Ted Kowalski: We must act now to protect the future of the #ColoradoRiver #COriver

The Colorado River, not far below the Utah-Colorado state line, and flowing toward the lower basin. Photo credit: Aspen Journalism.

Here’s a guest column from Ted Kowalski that’s running in the Arizon Daily Star:

The Colorado River is the hardest-working river in the Southwest and an economic engine for the entire country.

But it is also a river facing a critical inflection point. Every drop of water that flows down the Colorado is already accounted for and due to a variety of factors — including a growing population and a changing climate — its flows are projected to decline over the next several decades.

These challenges exacerbate the fundamental problem facing the river: Demands on water outstrip supply.

Early forecasts for 2018 are already underscoring these challenges. Due to lower than average snowfall in the Rocky Mountains, the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center this month predicted that spring runoff into Lake Powell, the reservoir that supports the river’s Upper Basin, will be at a 47 percent of average.

The 2018 precipitation and runoff levels are threatening impacts that will reverberate across the western United States. The amount of water flowing into Lake Powell partially determines the amount of water to be released into Lake Mead, the Lower Basin reservoir that provides water to Arizona, Nevada and California.

Lake Mead’s elevation has been hovering at around 1,075 feet, the level at which the federal government imposes shortages on the Lower Basin states, for the last several years. However, with 2018 looking more and more likely to be drier and warmer than average, there is an increased likelihood of declared shortages in the Lower Basin in 2019.

The forecast is a sobering reminder that we need to take further action to secure the long-term future of the Colorado River Basin and the economies and environments that depend on it.

There’s still time for more snow to fall in the winter season, but it would take a significant uptick in precipitation levels to even reach average levels. We simply cannot rely on weather fluctuations to solve a problem that requires more fundamental, long-term solutions, including increased water conservation, flexible water management and better protection of healthy rivers and streams.

It is critical we act now to ensure the Colorado River Basin has the water supply needed to sustain the West’s growing population. Just think about the consequences of inaction — and the potential damage done. The river supports 16 million American jobs, generates $1.4 trillion in economic benefits annually, irrigates nearly 6 million acres of farmland, and supplies drinking water to about 40 million people.

Because the economic and environmental stakes are so high, we must enter a new phase of collaboration, innovation and flexibility when it comes to how we use and manage our water resources in the Colorado River Basin.

The good news is that throughout the basin, policymakers and water suppliers are rallying to address the escalating water-supply crisis through a series of water management strategies, system conservation programs and drought-contingency plans.

Negotiations on these actions are already occurring among the basin states, U.S. federal agencies and Mexico. These drought contingency plans are critical components needed to secure the future of the Colorado River, taking a proactive approach to ensuring that conservation will continue in the basin.

They also demonstrate that water users can develop innovative mechanisms to efficiently manage water supplies.

In Arizona, for example, lawmakers and water users are actively working to identify ways to cut back water use now in order to secure supplies over the long term. Arizona’s drought-contingency planning includes solutions that protect groundwater resources in the state, increases water management flexibility — and does not come at the cost of existing healthy river systems.

It is imperative that this plan, and others, are finalized and implemented in 2018.

The decisions we make in 2018 can protect future generations and revitalize the health of the Colorado River. At the Walton Family Foundation, we know it’s possible to implement these solutions. Moreover, we’re committed to supporting decisions to improve water management within the Colorado River Basin.

We must do more than address immediate challenges and mitigate the damage done during a dry winter. Investing in longer-term solutions and strategies will solidify programs and agreements that sustain the health of the Colorado River, and safeguard the livelihoods of millions of Americans for future generations.

#Snowpack news: Warm days in #Arizona, #LakeMead elevation = 1087.50′

Lake Mead December 2017. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

From The Kingman Daily Miner (Hubble Ray Smith):

Arizonans enjoyed beautiful, warm and sunny days in January, with only 0.59 inch of rain. Temperatures were 10 to 15 degrees above normal on several days.

