into Lake Powell if it gets immediately pulled down to feed this policy that the district is trying to advance,” said James Eklund, who represents the state of Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Commission.

CAWCD has said its strategy is to help Arizona prepare for shortage, noting that its actions are permissible under current Colorado River rules. In a statement last week, a spokesperson said: “We have been reaching out to our partners in the Upper Basin, hoping to clarify apparent misunderstandings, and to facilitate in-person, collaborative discussions aimed at finding solutions that will benefit the communities and environment served by this mighty river.”

@CAPArizona management of diversion for #LakeMead raises questions

From KUNC (Luke Runyon/Bret Jaspers):

The dispute centers on interpretations of a set of guidelines water managers agreed to in 2007, which called for conservation and a basin-wide approach to water management. Those guidelines are also linked to the fate of the watershed’s two biggest reservoirs: Lake Powell and Lake Mead. If Mead drops too low, Powell sends more water to balance it out.

The Upper Colorado River Commission and Denver Water accused the Central Arizona Project, managed by the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District (CAWCD), of manipulating their water orders to keep Lake Mead from dipping to a level where a shortage would be declared, while keeping it low enough to get more water from Lake Powell’s reserves.

Central Arizona Project (CAP) officials say they’re ordering water wisely under the guidelines and that they’ve done nothing wrong…

The feud pulls back the curtain enough to give us all a glimpse at some truths about how we manage arguably the Western U.S.’s most important water source:

1. No one person is in charge of the Colorado River.

Given the Colorado River’s importance to life in the West — like the fact it provides water to 40 million people in the country’s driest reaches — one would think there’s some group of people who oversee how the river is divvied up.

But there isn’t.

Management of the river is brought to life by an amalgamation of compacts, treaties and more than a century of case law often referred to as the “Law of the River.” The actors in the Basin — like cities, farmers, irrigation districts, the federal government and conservation groups — all know those rules, built on a foundation called the Colorado River Compact. The compact is a 1922 agreement among all states that receive the river’s water. To this day, it receives healthy doses of both praise and derision in Westerners’ conversations about it.

2. Public shaming is how water managers police themselves.

Because there’s no police force regularly checking in on big water users within the Colorado River Basin, most of the enforcement of rules and norms comes down to the water users themselves.

The letters sent to CAP are a great example of how simple norm-breaking can quickly turn into a multi-state water feud. CAP officials were not coy about their strategy, taking to Twitter to blast out an infographic of their attempt to keep Lake Mead at a “sweet spot,” ensuring additional water from Lake Powell. It was a way to push back against a proposal from Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey that would give the state more control over some water conservation. They communicated the strategy to a room of 20 reporters in late February.

But in the eyes of the Upper Basin, CAP crossed a line.

“Although we have heard these things, we certainly have not seen it become what appears such a blatant, actual publicly-stated policy of CAWCD,” says Don Ostler, the Upper Colorado River Commission’s executive director.

No one accused CAP of breaking the rules. Instead the complaints were that CAP was being sneaky and manipulative.

And how do you bring someone back into the fold who’s perceived as going rogue? You shame them, says Doug Kenney, director of the Western Water Policy Program at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Some of Kenney’s work has received funding from the Walton Family Foundation, which also provides funding for KUNC’s Colorado River coverage.

“The [enforcement] mechanism is usually a social mechanism,” Kenney says. “And the mechanism is all of the other parties get in your face and say, ‘Hey, come on. This isn’t really the spirit of what we’re doing here, let’s get back to working cooperatively.’”

3. The weather plays a role.

The winter of 2018 was pretty dry. The flow into Lake Powell is currently projected to be 46 percent of average during the highest runoff months of April, May, June and July.

The drought that has plagued the southwestern U.S. is now in its 18th year, leaving some to wonder whether this drought is a glimpse at the future in the Colorado River Basin. Warmer temperatures are already sapping the river’s flow.

If this had been a wet year with high snowpack in the Rocky Mountains, there’s a good chance the accusatory letters would’ve never been sent, Kenney says. But scarcity can sometimes lead to conflict

4. This dust up could necessitate federal intervention.

If there’s one thing that most water managers along the river agree on, it’s that they’d rather not live their lives under fiat from the federal government. Even though the decentralized method of river management is sometimes messy, there’s an aversion to federal intervention written into the DNA of the West.

