#CRWUA2018: Upper #ColoradoRiver Commission approves their #Drought Contingency Plan, Lower Basin gets a deadline from @USBR #DCP #COriver

A September morning along the Green River this year was scenic, but the river was low, and has been for several Septembers in a row. Water managers in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado and working to put more water into both the Green and Colorado rivers in an effort to bolster water levels in Lake Powell. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

The Upper Colorado River Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to execute three agreements designed to bolster Lake Powell’s and Lake Mead’s water levels, which have been falling due to persistent drought and encroaching aridification in the Colorado River system.

The members of the commission, established in 1948 to help administer the Colorado River Compact, include representatives from the “upper basin” states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico, as well as a federal representative.

The three agreements — and a set of companion agreements still being worked out in the “lower basin” states of California, Arizona and Nevada — are contingent upon federal legislation, which the involved parties hope to obtain during the current “lame duck” session of Congress.

Before the vote, James Eklund, who represents Colorado on the commission, said the set of “drought contingency planning” agreements were “historic” in their importance.

Asked after the meeting to put that into context, Eklund said, “I think we’re going to look back at this moment and realize that this was the opportunity we had to stand some tools up to keep the river system from crashing, or at least mitigate the impacts of it crashing.”

The first agreement OK’d by the commission allows the upper basin states to coordinate with the Bureau of Reclamation on releasing water from Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs to send downstream to Lake Powell, currently 43 percent full and at a surface elevation of 3,585 feet above sea level.

If Lake Powell, a huge reservoir formed by Glen Canyon Dam, falls to an elevation of 3,525 feet, then the “coordinated reservoir operations” agreement will kick in and water will be released from the three big upstream reservoirs to ensure that Lake Powell does not fall to 3,490 feet, which is the “minimum power pool” level when the dam’s hydropower generation ceases.

It’s also the level at which it becomes harder to release enough water from the dam to meet the upper-basin states’ obligations, under the terms of the Colorado Compact, to annually deliver more than 8 million acre-feet of water to the lower-basin states.

The second agreement approved Wednesday sets up a program where water can be stored in Lake Powell without the water being subject to a 2007 agreement that seeks to equalize the water levels of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, which today is 38 percent full. Under the terms of the compact, Lake Mead is considered to be in the lower basin.

The water eligible under the agreement to be stored in Lake Powell, which would not be subject to being sent down to Lake Mead, must come from “conserved consumptive use,” or water that otherwise would have been mainly used in the growing of crops — such as alfalfa and hay — in the upper basin.

Such a water-use-reduction effort is called a “demand management” program, and the details of programs in each of the upper-basin states still need to be worked out. But the second agreement approved Wednesday will create a way for the upper basin to securely store such “conserved” water in Lake Powell.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board, which manages water-supply planning in the state, recently adopted a policy saying it is committed to setting up a demand-management program that is “voluntary, temporary and compensated,” although there are fears, especially on the Western Slope, that such a program could become mandatory, long-term and uncompensated.

The second agreement approved Wednesday allows for as much as 500,000 acre-feet of water to be stored in a demand-management pool in Lake Powell. By comparison, Ruedi Reservoir, above Basalt, holds 100,000 acre-feet of water.

The third agreement is a “companion agreement” to a set of agreements that are still being negotiated in the lower basin that provide for water entities in California, Arizona and Nevada to reduce their water use and store the water in Lake Mead in an effort to keep operational that reservoir, formed by Hoover Dam.

Patrick Tyrrell, who represents Wyoming on the upper-basin commission, echoed Eklund’s sentiments about the nature of the drought-management agreements, saying before the vote that “it is necessary and important to get this done at this time.”

Tyrrell said the upper-basin states were going to keep urging the lower-basin states, especially Arizona, to come to terms on their draft agreements, as it was important for all the entities that depend on the river.

Lake Powell, and an increasingly familiar bathtub ring. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism/Brent Gardner-Smith

Not ‘done done’

The approval of the three agreements happened in Las Vegas, the location of the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association, where it is customary for water managers from both the upper basin and lower basin to meet for three days in mid-December in the conference center at Caesar’s Palace.

