Water cutbacks set to begin under deal designed to ‘buy down risk’ on #ColoradoRiver — The Arizona Republic #COriver #aridification #CRWUA2019

Back Row Left to Right: James Eklund (CO), John D’Antonio (NM), Pat Tyrell (WY), Eric Melis (UT), Tom Buschatzke (AZ), Peter Nelson (CA), John Entsminger (NV), Front Row: Brenda Burman (US), and from DOI – Assistant Secretary of Water and Science Tim Petty. Photo credit: Colorado River Water Users Association

From The Arizona Republic (Ian James):

Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will start taking less water from the Colorado River in January as a hard-fought set of agreements kicks in to reduce the risk of reservoirs falling to critically low levels.

The two U.S. states agreed to leave a portion of their water allotments in Lake Mead under a deal with California called the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP, which the states’ representatives signed at Hoover Dam in May.

California agreed to contribute water at a lower trigger point if reservoir levels continue to fall. And Mexico agreed under a separate accord to take steps to help prop up Lake Mead, the nation’s largest reservoir near Las Vegas, which now sits 40% full after a nearly 20-year run of mostly dry years.

The agreements, including another deal in the river’s Upper Basin, increase the odds of Western states making it through the next seven years without reservoir levels crashing. But researchers examining the latest climate projections have also warned of the possibility that declines in the river’s flow could force water curtailments in the coming years, and they’ve suggested looking at options to reduce risks.

For the first time since signing the drought contingency deals, representatives of seven states will meet this week at a conference in Las Vegas to talk over their next steps in managing the Colorado River…

Arizona will see a cut of 192,000 acre-feet in water deliveries next year, or 6.9% of its total allotment of 2.8 million acre-feet. Nevada’s share will be reduced by 8,000 acre-feet, while Mexico’s will take 41,000 acre-feet less.

That water will remain in Lake Mead, and will only be recovered in future years once the reservoir rises above an elevation of 1,100 feet. Its level now stands about 15 feet below that threshold.

The cuts under the deal represent 12% of the total water supply for the Central Arizona Project, which delivers water by canal to Phoenix, Tucson and other areas. The agency that manages the canal has said the cuts will reduce deliveries for agriculture by about 15% and eliminate water that would have been available for storing underground and replenishing groundwater at facilities along the CAP Canal…

According to Bureau of Reclamation figures, Arizona and California together conserved 316,000 acre-feet in 2018, and are on track to conserve an estimated 685,800 acre-feet in 2019. Burman said voluntary conservation efforts by the states have helped, and the drought contingency plan has incentivized more conservation…

Arizona’s plan for managing the water cutbacks involves deliveries of “mitigation” water to help lessen the blow for some farmers and other entities, as well as compensation payments for those that contribute water. The payments will be covered with more than $100 million from the state and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District.

Gila River watershed. Graphic credit: Wikimedia

Much of the money will go toward paying for water from the Colorado River Indian Tribes and the Gila River Indian Community…

In one study, climate scientists Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeck used climate models to estimate a business-as-usual scenario of greenhouse gas emissions. They projected that without changes in precipitation, warming will likely cause the Colorado River’s flow to decrease by 35% or more by the end of the century…

In a new report, water researchers Anne Castle and John Fleck warn that the Colorado River’s water supply could decline so much in the next decade that the ability of the four Upper Basin states “to meet their legal obligations to downstream users in Nevada, Arizona, California, and Mexico would be in grave jeopardy.”

Castle and Fleck examined the latest science on projected flows and analyzed the legal framework governing the Colorado River…

Patti Aaron, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Reclamation, responded to the researchers’ findings.

“We applaud a continued focus on the Colorado River, particularly regarding the risks we all are facing going forward,” Aaron said in an email. “We have a solid history in this Basin of finding solutions to complex problems by working together in an open and collaborative way. Reports of this nature help us stay on that path.”

[…]

California signed on to the deal, but the state’s Imperial Irrigation District balked at participating.

Salton Sea screen shot credit Greetings from the Salton Sea — Kim Stringfellow.