That’s why it’s surprising to see Colorado River District general manager Andy Mueller telling Colorado Public Radio’s Grace Hood that it might be time to bring in the Bureau of Reclamation to force everyone to play nice. That could be a negotiating tactic to get CAP to the table (again, the aversion to federal intervention runs deep).

Still, anytime you see a water manager calling on the Bureau of Reclamation for help in negotiating, it’s notable.

5. This dispute could reignite stalled talks.

No one likes being locked in an intractable argument with a colleague, even if one side is pretty sure they’re right. In the history of Colorado River management, Doug Kenney says this barely registers as a serious fight. Go back at least one generation if you want to see brawls over the river.

“This sort of thing happened all the time,” he says. “There was a lot of distrust and a lot of tension and a lot of name-calling.”

For years now the latest generation of river managers patted themselves on the back for how well they work together. Still, talks to hammer out a Drought Contingency Plan among Lower Basin water managers have stalled, and the 2007 guidelines at the heart of this current dispute are set to expire and will have to be renegotiated in the next couple years.

All this bluster could lend itself well toward getting players to the bargaining table sooner than later, Kenney says.

@CAPArizona to meet with Upper #ColoradoRiver Basin Commission #COriver

From The Arizona Republic (Brandon Loomis):

Central Arizona water managers, facing backlash from other Colorado River users for allegedly undercutting regional conservation efforts, will visit Utah later this month aiming to smooth relations across a region struggling to agree on a way to save a key water supply…

CAP General Manager Ted Cooke initially shot back that his agency was following the rules and manipulating nothing. But as the week progressed, CAP asked for an audience and planned an April 30 meeting with the Upper Colorado Basin Commission in Salt Lake City.

“We reached out to (commissioners) individually, and they said, ‘How about we hear you all at once?’” CAP spokeswoman Crystal Thompson said.

An official with the commission representing Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico water interests confirmed they are scheduling a private meeting to discuss the conflict.

Finding ways to avoid shortages

Lake Powell April 12, 2017. Photo credit Patti Weeks via Earth Science Picture of the day.

The open sniping follows months of power struggles within Arizona as the state has tried to negotiate shared cutbacks with other states to prevent drought from pushing the Colorado into severe shortage.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources and Gov. Doug Ducey have sought but so far failed to secure legislative authority to hold back some of the water the CAP delivers from Lake Mead as part of the state’s offering for a regional conservation agreement. That water would come from Arizona tribes and other users who would willingly store it in the Southwest’s largest reservoir rather than taking their full legal share each year.

“We need to take Denver’s concerns seriously” — Colby Pellegrino #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

After four states and Denver’s municipal water agency wrote letters accusing Arizona’s largest water provider of manipulating the Colorado River system to advantage itself, a former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority lashed Arizona as a “bad actor.” An official at the water authority said this week that the utility was taking the concerns seriously.

Pat Mulroy, the water authority’s former general manager, offered a sharp critique of the Arizona utility — the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) — in an interview with The Nevada Independent. She said the utility’s actions had made it a “bad actor” on the river, adding that she believed the claims that CAWCD was manipulating the system to the detriment of other users. She said the fight plays into the internal power struggle within Arizona.

“They are willing to let the entire Colorado River system crash in order to win this parochial battle against the state,” Mulroy said. “It’s illogical… But that’s where they’re headed.”

In a letter Monday, Denver Water said it would end funding for a conservation program in 2019 if CAWCD did not alter its actions. The Southern Nevada agency, which manages water throughout Clark County, also funds the program.

No decision has been made about whether it will pull funding too. A spokesman said that the authority will take a “wait and see” approach to evaluate whether to fund the program next year. Colby Pellegrino, who manages the authority’s Colorado River supply, said the Denver Water letter was significant. Through Lake Mead, Southern Nevada gets about 90 percent of its drinking water from the river.

“We need to take Denver’s concerns seriously,” she said in an interview.

The funding in question is for a pilot program designed to conserve water in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, an attempt to prop up the elevation of the two major interconnected reservoirs in the Colorado River system. The Colorado River is split into two basins, an Upper Basin and a Lower Basin. The Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada pull their water from Lake Mead. Both basins have an interest in keeping their respective reservoirs above critical elevations that trigger losses in hydropower production and shortages in their water deliveries.

The Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are concerned that the CAWCD is manipulating supply and demand, to take more water from their reservoir, Lake Powell, than is appropriate for a system that is over-stressed and runs through an increasingly arid region. Even Arizona state officials have spoken out against CAWCD, which is locked in an internal battle with the Arizona Department of Water Resources, an arm of the governor’s office.

Mulroy applauded the Upper Basin for writing its letter, saying she hoped it would put pressure on Arizona water managers to settle their fighting, one of the factors holding up a drought plan.

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

Denver Water raised concerns in an April 16 letter over perceived “manipulation of water demands” by the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District, which manages the Central Arizona Project. CAP’s system of canals feeds Colorado River Water to Arizona farms and the cities of Phoenix and Tucson.

In the letter, Denver Water CEO/manager Jim Lochhead called into question recent CAP statements about a so-called “sweet spot” in Lake Mead. CAP water managers are publicly discussing keeping measurement levels within a specific range in the lower Colorado River Basin reservoir so more water will come from Lake Powell upstream.

Lochhead said those actions jeopardize millions spent by his agency to conserve Colorado River water upstream. Denver Water gets about half of what it needs from the river, and has invested in recent years in the Colorado River Conservation Program, which pays state farmers and ranchers to conserve Colorado River water as the entire basin struggles to manage the effects of an 18-year drought.

Denver Water is prepared to terminate our funding of the program after we meet our obligations in 2018…unless the [Central Arizona Water Conservancy District] is able to verifiably establish it has ceased all actions to manipulate demands and is fully participating in aggressive conservation measures along with other entities in Arizona,” the letter said.

In an interview, Lochhead said actions by Arizona water managers “undermines both the investment that Denver Water has made in this program and it undermines the conservation efforts that are being made by water users in the upper basin including in Western Colorado.”

For its part, the Arizona district said it will contact Denver Water officials and can’t comment now.

More Unusual Steps

Denver Water’s missive isn’t the first warning received by the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District. Just three days before Denver’s communique, the Upper Colorado River Commission sent its own strongly worded dispatch to Arizona Department of Water Resources chief Tom Buschatzke.

“[The Central Arizona Water Conservation District’s] goal appears to be to delay agreement on drought plans in order to take advantage of what it terms the ‘sweet spot’ by drawing ‘bonus water’ from Lake Powell… characterizations indicate that CAWCD intends to disregard the basin’s dire situation at the expense of Lake Powell and all other basin states,” the commission wrote.

Detailed Colorado River Basin map via the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Upper Colorado River Commissioner James Eklund signed the letter along with representatives from New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah. He said it was “an unusual step to see language like this in a letter from one state to another. That said, we feel like it was timely and the situation warranted the letter.”

For Eklund, the crux of the issue is one water district in Arizona “maximizing one interest over the interest of the entire basin.”

“We assumed good faith dealing and when we saw something that suggested a contrary message or policy being adopted by the district in Arizona,” Eklund continued. “That’s when we decided we have to bring them back into the fold, into the herd, and get them back at the negotiating table.”

At a deeper level, there’s an internal dispute between Arizona water leaders. The Arizona Department of Water Resources has criticized these management practices by the Central Arizona Project.

“It raises important questions about actions taken by Central Arizona Water Conservation District that threaten to blow up the collaborative effort that we have been enjoying on the Colorado River for the last 20 years,” Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke told KJZZ in Phoenix.

From KJZZ.com (Bret Jaspers):

Commissioners for the Upper Colorado River sent a letter late last week to Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke. In the letter, they specifically criticized a water management strategy of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD).

Here’s what the upper basin doesn’t like: the CAWCD aims to keep Lake Mead at a so-called “sweet spot.” If the level of the lake stays in that range, then under current agreements, more water comes down from Lake Powell.

The Commissioners’ letter expressed deep concern that CAWCD “intends to disregard the basin’s dire situation at the expense of Lake Powell and all other basin states.” Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, said bluntly in an interview. “That kind of manipulation is unacceptable to the Upper Basin.”

The letter echoed an argument long made by Buschatzke.

“It raises important questions about actions taken by Central Arizona Water Conservation District that threaten to blow up the collaborative effort that we have been enjoying on the Colorado River for the last 20 years,” he said.