There has been intense pressure for months on the lower-basin states to approve their set of “drought-contingency planning” documents during the conference, as the upper-basin states did Wednesday, but there are still complicated issues to be worked out among water entities in Arizona.

Terry Fulp, the regional director of the Bureau of Reclamation in the lower Colorado River region, on Wednesday told the ballroom full of water managers from the upper basin that the lower-basin entities were making progress and were closer than ever to reaching consensus.

He also said he’s learned to distinguish between agreements that are “done” and those that are “done done,” or truly finalized.

“We’re definitely not ‘done done,’” Fulp said of the lower basin. “And we’re probably not ‘done,’ but we’ve come a long way.”

He also said that over the past three months, the process has managed to step over any number of stumbling blocks that could have set back the entire process.

“It’s within our power to keep ourselves on the trajectory that this basin has been on for two decades,” Fulp said, referring to the overall Colorado River basin. “And that trajectory is one of collaboration and problem solving and doing it together, and not waiting until the secretary of the Interior, or someone, has to come in and solve it for us.”

Sand and silt are piling up on the Colorado River above Lake Powell, as water levels continue to fall due to persistent drought and encroaching aridification. Water managers from San Diego to Wyoming are working to find ways to keep the river’s reservoirs, and water delivery systems, functioning.

Federal deadline

Fulp’s boss, Brenda Burman, is the commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, which is part of the Interior Department.

If the upper- and lower-basin states can’t find a way to keep Lake Powell and Lake Mead functioning, it’s up to Burman to intervene.

On Thursday, Burman spoke to the attendees at the Colorado River Water Users Association meeting and set a Jan. 31 deadline for parties in Arizona and California to approve the proposed drought contingency agreements.

“It is high time to wrap up these efforts,” she said.

If the parties have not do so by then, Burman said Reclamation will publish a notice in the federal register and give the parties 30 days to submit proposals to the Secretary of the Interior on what next steps he should take to avoid a crisis in the basin.

“We will act, if needed, to protect this basin,” Burman said.

The possibility of direct federal intervention on the Colorado River system is something that many water managers in the seven basin states want to avoid.

Burman said the combined level of storage in Lake Mead and Lake Powell is at 46 percent, the lowest combined level since 1966, when Lake Powell was filling for the first time.

“It is time for us to pay attention,” Burman said. “We are quickly running out of time.”

She praised the upper basin states for reaching agreement, and she challenged the entities involved in California and Arizona to “step up, compromise and contribute.”

She also said just getting close to an agreement was not the point.

“Close isn’t done, and we are not done,” she said. “Only done will protect this basin.”

Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers water and rivers in collaboration with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and other Swift Communications newspapers. The Post Independent published a version of this story on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2018. This version was updated on Thursday to include Commissioner Burman’s comments.

From The Arizona Republic (Ian James):

Federal Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman set a firm deadline for Western states to finish a set of Colorado River drought agreements, telling Arizona and California they need to sign on by Jan. 31.

If states fail to meet that deadline, Burman said, the federal government will get involved and step in to prevent reservoirs from falling to critically low levels.

“We are quickly running out of time,” Burman told water managers from across the West at an annual Colorado River conference. “Today’s level of risk is unacceptable and the chance for a crisis is far too high.”

She pointed out that Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the river’s two main reservoirs, are together at their lowest level since Glen Canyon Dam was built and Powell was filled in 1966.

“To put it in more personal terms, these are the lowest reservoir levels in my lifetime,” Burman said. “We are teetering on the brink of a shortage today, and we see real risk of rapid declines in reservoir elevations, particularly at Lake Mead, in the very near future.”

[…]

Burman’s remarks met resistance in Arizona, where legislative leaders cautioned against rushing into action and said they wanted time to study the final version of the agreement…

“Close isn’t done, and we are not done. Only done will protect this basin,” Burman said. “It is high time to wrap up these efforts.”

[…]

She said based on current trends, the level of Lake Mead, which now stands at an elevation of 1,079 feet, is projected to fall about 30 feet, below 1,050 feet, by the summer of 2020 — a level that would put the biggest reservoir in the country deep into a shortage.

“It is time for us to pay attention,” Burman said. She said she’s encouraged by recent progress in the negotiations, and Arizona has made “remarkable progress” in developing the outline of an agreement for the state to participate in the larger three-state deal with California and Nevada.