The entire Southwest has experienced one of the warmest, driest winters on record. That’s great for golfing, but unsettling with the unprecedented lack of snowpack runoff in the Colorado River.

Forecasts call for continued dry weather into the fast-approaching spring season…

Based on current measurements in the upper basin of the Colorado River where most of the water is generated, there is a very real possibility that the snow-water equivalent is tracking lower than 2002, which was the lowest year in recorded history.

“We do know that the runoff is not linear to what the snow-water equivalent is showing, but it is pretty alarming that we are tracking at this point in 2002, or actually a little bit below 2002,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of Arizona Department of Water Resources.

The Bureau of Reclamation has declared that there is almost no chance of a shortfall in water delivered from Lake Mead next year. But there is certainly a chance that the forecast may change, Buschatzke said…

They need to address what is happening with the hydrology and the increasing risks of not just short-term impacts on Lake Mead, but potentially going into a shortage by 2019, Bushatzke said.

“If we can’t conserve enough water in Lake Mead to make up the difference, that will be a high bar to achieve between mid-April and the end of July, which would be the time period in which we’d have to do that conservation,” the ADWR director said.

From The Mohave Valley Daily News (DK McDonald):

As water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead drop, the potential for restrictions on water use in 2019 rise, but not for all Colorado River water users.

Under the 2007 drought plan guidelines Arizona adopted, Central Arizona Project will take the full hit for whatever that reduction is, said Mark Clark, Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District manager.

CAP’s hit, Clark said, is about 349,000 acre-feet of water.

“The local folk here along the river really won’t see any change due to a shortage declaration at a tier one level,” Clark explained.

In August, Bureau of Reclamation releases its 24-month study and projects out to January of 2019 whether or not Lake Mead is going to be at an elevation of less than 1,075 feet, Clark said.

“If Lake Mead is going to be at less than an elevation of 1,075 feet, a tier one shortage would be declared,” Clark said. “If it got below 1,050 feet — and the likelihood of that is pretty remote — a tier two shortage would be declared. But the likelihood of a tier one shortage declaration is pretty realistic right now.”

Arizona Department of Water Resources recently reported the entire Southwest has experienced one of the warmest, driest winters on record; snowpack in the mountain regions, which provide runoff into reservoirs like Lake Powell and Lake Mead may be at record lows…

For the past few years, the state has participated in negotiations on an updated plan known as the Drought Contingency Plan — which has not yet been signed — that would require states like California and Nevada to make earlier and deeper cuts to protect Lake Mead’s current water level, as well as an enhanced plan known as Drought Contingency Plan Plus, signed in 2017, an Arizona-based plan to help stabilize Lake Mead Water levels.

“DCP plus actually calls for more reductions before a shortage is actually declared, so that we can try and stay out of shortage, Clark said. “We were hopeful DCP was going to be signed last year, but the wheels came off the tracts a little bit and it wound up not getting signed. In fact, they’re getting further apart now than they were last year.”

Clark believes water entities, including MVIDD, will make voluntary cutbacks this year to try and keep water in Lake Mead.

“The problem with these types of voluntary programs has always been, [how do we do the accounting?],” Clark said. “If we volunteer to put water behind the dam, we don’t want to do it then have somebody else down the river takes it because we didn’t use it. We want to be sure that if we volunteer to not use water it stays behind the dam and doesn’t get used by somebody else.”

From The Sky-Hi Daily News (Lance Maggart):

According to data taken from the NRCS, snowpack in Grand County currently sits at 102.5 percent of average. The NRCS uses a 30-year average to calculate percentage totals. Currently averages are based on snowpack figures from 1980 through 2010. In 2020 the NRCS will shift their data set and will begin using the years 1990 through 2020 as their data set for determining 30-year averages.

Those figures may come as a surprise to many residents of Middle Park who have seen local weather patterns over the past few months including seemingly below average snowfall. Vane Fulton, who works for the NRCS out of the Routt County offices, said he understands if the numbers confuse people but he is not surprised to see the current snowpack for Grand County.