A statement from the CAWCD, in part, said, “We are surprised and disappointed to have received a letter from the Upper Colorado River Commission questioning CAWCD’s intentions in leaving water in Lake Mead. We have been reaching out to our partners in the Upper Basin, hoping to clarify apparent misunderstandings, and to facilitate in-person, collaborative discussions aimed at finding solutions that will benefit the communities and environment served by this mighty river.”

CAWCD also reminded people of the water the agency has conserved on behalf of Lake Mead, “at a significant cost to CAP water users in terms of water and water rates.” CAWCD runs the Central Arizona Project canal system, which delivers water to the Phoenix and Tuscon areas.

The Upper Colorado River Commissioners also urged Arizona to get its internal house in order so all seven states and Mexico can plan for long-term drought.

“The seven Colorado River Basin states and Mexico are connected at the hip in this river,” Ostler said. “And what is going on with regards to one state, its failure to make progress, is having an effect on all seven states.”

Buschatzke and Gov. Doug Ducey are trying to get big-ticket water legislation through the state Capitol this year. But time is running out on the legislative session.

From the Colorado River District (Martha Moore):

“It’s unfortunate that what we view as their internal dysfunction within Arizona has cause frankly damage within the water community on the Colorado River,” Mueller said.

Mueller wants to see Interior review whether the CAP’s water diversions are in compliance with Colorado River water law.

“It deserves looking at and will require some federal action probably,” he said, adding that the Arizona water district’s actions go beyond a “friendly water dispute.” — Andy Mueller

The Central Arizona Aqueduct delivers water from the Colorado River to underground aquifers in southern Arizona. UT researcher Bridget Scanlon recommends more water storage projects like the aqueduct to help protect against variability in the river’s water supply. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

From The Arizona Republic (Brandon Loomis):

Central Arizona water managers, facing backlash from other Colorado River users for allegedly undercutting regional conservation efforts, will visit Utah later this month aiming to smooth relations across a region struggling to agree on a way to save a key water supply…

CAP General Manager Ted Cooke initially shot back that his agency was following the rules and manipulating nothing. But as the week progressed, CAP asked for an audience and planned an April 30 meeting with the Upper Colorado Basin Commission in Salt Lake City.

“We reached out to (commissioners) individually, and they said, ‘How about we hear you all at once?’” CAP spokeswoman Crystal Thompson said.

An official with the commission representing Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico water interests confirmed they are scheduling a private meeting to discuss the conflict…

The Arizona Department of Water Resources and Gov. Doug Ducey have sought but so far failed to secure legislative authority to hold back some of the water the CAP delivers from Lake Mead as part of the state’s offering for a regional conservation agreement. That water would come from Arizona tribes and other users who would willingly store it in the Southwest’s largest reservoir rather than taking their full legal share each year.

CAP, which traditionally has sold excess water to users or groundwater storage projects, objected and argued that keeping too much water in Lake Mead could hurt the state. That’s because federal rules for balancing the levels of Lake Mead and its upstream counterpart, Lake Powell, call for releasing more water from Powell if Mead hovers near a level that would trigger a shortage and mandate cutbacks in use.

Under a formula set by the state and the U.S. Interior Department, Lake Powell will send 9 million acre-feet to Lake Mead this year to prevent shortage, rather than the 8.23 million acre-feet it would send under normal river conditions. Each acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons and is enough to serve about two households for a year.

Conserving enough to prevent a shortage but not so much as to slow the flow from Lake Powell represents a “sweet spot,” CAP argued, in language that has now alarmed upstream water officials.

A CAP graphic circulated among water managers set off the criticism. It depicted Lake Mead’s “sweet spot” as being around elevation 1,080 to 1,085 feet above sea level, or 5 to10 feet above the level that would trigger mandated cutbacks for Arizona water users.

CAP’s “manipulation of demands in order to take advantage of the supposed ‘sweet spot’ in Lake Powell water releases undermines (regional conservation), and is unacceptable,” Denver Water CEO James Lochhead wrote.

He said his agency would cease funding conservation measures by farms and other users if CAP doesn’t embrace “aggressive conservation measures along with other entities in Arizona.”

