#Colorado studies options after @POTUS signs #drought contingency plan — @AspenJournalism #DCP #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

A view of the Colorado River flowing into the still waters backed up by Glen Canyon Dam at the top of Lake Powell. The reservoir is now 37 percent full, but is expected to rise this year as an above-average snowpack turns into an above-average runoff in the Colorado River basin. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From Aspen Journalism (Brent Gardner-Smith):

[The President] tweeted this week that he “just signed a critical bill to formalize drought contingency plans for the Colorado River.”

It was the first time that Trump had ever mentioned the Colorado River in a tweet.

And the drought contingency planning, or DCP, bill the president signed Tuesday had been whisked through Congress in just six days.

For water managers used to working in slow-moving “water time,” it was a surprise to see the federal legislation necessary to implement the DCP agreements happen so fast, and compelling for the Colorado River to be in President Trump’s hands, however briefly.

“That did go through fairly quickly, and in a relatively non-confrontational manner,” Andy Mueller, the general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, told the district’s board of directors Tuesday morning during a quarterly meeting.

And by the end of the meeting, Mueller was announcing that Trump had just tweeted about signing the bill.

The brief DCP bill authorizes the Interior secretary, now David Bernhardt of Rifle, to implement the DCP agreements negotiated by water managers in the upper basin states of Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico and the lower basin states of California, Arizona and Nevada.

Perhaps less surprising to regional water managers was that the Imperial Irrigation District, which is the biggest user of water in the lower basin, wasted no time and filed a lawsuit Tuesday in an effort to halt, or at least influence, the DCP agreements. The district is seeking funding to help restore the shrinking Salton Sea and had been vocal in its dissent when the DCP bill was before Congress.

It is not clear yet how Imperial’s lawsuit will affect the still unfolding DCP process, but James Eklund, who represents Colorado on the Upper Colorado River Commission and would sign the DCP agreements for Colorado, said Tuesday he was still optimistic the agreements would be signed this month.

If the DCP agreements are finalized, it means Colorado and the upper basin states could store up to 500,000 acre-feet of conserved water in Lake Powell, and other upper basin reservoirs, and do so in a new regulatory framework that shields the water from the current operating guidelines dictating how Lake Mead and Lake Powell are operated.

Those guidelines, which sunset in 2026, seek to balance the levels of the two big reservoirs, which have been falling due to a 19-year drought, of which this past snowy winter was a welcomed exception. (The Bureau of Reclamation announced Monday that it was forecasting runoff into Lake Powell would be 112 percent of average, up from 43 percent of average in 2018.)

In balancing the levels of Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the upper basin states feel that the guidelines require the release of too much water from Lake Powell, and they want to create a savings account they control in the big reservoir to raise the surface level and protect against a violation of the Colorado River Compact, which requires the upper basin to deliver a set amount of water to the lower basin.

With the passage of the DCP legislation, that savings account in Lake Powell is almost a reality, as is authorization for the Bureau of Reclamation to release water from Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa and Navajo reservoirs down the Green, Gunnison and San Juan rivers to help keep Lake Powell above minimum power pool.

And next comes the part where the upper basin states each have to figure out a demand management, or water-use reduction program, to fill their new water savings account.

The conserved water is supposed to come from the reduction of consumptive use, which in Colorado means it will mainly come from applying less water to fields, pastures and urban lawns.

In Colorado, it is the job of the Colorado Water Conservation Board to figure out how, and if, to start up a demand management program.

To investigate its options, the state agency plans to create eight small working groups to tackle various aspects of demand management, and officials have given people until the end of day Friday to express interest in serving on the various work groups, which are expected to meet throughout the year.

Mueller, the manager of the Colorado River District, has informed the CWCB that the district wants to place a staff member on every one of the eight work groups, given the importance of the potential demand management program to the 15 Western Slope counties the district covers.

The River District’s board wants to ensure that a demand management program is voluntary, temporary, compensated and equitable for water users across the state.

And while the CWCB has adopted a policy that includes those goals, it has confirmed that the state also is studying how an involuntary reduction in water use might happen if necessary to avoid violating the Colorado Compact.

