The [CAP] board voted to authorize up to $5 million during its monthly board meeting on Thursday. At that meeting, officials from the Central Arizona Project and the Arizona Department of Water Resources also shared that Ducey would request $5 million in his executive budget.
The $10 million put forward Thursday would help match $15 million the federal government is kicking in for building pumps, wells, and other structures that farmers could use to tap into groundwater. The federal funds were given on the condition that local entities in Arizona match it, Suzanne Ticknor, water policy director for the Central Arizona Project, told the board.
The additional funding comes at a critical time for Arizona. It has until the federally set deadline of January 31 to agree on a plan to deal with looming shortages on the Colorado River. One of the major concerns with that plan has been that it requires farmers to rapidly transition from surface water to groundwater, a process with a hefty price tag.
Pinal County irrigation districts initially estimated that the groundwater infrastructure would cost $30 million to $35 million to build. On Thursday, it turned out that projected costs had been revised to as much as $50 million…
Brian Betcher, the general manager for the Maricopa Stanfield Irrigation and Drainage District, explained that in its initial cost analysis, the district had looked at brand-new wells generating water 11 months of the year. Members realized that farmers really use water only about seven months each year, starting around April.
“We missed that in the analysis,” Betcher said at Thursday’s meeting.
But, he and others were quick to point out, farmers in Pinal County were not the only ones who might use those new pipes, pumps, and wells to pull water from below ground. The Central Arizona Project and other users could also use them, though they’re only allowed to recover water they had previously stored underground…
The funds that the CAP board authorized — almost unanimously — would come from ad valorem taxes, which the board is authorized to levy on property owners in Maricopa, Pima, and Pinal Counties. Board members made that funding contingent upon other groups’ helping to match federal funding, and upon the development of a program that includes infrastructure for recovering stored groundwater.
The sole dissenting vote came from Jennifer Martin, one of the board’s new members, who said she was concerned about the negative consequences of increasing groundwater pumping. In parts of Arizona, groundwater over-pumping has caused land to sink and giant fissures to open up in the ground.
The $5 million Ducey pledged would be in addition to $30 million he committed in November to Arizona’s Drought Contingency Plan, which would not count toward the federal matching program for groundwater. That $30 million would go toward paying water users to leave water in Lake Mead, the reservoir on the Colorado River that supplies Arizona, in order to prevent it from dropping to catastrophically low levels.
The Drought Contingency Plan spells out how Arizona cities, tribes, industries, and farmers will share cuts amounting to at least 512,000 acre-feet from the 2.8 million acre-feet of water they take from the Colorado River each year. (An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.) Those cuts are expected to start in 2020, when the Bureau of Reclamation gives the Colorado River a 57 percent of falling into shortage.
The plan weans farmers, who gave up their rights to Colorado River water in the 2004 Water Settlement Act, off of that surface water and onto groundwater instead. According to the plan, farmers will need to pump 16,500 acre-feet of groundwater in 2022, the last year they’ll still receive some Colorado River water. The following year, their pumping will increase to 70,000 acre-feet.
The governor’s office also supports repurposing a groundwater withdrawal fee to go toward groundwater infrastructure, said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, during Thursday’s meeting. The withdrawal fee is paid by farmers in Pinal County and generates about $1.2 million a year.
Water managers and officials said some riveting things in the last half of 2018 about the increasingly dry conditions in the Colorado River system, and the falling water levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
Many of the most hair-raising remarks heard at water meetings were made while water officials and managers were discussing “drought contingency planning,” or DCP.
The effort, a response to an 18-year drought, includes a series of agreements — among various regional, state and federal entities — that are designed to bolster water levels at Powell and Mead.
The two giant reservoirs are fed by the tributaries of the Colorado River system, including the Roaring Fork, Fryingpan and Crystal rivers, so changes in the sprawling river basin can ripple all the way upstream.
Below is a sampling of what’s being said out there.
Tough talk ahead
“After experiencing the fourth driest year on record last year, Lake Powell and Mead’s combined storage sits today at 46 percent. That is the lowest level since 1966, when Lake Powell was initially filling and cutting off water supplies down south. To put it in more personal terms, these are the lowest reservoir levels in my lifetime.” — Brenda Burman, commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, on Dec. 13, at the annual meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
“If we were to have a repeat of the 2000-to-2005 drought, with current demands and current levels of operations, we would essentially drain Lake Powell. It would go down to nothing.” — Eric Kuhn, former general manager of the Colorado River District, on Sept. 14, at the district’s annual seminar in Grand Junction.