CAP has participated in Colorado River conservation, and has argued that without its actions in recent years Lake Mead would already be in shortage mode. Critics have argued it’s not enough, and that another dry winter like the last one could end the “bonus” that Lake Powell is sending downstream.

Current projections for this spring’s runoff suggest Lake Powell will drop 30 feet this year and end up just 7 feet above the level that would mandate reductions from normal releases into Lake Mead and start a cycle of shortage.

If that happens, the reduced flows could leave Lake Mead vulnerable to declines that would impose steeper reductions on Arizona consumption.

Buschatzke worried that the letters from upstream interests might signal a lawsuit that could upend years of efforts at working across state lines to protect reservoir levels. The shortage triggers and reservoir operating plans are based largely on a 2007 agreement negotiated among the seven river states.

“For the last 10 years we’ve been on the collaborative path,” he said. “This threatens to send us back down the parochial path.”

He called on CAP to heed the message and negotiate a way to keep more water in Lake Mead. That would require an interim, interagency agreement about some of the authority the state has sought from the Legislature, until the governor can get a bill passed this year or next.

Arizona faces more severe cutbacks if it ignores interstate collaboration and lets the reservoir keep dropping. Those cuts would initially affect central Arizona farmers and groundwater banking efforts in the next two years, but urban users and developers could suffer if the depletion gets worse.

Buschatzke cautioned Arizonans against getting defensive about criticism from upstream states. Doing so and refusing to conserve more could leave the state in a bad spot, he said.

“I hope it doesn’t result in some folks in Arizona saying, ‘Man, they’re ganging up on us, we better hunker down,’” he said.

CAP officials will decline further comment to avoid undermining the planned Salt Lake City talks, Thompson said.

Lake Mead viewed from Arizona.

States accuse @CAPArizona gaming #LakeMead, undermining #ColoradoRiver #drought plans #COriver

View of Lake Mead and Hoover dam. Photo credit BBC.

From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

After expressing their frustration privately for weeks, negotiators for four Colorado River Basin states sent a strongly worded letter to Arizona water managers on Friday, singling out the actions of one state agency as “threaten[ing] the water supply for nearly 40 million people.”

In the letter, the Upper Colorado River Commission said those actions could threaten efforts to conserve water and prevent Lake Mead from going into shortage for as long as possible. It could, they wrote, also undermine a decade of broader collaboration intended to avoid costly litigation between Colorado River users.

In a second letter released on Monday, Denver Water told the Arizona water agency — the Central Arizona Project — that it is prepared to pull conservation funding because CAP’s actions “severely compromise the trust and cooperation that has allowed us to develop [the program].”

The mounting pressure on CAP, which is operated by the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD), comes as the agency is engaged in a fight within Arizona over how to manage the state’s Colorado River water. At issue is whether the Central Arizona Project, which delivers water to Tucson and Phoenix, is gaming a set of guidelines intended to balance the river’s reservoirs during times of drought. The Arizona Department of Water Resources, an arm of the governor’s office, has criticized CAP’s strategy for months and now other Colorado River users are piling on, warning the agency to stop before it jeopardizes delicate negotiations over drought planning.

In response to the letters on Monday, Arizona’s top water official doubled down on his criticism. Tom Buschatzke, who directs the Arizona Department of Water Resources, said he shared some concerns in the letter and agreed CAP was manipulating the system to get more water from the Upper Basin.

“I have huge concerns that the unilateral actions of CAWCD are threatening the regional and binational [drought] plans… that will benefit and protect Lake Mead,” Buschatzke said on Monday in response to the two letters.

In a statement, CAP said it was “surprised and disappointed to have received a letter from the Upper Colorado River Commission questioning CAWCD’s intentions in leaving water in Lake Mead. We have been reaching out to our partners in the Upper Basin, hoping to clarify apparent misunderstandings, and to facilitate in-person, collaborative discussions aimed at finding solutions that will benefit the communities and environment served by this mighty river.”

What’s going on here

The Colorado River is split into an upper and a lower basin with two main reservoirs in each division — Lake Powell and Lake Mead. Under the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah are obligated to release a certain amount of Lake Powell water for the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada.

On top of that, the Upper Basin has agreed, in recent years, to send “bonus water” to Lake Mead if it is at a low elevation relative to Lake Powell. The dispute with CAP is about the “bonus water.” Recently, CAP has advocated in presentations for keeping Lake Mead at a “sweet spot” — high enough to avoid a shortage but low enough to get “extra water” from Lake Powell.