“The state has been working on a study that evaluates the legal elements of compact compliance,” CWCB Director Rebecca Mitchell said Thursday. “This is being done through a variety of evaluations that focus on avoiding the need for compact compliance and for options that the state engineer may want to take into consideration in case administration of the compact is necessary to address a compact deficit on the Colorado River.”

Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. The Times published this story on Friday, April 19, 2019.

#ColoradoRiver #drought plan could improve local drought #resilience — Hannah Holm #COriver #aridification #DCP

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

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Hannah Holm):

Even as successive snowstorms obliterated drought conditions in the state of Colorado, the states that share the Colorado River put the final touches on a plan to use less water. On March 19, representatives from California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah and Colorado asked Congress to approve their “Drought Contingency Plan.” Congressed obliged, and [the President] added his signature on April 16.

The lightning speed with which the Drought Contingency Plan was approved in contentious Washington, D.C. reflects the plan’s importance. Over the past two decades, water use from the river has regularly exceed inputs from snow and rain, leading water levels in Lakes Mead and Powell to drop perilously low.

The risk is most acute for the downstream states, because if water levels get too low at Lake Mead, no one but Las Vegas will be able to get any of their Colorado River water out. Las Vegas has spent billions on an intake at the bottom of the lake, just in case. Because of that risk, the lower basin portion of the plan has a detailed schedule of delivery cuts triggered by different lake elevations. Until the snowstorms really picked up this year, the first trigger was expected to come in 2020.

Here in Colorado and the other upstream states, we catch whatever water falls from the sky on its way to Lake Powell. Water in Lake Powell is mainly useful to us for generating hydropower (and money from hydropower, which is spent on infrastructure and environmental projects) and for keeping us out of trouble with our obligations to the downstream states.

Releases to the lower basin have always met or exceeded the requirements in the 1922 compact between the states, and the obligation is calculated on a 10-year rolling average. The threat of having to cut upper basin water uses to comply with the compact is therefore somewhat distant and shrouded in both hydrologic and legal uncertainties.

Because the upper basin risk is less immediate, the upper basin portion of the Drought Contingency Plan is less tangible. It is a “plan to plan,” outlining processes for making extra releases from upstream reservoirs under certain conditions, and for developing a special account in Powell for conserved water. Water in this special account would be protected from releases to Mead under normal operations to balance water levels in the reservoirs.

The conserved water pool in Powell can’t be used unless a “Demand Management” plan is developed and unanimously agreed to by all four upper basin states. Colorado officials are currently gathering input on what such a plan should look like. Based on what they’ve already heard, fundamental criteria are that any Demand Management Plan would be based on voluntary, temporary and compensated water use reductions: no one would be forced, no uses would be permanently retired, and whoever participates will get paid for it.

It seems obvious that it’s a good idea to start building a savings account little by little through modest, deliberate, compensated water use cuts in order to avoid large, mandatory, uncompensated cuts in the future. But important concerns have been raised about how water use cuts would be balanced between the West Slope and East Slope, between urban and agricultural users, and between different West Slope basins. Since agriculture is the biggest user of Colorado River water, it is almost certain that under any Demand Management Plan, agricultural water use will decline, even if cities are roped into sharing some of the burden. That’s a tough pill for a lot of people to swallow.

It sometimes seems like proactively cutting water use is just too unpleasant and complicated, and maybe doing nothing would be better. But the Drought Contingency Plan was developed for a reason. There’s less water in the river than there used to be, and our long-term warming trend suggests that there will be even less in the future.

Last year’s miserable snowpack showed us our vulnerabilities. If the snow hadn’t come back this year, even Grand Valley farmers served by big ditches with senior rights and reservoir storage upstream would have been forced to cut their water use over the coming summer, despite a lack of compact compliance problems. And no one would have paid them for it.

At some point, we will get two really bad snow years in a row. Participation in a voluntary, temporary, compensated Demand Management program may, if done right, help fund investments in technology and crop alternatives that enhance local farmers’ ability to stay viable when less water is available. This will benefit our entire community, regardless of whether the shortage results from downstream obligations or nature’s failure to provide.

#SaltonSea is focus of IID’s legal challenge to #Drought Contingency Plan #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

American Avocets in the Salton Sea. Photo: David Tipling/NPL/Minden Pictures. Screen shot American Audobon Society western water website, October 4, 2017.