“It does not look good. It is a real and present danger for us to be facing the hydrology that we have today, and the 24-month outlook for that.” —Peter Nelson, chairman of the Colorado River Board of California, on Dec. 13 at a CRWUA meeting.
“Today’s level of risk is unacceptable, and the chance for crisis is far too high.” —Burman, on Dec. 13 at a CRWUA meeting.
“We’ll be in crisis mode if DCP isn’t completed.” —Pat Tyrrell, state engineer for Wyoming and commissioner on the Upper Colorado River Commission, on Dec. 13, at a CRWUA meeting.
“It’s not a drought-contingency plan, it’s a survival plan due to current conditions.” — Bill Hasencamp, manager of Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, on Aug. 22, at the summer meeting of the Colorado Water Congress in Vail.
“It’s important to understand that we are looking at giving up a very large amount of Colorado River water in central Arizona, nearly half. That’s a painful conversation. And, of course, everyone thinks that their own water use is justified and no one else’s is.” — Kathryn Sorensen, director of City of Phoenix Water Services, on Dec. 13 at a CRWUA meeting.
“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 on Dec. 13 at a CRWUA meeting.
“If we have the worst-case hydrology, it is possible that our state may need to move to an involuntary (water-curtailment) system. But we want that done through a public process. We want the stakeholders at the table.” — Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River District, on Sept. 14 at a district seminar.
“To me, the best way of conserving water is not to use it, is not to grow, is not to continue to drain the Colorado River. But realistically looking at it, that is not going to happen.” — Keith Moses, vice chairman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, on Dec. 13 at a CRWUA meeting.
“As we get hot and dry, we just have less available water and we see more demand.” — Taryn Finnessey, senior climate change specialist for Colorado on Aug. 24, at a CWC meeting.
“(The water entities in Arizona) have grasped that concept — that we’re going to be in a drier future with less water.” — Thomas Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, on Dec. 13 at a CRWUA meeting.
Act, if needed
“We see this train that’s coming at us at 5 miles an hour, and if it hits us, it’s our own damn fault, because you can just see that reservoir level going down.” — Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water, on Aug. 23 at a CWC meeting.
“We will act, if needed, to protect this basin.” — Burman, on Dec. 13 at a CRWUA meeting.
“The law of the river isn’t carved on stone tablets.” — John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, on Dec. 13 at a CRWUA meeting.
“Someone’s going to have to use less water.” — Kuhn on Sept. 14 at a Colorado River District seminar.
Editor’s note: Aspen Journalism covers rivers and water in collaboration with The Aspen Times and other Swift Communications newspapers. The Times published this article on Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018.
From the Water Education Foundation (Gary Pitzer):
Western water in-depth: Climate report and science studies point toward a drier basin with less runoff and a need to re-evaluate water management
As stakeholders labor to nail down effective and durable drought contingency plans for the Colorado River Basin, they face a stark reality: Scientific research is increasingly pointing to even drier, more challenging times ahead.
The latest sobering assessment landed the day after Thanksgiving, when U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Fourth National Climate Assessment concluded that Earth’s climate is changing rapidly compared to the pace of natural variations that have occurred throughout its history, with greenhouse gas emissions largely the cause.
For the American Southwest, the report said that increased temperatures induced by climate change “have significantly altered the water cycle in the … region,” causing decreased snowpack, earlier spring runoff and more rain instead of snow. Those factors “exacerbate hydrological drought” and “suggest the need for flexible water management techniques that address changing risks over time, balancing declining supplies with greater demands.”
“We need to look really hard at basically everything we are doing here,” he said. “We need to plan on a river that has 12 million, 11 million, 10 million acre-feet. We need to assume the worst is going to happen just because we have already seen some very substantial impacts. We need to look at all aspects of water management and figure out how to build a robust system with potentially one-third less flow by 2050.”
With water levels dropping in key reservoirs, the seven Colorado River Basin states have been embarked on a rigorous process to ink drought contingency plans that would pledge them to additional conservation measures in advance of any declared shortage, an increasingly likely possibility. Five of the seven Basin states have signed on to drought contingency plans, and the Bureau of Reclamation is pressing the other two – California and Arizona – to finalize their plans by Jan. 31, 2019, to avoid federal intervention.
If implemented, the plan would cover a period to 2026 and address the near-term threat of a shortage declaration. In 2020, talks will begin toward addressing longer range concerns on the river’s sustainability as part of the renegotiation of the shortage sharing guidelines adopted in 2007.