This creates a political issue for the Upper Basin. It wants to store water in Lake Powell and boost the reservoir’s elevations. That way it can ensure full deliveries to the Lower Basin in dry years and continue producing hydropower.

CAP is undermining efforts to keep water in Lake Powell, the letters argue, by adjusting how it orders water from Lake Mead (CAP’s general manager Ted Cooke defended this practice on Twitter last week as placing its “water order wisely”).

The letter signed by representatives for all the Upper Basin states calls CAP’s action a “strategy to intentionally maximize demands within the Central Arizona Project to induce larger than normal releases from Lake Powell.” The “goal,” they wrote on Friday, “appears to be to delay agreement on drought plans in order to take advantage of what it terms the ‘sweet spot.’”

Denver Water called it “unacceptable.” The municipal agency said that it would cancel funding for a Colorado River conservation program in the Upper Basin unless CAP “is able to verifiably establish it has ceased all actions to manipulate demands and is fully participating in aggressive conservation.”

In recent months, Cooke has defended CAP’s decisions. CAP’s supporters see the actions as a water agency acting in its own interests. Cooke argued that it would be counterproductive to store more water in Lake Mead because that could boost its elevation so much that the Lower Basin would forgo any “bonus water.” Arizona would take the steepest cuts during a shortage. He has said the best thing to do is to get as much water from Powell as the current rules allow and use it to mitigate a shortage.

From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):

The agency that runs the $4 billion Central Arizona Project is being accused of manipulating Colorado River reservoirs’ operations to suck out more water for its Tucson, Phoenix and Pinal County customers.

The accusation came in two letters in the past few days from representatives of four Upper Colorado River Basin states, the federal government and the Denver Water Dept. They say CAP’s approach threatens a Western water supply serving nearly 40 million people. It also threatens the harmony that has marked relations among the seven basin states since they approved guidelines to run the Colorado River’s reservoirs in 2007, they say.

Under criticism is CAP’s practice of limiting how much river water it conserves each year, in order to prop up Lake Mead’s declining reservoir levels. The CAP has resisted pressure from other water agencies in Arizona to boost its conservation beyond about 200,000 acre-feet a year, enough to cover that many football fields a foot deep.

CAP says that’s because as Lakes Mead and Powell are managed under the 2007 guidelines, conserving too much, or “overconserving” as CAP officials put it in the past, could reduce water releases from Powell to Mead. That would trigger shortages and cutbacks in water deliveries to Arizona users. CAP brings drinking water to Tucson and Phoenix and irrigation water to Pinal County via a 336-mile-long canal.

That stance irks the Upper Colorado commission, representing the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming and the U.S. government.

Last Friday, commissioners wrote that the Central Arizona Water Conservation District — a three-county water district running CAP — “intends to disregard the basin’s dire situation at the expense of Lake Powell and the other basin states.” CAP is trying to “maximize demands” to get larger water releases from Powell, said the letter to Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.

Officials of the CAP water district responded in a statement, “We are surprised and disappointed to have received a letter from the Upper Colorado River Commission questioning CAWCD’s intentions in leaving water in Lake Mead.” On Twitter, CAP general manager Ted Cooke recently said the agency places its water order wisely, following federal guidelines…

Since 2014, CAP and its partners reduced water use enough to be able to leave more than 850,000 acre-feet in Mead, the statement said…

In its letter, the Upper Colorado commission noted that because of a high water release expected from Powell this year and continued low snowpack and poor river runoff, Powell is expected to drop 30 feet in the next year. If these conditions persist, CAP’s efforts to boost water releases from Powell could make future reservoir conditions worse and trigger more severe shortages in the long term, the letter said…

The letters were triggered by a graphic recently posted on CAP’s website, saying the agency has maintained a “sweet spot” for Lake Mead’s water levels.

By that, it means conservation has kept Lake Mead high enough to avoid a shortage, but not so high as to cause the federal government to release only 8.23 million acre-feet of water each year — the customary average annual delivery from Powell to Mead. Instead, the feds have released 9 million acre-feet each of the past four years.

The graphic, which the agency took down after it generated controversy, made Lake Mead’s level appear to be a bigger factor in determining water releases than the weather, which others disagree with.

