#ColoradoRiver: Zero chance for Lake Mead shortage declaration in water year 2018 — @USBR #COriver

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

From The Arizona Republic (Brandon Loomis):

A snowy winter in the Rocky Mountains helped Colorado River water users escape a shortage for the next year and likely for at least two more, federal water managers project, though a hot spring made the escape a narrow one.

The river’s reservoirs combined have gained 5 percent of their capacity in the last year, and now sit at 57 percent full. It means customers using Central Arizona Project water in the Phoenix and Tucson areas won’t lose deliveries next year and have just a 31 percent chance of losing some water in 2019 — a marked improvement from roughly even odds projected in recent years.

“We had a fairly decent runoff this year, which certainly helped us trend in the right direction,” U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Doug Hendrix said Tuesday.

Conservationists say the projections provide a nice reprieve but that the seven states on the river must use the time to plan and save more water and prevent future pain.

“I don’t think we really have time to wait for an official shortage declaration,” said Jeff Odefey, drinking-water-supply program director for the group American Rivers…

A 2007 agreement between Reclamation and the seven states said CAP customers, starting with farmers, would lose some of their river water in any year when the August projections show Lake Mead’s elevation dropping below 1,075 feet elevation on Jan. 1.

The lake would already be well below that level if not for conservation measures by the states and Mexico, Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke said in a statement Tuesday…

The government currently projects Lake Mead will end this year well above shortage level, at 1,083.46 feet. It was about 1,080 feet throughout on Tuesday, and should gain elevation as fall temperatures cool and reduce the demand for irrigation water, allowing more of the inflow to pool behind the dam…

The Green River, the biggest tributary to the Colorado, had a record snowpack in Wyoming last winter, Odefey said, while western Colorado was also above normal.

Warm weather then melted, evaporated and increased demand for water, reducing earlier predictions that Lake Mead would get a bigger boost…

The states and the federal government have already propped up the reservoir by paying for conservation and efficiency improvements with a goal of leaving water behind the dam instead of earmarking it for a particular use.

From 2012 through 2016, the states collectively saved 1.2 million acre-feet of water in the reservoir, said Jennifer Pitt, the National Audubon Society’s Colorado River program director.

That’s enough water to support a few million households, and it approaches the Central Arizona Project canal’s share of the river.

“It’s a great demonstration of the fact that water conservation can be done,” she said. “It makes me optimistic about the future.”

From The Las Vegas Review-Journal (Henry Brean):

According to projections released Tuesday by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the reservoir east of Las Vegas will have enough water in it on Jan. 1 to stave off a first-ever federal shortage declaration — and the mandatory water cuts for Nevada and Arizona that would come with it.

The lake is also on track to avoid a shortage in 2019, thanks to decreased demand downstream on the Colorado River and a larger-than-usual influx of water from Lake Powell upstream.

The extra water from Lake Powell is expected to raise Lake Mead’s surface by more than five feet by the end of the year.

The new federal projections come as officials in the United States and Mexico finish work on a new binational agreement aimed at stretching limited resources on the Colorado and keeping more water in Lake Mead.

Negotiators from the two countries, including representatives of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, have agreed on a range of water-sharing and water-saving initiatives, including voluntary cuts that Mexico could begin taking as soon as next year to prop up the overdrawn, drought-stricken river system.

The agreement also spells out how much Mexico would have to reduce its river use during a declared shortage and how much extra water the nation would get in the event of a surplus on the Colorado.

The new pact, known as Minute 323 to the Mexican Water Treaty of 1944, extends many of the provisions of an earlier treaty amendment approved in 2012 and set to expire at the end of this year. For example, Mexico will be able to keep storing some of its river allotment in Lake Mead, and U.S. water agencies will be able to continue to invest in infrastructure improvements south of the border in exchange for a portion of the saved water.

The water authority board is expected to vote Thursday to sign on to Minute 323 when the agreement is finalized next month.

“It’s a good deal for both countries,” Authority General Manager John Entsminger said.

The most important thing about the deal is the certainty it provides, Entsminger said. Water managers in both countries will now know what to expect should the river continue to shrink.

“It’s a big deal because the last thing you want is uncertainty when you get into a shortage condition,” he said.

The voluntary water cuts Mexico would take under the treaty deal hinge on a separate but related pact being negotiated by water officials in Nevada, Arizona and California.

The three states have agreed in principle on the so-called Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, under which Nevada, Arizona and, eventually, California would voluntarily leave some of their river water in Lake Mead when the surface of the reservoir falls to certain trigger points.