She warned, though, that the Interior Department can’t wait much longer for the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP, until it takes action.

The Central Arizona Aqueduct delivers water from the Colorado River. Photo credit: U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

From The Arizona Daily Star (Tony Davis):

Commissioner Brenda Burman said she would take unspecified actions to protect Lakes Mead and Powell and the river itself if the states don’t approve drought contingency plans by the end of January. Acknowledging that both states are close to approving plans, she emphasized, “almost is not done.”

While it’s unclear what she would ultimately do, officials of the basin states have long speculated that Reclamation would order specific cuts in river supplies to individual states to keep the reservoirs from crashing.

The states have their own legal allocations to water supplies from the river due to the 1922 Colorado River compact, which all basin states have signed. But given federal control over management of the entire river basin, state water officials have long feared such federal intervention if they couldn’t come up with their own drought plans to adapt to river flows that have steadily declined since 2000.

Burman’s statement and a subsequent talk she gave Thursday at a Colorado River conference in Las Vegas focused on the ailing reservoirs, Lakes Mead and Powell. They store drinking water and generate electric power for the basin states. Mead stores water for the Central Arizona Project that is Tucson’s main source of drinking water.

Burman noted that Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Nevada have all adopted drought contingency plans although Arizona and California have not.

“This is not the (Reclamation) department’s preferred course of action, but action must be taken to protect the basin,” said Burman, who received a University of Arizona law degree and worked in the past for Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona and for the Phoenix-based Salt River Project.

Reaction to Burman’s warning was very favorable from many Arizona water officials, experts and activists.

“Right on Commissioner Burman! That’s what she should be doing — keeping the pressure on,” said former Arizona Department of Water Resources director Kathy Ferris.

This isn’t the first time the feds have threatened a takeover of river management to prod the states into action on drought plans. But Burman’s threat is more specific and more imminent than those made during the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.

From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

Looming in the background of her comments was Lake Mead. As nearly two decades of drought and overuse has strained water supplies, the country’s largest reservoir — impounded by the Hoover Dam about 30 minutes outside of Las Vegas — has dropped to nearly 38 percent of its capacity. That means less water stored for users at farms and cities across the arid Southwest.

“We are teetering on the brink of a shortage today,” said Burman, after offering a sobering hydrologic assessment. “It is time for us to pay attention. We are quickly running out of time.”

Even before Jan. 31, Lake Mead will feel the effects of not having a drought plan in physical and concrete ways. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California plans to begin taking stored water out of the reservoir starting in January, said its general manager, Jeff Kightlinger.

The district, a wholesale water provider for Southern California cities, currently stores surplus water in Mead to keep reservoir elevations above a shortage level. With a drought plan in place, it would not be able to access that water in times of shortage. Because of uncertainty with the drought plan, Kightlinger said his staff is planning to begin removing the water in early January. That would further lower the reservoir level, making a shortage at Lake Mead even more likely.

“That’s not what we want to do,” he said, noting that the district needed to protect access to its water but that it could put the water back in the reservoir when a drought plan is agreed to.

“This is not something we do lightly,” he said. “But I don’t want to jeopardize my constituents.”

[…]

During a panel Thursday, Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager John Entsminger applauded the commissioner for “laying down the gauntlet” to get a drought plan completed.

“I think the states need it,” Entsminger said. “I think this is the appropriate juncture to have it.”

But Entsminger said the Drought Contingency Plan was still the preferred approach. When Lake Mead slips into shortage, that plan would require the states to take additional cuts in their river allocations, which were set forth in the Colorado River Compact of 1922. Because of conservation, the water authority has long argued that it would be able to weather the cuts in its supply.

The idea is that by taking voluntary cuts, the states can avoid even more severe cuts in the future or cuts that might be required by the federal government if it took unilateral action.

The water authority approved the drought plan in November, as have most large-scale users in California (with stipulations to see the final approvals). The primary holdout is Arizona, where cuts in the drought plan would be the most significant for agriculture and some developers.

Arizona negotiators Tom Buschatzke, the head of the state’s Department of Water Resources, and Ted Cooke, the general manager of the Central Arizona Project, said they are close to a deal. But echoing the theme of the Colorado River conference, they both said close is not done.