Imperial holds the single largest share of Colorado River water, which flows to farms producing crops such as alfalfa, broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Imperial’s officials have called for the state and federal governments to urgently address a worsening environmental crisis at the Salton Sea, which is shrinking and exposing dry lake bed that sends dust blowing into surrounding communities.

The sea has been shrinking more rapidly under a 2003 deal that is transferring water from the Imperial Valley to growing urban areas in San Diego County and the Coachella Valley.

In October, the Imperial Irrigation District’s board members voted unanimously to declare an emergency at the Salton Sea, pressing for California officials to break through years of wrangling and red tape to get working on dust-control and habitat projects along the retreating shores.

Last month, the IID board adopted a resolution laying out parameters for IID’s involvement in future Colorado River negotiations. They said in the resolution that “the linkage between the Colorado River and the Salton Sea is inextricable.”

[…]

Burman, who is scheduled to speak, said the drought contingency plan has laid a foundation that will help the states and other parties work through their next steps.

“Our history on the Colorado River is making improvements and incremental progress as we go,” Burman said. “It’s important that we’re out there talking about the challenges. It’s important that we’re out there talking about possible solutions.”

“Science be Dammed: How Ignoring Inconvenient Science Drained the #ColoradoRiver” — @R_EricKuhn/@jfleck

I finished Eric Kuhn and John Fleck’s new book in the hotel last night on my way to Las Vegas for the Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference.

It’s a page-turner that charts the history of the “Law of the River” and how politics and enthusiastic engineers that loved the big projects mostly trumped science in the debate and decisions since the Colorado River Compact negotiations. That trumping set the stage for we users of the Colorado River going forward. The book has praise for current decision makers and the deliberate effort to listen to the scientists regarding the hydrology of the river and the acidification in the basin due to the climate crisis.

Click here to order your copy of “Science be Dammed”.

Brad Udall: “…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

#ColoradoRiver “Grand Bargain” in the news #COriver #aridification

Russian thistle in dry former Lake Powell along the Colorado River in Hite, October 2018. (Photo by John Herrick)

From InkStain (John Fleck):

There was more buzz this week at two big Colorado River Basin events about the idea of a “grand bargain” to deal with coming collisions between water overallocation and the Law of the River.

The idea crept into the title of the Water Education Foundation’s 2019 Santa Fe Symposium – “Can We Build a Bridge to a Grand Bargain in the Basin?”. It also came up repeatedly at the Colorado River Water Conservation District’s fall water seminar, including in a luncheon keynote by the University of Colorado’s Doug Kenney, who has done a lot of the analytical heavy lifting on the idea.

While most of the people yakking about it in public right now are folks unaffiliated with organized water interests (folks like, well, me), the interesting thing right now is the behind-the-scenes conversations among decision makers within the system. There’s been positive interest across geographic and water-using communities, including both Upper and Lower Basin folks, and both ag and municipal water users.

My collaborator Eric Kuhn, the former general manager of of the Colorado River Water Conservation District well known as a staunch defender of rural Colorado West Slope water interests, is in the middle of all this, speaking at both events. While the ideas has many parents, Eric has come to be identified with it in part because, now that he’s retired, he can thrown down a bit more than when he had the portfolio of obligations that comes with running an agency.

The idea’s been kicking around for more than a decade, but it was in fact Eric who first publicly documented what to that point had been private discussions. In a widely read 2012 white paper (p. 41, pdf here), Eric detailed a conversation at a 2005 meeting of the basin states principles at a hotel here in Albuquerque. The details are arcane (click through for Eric’s explanation) but the idea is that each basin gives up politically treasured but practically unrealistic interpretations of the Law of the River in a compromise that avoids litigation and provides more certainty for the water management communities in both basins.

The latest E-Newsletter is hot off the presses from the Hutchins Water Center

A chart from the Colorado River District’s Phase III risk study, showing average annual depletions from the Western Slope, including transmountain diversions, tied to both pre and post compact rights. Graphic credit: Colorado River District via Aspen Journalism

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

RISK STUDY RESULTS
Phase III of the Colorado River Risk Study spearheaded by Colorado’s Colorado River District and Southwestern Water Conservation District has yielded some modeling results on the risks of Lake Powell dropping to critical levels, as well as how various curtailment scenarios could impact Colorado River uses from different sub-basins in Colorado. The final report won’t be out until the end of the summer, but a slide show was presented at the Four West Slope Basin Roundtable meeting on June 20 in Grand Junction, and it is posted here.