“These numbers don’t surprise me,” Fulton said. “But anecdotally we don’t have low elevation snow. The SNOTEL sites are all pretty high in elevation. We don’t really track snowpack at lower elevations.”

[…]

Fulton said he recently accompanied Mark Volt, an NRCS official based out of the Kremmling office, on a series of “ground truth” snowpack measurements, wherein officials hike to predetermined locations to physically measure the snowpack. Most of the snowpack data information provided by the NRCS is taken from snowfall telemetry sites that record and log data remotely.

Volt was not available for comment Thursday morning but Fulton said that the figures found by conducting on-the-ground snow surveys confirmed the range of figures showing up on the SNOTEL data registers.

Basin-wide the snowpack for the upper Colorado River currently stands at 84 percent of average. That figure includes snowpack data from throughout north western Colorado including the Independence Pass area near Aspen and points further west as the Grand Mesa.

From The New York Times (Jeremy Jones):

As the world celebrates the achievements of athletes gliding over, down and across snow, I’ve been reflecting on what I see in the mountains and for the future of these very Games. And for good reason. A team of researchers led by scientists at the University of Waterloo has found that if global emissions of greenhouse gases are not significantly reduced, only eight of the 21 cities that have hosted the Winter Olympics will be cold enough to reliably do so again by the end of this century.

Closer to home, the snowpack in the Sierra is at just 14 percent of the historical average. I never imagined I would see this in the middle of February.

But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The past three years were the hottest ever measured since record-keeping began in 1880, with 2016 ranking No. 1, followed by 2015 and 2017, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Scientists are warning us that the winter is becoming shorter. First freezes are starting later. So when I look at my children, I am even more convinced that we must take immediate and aggressive action on climate if we want their generation to learn these sports and enjoy winters in the mountains. More important, we must act quickly to preserve the culture and economies that depend on winter and snow.

A report to be released this month by the group Protect Our Winters, which I founded, shows that tens of thousands of jobs are at stake in mountain towns as our climate warms. In total, the 191,000 jobs supported by snow sports in the 2015-16 winter season generated $6.9 billion in wages, while adding $11.3 billion in economic value to the national economy.

The winter newsletter from the #Colorado Ag Water Alliance is hot off the presses

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

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

Should Coloradoans Care about Water Levels in Lake Powell?

We occasionally hear about declining lake levels in Lake Powell or Lake Mead, but – apart from being nice places to boat and fish – what is the relevance of these water bodies to Colorado agricultural producers and rural residents? To understand this, we need to go back almost 100 years to the signing of the Colorado River Compact.

Under the 1922 Compact, Colorado and the rest of the Upper Basin states – Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico – have a shared obligation “not to deplete” the river by more than 7.5 MAF (million acre-feet) per year on average, or 75 MAF over a 10-year period. The three lower basin states – Arizona, Nevada and California – also have an allocation of 7.5 MAF per year, and Mexico gets 1.5 MAF. The Compact essentially obligated the river to supply up to 16.5 MAF per year, which was thought to roughly represent the long-term annual average flow of the Colorado River based on an estimate made at the time.

The problem – as it turned out – was that the original estimate was high. The period 1905-1922, which was used to estimate water production allocated under the 1922 Compact had the highest long-term annual flow volume in the 20th century, averaging 16.1 M acre-feet per year at Lee’s Ferry, AZ. Since then, the average flow has been about 13.9 MAF.

The collective water use of the four Upper Basin states is still well below the 7.5 million acre-feet annual average depletion allowance. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation 5-year retrospective “Consumptive Use and Loss” reports indicate that the Upper Basin water use averaged 4.4 MAF between 2000 and 2015. The highest use among these years was 4.9 MAF.

The Lower Basin states, with greater population and higher evapotranspiration, have a more difficult time managing water demands within the limitations of the Compact. For the last several years, annual releases from Lake Mead have averaged about 9 MAF to meet lower basin water demands. However, Lower Basin water users receive credits for unused return flows. Lake Mead also loses about 1.2 MAF in evaporative and system losses, so the total annual outflow from Lake Mead has been about 10.2 MAF.

