#ColoradoRiver: The Gila River Indian Community Council votes unanimously to approve water deal with @CAPArizona #COriver #aridification

The Central Arizona Aqueduct delivers water from the Colorado River to underground aquifers in southern Arizona. UT researcher Bridget Scanlon recommends more water storage projects like the aqueduct to help protect against variability in the river’s water supply. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

From The Phoenix New Times (Elizabeth Whitman):

Under the deal, the Gila River Indian Community would supply the district, often referred to as CAGRD, with up to 830,000 acre-feet of desperately needed water over the next 25 years, starting in 2020. The board of the Central Arizona Project, which governs CAGRD, approved the deal in a meeting at the beginning of November.

The deal would help ensure that developers in Arizona can continue to build well into the future…

“We believe our action today helps build momentum to have Arizona approve DCP and protect Lake Mead, but at the same time ensure that water supplies are available for an important sector of Arizona’s economy,” Gila River Indian Community Govenor Stephen Roe Lewis said in a statement Wednesday.

But, in a strategic move as DCP negotiations continue, Lewis has not yet signed the deal between the Gila River Indian Community and CAGRD.

That moment will have to wait until Arizona’s DCP is passed by the Arizona Legislature and signed by the state. In other words, if the DCP doesn’t happen, neither does the CAGRD deal.

Lewis alluded to this contingency in his statement Wednesday, as he explained how the negotiations for the CAGRD deal had proceeded in recent months.

“The Community had been very concerned that DCP might not happen and was re-examining whether these agreements were the best use of our water supplies in times of shortage,” he said. “As a result, we had been waiting to see whether DCP was a realistic possibility or whether we should wait and perhaps move in a different direction.”

In the contentious world of Arizona water politics, the CAGRD deal is closely linked with ongoing DCP discussions, in which Arizona water users are working out how they’ll distribute expected cuts in the state’s supply of Colorado River water…

Under the deal, Gila River Water Storage, a water-storage company formed jointly by the Gila River Indian Community and Salt River Project, will sell 445,375 acre-feet of long-term storage credits to CAGRD. An acre-foot is roughly 326,000 gallons.

Long-term storage credits are crucial to CAGRD, an entity that helps developers meet requirements under the 1980 Groundwater Management Act to show that their water supply is secure for at least the next 100 years. If developers don’t have 100 years’ worth of water wherever they’re developing, they can enroll in CAGRD and gain access to this future supply.

They can do this because of long-term storage credits. Water users earn these credits when they store water underground for more than a year. The credits, which can be transferred, give whoever holds them the right to recover that water in the future.

Without the deal with the Gila River Indian Community, if a drought were declared on the Colorado River, CAGRD’s supply of long-term storage credits for Phoenix is project to hit a shortage in the year 2028 and to run out completely by 2030.

With the deal, CAGRD would have enough water to meet all of its obligations, even if there is a shortage on the Colorado River. Based on current environmental conditions, the federal Bureau of Reclamation projects that a shortage has a 57 percent chance of occurring in the year 2020.

The deal also creates a way for the Gila River Indian Community and CAGRD to swap supplies of water stored underground with surface water from the Colorado River. The infrastructure for that exchange would cost $2.5 million. The deal allows CAGRD to lease Colorado River water from the Gila River Indian Community.

The Central Arizona Project plans to pay for this plan by increasing the cost of water deliveries in Phoenix and potentially in Tucson.

Starting in 2020, rates would increase 11 to 15 percent over the next two or three years. That translates to a total average increase of $3.11 per month, per home, by the end of the third year. After that, the impact on rates would be “small,” according to CAP.

From KJZZ (Bret Jaspers):

The board of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District meets Thursday in yet another high-stakes moment in the state’s effort to agree on a drought plan for the Colorado River.

The board could vote — or not — on a drought framework described last week in a meeting of the Arizona Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan Steering Committee.

The state’s plan has the backing of Gov. Ducey, Native American tribes and Valley cities, but was greeted with skepticism by Pinal County farmers and home builders.

A proposed “Friendly Amendment” to the plan, introduced to the Steering Committee last week by CAWCD board member Karen Cesare, asked for 21,000 acre-feet of water to mitigate developers, spread out over three years.

It would also re-apportion some of the water that the Colorado River Indian Tribes in Western Arizona would provide through a farm fallowing program. Instead of storing it all in Lake Mead to keep the level healthy, some would go towards the state’s required water cutbacks under the basin-wide DCP. That change could potentially make more water available for developers and Pinal County farmers who are at the end of the line for Colorado River water (and therefore, the first to be cut).

The idea, however, is unlikely to pass muster with on-river water users in Yuma and Mohave Counties. Those communities are against any on-river allocation being redirected to central Arizona, something Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke wrote in a letter to CAWCD Board President Lisa Atkins and Cesare.

At least one development group, Valley Partnership, thinks the amendment isn’t needed because a separate deal between the Gila River Indian Community and the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District will come through.