Western states buy time with a 7-year #ColoradoRiver #drought plan, but face a hotter, drier future — The Conversation #DCP #COriver #aridification

The white “bathtub ring” around Arizona’s Lake Mead (shown on May 31, 2018), which indicates falling water levels, is about 140 feet high. AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin via The Conversation

From The Conversation (Brad Udall, Douglas Kenney, John Fleck):

As Midwest states struggled with record spring flooding this year, the Southwest was wrestling with the opposite problem: not enough water. On May 20, 2019, federal officials and leaders from seven states signed the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, a sweeping new water management agreement for this arid region.

The plan is historic: It acknowledges that southwestern states need to make deep water use reductions – including a large share from agriculture, which uses over 70% of the supply – to prevent Colorado River reservoirs from declining to critically low levels.

But it also has serious shortcomings. It runs for less than a decade, through 2026. And its name – “Drought Contingency Plan” – suggests a response to a temporary problem.

As scholars who have spent years researching water issues in the West, we know the Colorado River’s problems are anything but temporary. Its waters have already been over-allocated, based on a century of false optimism about available supply. In other words, states have been allowed to take out more than nature puts back in.

Now the river is being further depleted by climate change-driven aridification. The next steps, post-2026, require a recognition that Arizona, Nevada and California will likely have to come to terms with permanent reductions in their Colorado River supply. For their part, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico must abandon dreams of taking ever-larger gulps from the Colorado River to support future growth.

The Colorado River is about 1,400 miles long and flows through seven U.S. states and into Mexico. The Upper Colorado River Basin supplies approximately 90 percent of the water for the entire basin. It originates as rain and snow in the Rocky and Wasatch mountains. Credit USGS.

Draining western reservoirs

The Drought Contingency Plan is an important step in that direction. By creating a new layer of rules that temporarily reduces water allocations, it significantly reduces the chance of emptying Lake Mead, the massive reservoir on the Arizona-Nevada border that supports residents of Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico. Without the plan, the lake conceivably could have been sucked dry – a devastating prospect for 40 million people who live in the Colorado River Basin.

As a seven-year stopgap, the plan comes just in time. After 19 years of unprecedented low flows, the nation’s two largest reservoirs – Lakes Mead and Powell – collectively contain only 40% as much water as they held in 2000. And while the winter of 2018-2019 was a big snow year, it merely balances the previous year, when record-setting warm and dry weather in large parts of the basin lowered water levels in Lake Powell by over 40 feet.

Dry years like 2018 are the far more likely future. From 2000 through 2004, annual runoff totaled only 65% of the 20th-century average. And in 2012-2013, it was just 60% of the 20th century average. More episodes like these would seriously compromise the system’s ability to provide water to the seven Colorado River Basin states and Mexico.

A hotter, drier future

Climate change is and will remain a significant issue. Since 2000, Colorado river flows have been 16% below the 20th-century average. Temperatures across the Colorado River Basin are now over 2 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the 20th-century average, and are certain to continue rising.

Scientists have begun using the term “aridification” to describe the hotter, drier climate in the basin, rather than “drought,” which implies a temporary condition.

Studies show that higher 21st-century temperatures have been reducing runoff. Warmer temperatures increase evaporation from soils and water bodies, and increase sublimation from snowpacks – direct conversion of snow and ice into fog or steam, without melting first. And they increase plant water use, due to a longer growing season and more warmth on any given day.

In a 2017 study, one of us (Brad Udall) and Jonathan Overpeck found that higher temperatures due to climate change had reduced the flow of the Colorado River by approximately 6%. The study projected that additional warming could reduce flows by approximately 20% in 2050 and up to 35% by 2100 if precipitation levels did not change. A 2018 modeling study estimated the flow losses due to higher temperatures at about 10%.

Overuse in the Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California is the second major problem. This problem is officially known as the “Structural Deficit” – a 1.2 million acre-foot gap, representing 8% of the river’s flow, between allocations made in the early 20th century and the amount of water the river can provide.