The Upper Colorado commission and Denver Water are also concerned that this conflict threatens an interstate program in which the feds, Lower Basin water agencies and Denver Water pay farmers and other users to use less water, with the savings held in Mead.

This program has saved about 139,000 acre-feet of river water. But Denver Water is prepared to end its support of the conservation program unless, among other things, CAP can show “it has ceased all actions to manipulate demands and is fully participating in aggressive conservation measures,” Denver Water chief Jim Lochhead wrote to the CAP…

Paul Orme, an attorney for four irrigation districts in Central Arizona, said he continues to support CAP. Farmers will be the first to lose water during a shortage and they’re more interested in year-to-year releases, Orme said.

“What they are doing is permitted under the (2007) guidelines,” Orme said, referring to the CAP. “I know the Upper Basin says they’re not in the spirit of the guidelines, but they’re in the letter of the guidelines.”

From KJZZ.com (Bret Jaspers):

Here’s what the upper basin doesn’t like: the CAWCD aims to keep Lake Mead at a so-called “sweet spot.” If the level of the lake stays in that range, then under current agreements, more water comes down from Lake Powell.

The Commissioners’ letter expressed deep concern that CAWCD “intends to disregard the basin’s dire situation at the expense of Lake Powell and all other basin states.” Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, said bluntly in an interview. “That kind of manipulation is unacceptable to the Upper Basin.”

[…]

CAWCD also reminded people of the water the agency has conserved on behalf of Lake Mead, “at a significant cost to CAP water users in terms of water and water rates.” CAWCD runs the Central Arizona Project canal system, which delivers water to the Phoenix and Tuscon areas…

The Upper Colorado River Commissioners also urged Arizona to get its internal house in order so all seven states and Mexico can plan for long-term drought.

“The seven Colorado River Basin states and Mexico are connected at the hip in this river,” Ostler said. “And what is going on with regards to one state, its failure to make progress, is having an effect on all seven states.”

Buschatzke and Gov. Doug Ducey are trying to get big-ticket water legislation through the state Capitol this year. But time is running out on the legislative session.

Click here to read Denver Water’s letter to the Central Arizona Project:

From InkStain (John Fleck):

Denver Water today joined state leaders in the Upper Colorado River Basin with a letter accusing the managers of the Central Arizona Project of manipulating water orders to get more water out of the Upper Basin’s reservoir at Lake Powell. The actions of the CAP’s managers “several compromise the trust and cooperation” needed to solve Colorado River problems, the letter from Denver Water’s Jim Lochhead said.

@CAPArizona’s method for maximizing their #COriver rights draws letter from the Upper #ColoradoRiver Commission

The Central Arizona Aqueduct delivers water from the Colorado River to underground aquifers in southern Arizona. UT researcher Bridget Scanlon recommends more water storage projects like the aqueduct to help protect against variability in the river’s water supply. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Click here to read the letter.

From Inkstain (John Fleck):

Upper Colorado River Basin state leaders, in a letter Friday (April 13, 2018), said the water management approach being taken by the managers of the Central Arizona Project “threaten the water supply for nearly 40 million people in the United States and Mexico, and threaten the interstate relationships and good will that must be maintained if we are to find and implement collaborative solutions” to the Colorado River’s problems.

The letter accuses CAP of “disregard(ing) the basin’s dire situation”, providing more water for Arizona at the expense of the rest of the basin. In doing so, it highlights a rift within Arizona, where an internal political feud over this and related issues has pitted CAP against the state Department of Water Resources and many of CAP’s own customers. That rift, in turn, has stalled diplomacy over efforts to develop a broad new plan to cut back water use across the Colorado River basin.

The letter, using language that is striking in the normally staid interstate diplomacy of Colorado River interstate water management, takes issue with CAP’s practice of using more water than it might otherwise – avoiding “overconserving”, in CAP’s words – in order to ensure continue big releases from Lake Powell upstream. That has the effect of expanding water use in the Lower Colorado River Basin at the expense of draining Lake Powell, the critical reservoir for protecting Upper Colorado River Basin supplies. The managers of the Central Arizona Project are “disregard(ing) the (Colorado River) basin’s dire situation at the expense of Lake Powell and all the other basin states” by using more water than they need to, the letter said.