The imbalance between Lake Mead’s long-term inflows and outflows is called the “structural deficit.” This volume is estimated to be approximately 1.2 MAF annually. Lower Basin water users, including Mexico, are developing a Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) to address this imbalance by using a comprehensive demand management system that will better match deliveries to variable, and generally diminishing inflows into Lake Mead.

Lake Powell stores water that flows from the Upper Colorado River basin and is used to buffer declines in Lake Mead. Glen Canyon Dam – which creates Lake Powell – also has turbines that generate 5 Billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power annually. The Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) distributes this electricity to Colorado and six other states at cost-effective rates. The total value of the electricity produced is about $120 M annually. A small but important portion of the annual power revenue is used to fund salinity control programs that help pay for irrigation infrastructure upgrades on the western slope, and provide funding for the Colorado River and San Juan River endangered species recovery programs.

In 1970, formal “Operating Criteria” were agreed upon by the seven states and the Bureau of Reclamation to provide for the coordinated operation of reservoirs in the Upper and Lower basins and set conditions for water releases from Lake Powell and Lake Mead.6 In 2007, interim criteria were established to specifically enable coordinated operation of Lake Powell and Lake Mead that would “minimize shortages in the Lower Basin and help avoid the risk of curtailments in the Upper Basin.” These interim criteria are based on specified reservoir conditions.

Operating Criteria allow the Secretary of the Interior to make releases from Lake Powell to raise the water level in Lake Mead so that the stored volume of the two reservoirs is roughly equal. The upshot is that Lake Powell declines when Lake Mead declines, even if ample flow is entering Lake Powell from the upper basin states.

Since 2000, the two reservoirs have fallen to approximately half of their combined capacity in response to hydrological conditions and to meet Lower Basin water needs and Upper Basin power needs. The current water level of Lake Mead – 1,087 feet above sea level – remains above the “Tier 1 Shortage level” of 1,075 feet, which is the point where water allocations to Arizona and Nevada are reduced under the Interim Operating Guidelines. These reductions become increasingly severe at Tier 2 and Tier 3 levels.

The current level of Lake Powell is about 3,619 feet above sea level. The concern for the Upper Basin states is that if the structural deficit continues and/or a drought returns, Lake Powell could fall to a level below 3,490 feet, which is the minimum level needed to generate electricity (ie. the “power pool”).

The Lower Basin states and Mexico have implemented conservation measures that have saved about 1.2 million acre-feet in Lake Mead since 2014. This has resulted in the lake level being 14 feet higher than it would have been otherwise.

For Colorado and the other upper basin states, the challenge isn’t complying with the depletion limit spelled out in the 1922 Compact. Instead, it is simply how to deal with snowpack variability and potential water supply shortages over a multi-year period. Since many Front Range cities and east-slope irrigation districts rely on Colorado River Basin water via trans-mountain diversions, runoff shortages on the western slope also directly affect eastern slope residents and farmers. And of course, multiple years of drought in the upper basin could result in lowering of Lake Powell to the power pool level simply because of inadequate runoff. When the 2002-2003 drought began, Lake Powell was full. Today it is about 56 percent of its capacity.

In 2015, a program was created to determine whether voluntary, compensated reductions in consumptive use in the upper basin states could be a useful tool to put water into Lake Powell and minimize lake-level declines during drought periods. The System Conservation Pilot Program (SCPP) is funded by southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, Central Arizona Project, Southern Nevada Water Authority, Denver Water, US Bureau of Reclamation, and NGOs. About $4.5 M has been spent on the program through 2017 and approximately 22,000 acre-feet of consumptive use water has been conserved through fallow and deficit irrigation, alternative cropping and a municipal water savings program. The program is being continued in 2018.