Here’s the release from the Imperial Irrigation District:

On the same day President Trump signed the Drought Contingency Plan into law, Imperial Irrigation District filed a petition in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging violations of the California Environmental Quality Act by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The petition calls on the court to suspend approvals and actions related to the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan until such time that an appropriate CEQA analysis and process has been completed.

“The logic in going forward without IID was that the DCP couldn’t wait for the Salton Sea,” said Henry Martinez, IID general manager. “This legal challenge is going to put that logic to the test and the focus will now be where it should have been all along – at the Salton Sea.”

IID’s petition alleges that MWD violated CEQA principles by committing to enter into agreements, on behalf of itself and all other California contractors, which will require MWD to forgo diverting up to hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water annually from the Colorado River without considering how it will make up the shortfall.

“Metropolitan engaged in a prejudicial abuse of discretion and failed to proceed in the manner required by law,” wrongly determining that the DCP approvals were exempt from environmental laws, the suit continues.

CEQA is a statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.

Without IID’s participation, the Bureau of Reclamation and state water officials, including California, signed the DCP on March 19.

While IID worked to be a partner in the DCP process, the district objected, citing environmental issues posed at the Salton Sea and lack of federal funding commitments for the state’s 10-year Salton Sea Management Plan.

The district maintains that the Salton Sea is an integral part of the Colorado River system and its decline presents a severe public health and environmental crisis for the Imperial and Coachella valleys and the state.

IID has pointed out that MWD’s obligation to the river, under this DCP, could be over 2 million acre-feet.

“As long as IID was part of the DCP, the Salton Sea would have been insulated from impacts because IID could have protected it,” said IID board president Erik Ortega. “But under this DCP, particularly now that MWD is calling the shots for California and acting on behalf of the rest of the Colorado River, the Salton Sea is truly on its own. That’s why IID is acting to preserve its rights – and the Salton Sea’s future – by filing this CEQA challenge.”

Click here to view IID’s Verified Petition for Writ of Mandate.

National Conservation, Sportsmen Groups Commend Federal Passage of #Drought Contingency Plan #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Low flows on the Colorado River in Cataract Canyon. Flows on the Colorado have always risen and fallen seasonally, but water managers in the west now firmly see a future with less water overall to work with.

From Western Resource Advocates (Jamie Trafficanda):

Today, President Trump signed a law authorizing a Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) to protect the Colorado River, following the bill’s passage through Congress with bipartisan support. The law, which follows years of negotiations and effort among the seven Colorado River basin states, will allow for voluntary, proactive conservation measures to take effect and bolster water levels in Lake Mead.

In response to the news, leading national conservation and sportsmen organizations issued the following statements:

“This is a historic moment for the Colorado River, the West, and the entire country,” said Kevin Moran, Senior Director for the Colorado River Program at Environmental Defense Fund. “Passing the DCP sets in place a foundation for conservation that will ensure a more secure future for the American Southwest. Now comes the hard work of implementing the DCP in each state. We look forward to continuing to partner with the basin states, farmers, cities, water agencies, tribes and businesses to drive implementation forward.”

“Not only did DCP pass–it did so with strong bipartisan support,” said Scott Yates, Director of Western Water and Habitat Program at Trout Unlimited, “Building that consensus took years of effort from advocates, water agencies, tribes and other stakeholders. That process is a model for conservation across the country.”

“Today marks a huge step forward for the Colorado River and hunters and anglers, but our challenges are far from over,” said Melinda Kassen, Senior Counsel at the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, “Faced with an increasingly arid climate in the West, it’s critical that we move forward to implement the Drought Contingency Plan without delay and build upon the foundation it provides.”

“I’m thankful to all parties involved who pushed for the successful passage of this bill. We will continue to work collaboratively with stakeholders during DCP implementation, as we also work to improve conditions at the Salton Sea,” said Jennifer Pitt, Colorado River Program Director at the National Audubon Society, “This is a historic day for the 40 million people who rely on the Colorado River, as well as the 400 bird species and other wildlife.”

“Moving the needle to conserve the Colorado River has required patient compromise and dedication,” said Matt Rice, Colorado Basin Director at American Rivers, “Leaders from each of the seven basin states set aside their differences and came together to do the hard work. These leaders and our representatives in Congress, deserve credit for working together to get DCP done.”