Unlike in Nevada and California, where state negotiators like Entsminger can sign on behalf of the state, any Arizona drought plan must receive approval from state legislators, making an already complex problem of water law an even more complex problem involving state politics.

In a joint interview after the morning panel, Buschatzke and Cooke said they are working to execute side agreements with stakeholders to ensure that there is enough political support among cities, tribes and agricultural interests to convince the Legislature to pass a resolution…

Kathryn Sorensen, the director of Phoenix Water, said that what Arizona is going through is a challenging discussion of how to lose less water in a basin where that is a reality amid drought and climate change. There is more water on paper than there is actual water to go around.

“Central Arizona is looking at losing potentially half of its [Colorado River] water supply through the [drought plan],” she said. “Every single drop of water is accounted for and being used. So of course, those are really difficult conversations. So we have to come up with a way to make those reductions in a collaborative manner because everyone holds veto power over everybody else in some fashion. And plus, you want to look at the equity of the proposition as well.”

In Arizona, agricultural interests have pushed for the state and federal government to provide funding to offset the water they would lose under the drought plan. Under the plan, farmers would receive water for three years and then be required to switch to groundwater. The state and federal government plan to commit funding to help farmers make that transition to wells…

What concerns Entsminger and others is the forecast that federal water managers are likely to declare a Lake Mead shortage as early as 2020. Such a declaration would be unprecedented, and water managers have stressed that they want to be prepared before a shortage, not after.

“I don’t think responsible water managers can go into Water Year 2020 without a plan,” he said…

James Eklund, the negotiator for Colorado, said the approval was a big deal for the states. But he noted that a full drought plan would not be complete until the Lower Basin states signed on. Even though the short-term plan to use less water across the Colorado River is attempting to address drought, Eklund said that it is, in some ways, also addressing climate change.

For nearly 20 years, the Colorado River Basin has faced a drought that has challenged the assumptions that the watershed would be able to provide the amount of water that states are legally allowed to take from it. Studies have linked warm temperatures with reduced streamflow in the river and have predicted that climate change to continue drawing down future supplies.

“It is inextricably linked with climate,” Eklund said. “There is an existential question on this river about how we deal with climate. It’s not so much climate itself. It’s how we respond — if we respond. And the Drought Contingency Plan is an answer, but it is unlikely to be a panacea, a silver bullet that fixes this for all time. But we have to do what we can when we can.”

From Nevada Today (Andrew Davey):

Officials from the federal government and seven states are meeting in Las Vegas this week to discuss the future of the Colorado River. The original plan was for the states to unveil an unprecedented set of drought contingency plans to adapt to continually dropping Colorado River levels. But due to protracted negotiations within California and Arizona, that isn’t happening.

Instead, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation warned everyone that if all drought contingency plans are not submitted by January 31, 2019, the federal government will prepare to potentially mandate cuts in 2020. How might this affect Nevada, how are we preparing for prolonged drought becoming permanent “aridification”, and how might we have to change to ensure we’re never left high and dry?

At last year’s Colorado River Water Users’ Association (CRWUA) annual conference, newly confirmed U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman encouraged all seven Colorado River states (Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California) to present their drought contingency plans (DCP’s, or comprehensive agreements that include voluntary water cuts) by December 2018. Federal and state officials then prepared to present all seven states’ DCP’s here in Las Vegas this week.

That’s not happening. Though California may be close to finalizing their own DCP, Arizona stakeholders continue to debate what exactly will constitute their DCP, from Phoenix’s City Council at a stalemate over a water rate hike to pay for infrastructure improvements to the Arizona Legislature preparing to debate the overall DCP when they convene next month. The Arizona officials who spoke at the conference claimed all sides have made considerable progress in nearing a final agreement, a sentiment that Burman herself also expressed today.

In June, High Country News’ Emily Benson wrote about how the word “drought” is no longer the most accurate way to describe the Southwest’s ongoing dry spell. Instead she used the word “aridification”, and Esquire‘s Charlie Pierce followed suit this week as he described the tension that’s led into this year’s CRWUA Conference. Due to that (not-so-little) thing called climate change, this frightening terminology is becoming less of a far-off “worst-case scenario” and more of a clear and present danger that must be solved right here and now.