The Gila River Indian Community lists defense of their landmark water deal as the #1 priority in negotiation of a lower basin #drought contingency plan

Gila River watershed. Graphic credit: Wikimedia

From Arizona Central (Ian James):

The Gila River Indian Community is entitled to about a fourth of the Colorado River water that passes through the Central Arizona Project’s canal. Much of the water flows to the reservation, where it helps irrigate about 36,000 acres of farmland planted with crops including wheat, sorghum, alfalfa, cotton and corn.

Because it holds this large water entitlement, the community has become a key player in efforts to unblock stalled negotiations in Arizona among state agencies, cities, irrigation districts and tribes on a plan to take less water from the dwindling Colorado River.

If Arizona manages to reach a deal — and it’s unclear whether it will — the involvement of the community and its leader, Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis, is likely to play a critical part in the agreement.

Lewis has been deeply involved in the talks, offering to help while also taking a strong stance against any proposal that would undermine the Gila River community’s historic water settlement, which his late father, Rodney Lewis, helped win in 2004 after a decades-long legal fight.

The governor said he thinks the parties are close to clinching an agreement on the proposed Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP. But he also said there are several principles he won’t compromise on, including defending his community’s hard-won water rights.

“Water settlements, to us they are sacrosanct. Water settlements have to be preserved,” Lewis told The Arizona Republic in an interview. “Those can’t be gutted.”

For Lewis, the drive to defend his community’s water settlement is a personal issue and one that’s bound up in the long history of how Arizona tribes saw their water taken away starting more than 150 years ago.

The Gila River Indian Community includes people from two groups, the Akimel O’odham and the Pee-Posh, and has about 23,000 members, about 15,000 of whom live on the reservation south of Phoenix.

The O’odham’s ancient ancestors, the Huhugam, created a thriving agricultural civilization in the desert centuries before the arrival of non-native settlers in Arizona…

Lewis’ father, as attorney for the Gila River Indian Community, fought for years to win back their water. And in 2004, the community finally secured its water rights as part of the Arizona Water Settlements Act, which was signed by President George W. Bush. Rodney Lewis died in April at age 77…

“We have fought to regain our water settlement, our water rights. That historic struggle has really shaped our community, to where we do not take for granted any drop of our water, what we call in our language the O’odham language ‘shudag’ – water is life,” he said. “We have survived, we have endured. But we understand as a people all too well when water, that precious resource, is taken away from us.”

[…]

He said it’s clear that all water users will have to deal with an increasingly limited supply of water.

“#Arizona has blundered into #ColoradoRiver wars in the past, and we usually lose” — Bruce Babbitt #COriver #aridification

Pickepost Peak, Pinal County, Arizona. Photo credit: Matt Mets from Brooklyn, NY, USA – Uploaded by PDTillman, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18072691

From Arizona Central (Bruce Babbitt):

Arizona is once again at a critical decision point in the ongoing struggle to secure our water resources. If we fail to take the right course, we risk igniting yet another Colorado River water war.

Lake Mead, from which we draw our share of the Colorado River, is dropping to perilous levels. In order to stabilize lake levels and protect our water supply, the Department of Water Resources has negotiated an agreement with California and the other basin states to begin reducing water diversions from the Lake.

California and the other basin states are ready to sign the agreement, known as the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). Arizona is the lone holdout, mainly because our state Legislature, caught up in special interest demands, has failed to ratify the DCP agreement.

CAWCD is overstepping its role

Behind this legislative impasse are two groups threatening to block ratification.

The first is the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD), a local elected body that distributes our Colorado River water throughout central Arizona.

CAWCD is now reaching beyond its proper role by attempting to intervene in the interstate Colorado River negotiations.

These interstate negotiations are the exclusive job of the Department of Water Resources, whose director is appointed by the governor to represent all Arizonans…

Pinal County districts also are a threat

The second threat to legislative ratification of the DCP comes from the Maricopa Stanfield Irrigation and Drainage District, the Central Arizona Irrigation District and several other agricultural districts located in Pinal County.

In 2004, these Pinal districts signed onto a far-reaching water settlement agreement worked out under the leadership of Sen. Jon Kyl. In that settlement the districts agreed that their use of Colorado River water would be phased out not later than 2030, after which they would go back to full reliance on groundwater.

In exchange for giving up long-term rights to Colorado River water and pumping more local groundwater, the districts bargained for and received heavily subsidized Colorado River rates to be paid for by property taxes levied on landowners in Phoenix, Tucson and throughout central Arizona…

It matters a lot. If the Drought Contingency Plan is not ratified soon California and the other Basin states may decide to proceed without us. That could be the beginning of another Colorado River water war.

Arizona has blundered into Colorado River wars in the past, and we usually lose. We must not go that way again. It is up to the Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey to promptly ratify the Drought Contingency Plan as negotiated by the Department of Water Resources.