Entsminger said the multistate deal is on track for completion next year despite some public spats and lingering disagreements among water agencies in Arizona and California over how the voluntary cuts should be made in each state.

“I do believe it will happen,” he said…

The Las Vegas Valley relies on Lake Mead for 90 percent of its drinking water supply. The surface of the reservoir now sits at about 1,080 feet above sea level, roughly 130 feet lower than it was before the current drought began on the Colorado River in 2000…

Above-average flows in the Colorado River helped keep Lake Mead out of shortage for another year, but the real news is on the demand side.

Over the past year, Nevada, Arizona and California combined to use less than 7 million acre-feet of river water for the first time in 25 years.

Colby Pellegrino, Colorado River programs manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said the decline in demand is proof that conservation efforts on the Colorado are making an impact.

The last time the three lower basin states combined to use less than 7 million acre-feet of river water was in 1992, when the region was home to roughly 7 million fewer people than it is now.

“We’ve successfully decoupled our economic prosperity from our water use,” Pellegrino said.

#ColoradoRiver: #MX and #US close to signing Minute 323 #COriver

Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015

From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Ian James):

Mexican and American officials are finalizing a water-sharing deal for the Colorado River, and a newly released summary of the accord’s key points shows negotiators have agreed on a cooperative approach geared toward boosting reservoir levels and trying to stave off a severe shortage.

The document, which federal officials have circulated among water agencies, outlines a series of joint measures that build on the current 5-year agreement, which expires at the end of this year.

The new accord – titled Minute No. 323 to the 1944 Mexican Water Treaty – is expected to be signed sometime this fall, perhaps as early as September, and would remain in effect through 2026.

It would extend provisions in the current agreement, known as Minute 319, that specify reductions in water deliveries during a shortage, as well as increases in water deliveries during wet periods. The agreement also provides for Mexico to continue storing water in Lake Mead, near Las Vegas, helping to boost the reservoir’s levels, which in the past few years have dropped to historic lows.

The accord would also establish a “Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan,” in which Mexico would join U.S. states in temporarily taking less water out of Lake Mead to reduce the risks of the reservoir reaching critical levels.

Those commitments by Mexico would only take effect if California, Arizona and Nevada finish their own Drought Contingency Plan, under which the states would forgo larger amounts of water than they’ve previously agreed to as the reservoir’s level declines.

“The Mexicans have demonstrated their interest in pursuing this, and it’s a clear benefit to the river to have more storage in Lake Mead,” said Bart Fisher, chairman of the Colorado River Board of California. He said the agreement would benefit water suppliers in California, Arizona and Nevada by giving them “certainty in case of shortage that Mexico will also share in the shortage.”

“All of those things put together, it’s a big win-win for both countries,” Fisher said…

Talks on the U.S.-Mexico agreement began during President Barack Obama’s administration and have continued with negotiating sessions held on both sides of the border by the International Boundary and Water Commission, which includes representatives of both governments. Representatives of U.S. states have also participated in the talks.

Even as political tensions have grown over Trump’s immigration policies and his vows to have Mexico foot the bill for a border wall, the Colorado River negotiations seem to have moved ahead relatively smoothly – pressed on by the approaching expiration of Minute 319.

“We largely concluded the framework for these negotiations a year ago,” Fisher said, “and the only fine-tuning has been the drought contingency portion, and cleaning up a little bit of inconsistent language.”

The agreement itself has not yet been publicly released. The summary provided by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was presented Wednesday at a board meeting of the Imperial Irrigation District, which holds the biggest single entitlement to water from the river.

In a memo, IID officials said in order to implement the U.S. commitments under the deal, several agreements must first be completed between the states, water agencies and the Interior Department.

Those agreements include a U.S.-funded program to invest $31.5 million in water conservation projects in Mexico, including infrastructure upgrades such as concrete lining for leaky canals and other improvements to reduce water losses from distribution systems.

The federal government will provide $16.5 million, while the remaining $15 million will come from four water agencies, including IID, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District.

Each of the water agencies will contribute a fourth of the funding. In return, they will receive a portion of the water freed up through conservation in Mexico.

The conservation projects are intended to generate a total of 229,000 acre-feet of water – enough to cover an area two-thirds the size of Los Angeles with a foot of water. Of that, 50,000 acre-feet will be used to give a boost to the Colorado River system and 70,000 acre-feet will be used to “satisfy the U.S. commitment to provide water for the environment.”