Cities from Las Vegas on the north to Tucson and Phoenix on the south and west to San Diego and Los Angeles all have come to depend on that water. Meanwhile, agriculture – including important areas like Yuma and the Imperial Valley, where much of the nation’s valuable winter produce is grown – uses 70% of the river’s water.

The All American Canal diverts water from the Lower Colorado River to irrigate crops in California’s Imperial Valley and supply 9 cities. Graphic credit: USGS

Looking past 2026

With the contingency plan only running until 2026, Basin leaders are already discussing the framework of a new planning effort. In our view, the process should be open and inclusive, given the huge number of competing interests in the region, including municipalities, agriculture, tribes and the environment.

An effective long-term plan should solve the overuse problem in the Lower Basin, while preparing for extended and unprecedented low flows. It should revisit a number of long-standing assumptions about how the river is managed, including the Upper Basin’s so-called “delivery obligation” to the Lower Basin, which leaves the upper states – Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico – bearing the burden of climate change, while the Lower Basin states remain free to overuse. And it will have to address the reality that there is not enough water for users in the Upper Basin to continue exporting ever more water to growing cities like St. George, Utah, and Colorado’s Front Range.

Solving the twin problems of climate change and overuse will not be easy. The good news is that water users in the basin have found ways to work together for everyone’s benefit, first in a set of water management guidelines negotiated in 2007, and then with the Drought Contingency Plan.

Now, after staving off worry that system reservoirs could drop to calamitous levels, water users and managers can focus on these pressing longer-term issues. It is time to step back, look at the big picture and design a water management system that works for all stakeholders in the basin for the next several decades.

Brad Udall, Senior Research Scientist, Colorado Water Institute, Colorado State University; Douglas Kenney, Senior Research Associate and Director, Western Water Policy Program, University of Colorado, and John Fleck, Professor of Practice in Water Policy and Governance and Director, Water Resources Program, University of New Mexico

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Video: 40th Annual GWC Summer Conference Day 1

Session One: The Pre-Amble to IG 2.0
The Interim Guidelines introduced major changes in river management, and established an operational framework and collaborative environment supporting additional reforms, including the recent DCPs (Drought Contingency Plans). How does this background inform and influence the path forward to new rules?

On Stressed #ColoradoRiver, States Test How Many More Diversions Watershed Can Bear — KUNC #COriver #aridification

Gross Reservoir — The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will raise the height of the existing dam by 131 feet, which will allow the capacity of the reservoir, pictured, to increase by 77,000 acre-feet. The additional water storage will help prevent future shortfalls during droughts and helps offset an imbalance in Denver Water’s collection system. With this project, Denver Water will provide water to current and future customers while providing environmental benefits to Colorado’s rivers and streams. Photo credit: Denver Water

From KUNC (Luke Runyon):

The Colorado River is short on water. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at a slate of proposed water projects in the river’s Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

The river and its tributaries provide water for 40 million people in the Southwest. For about the last 20 years, demand for water has outstripped the supply, causing its largest reservoirs to decline.

In the Bureau of Reclamation’s 2012 Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, you can pinpoint when the lines crossed somewhere around the year 2002. It’s a well-documented and widely accepted imbalance.

That harsh reality — of the river’s water promised to too many people — has prompted all sorts of activity and agreements within the seven Western states that rely on it. That activity includes controversial efforts in some states in the Colorado River’s Upper Basin to tap every available drop before things get worse.

The utility that owns [Gross Reservoir], Denver Water, wants to increase the size of the dam by 131 feet, and fill the human-made lake with more water from the headwaters of the Colorado River via a tunnel that traverses the Continental Divide.

Imagine a tractor trailer hauling dam-building materials making this turn, Long says.

“If they truck all of this material up our canyon, people in our community are gonna get killed by those trucks. Period,” Long said. “There’s a lot of other issues here but the safety thing should really be a serious priority.”

Long and his wife, April Lewandowski, live near the reservoir in a community called Coal Creek Canyon. Like many of her neighbors, Lewandowski commutes from the sparsely populated canyon to her job on the state’s dense Front Range. Her daily commute on the canyon’s two-lane highway is the same as a haul route for trucks needed to build the dam addition.