So how does this aridification affect our already very arid expanse of Southern Nevada? According to Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) General Manager John Entsminger, it’s something they’ve already been preparing for: “Anyone who has lived in Southern Nevada has seen Lake Mead declining. The drought contingency plan […] makes sure more water stays at Lake Mead, but it also gives users flexibility to make sure our supplies are sufficient.”

Unlike Arizona, Nevada has already approved its DCP, as Nevada only needed the SNWA board’s approval and the Nevada Colorado River Commission‘s approval. So what exactly does this DCP entail? According to Entsminger, “For Nevada, that contingency plan requires us to leave more water at the lake at certain levels. It also gives us more tools to bring water into the lake, and take it out when we need it.”

And how exactly will Nevada make this work? For Entsminger, this is why it’s made sense to “stay water smart”. As he put it, “Our community has done a fantastic job with conservation. As a result, we have extra water to leave at the lake. This deal will allow us to leave water in the lake for future use.”

“When you live in the driest state in the union, everything is on the table […] But again, if we can take care of the conservation, we’re not going to need to worry about new sources of water for decades to come.” – John Entsminger, SNWA

So what else can we do? For Entsminger, removing more ornamental lawn grass and reaching the goals set by the conservation standards we already have on the books will make a huge difference: “I believe that removing the 5,000 acres of nonfunctional turf [grass] from the valley and enforcing the rules we have on the books will guarantee us a safe and reliable water supply for the next 50 years.”

From Arizona Public Media (Luke Runyon):

To a gilded Caesars Palace conference room of more than 1,000 attendees of the annual Colorado River conference, the message from U.S. Bureau of Reclamation commissioner Brenda Burman was simple: Finish these deals before the federal government is forced to step in.

“We are teetering on the brink of shortage today,” Burman said. “And we see real risk of rapid declines in reservoir elevations.”

“We all know it is high time to wrap up these efforts,” Burman added.

Out of the seven U.S. states that pull water from the river, Arizona has struggled the most to figure out which water users would see cutbacks first, by how much and under what conditions. The debate has pitted farmers against the cities, home builders and tribes who rely on deliveries of Colorado River water from a 336-mile canal.

Completion of the plans became more urgent after the record hot and dry conditions within the Colorado River Basin this past year, Burman said. Portions of Colorado and Arizona experienced their record hottest and driest summer during 2018. Snowpack this winter is hovering around average levels.

A final deal will require federal legislation and approval by the Arizona Legislature before it can be put into action.

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

From the Associated Press (Ken Ritter) via The Denver Post:

Burman identified California and Arizona as the holdouts.

“Close isn’t ‘done,’ ” she told a standing-room crowd at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference at a Las Vegas Strip resort. “Only ‘done’ will protect this basin.”

The river that carries winter snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico is plumbed with dams to generate hydropower and meter water releases. It provides drinking water to 40 million people and cities including Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Phoenix and Las Vegas. It irrigates crops in wide areas once deemed as reclaimed desert in the U.S. and Mexico.

The keys to contingency plans are voluntary agreements to use less water than users are allocated from the river’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Powell behind the Glen Canyon Dam on the Arizona-Utah state line and Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam just east of Las Vegas…

Indian tribes also are involved, and Burman on Thursday announced publication of a report called the Colorado River Basin Ten Tribes Partnership Tribal Water Study . It charts water claims and use by tribes that hold rights to divert almost 20 percent of the water in the river.

A drought-shortage declaration next year would cut 11.4 percent of Arizona’s usual river water allocation beginning in 2020, and 4.3 percent of Nevada’s share. That amount of water, combined, would serve more than 625,000 homes. California would voluntarily reduce its Colorado River use by about 6 percent…

In California, the largest municipal suppliers have signed on, including the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California serving some 19 million people.

However, the sprawling Imperial Irrigation District, which holds some of the largest and oldest rights to river water, has so far granted only tentative approval. James Hanks, board president, said in an interview the district wants to be last to sign so it can see what others agree to.