“Our economy, our ecosystems and our communities all rely on the Colorado River,” said Taylor Hawes, Colorado River Program Director at The Nature Conservancy, “Today marks a critical milestone in managing the River in a more sustainable way to benefit many diverse stakeholders and interests, who all set aside their differences and worked toward their shared interest in the health of the River.”

“As the West faces a growing gap between the water we need and declining supply, we have to be ready to work together to make every drop count,” said Jon Goldin-Dubois, President at Western Resource Advocates. “That’s exactly what happened with the Drought Contingency Plan, a state-driven solution that shows we can address big water challenges when the West speaks with a unified voice. There’s still much work left to be done, but this is a true accomplishment that will help improve how water is managed in the region.”

Statement by @USBR Commissioner Brenda Burman on the @POTUS signing law authorizing #ColoradoRiver Basin #Drought Contingency Plans #COriver #aridification

Changes in the northeastern reaches of Lake Powell are documented in this series of natural-color images taken by the Landsat series of satellites between 1999 and 2017. The Colorado River flows in from the east around Mile Crag Bend and is swallowed by the lake. At the west end of Narrow Canyon, the Dirty Devil River joins the lake from the north. (At normal water levels, both rivers are essentially part of the reservoir.) At the beginning of the series in 1999, water levels in Lake Powell were relatively high, and the water was a clear, dark blue. The sediment-filled Colorado River appeared green-brown. To see the complete series go to: earthobservatory.nasa.gov/WorldOfChange/LakePowell. Photos via NASA

Here’s the release from the Bureau of Reclamation (Michael England):

Today, [the President] took a historic step to reduce risk on the Colorado River by signing bipartisan legislation authorizing the Department of the Interior to implement Drought Contingency Plans in the Upper and Lower Basins of the Colorado River. This action supports agriculture and protects the water supplies for 40 million people.

The Colorado River is the single most important water resource in the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. All levels of government stepped up to address the Basin’s worst drought in recorded history. We’ve seen collaborative efforts among the seven Basin states, local water agencies, Tribes, Mexico and the Department of the Interior. Congress took prompt action on implementing legislation for the Drought Contingency Plans, and the President acted swiftly to sign that legislation into law. Adopting consensus-based DCPs is the best path toward safeguarding this critical water supply.

From The Arizona Republic (Andrew Nicla):

The president’s signing capped a years-long process of sometimes difficult negotiations among the seven states that rely on the river. Trump announced his approval of the bill in a tweet, calling it a “big deal” for Arizona…

…[the] signing comes just over a week after Congress fast-tracked bills through the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate. Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., led those efforts and introduced identical bills endorsing the plan.

While Trump congratulated McSally, it was Grijalva’s version the president signed. That wasn’t a problem for McSally, who had said previously she supported the fastest path to approve the bill…

The one-page measure [the President] signed was not the drought plan itself, but legislation that allows the Bureau of Reclamation to carry out the plan. Next, representatives from Arizona and the other Colorado River basin states who had a hand in crafting the deal are expected to meet for a formal signing ceremony. The details haven’t been announced yet.

The plan they will sign aims to spread the effects of expected cutbacks to the river and protect the levels of the Colorado’s two largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell…

Brenda Burman, the reclamation commissioner, kept state water leaders and lawmakers in check with several strict deadlines, some of which were not met. Despite the pace, Burman said Tuesday in a statement that Trump’s action and the signing of such a landmark water deal was a historic step for the Southwest’s water future…

This aims to protect water users from losses and prevent Lake Mead and Lake Powell from falling to critical lows. Lake Powell is 37 percent full, while Lake Mead is 41 percent full, just above a threshold that would trigger a first-ever declaration of a shortage by the federal government.

The three-state lower basin agreement, negotiated among California, Arizona and Nevada, lays out a framework for taking less water from Lake Mead and sharing in cutbacks between 2020 and 2026.

#ColoradoRiver #Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act easily passes through #Congress #COriver #aridification #DCP

Hoover Dam photo via the US Bureau of Reclamation

From The New Mexico Political Report (Laura Paskus):

This week, Congress passed a bill directing the Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior to implement an agreement worked out by states that rely on water from the Colorado River. The Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act easily passed both chambers and now awaits a signature from the president.