Those who live with Colorado River management every day believe the science points to the need for a re-oriented version of how the seven Basin states proceed.
“We have to take our infrastructure and our management techniques and our policies and our law and examine how those function and how they don’t function, and how they have to be strengthened or supplemented in a way that does account for the new reality, which is warmer temperatures,” said James Eklund, Colorado’s representative to the Upper Colorado River Commission.
“There is something going on in the world and we have to keep relying on scientists to continue to do the good work they are doing and bring us the information that all water managers need, whether you are in the Colorado River Basin, the Sierras or other portions of the western United States,” he said.
Stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin have to be all-in on addressing the situation because of the consequences of inaction, Eklund said.
“If we don’t do anything, we know that for a fact it’s going to be a much harder row to hoe if we keep getting the hydrology that the climate models suggest we might get,” he said.
Sizing up a ‘new normal’
The National Climate Assessment is the latest entry in a growing body of research about the present and projected effects of climate change, including what’s expected to happen in the Colorado River Basin – the source of water for 40 million people. Udall co-authored a 2017 study with Jonathan Overpeck that for the first time linked the Colorado River’s declining flows since 2000 to climate change.
A 2018 article by Udall and University of California, Los Angeles co-authors Mu Xiao and Dennis Lettenmaier said streamflow in the Upper Colorado River Basin (which produces about 90 percent of the river’s entire runoff) declined by 16 percent between 1916 and 2014, despite a slight increase in annual precipitation during that time. The 1922 Colorado River Compact allocated 15 million acre-feet of water from the mainstem river, plus an additional 1.5 million acre-feet in Arizona.
Published in the September edition of Water Resources Research, the article said that “pervasive warming” has reduced snowpack and enhanced evapotranspiration during the last 100 years and that more than one-half of the long‐term decline in runoff is associated with the general warming.
Udall said the rate of warming “was quite large, over 3 degrees Fahrenheit” between 1916 and 2014, and that “when you put those three factors together – declining flow, no change in precipitation and increasing temperature — they strongly suggest that temperature has caused at least some of the flow decline and that’s exactly what we found.”
“What we have right now is not a drought, it’s aridification,” he said. “Drought implies a return to a previous world that we will not see. What we are seeing is the long-term drying of the Basin.”
‘We learn stuff every day’
Eklund, an attorney with Squire Patton Boggs in Denver and former director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, said reports such as the National Climate Assessment and Udall’s studies “are helpful in that they underscore some of the things we have long talked about and assumed to be true, such as we are likely in a new normal now.”
“The new droughts that we are experiencing now are the products of warmer temperatures and it’s important to understand that dynamic because that means the infrastructure we created to deal with this entire system … all of it was predicated on the river behaving a certain way and what the models tell us is that’s not something you can take for granted and in fact it’s unlikely to happen,” Eklund added. “History can’t be used to predict the future.”
Drought regularly happens in the Colorado River Basin, but the effects in the last 20 years or so have been particularly pronounced, leading its major water users to regularly caucus in search of immediate and long-term management solutions to preserve the two anchors of the storage and delivery system — Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
In its 2012 Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, the Bureau of Reclamation projected a wide range of potential long-term imbalances between supply and demand by 2060, with a median figure of 3.2 million acre-feet. The study noted that the amount of water available and the changes in demand during the next 50 years are “highly uncertain” and that the potential impacts of future climate change and variability “further contribute to these uncertainties.”
Udall believes it is time to recalculate the 3.2-million-acre-foot imbalance estimate.
“There were lots of assumptions that went into that and I think we are going to be recalculating it effectively every few years because we are seeing unprecedented changes. Our ability to project out to 2060 with certainty is just too difficult,” he said. “We learn stuff every day, every few months and of course we should look at this imbalance on a regular basis.”
University of Arizona Professor Gregg Garfin, one of the authors of the National Climate Assessment, said despite the size and scale of the Basin study, many of its aspects need to be revisited as new information comes to light.
“Updated climate change projections are one change, but there have been other changes since the 2012 release of the study,” he wrote in an email. “If one views this as a sort of adaptive management process, then it is critical to reassess assumptions, infuse new scientific findings, and evaluate various indicators of change (or progress) through monitoring. If I were the director of the Bureau of Reclamation, I would see Basin studies as an ongoing investment in ensuring that society can effectively balance water demand and supply.”
Accounting for and incorporating the latest scientific information is part of Reclamation’s strategy for helping to manage resources in the Colorado River Basin, said David Raff, Reclamation’s science adviser and scientific integrity officer.