It also wants government help to save the Salton Sea, a briny shallow desert lake east of Palm Springs, California, that is fed primarily by agricultural irrigation runoff. Dusty hot winds blowing across exposed former shorelines are blamed for asthma by area residents who also complain of sometimes brackish smells…

“Everyone thinks their own water use is justified and no one else’s is,” observed Kathryn Sorensen, Phoenix city water services director.

Keith Moses, vice chairman of the Colorado River Indian Tribal Council in Arizona, offered what he saw as a key to complex water questions.

“To me, the best way of conserving water is not to use it,” he said before adding that he knew that would mean limiting growth so as not to continue to drain the Colorado River.

“Realistically,” he added, “looking at it, that’s not going to happen.”

Take some time to review the #CRWUA2018 Twitter stream. Folks have been very active.

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

Coyote Gulch outage #CRWUA2018 #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

I’m heading to Las Vegas for the Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference. Posting here may be intermittent.

You can follow along with the hash tag #CRWUA2018 or follow @CRWUAwater.

I love this conference. The networking opportunities blow me away. I’ll be up front in the sessions live-tweeting the goings on. Stop by and introduce yourself.

#CRWUA2018 opens Wednesday as #ColoradoRiver #Drought Contingency Plan negotiations slog on #COriver #aridification

Las Vegas circa 1915

From the Associated Press (Ken Ritter) via the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle:

“There will be cuts. We all know the clock is ticking. That’s what a lot of the difficult negotiations have been around,” said Kim Mitchell, Western Resource Advocates water policy adviser and a delegate to ongoing meetings involving the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Central Arizona Project, agricultural, industrial and business interests, the governor, state lawmakers and cities including Tucson and Phoenix.

In Arizona, unlike other states, a final drought contingency plan must pass the state Legislature when it convenes in January.

Federal water managers wanted a deal to sign at the annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference beginning Wednesday in Las Vegas, and threatened earlier this year to impose unspecified measures from Washington if a voluntary drought contingency plan wasn’t reached.

However, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman is signaling that the agency that controls the levers on the river is willing to wait. She is scheduled to talk to the conference on Thursday.

“Reclamation remains cautiously optimistic that the parties will find a path forward,” the bureau said in a statement on Friday, “because finding a consensus deal recognizing the risks of continuing drought and the benefits of a drought contingency plan is in each state’s best interest.”

[…]

After 19 years of drought and increasing demand, federal water managers project a 52 percent chance that the river’s biggest reservoir, Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam, will fall low enough to trigger cutbacks under agreements governing the system.

The seven states saw this coming years ago, and used Colorado River Water Users Association meetings in December 2007 to sign a 20-year “guidelines” plan to share the burden of a shortage.

Contingency agreements would update that pact, running through 2026. They call for voluntarily using less to keep more water in the system’s two main reservoirs, lakes Powell and Mead.

Lake Powell upstream from of the Grand Canyon is currently at 43 percent capacity; Lake Mead, downstream, is at 38 percent.

Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, the river’s Upper Basin states, aim to keep the surface of Lake Powell above a target level to continue water deliveries to irrigation districts and cities and also keep hydroelectric turbines humming at Glen Canyon Dam.

The Lower Basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada aim to keep Lake Mead above a shortage declaration trigger point by using less water than they’re legally entitled to.

If Lake Mead falls below that level, Arizona will face a 9 percent reduction in water supply, Nevada a 3 percent cut and California up to 8 percent. Mexico’s share of river water would also be reduced.

Water officials in most states — from the Southern Nevada Water Authority in Las Vegas to the Colorado River Water Conservation District in Glenwood Springs, Colorado — have signed off on plans in recent weeks.

In Arizona, the board governing the Central Arizona Project irrigation system approved the Lower Basin plan on Thursday.

In California, the sprawling Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves some 19 million people, is set to approve it Tuesday.

Board members there were reminded the agreements are only a short-term fix.

According to a board briefing, the Bureau of Reclamation, seven basin states and water contractors will begin negotiating again beginning no later than 2020.

“That process is expected to result in new rules for management and operation of the Colorado River after 2026,” the board briefing said.