The plan acknowledges that flows of the Colorado River—which supplies drinking water to 40 million people and irrigates 5.5 million acres—are declining. And it represents efforts by the states, cities, water districts, tribes and farmers to make changes that will keep two important reservoirs from dropping too low. Had they not come to an agreement, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation would have imposed restrictions on water use.

Once the bill is signed, and the Drought Contingency Plan enacted, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said it will have long-term benefits for water users in New Mexico, including tribes and farmers, cities like Santa Fe and Albuquerque and ecosystems and wildlife…

Over the past years, the [Upper and Lower] basins worked on developing their own drought plans and then came together in a final agreement aimed at ensuring people still receive water, even as flows decline, and making sure Glen Canyon Dam can still generate hydropower and deliver electricity. It’s also meant to make sure water levels don’t drop too low in Lake Mead and Lake Powell…

Combined storage in the two reservoirs last year reached its lowest level since Lake Powell began filling in the 1960s. As of April 10, Lake Powell’s level was at 3,569 feet, roughly 37 percent full.

In 2017, a study showed that between 2000 and 2014, annual Colorado River flows averaged 19 percent below the 1906-1999 average. Models showed that warming will continue to drive declines in river flows—by between 20 percent to 30 percent by mid-century and 35 percent to 55 percent by 2100. More recently, authors from the University of California-Los Angeles and Colorado State University found that 53 percent of the decrease in runoff is attributable to warming; the rest to reduced snowfall within regions that feed into the system.

This winter’s snowpack is anticipated to stave off an emergency.Current forecasts estimate Lake Powell will be at about 3,592 feet, with about 12.89 million acre feet of stored water (and 55 percent full), at the end of this water year.

NM has learned lessons from drought

Under the Colorado River Compact, New Mexico is allowed 11.25 percent of the Upper Basin’s annual allocation of 7.5 million acre feet.

New Mexico’s share of the Colorado River water is relatively small. On average, New Mexico uses about 410,000 acre feet of water from the basin. Arizona and California, meanwhile, each use millions of acre feet annually.

In New Mexico, cities like Aztec, Farmington and Bloomfield rely on water from the San Juan and its tributary, the Animas River, as do local ranchers and farmers. The San Juan supplies water to cities to Albuquerque and Santa Fe and the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District via the San Juan-Chama Project. And during last year’s low flows on the Rio Grande, it was water from the San Juan-Chama Project that kept the Rio Grande flowing through Albuquerque. Both the Navajo Indian Irrigation Project and the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project, which is still being built, rely on water from the Colorado River Basin. The Jicarilla Apache Nation in northern New Mexico has rights to Colorado River water, as well.

Rolf Schmidt Peterson, Colorado River Basin Manager for the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, explained that as opposed to the Lower Basin states—which are already using all the water they have rights to, and more—New Mexico and other Upper Basin states were in a better position to come up with their drought contingency plan.

The Lower Basin will have to pull back on uses, whereas the Upper Basin can plan ahead on how to avoid water shortages.

#ColoradoRiver #Drought Contingency Plans enabling legislation a win for #Colorado — @SenatorBennet @SenCoryGardner #COriver #DCP #aridification

Both science and science fiction say the future is going to be hotter, drier and dustier, and this silt-fall in upper Lake Powell in September 2018 captures the trend. Photo credit: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

From The Fort Morgan Times (Brian Porter):

Once signed into law, the legislation will authorize the implementation of the Drought Contingency Plan agreements forged between the seven Colorado River Basin states and Native American tribes.

“Tens of millions of people in the western United States rely on the Colorado River to provide water for agricultural, municipal, and consumptive use, as well as support for our growing recreation economy,” Gardner said.

The Drought Contingency Plan enjoys widespread support in Colorado, including from the state and multiple Front Range and Western Slope water utilities.

“The Colorado River is the lifeblood of our economy, but in recent years we’ve experienced some of the worst drought conditions in centuries,” Bennet said. “Passing the Drought Contingency Plan is a win for the millions of people across the West who rely on the Colorado River.”

[…]

“Following the leadership of Coloradans and communities across the seven affected states, we are now one step closer to countering drought, addressing climate change, and strengthening Colorado’s agricultural and outdoor recreation-based economy,” Bennet said.