Long pulls up to a small parking area that overlooks the dam. It’s a deep wall of concrete, stretched between the tree-lined canyon walls of South Boulder Creek.

“I mean you look at how the land splays out, you can see why they want to (build it),” Long said. “It’s so much wider all the way around.”

If the expansion goes through, the place where we’re standing will be submerged in water. The addition to Gross Dam will raise it to 471 feet in height, making it the tallest dam in Colorado…

Denver Water first started taking an expansion of Gross Reservoir seriously after the dry winter of 2002. Exceptional drought conditions took hold across the Mountain West. The utility’s CEO, Jim Lochhead, said in the midst of those historic dry conditions, a portion of its service area nearly ran out of water.

“This is a project that’s needed today to deal with that imbalance and that vulnerability and to give us more drought resiliency,” Lochhead said.

Since then, Denver Water has filed federal permits to start construction, and negotiated an agreement with local governments and environmental groups on the state’s Western Slope to mitigate some effects of the additional water being taken from the headwaters.

Before leaving office, former Colorado Democratic governor and current presidential hopeful John Hickenlooper threw his weight behind the project, giving it an endorsement and suggesting other water agencies in the West take notice how Denver Water approached the process.

But despite the political heft behind the project, it faces considerable headwinds.

Environmentalists are suing, arguing the expansion will harm endangered fish. A group of local activists say the additional water will spur unsustainable population growth along the state’s Front Range. In recent months, the utility began sparring with Boulder County officials over whether they were exempt from a certain land use permit.

Building a 131-foot dam addition does come with baggage, Lochhead said. But he argued his agency has done its part to address some of the concerns, like reducing the number of daily tractor trailer trips up Coal Creek Canyon and planning upgrades to the intersection where trucks will turn onto Gross Dam Road.

“It is a major construction project. I don’t want to gloss over that. It will have impacts to the local community,” Lochhead said.

Denver Water staff are doing more outreach in the canyon as well, Lochhead said.

“We are committed to the project and seeing it through. We’re also committed despite the opposition to working with the local community in doing this the right way,” he said…

The Gross Reservoir Expansion Project will add 77,000 total acre feet — 72,000 for Denver Water use and 5,000 for an environmental pool that provides additional water for South Boulder Creek during low-flow periods — nearly tripling reservoir capacity.

The latest scuffle with Boulder County has brought the Gross Dam expansion squarely back into public view. At a county commissioner’s meeting in March, residents criticized Denver Water on all fronts, from specific concerns about the construction itself, to broader concerns about water scarcity in the Colorado River basin…

“This project represents an effort by Denver Water … to actually grab water while they can, before federal legislation and management of the Colorado River Basin is imposed,” McDermott said.

What McDermott is referring to is a stark disconnect in the Colorado River watershed. States downstream on the river — Arizona, Nevada and California — signed a new agreement in May called the Drought Contingency Plan that keeps them from becoming more reliant on the Colorado River. It requires cutbacks to water deliveries should levels in Lake Mead, the river’s largest reservoir, continue to drop.

Meanwhile, upstream in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, no such agreement was made. Those states wound up agreeing to study the feasibility of a program that would compensate farmers to stop irrigating their cropland if reservoirs dropped, with no solid way to pay for it. They agreed too to better coordinate releases from their biggest reservoirs to aid an ailing Lake Powell. While they figure out how to develop those two concepts, the Upper Basin states keep inching along on their development projects to divert more from the river.

The 1922 Colorado River Compact, the river’s foundational governing document, gives Upper Basin states the legal cover to continue developing projects like the Gross Reservoir expansion. In the compact, each basin is allocated 7.5 million acre-feet of the river’s water. Over the decades the rapidly growing and intensely farmed Lower Basin has used much more than that. The less populated Upper Basin has never reached its full allotment. Those state have been using roughly 4.5 million acre-feet for the last 13 years, with the rest flowing downstream for the Lower Basin to use as it sees fit…

Conservation programs tend to be less expensive than massive new projects, [Doug] Kenney said. But additional water supplies stored in reservoirs give more security and reliability. It’s why water leaders push for them, even when the economics don’t make sense.

Denver Water’s collection system via the USACE EIS