“As new information has been brought to the table … the Bureau of Reclamation’s approach has always been to try to include as much information as possible in a risk context and work with the stakeholders in the Basin to try to analyze the risk and address it the best way possible,” he said.
Raff said the emphasis should be on the immediate actions designed to manage the river and avoid critically low reservoir levels.
“I think the focus has been on what types of options exist in the Colorado system to address future constraints relative to supply and demand,” he said. “Things like [U.S.-Mexico shortage sharing] and the efforts associated with drought contingency planning … are probably the best investment of time and resources, as opposed to updating any specific quantitative analysis as was done in 2012.”
Because the breadth of scientific work on the Colorado River Basin covers so many different aspects — things such as dust on the snowpack, runoff and climate change — scientists note that no one element tells the entire story.
“It’s a very large, complex system that has all sorts of drivers to it and demands on it and therefore it’s far more complex than any one shift being a story into and of itself,” Raff said. “Certainly aridification, or a lack of water, is a big driver but certainly not one even by itself to be taken independently from the rest of the system.”
Considering the Basin’s Future
Much of what is expected to happen in the Colorado River Basin is couched by several variables, including changes in water demand and the rate of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the National Climate Assessment, under certain scenarios, higher temperatures would cause more frequent and severe droughts in the Southwest, including megadroughts — dry periods lasting 20 years or more.
“Snowpack supplies a major portion of water in the Southwest, but with continued emissions, models project substantial reductions in snowpack, less snow and more rain, shorter snowfall seasons, earlier runoff, and warmer late-season stream temperatures,” the climate assessment said. “The combination of reduced river flows in California and the Colorado River Basin and increasing population in Southern California, which imports most of its water, would increase the probability of future water shortages.”
Eklund said the climate assessment’s release “was incredibly well-timed” considering the present focus on drought contingency discussions. He extolled the candor of the report’s authors.
“It said, this is not political. We are just telling you the facts and the facts are we have missed the window to do some things, but we still have an opportunity,” he said. “Yes, it’s bad and we have known it’s bad and that crises are looming, but there are things we can do to mitigate the impacts.”
Harris with the Colorado River Board said it behooves stakeholders to take a more far-sighted and proactive approach to what the science is saying instead of a “knee-jerk reaction to a problem because that tends to result in duct tape and baling wire patches than more adaptive and long-term solutions.”
Many people view the drought contingency planning effort as “maybe one of our first steps in the renegotiation of what the next set of operational guidelines might be for the Colorado River system,” Harris said.
In the meantime, those dependent on the Colorado River will keep looking at ways to tighten their belt and become more creative.
“When it comes to projected reduced Colorado River flows, we will continue to be doing more projects and activities in the areas of water conservation, water augmentation and use of banked groundwater,” said Mohammed Mahmoud, senior policy analyst with the Central Arizona Project.
Raff with Reclamation said the issue goes beyond the climate assessment and the controversy associated with its political ramifications. “Future climate consideration is a major aspect of how we consider the Colorado River Basin,” he said.
Despite the new information, Raff said he believes the findings of the 2012 Basin Study showing an imbalance between supply and demand remain valid.
“An imbalance, even with the newest available information, is likely to exist where it was identified in 2012.”
Improvements are needed in precipitation modeling for the Basin as well as the ability of scientists to give decision-makers the best possible information upon which to proceed. Projecting temperature and precipitation into the future is uncertain and the science community and policymakers need to continue to work together to find the best ways to achieve that, Raff said.
Udall echoed the need for better, more informative data, saying that scaling global climate models down to the regional level remains problematic and that science needs to come up with “realistic, believable” future flow scenarios to aid officials in their decision-making.
“We have really struggled to come up with projections of hydrology that are believable, that track with what we are actually seeing as the years go by and represent the system in a realistic and credible way,” he said.
Then there is the need to better understand and anticipate how much precipitation can be expected in such key places as the headwaters of the Colorado River as autumn segues into winter.
“Subseasonal to seasonal is a huge area of research, and something that can be highly informative, given that we are probably in a place where projections out 30 years to 100 years will be incrementally improved in the next generations of modeling efforts,” Raff said. “If we focus on doing the best we can with near-term forecasts, that would put us in a much better position.”
While the science improves, stakeholders getting ahead of the curve is a good development, Udall said.
“A drought contingency plan that’s approved is really a climate change plan, so I would argue that is a good first step,” he said. Stakeholders “are really going to have to look at even lower flows and even higher shortage amounts and we need to be ready for some quite extreme changes.”