Lake Powell and Lake Mead tie the Upper and Lower Basin states together. Sustaining a pool level in Lake Powell above the “power band” is in the best interests of Coloradoans due in part to the inexpensive electricity and revenue that the hydroelectric plant generates. Additionally, severe drought in Lower Basin cities could have unexpected and undesirable implications for water and power users in both the Eastern and Western slopes of Colorado. Establishing strategies now that enable structured yet nimble responses to future water shortages downstream will help lessen negative impacts to Colorado agricultural producers.

“It isn’t the #drought draining #LakePowell as much as it is the overuse” — Andrew Mueller #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Colorado transmountain diversions via the State Engineer’s office

From The Montrose Press (Katharhynn Heidelberg):

Less water in the stream means less comes into large and critical impoundments such as Lake Powell, which Mueller said is already being “equalized” with Lake Mead. The latter is being drawn down by overuse, not just drought.

“They’ve been draining the savings account at Lake Mead for them (users), and, the way it works, they’ve also been draining Lake Powell,” Mueller said. “ … It isn’t the drought draining Lake Powell as much as it is the overuse and the lower supply of water going in.”

Colorado must be aware of that because of its requirements under the Colorado River Compact to deliver a set amount of water right below Glen Canyon Dam.

“There’s accounting that goes on. Every year, we know exactly how much water is delivered. At a point in time … we can see very clearly, we have a significant risk of not being able to deliver that water,” Mueller said. “When we can’t deliver that water, we will get a call, or a curtailment, coming up the river.”

He said it appeared as though most of those present Jan. 19 have pre-compact water, or senior rights, that are not obligated to be called out. Most municipalities have rights junior to the compact — but they also have the right of condemnation through an involuntarily “buy and dry” process.

“Those (municipal) fire hydrants and those faucets, my guess is, are going to get water in the time of curtailment. That’s the municipal preference in our state constitution,” Mueller said.

To-date, the state hasn’t actually had to determine how this consideration would be applied — in fact, mum’s the word at the state level, Mueller added.

“The reality is, many of the Front Range providers would have rights junior to the compact,” Mueller said. These providers divert about 650,000 acre-feet a year to the Front Range out of the Colorado River Basin, including, at times, the Upper Gunnison.

The Front Range is constantly on the lookout for additional supply, but that’s not the only thing to keep in mind, Mueller said. Front Range providers will continue to supply current municipal needs in that populous part of the state.

The question becomes: What happens in the event of a curtailment when municipalities have the right of condemnation?

“They have the right to come over and buy ag rights. They don’t even have to build a pump. They can just run the water down the stream into Lake Powell. They can dry up the agricultural — buy and dry involuntarily,” Mueller said.

Locals under the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association are not necessarily safe from condemnation just because the association is under a right held by the federal government, he said.

Although municipalities cannot condemn against federal property, it’s not certain whether the U.S. Secretary of the Interior would ultimately be comfortable with not delivering water to the lower basin, where the greater population provides a congressional delegation many times the size of the Western Slope’s, Mueller explained.

“The question really is, how do we prevent that from happening?” he said.

“We don’t have the answer yet, but we are studying a number of different mechanisms where we can use voluntary efforts by our agricultural producers on the Western Slope, combined with voluntary efforts of ag users who depend on transmountain diversions on the Eastern Slope; industrial providers on the East Slope, and municipal providers on the East and West Slope, to voluntarily curtail their uses ahead of time and bank that water somewhere and then be able to prevent a curtailment from ever occurring.”

These, Mueller explained, are “thoughts,” not absolutes.

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

Keeping an eye on the #LakePowell water level #ColoradoRiver #COriver

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

From the Colorado Cattlemen’s Ag Water NetWORK via The Fence Post:

The collective water use of the upper basin states is still well below the 7.5 M acre-feet annual average depletion maximum. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reports indicate that the upper basin water use averaged 4.4 M acre-feet between 2000 and 2015. The highest use among these years was 4.9 M acre-feet.