CAWCD Clears Path for Arizona Drought Contingency Implementation Plan — @CAPArizona

Central Arizona Project map via Mountain Town News

Here’s the release from the Central Arizona Project (DeEtte Person):

At its Dec. 6 board meeting, the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) took action that provides a clear path forward for the interstate (Lower Colorado River Basin) and intrastate (Arizona) drought contingency plans. This action allows Arizona to attend next week’s Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA) meeting with the AZDCP Implementation Plan in hand and sets the stage for the Arizona legislature to consider action when it reconvenes in early 2019.

The CAWCD board took the following actions:

  • Approved the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan and directed the CAWCD board president to execute the appropriate agreements
  • Supported key elements of the AZDCP Implementation Plan presented at the Nov. 29 AZDCP Steering Committee meeting
  • “After a comprehensive and transparent process, I’m proud to say the board has taken these actions today,” says Lisa Atkins, CAWCD board president. “This plan essentially ‘shares the pain’ amongst those who must bear the brunt of shortage. This reflects how Arizonans typically work together to address water challenges and opportunities – through a collaborative process involving many parties and a tremendous amount of complexity and flexibility. This was no small feat and involved literally hundreds – if not thousands – of hours on the part of many, including the board and our own Central Arizona Project staff, the Arizona Department of Water Resources and countless stakeholder groups. To all those involved, we extend our thanks.”

    Here’s the exact language approved by the CAWCD board:

  • Approve the Lower Basin DCP Agreement and the Companion Agreement and to authorize the Board President or her designee to execute the appropriate agreements, provided those documents protect the board’s capacity to enforce all parties’ obligations under the DCP in court if necessary.
  • Support the key provisions of the AZDCP Implementation Plan presented at the Nov.29th Steering Committee meeting, recognizing the need for additional discussions to address remaining issues, including certainty for the CAP Ag Pool and the Developer Pool, and subject to approval by the Board of agreements necessary to implement CAWCD’s commitments to the AZ DCP Implementation Plan and consistent with the Board’s action taken at the November 15, 2018 special Board meeting.
  • To learn more about Arizona’s Drought Contingency Planning process, visit CAP’s website. Further details will continue to be shared there regarding next steps.

    #ColoradoRiver: @CAPArizona signals support for lower basin #Drought Contingency Plan #COriver #aridification

    Colorado River Basin. Graphic credit: Water Education Colorado

    From ArizonaCentral.com (Ian James):

    Board members of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District passed a motion saying they support “key provisions” of the plan, which they’re calling Arizona’s implementation plan for the proposed three-state Drought Contingency Plan.

    There are still some details yet to be worked out.

    In the motion, the board members said they recognize “the need for additional discussions to address remaining issues.”

    But the vote appears to indicate that the main players in Arizona’s long and difficult negotiations are pretty much on the same page about what an agreement would look like. And with this vote behind them, Arizona water officials will now have the framework of a state plan in hand as they join other water managers from across the West in Las Vegas next week for the annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference, where federal officials have said they hope to wrap up a Drought Contingency Plan.

    The plan still will have to be approved by Arizona’s Legislature in January once some additional details have been ironed out.

    Those details include ensuring what the CAP board described in its motion as “certainty” for two groups of water users known as the ag pool and the developer pool. That phrase referred in part to securing funding to help Pinal County farmers pay for new wells and infrastructure to start pumping more groundwater to make up for cuts in Colorado River water.

    #Arizona Gov. Ducey plans to ask for $30 million for Lower Basin #Drought Contingency Plan

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

    From KJZZ (Bret Jaspers):

    The news came as the heads of two big water agencies, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD), presented a plan to water stakeholders in hopes of pushing the group closer to a resolution.

    Arizona needs to finalize an internal drought deal so that it can enter into an agreement with the other Colorado River Basin states…

    “I fully endorse this plan, the state endorses this plan,” said ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke at Thursday’s meeting of the DCP Steering Committee. He said Ducey himself will “advocate strongly” to make sure the $30 million budget request gets passed.

    Buschatzke also acknowledged several items still need to be worked out.

    The plan builds on an earlier, three-year proposal from the CAWCD board put forward in case something longer could not garner support.

    This new proposal takes the state through 2026, when an existing set of drought guidelines expires and will need to be renegotiated. The plan now on the table provides specific amounts of water and money to “mitigate” Pinal County farmers, cities, and Native American tribes for water they will lose under the DCP, although the mitigation volumes will decrease as the plan goes on.