However, merely approving a drought contingency plan isn’t a guarantee of success, Eklund said.
“Predictions are tough in this business,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that if we get this all passed and if our contingency plans are put in place that we are out of the woods by any stretch. We can have those things adopted and have those tools at the ready, but if we don’t use them effectively, if it’s operator error on the utilization of the tools, then we can still find ourselves in a crisis or predicament that we don’t want to be in.”
The CAP board’s vote last week caps five months of intense politicking over the plan, which was many times in serious jeopardy. In the last few weeks, oft-squabbling interest groups and agencies finally began to coalesce around basic principles for a plan.
As a sign of how much the debate has calmed, CAP’s board endorsed a plan introduced only a week earlier by the head of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, with which CAP was at war a year ago. CAP board members also dropped plans to push four amendments to the state’s proposal that were unpopular with other water users. The board did, however, condition that approval on making sure that developers and farmers achieve “certainty” about their access to water supplies that would compensate for the plan’s proposed cutbacks in CAP deliveries.
The drought-contingency plan would leave one-third to one-half of the CAP’s annual supply in Lake Mead from 2020 through 2026, without causing immediate, major economic disruption.
This bit of hydrologic alchemy would be accomplished by replacing some water supplies that would be cut with “mitigation” supplies from other sources. To make the drought plan even more complex, some of those mitigation sources are also controversial, which has forced planners to find still more sources to offset their environmental impacts.
The plan has gained strong support from a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation official, Leslie Meyers. She runs the bureau’s Phoenix office and sits on the 40-member steering committee representing water interests that is reviewing this plan.
More importantly, U.S. Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman is pleased with Arizona’s progress and believes the state has met her goal of producing a plan by the end of this year, Meyers said. “While it’s probably not perfect, it’s close. It’s good,” Meyers said.
It’s questionable at best whether the plan can be finalized by the end of the year, since everyone agrees that unsettled issues raised by the plan still need discussion. But the blueprint approved by the CAP board almost certainly will be the guts of whatever plan is approved.
The changes were negotiated earlier this year by Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, and California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both Democrats. The bill’s inclusion of the Salton Sea could also nudge California closer to approving a Colorado River drought contingency plan.
Officials said for the first time the Salton Sea now has access to guaranteed federal funding to help clean up environmental and public health issues caused by farming and water withdrawals. The sea, the state’s largest lake, is rapidly drying and releasing toxic dust clouds…
State officials have allocated a minimum of $10 million for a first phase program to build ponds and wetlands to cover growing stretches of dusty lake bed. The federal programs could provide matching funds or more.
The bill could also indirectly help with seven-state drought contingency plans to conserve Colorado River water.
The Imperial Irrigation District, which is entitled to the largest share of the river water, has signaled their support for one plan, but set conditions for signing it, including an ironclad guarantee of funding for the shrinking Salton Sea…
During talks in Las Vegas last week on the drought plans, Bureau of Reclamation chief Brenda Burman said, “I would caution folks … not to add unrealistic demands.”
IID president Jim Hanks fired back at her comments at a board meeting on Monday.
“It’s one thing to make bold statements from a Washington D.C. office or the luxurious Caesar’s Palace hotel ballroom. It’s something entirely different to see the shrinking sea or widening shoreline with your own eyes, or to witness a child or grandchild struggling to breathe due to their worsening asthma,” he said. “A shrinking sea … will blow untold quantities of fine dust in the air. … Matching federal funding for the Salton Sea makes up one-tenth of one percent of the $900 billion 2018 Farm Bill. That seems entirely reasonable.”
Meanwhile, down in the San Luis Valley the farm bill is welcome. Here’s a report from the Valley Courier via the Center Post Dispatch:
On Wednesday, Dec. 12, the House of Representatives passed the 2018 Farm Bill 369-47. The Senate passed the bill on Tuesday 87-13.
The Farm Bill, which among other provisions removes hemp from the list of federally controlled substances, now moves to the president’s desk for signature. The San Luis Valley is one of the areas in Colorado embracing hemp as a viable crop, and Colorado was the number-one hemp producing state in the nation last year with more than 10,000 acres.
Corbett Hefner, vice president of Research and Development for Power Zone Agriculture, a Valley company that has designed farm equipment to accommodate hemp production, said, “As an innovator developing hemp fiber-specific manufacturing technology, Power Zone is thrilled to see clarification at the federal level on industrial hemp in this Farm Bill. Thanks to this key step, we can take our business to the next level in rural Colorado and across the nation.”