The lower basin states, with greater population and higher evapotranspiration, have a more difficult time managing water demands within the limitations of the compact. For the last several years, annual releases from Lake Mead have averaged about 9 M acre-feet to meet lower basin water demands. Lake Mead also loses about 1.2 M acre-feet in evaporative and system losses, so the total annual outflow from Lake Mead has been about 10.2 M acre-feet.

The imbalance between Lake Mead’s recent inflows and outflows is called the “structural deficit.” This is the amount by which the lower basin states and Mexico must reduce their demands in order to reach a more sustainable withdrawal rate from Lake Mead.

Lake Powell stores water that flows from the upper Colorado River basin and is used to buffer declines in Lake Mead. Glen Canyon Dam, which creates Lake Powell, also generates 5 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power annually. The Western Area Power Administration distributes this electricity to Colorado and six other states at cost-effective rates. The total value of the electricity produced is about $120 million annually. A small, but important, portion of the annual power revenue is used to fund salinity control programs that help pay for irrigation infrastructure upgrades on the western slope, and provide funding for the Colorado River and San Juan River endangered species recovery programs.

In 1970, formal “Operating Criteria” were agreed upon by the seven states and the Bureau of Reclamation to provide for the coordinated operation of reservoirs in the upper and lower basins and set conditions for water releases from Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The Operating Criteria allow the secretary of the interior to make releases from Lake Powell to raise the water level in Lake Mead so that the stored volume of the two reservoirs is roughly equal. The upshot is that Lake Powell will decline when Lake Mead declines, even if ample flow is entering Lake Powell from the upper basin states.

Since 2000, the two reservoirs have been drawn down to approximately half of their capacity to meet lower basin demands. The current water level of Lake Mead (1,083 feet above sea level) is the lowest since the reservoir started filling in 1935 (ref http://lakemead.water-data.com). It is currently just above the “Tier 1 Shortage level” of 1,075 feet, which is the point where water allocations to Arizona and Nevada are automatically reduced. These reductions become increasingly severe at Tier 2 and Tier 3 levels.

The current level of Lake Powell is about 3,625 feet above sea level. The concern for the upper basin states is that if the structural deficit continues and/or a drought returns, Lake Powell could be lowered to a level below 3,490 feet, which is the minimum level needed to generate electricity.

The lower basin states and Mexico have implemented conservation measures that have saved about 1.2 M acre-feet in Lake Mead since 2014. This has resulted in the lake level being 14 feet higher than it would have been otherwise.

For Colorado and the other upper basin states, the challenge isn’t complying with the usage limit spelled out in the 1922 compact. Instead, it is simply how to deal with snowpack and runoff shortages over a multi-year period. Since many Front Range cities and irrigation districts rely on Colorado River basin water via trans-mountain diversions, runoff shortages on the western slope also directly affect eastern slope residents and farmers. And of course, multiple years of drought in the upper basin could result in lowering of Lake Powell to the power pool level simply because of inadequate runoff. When the 2002-2003 drought began, Lake Powell was full. Today it is about 58 percent of its capacity.

In 2015, a program was created to determine whether voluntary, compensated reductions in consumptive use in the upper basin states could be a useful tool to put water into Lake Powell and minimize lake-level declines during drought periods. The System Conservation Pilot Program is funded by southern California’s Metropolitan Water District, Central Arizona Project, Southern Nevada Water Authority, Denver Water, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, and NGOs. About $4.5 M has been spent on the program through 2017 and approximately 22,000 acre-feet of consumptive use water has been conserved through such fallow and deficit irrigation, alternative cropping and a municipal water savings program. The program is being continued in 2018.

#LakeMead ends 2017 not in shortage — @JFleck #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Lake Mead December 2017. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

From InkStain (John Fleck):

Lake Mead ends 2017 at elevation 1,082.5, almost two feet above last year at this time. Lake Powell ends the year at 3,623, up more than 20 feet from a year ago. Combined storage in the two primary Colorado River reservoirs ends the year up more than 2 million acre feet.