    “This is a bridge from having no shortage to having one, and then the new future — whatever that might be — after 2026,” said Ted Cooke, general manager of the CAWCD. “The mitigation program will be done by the end of 2025.”

    The water for mitigation will largely come from 400,000 acre-feet of CAWCD water currently being stored in Lake Mead. Many stakeholders say using that for mitigation is against the intention of the drought plan in the first place. But Thursday’s framework creates a “Lake Mead Offset” component to make up for those drawdowns.

    Money for the plan includes:

  • $60 million from the CAWCD.
  • $30 million state appropriation proposed in Gov. Ducey’s upcoming budget.
  • $8 million from a collection of non-governmental organizations in the Water Funders Initiative.
  • $20 million to $30 million in federal money already required under existing programs.
  • An unspecified amount of money, from both federal coffers and Central Arizona irrigation districts, for a groundwater infrastructure program for Pinal County farmers.
  • But Rob Anderson, with the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, said, “we think that economic development is an important message and that having nothing in there for developer mitigation is an issue.”

    He noted a separate but related water agreement between CAWCD’s groundwater replenishment arm and the Gila River Indian Community appears stalled without approval from the Gila River council. That agreement is important to homebuilders and developers, as more water for replenishment means groundwater can be pumped out by new housing developments. Gila River Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis told stakeholders at Thursday’s meeting that he would work hard to get that agreement passed if the new DCP proposal moves forward.

    Paul Orme, who represents Pinal County irrigation districts, was concerned about the lack of firm funding for groundwater infrastructure projects, among other things.

    #ColoradoRiver: Lower basin drought contingency plan update #COriver #aridification

    Upper Lake Mead dawn patrol. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

    From Tucson.com (Tony Davis):

    The Drought Contingency Plan proposal approved by the Central Arizona Project board last week is a less-ambitious, less-expensive and shorter-term blueprint than those proposed earlier by water agencies and the Gila River Indian Community.

    It would help farmers pay for new wells and more water efficiency, and provide more water for tribes than they’d get under the drought plan’s earlier versions.

    “It’s a bridge, a place to start. This plan is only for three years and does not rely on firm funding from the state and from the Bureau of Reclamation,” CAP General Manager Ted Cooke told a packed house at the board meeting Thursday.

    “We want to come up with a plan that this board by itself can approve — a plan we believe would work.”

    Coming as some officials are raising alarms about the lack of progress toward a plan, this proposal was opposed by the same parties that opposed earlier plans — tribes and cities. It was supported by farmers and their allies, who have also supported some of the earlier plans.

    At the same time, representatives of city water agencies and Indian tribes who oppose this plan said they’re pleased that CAP officials and other backers are open to further negotiations and don’t seem as hardened in their positions…

    Here are specifics of the latest proposal, approved unanimously by the board of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District. The board governs the CAP, the 50-year-old, $4 billion canal project that brings Colorado River water to Central and Southern Arizona:

  • Pinal County farmers would get what they see as “full mitigation” of previously proposed cuts: 595,000 acre-feet of water over seven years through 2026. The original drought plan would have given them no water once shortages began.
  • The proposal also would provide some relief to cuts planned during early shortages to the Gila River tribal community and to many Phoenix-area cities. Their class of water users would get 88,000 acre-feet a year of mitigation, about three-fourths of what was going to be cut.
  • The CAP would spend up to $60 million to buy up to 250,000 acre-feet for mitigation.
  • Project officials didn’t spell out where they’d buy the water. One likely source is the Colorado River Indian Tribes, based in Parker along the river. The tribes on Nov. 9 wrote a letter offering to provide the state and CAP 150,000 acre-feet over three years starting in 2020, at a cost of $250 an acre-foot. That’s far more than what cities and other CAP users are paying today for the river water.

  • The CAP will support programs to build wells and other groundwater infrastructure and to improve irrigation efficiency for Pinal County farms.
  • The drought plan steering committee will get the plan for additional negotiations.
  • “It’s not the only plan that can work. It’s not a take-it-or-leave-it plan,” CAP’s Cooke said. “However, we need to be judicious as to what features we have and what time we add to the process.”