Colorado State Senator and hemp producer Don Coram said, “As the sponsor of establishing hemp regulations in 2013 and actually becoming a hemp grower in 2017, I am thrilled that Colorado is leading the nation in this burgeoning new industry. The lack of clarity for hemp in federal law has long stalled the hemp industry from taking off. I appreciate Senator Bennet’s work on behalf of Colorado hemp growers to fully legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp. Colorado’s hemp industry will certainly benefit from this provision.”
Other agricultural leaders were also pleased with the passage of the Farm Bill.
For example, San Luis Valley resident and Colorado Farm Bureau President Don Shawcroft said, “The passage of the 2018 farm bill is welcome news for Colorado farmers and ranchers. Not only will it ensure the safety net for producers, maintain and expand environmental stewardship programs, promote international trade and provide needed support to disadvantaged families, it removes future uncertainty for an industry struggling amongst low commodity prices.”
Colorado Potato Administrative Committee Executive Director Jim Ehrlich said, “The new Farm Bill continues to make great investments for specialty crop producers in the research arena, including fully funding the Specialty Crop Research Initiative at $80 million annually, and reauthorizing the Specialty Crop Block Grant program. The potato industry has truly benefited from these programs. In addition, the bill provides important trade promotion funding through the Market Access Program and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops program. Twenty percent of the U. S. potato crop is exported annually so a healthy trade environment is vital to the industry.”
Ehrlich added, “There are other provisions in the bill that will have potential positive impacts on the Valley as a whole, including making hemp legal nationally and eligible for crop insurance, and enhancements to the conservation title. In my opinion it represents a job well done by congress and how congress should function.”
Zoila Gomez, lead coordinator at San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition’s Cooking Matters, said, “The reauthorization of the Farm Bill only strengthens our commitment in The San Luis Valley and across the state to continue to educate and motivate our participants to make healthy and physical activity choices within a limited budget through the Cooking Matters Campaign by Share Our Strength. We are grateful for all of those who advocated and voted for the Farm Bill … In an era of social media, people do love learning about nutrition, cooking healthy meals and dining together. The passing of the Farm Bill allows us to continue to bring together more people and move on with our mission.”
“On behalf of beef cattle producers in Colorado, we support the hard work toward passage and the outcomes of the 2019 Farm Bill, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association President Mike Hogue said. “The bi-partisan legislation will continue the meaningful work of ranches and farms in conserving our natural resources while opening up the world to our high-quality foods, like beef. Furthermore, CCA is pleased with funding that will go toward protecting our livestock from foreign animal diseases through additional research and preparedness. These points and others contained in the 2018 Farm Bill support the global approach to food security and stewardship our producers have.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said, “The passage of the 2019 Farm Bill is good news because it provides a strong safety net for farmers and ranchers, who need the dependability and certainty this legislation affords. This Farm Bill will help producers make decisions about the future, while also investing in important agricultural research and supporting trade programs to bolster exports. While I feel there were missed opportunities in forest management and in improving work requirements for certain SNAP recipients, this bill does include several helpful provisions and we will continue to build upon these through our authorities. I commend Congress for bringing the Farm Bill across the finish line and am encouraging President Trump to sign it.”
Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Don Brown said, “The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill is more than a success for U.S. farm and ranch families; it’s a powerful win for all Americans. This country relies on a strong, abundant supply of the food, fiber, and fuel provided by America’s agricultural community. The programs within the 2018 Farm Bill provide true value to the people of Colorado, including expanding the Conservation Reserve Program acreage and legalizing hemp to help create more consistent programs as a U.S. crop. In particular, adjusting the Agriculture Risk Coverage/Price Loss Coverage program provides a vital safety net for producers.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Director Bob Broscheid said, “Colorado’s wildlife and agriculture will both benefit from the 2018 Farm Bill; it’s a win-win. A long list of Colorado’s wildlife and recreation depends on working agricultural landscapes for food and cover, and the farm bill has several provisions that provide substantial incentives for farmers and ranchers to invest in practices that maintain wildlife habitat, as well as voluntary public access programs. Private lands are critical to Colorado’s quality of life, and this farm bill will provide the funding needed to ensure continued conservation of our soil, water, and wildlife.”
FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):
The possibility of using existing pipelines rather than having to build new ones entirely is one tack Million is taking in arguing in favor of the economic feasibility of his idea.