This is in part the result of a good snowpack in the winter of 2016-17, but is more than that. Excess runoff into Powell this year from that snowpack was 1.14 million acre feet. The only way you get from there to an increase in storage of 2 million acre feet is by using less water. And that is perhaps the most remarkable piece of Colorado River news as we end 2017.

In the lower basin states of Arizona, Nevada, and California, this year’s preliminary estimate of total use – 6.77 million acre feet – is the lowest since 1987.

@CAPArizona: Historic Agreement Signed to Protect #ColoradoRiver #Minute323 #COriver

Roberto Salmon and Edward Drusina at the Minute 323 signing ceremony September 27, 2017. Photo credit .U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

From the Central Arizona Project:

Since September 2015, the United States, the seven Colorado River Basin states, and key water users including CAWCD, have been working with their counterparts in Mexico to develop a successor agreement to Minute 319, now known as Minute 323.

The direct negotiations with Mexico included the Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) representing the interests of Arizona. CAWCD staff participated in several work groups supporting the negotiation effort. The Minute was finalized by the Commissioners of the International Boundary and Water Commission in the United States and the Republic of Mexico on September 27, 2017.

The Minute provides significant and lasting benefits to water users in Mexico and the United States, including CAP water users. The Minute provides for new investments in water conservation infrastructure in Mexico which will make water uses in the Mexicali Valley more efficient for the long-term. Mexico and the U.S. agreed to share the risks of shortages and to share opportunities for surplus Colorado River water. In addition, Mexico agreed to participate in additional actions to protect Lake Mead, in the event that the U.S. water users implement a Drought Contingency Plan in the U.S. The new Minute is an extension and expansion of the collaborative and cooperative efforts to protect Lake Mead and sustain the shared resources of the Colorado River.

CAWCD has participated in the binational process between the United States and Mexico since 2008 to achieve four main goals, which have been included in Minute 323:

  • Decrease the duration or magnitude of shortages by seeking Mexico’s voluntary agreement to share in Colorado River shortages with U.S. water users.
  • Increase the storage in Lake Mead through the development and implementation of water conservation projects in Mexico.
  • Augment CAP water supplies through the implementation of conservation projects in Mexico and explore binational desalination projects to benefit Arizona and Mexico water users.
  • Manage salinity compliance operations so that river operational changes made as part of these agreements will not reduce Arizona’s return flows and thereby reduce CAP deliveries.
  • The key components on Minute 323 are:

  • Effective through 2026, consistent with the 2007 Guidelines.
  • Shortage is shared – if one country is in shortage, then the other country is in shortage with the same triggers that are identified for U.S. water users in the 2007 Guidelines; this is similar to Minute 319.
  • Surplus is shared – if one country can receive surplus, then the other country can receive surplus with the same initial trigger as U.S. water users as identified in the 2007 Guidelines; this is also similar to Minute 319.
  • Binational conservation projects have been expanded through the commitment to fund specified conservation projects in Mexico, to develop and fund additional projects, and to study binational desalination in the Gulf of California region.
  • Environmental flows and habitat restoration in the Colorado River delta region in Mexico will continue to be funded.
  • Salinity management projects will be expanded to improve the water quality of deliveries to Mexico while minimizing the impact to U.S. water users.
  • Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan has Mexico taking additional voluntary reductions upon the implementation of the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, with the Mexico reductions similar to the Lower Basin states at the same elevation triggers.
  • In order to implement the Minute, a series of domestic agreements between U.S. parties were also executed. Overall, there are eight domestic agreements necessary to implement Minute 323 in Arizona and CAWCD is a party to six of these agreements, including a Memorandum of Agreement with ADWR. The CAWCD Board approved the execution of these agreements at the Board meeting on August 3, 2017. The domestic agreements were executed simultaneously with Minute 323. These agreements will serve to provide additional protection for CAP water users, and further CAWCD’s cooperative actions with its interstate and international partners to protect its Colorado River supply.