Financial viability is one of the issues that Utah State Engineer Kent Jones is pressing Million on as Million pursues a Utah water right for the project.
Jones heads the Utah Division of Water Rights, which last month heard from Million and numerous project opponents before deciding that it needed more information from Million.
On Dec. 10, Jones wrote to Million, asking for a detailed engineering cost-estimate for conveying the water to the Front Range that demonstrates the cost would be physically and economically feasible.
Million said Monday that he can’t speak in details about possible use of existing infrastructure due to a nondisclosure agreement, but said several pipelines cross the Green River at his proposed diversion point, and an existing pipeline goes to north of Greeley…
In his letter, Jones also asks Million for information on why Jones should believe there is water available, physically and under interstate Colorado River compacts, for diversion. Jones pointed to existing downstream water rights and approved applications to appropriate water, endangered-fish needs, and potential federal reserved water rights for Indian tribes and for national parks, monuments and recreation areas…
“This information is being requested since the state engineer has already established by policies adopted for this area a belief that the amount of water proposed under the application is not available for beneficial use as your application proposes,” Jones wrote to Million.
Million said a recent federal environmental review found a surplus of water beyond environmental, recreation and other needs in the stretch of the Green River where he proposes his diversion, upstream of where it is replenished by the Yampa River.
Million said his understanding is that Utah is concerned that a proposed pipeline project from Lake Powell would use some of its remaining compact allocation.
But he said that doesn’t mean there isn’t a surplus available for other states, and his project would count against Colorado’s allocation.
As early as 2020, hydrologists forecast that the level of Lake Mead, the largest reservoir on the Colorado River, could drop low enough to trigger the first water shortages in its downstream states of Arizona, Nevada and California.
The three states in the river’s Lower Basin have long feared shortages. But the continued decline of Lake Mead reflects a reality they can no longer ignore: Demand for the river’s water, which supports 40 million people from Wyoming to California, has long outpaced the supply. On top of that, the supply is shrinking, as the spring snowmelt that once filled reservoirs becomes less reliable, and historically high temperatures evaporate the water that remains. Booming populations, drought and climate change will continue to compound the imbalance. The river’s flow has declined by nearly 20 percent in the last 15 years alone, and it could plummet another 55 percent before 2100, according to climate scientist Brad Udall at the Colorado Water Institute.
Now, to stave off catastrophic shortages and win-or-die legal battles that could leave some communities high and dry, the seven states in the river’s Upper and Lower basins are close to finalizing a deal to prepare for a much drier future. The so-called Drought Contingency Plans would distribute the pain of the coming cutbacks between the Upper Basin states, where most of the water originates, and the Lower Basin ones, which use more than half of the river’s water, sustaining cities and agriculture in the nation’s most arid landscapes.
At the moment, scarcity isn’t as much of an issue in the Upper Basin, which still has plenty of water but lacks an adequate system for storing it. That has historically encouraged Upper Basin water users to use as much of their share as possible and send as little water as necessary on to Lake Powell.
Lake Powell sits just upstream of Lake Mead. Its main function is to ensure that the Upper Basin can meet its annual obligation to deliver water to the Lower Basin. Just how much the Upper Basin states have to send to Lake Mead, though, depends on Lake Powell’s water level. That matters because if the Upper Basin keeps using its entire allotment, and the overall supply keeps shrinking, Lake Powell could drop to levels that will deliver yet another hit to the Lower Basin’s already fragile supply.
For the Lower Basin states, then, the drought-planning process is an exercise in self-protection. It’s intended to show that they’re starting to address their overuse — and convince the Upper Basin states to help protect them from catastrophic loss.
The Lower Basin has been trying to hash out a plan to reduce water use for a few years now. Arizona and California have yet to fully resolve major internal conflicts over how much water to conserve and where to do it. But once they do, the three Lower Basin states will sign a joint agreement to begin leaving more water in Lake Mead. The long-term goal here is to correct the reservoir’s so-called “structural deficit.” To halt its decline, in other words, the Lower Basin states need to stop taking out more water than flows in each year. For their part, the Upper Basin states — Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah — have already finalized a collective agreement to keep Lake Powell above the critical levels that would trigger smaller annual releases to Lake Mead.
Once both basins’ agreements are final, all seven states need to ratify the entire package. They have until Jan. 31 to iron out the final details and bring the package to the U.S. Congress for a final vote. Should they fail, the federal government has threatened to step in and impose its own plan.
As negotiations enter their final stages, here’s an overview of the dynamics in each state — and the questions that still need to be resolved.
Wyoming has more water than it needs.
A few things to know: Wyoming is the least-populated state in the country, and its water use is unlikely to rise dramatically anytime soon. In the drought agreements, the state agrees to keep more water than it has in the past in the Flaming Gorge Reservoir, Wyoming’s largest reservoir. That water can then be used to help regulate the level of Lake Powell.
Colorado farmers are weary of sacrificing water to prop up Lake Powell.
A few things to know: Colorado claims the largest share of the Upper Basin’s total allocation of Colorado River water — about 60 percent. Despite growth in Denver and on the rural Western Slope, water use in Colorado is actually trending downward. That’s partly because of the success of conservation efforts, which Colorado has pledged to continue. Releases from its largest reservoirs, Blue Mesa and Navajo Lake, will help keep Lake Powell filled when necessary. The sticking point comes from agricultural interests on the Western Slope, who say they will oppose a final agreement that forces them to use less water in order to boost Lake Powell. They believe such contributions should be voluntary, and that Colorado should stipulate this.
Utah has plans to grow, and it wants more water to do it.
A few things to know: Conservation efforts in Utah pale in comparison to Colorado, Nevada and California, where booming populations have proactively curbed water use. But Utah would rather just expand its water use to support its growing population. Washington County, in the southwest corner — home to St. George, the state’s fastest growing metro area — is driving plans to begin taking all the Colorado River water Utah is entitled to. It hasn’t done this yet because it hasn’t needed to, nor does it have the infrastructure to move all that water to places like Washington County. The state is now trying to build a massive pipeline from Lake Powell to southern Utah, where lush lawns and golf courses are multiplying in the red rock landscape. State officials say the project is necessary, but they haven’t figured out how to fund it. And if the Colorado River gets low enough in the future, there might not be water to fill it.
How exactly New Mexico will contribute to the drought plan is a mystery.
A few things to know: The Colorado River does not flow through New Mexico, but some of its main tributaries do. Even though the state is a relatively small player in the basin, the Colorado has been crucial to its development: Sixty percent of the water used by New Mexico cities and industries, as well as 15 percent of the water used for farming, comes from the Colorado River Basin. New Mexico has signed onto the drought contingency agreement, but state water managers are strangely silent about what exactly the state has agreed to do to reduce its water use, as required by the Upper Basin agreement.
Arizona is holding up the basin-wide plan because it can’t agree on how and where to cut its water use.
A few things to know: Arizona, the major holdout in the planning process, has struggled to resolve internal political disagreements over exactly how — and how much — it should conserve. The state has the basin’s most junior water rights, making the stakes of the drought plan especially high here. Technically, when water is scarce, more senior rights holders can take all their water before delivering any to junior users, and so Arizona is being asked to make deeper sacrifices than Nevada or California to keep Lake Mead from plummeting. That’s forcing cities, tribes and agricultural communities to compete for water and make extremely difficult decisions. Large agricultural economies in central Arizona, in particular, stand to lose. Arizona does now have the basic outlines of a plan in place, which by state law must be approved by the Legislature. Officials hope to deliver a plan to the Legislature by the end of the year.
Nevada has offered a generous contribution to Lake Mead — but only in the event of a shortage.
A few things to know: Nevada is frequently touted as one of the West’s biggest water conservation success stories. Indeed, after the punishing 2002 drought, water managers instituted aggressive policies to reduce water use, such as offering residents money to convert grassy lawns to less thirsty desert xeriscaping. The Las Vegas Valley reduced its water consumption by 36 percent between 2002 and 2017, despite adding 660,000 new residents. Nevada has volunteered to forgo about 10 percent of its Colorado River allocation when Lake Mead’s levels drop below 1,045 feet, triggering a shortage declaration that would reduce water deliveries to Nevada, Arizona and California.
In California, a battle is brewing between Imperial Valley agriculture and the coastal cities.
A few things to know: California has the largest entitlement to Colorado River water. One outstanding issue in the current negotiations is California’s Imperial Irrigation District, which gets 3 million acre-feet of water a year, most of which goes to farms. That’s nearly 70 percent of California’s share of the river, and more than the entire states of Nevada and Arizona get. Because it’s the single largest water user in the basin, the Imperial Irrigation District needs to help the state make sure it doesn’t take more water than it should under the Drought Contingency Plan. But growers are concerned that potential restrictions could violate their historical water rights and limit their future use.
Paige Blankenbuehler is an assistant editor for High Country News. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or submit a letter to the editor.