The accord lays out a cooperative strategy for Mexico and the U.S. states to jointly put the brakes on water use to reduce the risks of a crash in the system if the drought persists.

As of this week, Lake Mead stands at just 38 percent full, with its level at an elevation of nearly 1,080 feet, not far above the initial shortage threshold of 1,075 feet…

In April, the Bureau of Reclamation estimated the odds of Lake Mead hitting shortage levels in 2019 at 31 percent. A previous projection had put the odds at 50-50 before the winter brought a substantial snowpack, which was measured at 113 percent of average across the Colorado River basin.

The government’s summary of Minute 323 says the United States and Mexico “share a common vision on a clear need for continued and additional actions to reduce the risk of reaching critical reservoir elevations at Lake Mead.”

The document details how continued declines at the reservoir would trigger a rising scale of cutbacks in water deliveries, with Mexico contributing alongside the states – as long as the states have a similar plan in place.

By developing this type of plan to reduce water use effectively, the aim is to reduce risks of severe shortages threatening water deliveries and the generation of hydroelectricity, said Jennifer Pitt, who leads the National Audubon Society’s Colorado River project.

“It’s avoiding the shocks of sudden disruptions in water supply that is most important,” Pitt said. “But with these agreements, where the states and countries … commit together to a planned decrease in water use, I think the prospects for sustainable management increase greatly, and likely without severe economic impacts.”

The U.S.-Mexico deal includes a list of other measures, including establishing several joint working groups to focus on issues such managing the river’s salinity and optimizing flows to benefit the environment.

One of the groups, according to the government’s outline, will focus on studying the potential for desalinating seawater from the Sea of Cortez…

Under Minute 319, which was signed in 2012, the U.S. and Mexico agreed to an experiment: a one-time release of water into the parched delta that would resemble a natural flood.

That “pulse flow,” which gushed into the delta for eight weeks in 2014, temporarily reconnected the river with the Gulf of California, bringing a bloom of cottonwoods and willows along its path and attracting birds.

In Minute 323, there is no mention of plans for another “pulse flow.” This time, the focus is instead on securing a more steady flow of water to sustain wetlands south of the border. Goals include expanding restored habitat areas from about 1,000 acres to 4,300 acres.

Under the agreement, Mexico, the U.S., and nongovernmental organizations will team up to secure water for environmental purposes, plus $18 million for habitat restoration and monitoring.

“It seems like everybody’s in agreement on how to address these challenging issues,” said Tina Shields, IID’s water manager, who presented an overview of Minute 323 to the district’s board.

U.S.-Mexico Colorado River deal is close — @JFleck

Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015

From Inkstain (John Fleck):

With a Senate Hearing [August 2, 2017] and a meeting of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District Thursday, we’re starting to see the public rollout of a Colorado River management agreement between the United States and Mexico that now looks like it’s on track to be signed within the next few months.

The biggest clue that this could really happen is that they’ve changed the name from “Minute 32x” to “Minute 323”. The placeholder “x” meant the agreement would be signed sometime, changing it to a “3” suggest people are confident enough that it’s really going to happen soon that they’ve assigned it a number and put it in the queue.

While the full agreement has not been made public, the negotiating team has put together a detailed set of talking points to be taken to the various water agency boards and state agencies on the U.S. side…

Embedded in the deal are two important pieces.

The first is Mexico’s continued participation in the current binational water conservation scheme, in which water users in both the United States and Mexico agree to curtail their water use as Lake Mead drops. This is the follow-on to Minute 319, the historic 2012-U.S.-Mexico agreement that broke down the key barriers to international management on the river.

The second piece is what’s called in the new minute the “Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan”, which is the international flavor of what’s known by the norteños as the “Drought Contingency Plan”. This is the agreement that ratchets up the conservation, making deeper cuts to water use sooner. One of the lawyers in the audience will probably lecture me if I call this piece “contingent” or “trigger” or whatever, but the fact is that this language lays out the details of Mexico’s participation in the new DCP scheme, but it doesn’t take effect until folks on the U.S. side approve the DCP.

Its inclusion here, and the fact that it’s now being made public, is crucial evidence that folks in the United States have settled on the final terms of the deal and we’re not just in the “working out the formalities” part of the process. There’s always been a chicken/egg problem about which would come first, the DCP or the U.S.-Mexico minute, because each depends on the other. The solution has been a contingent minute (don’t scold, lawyer friends) through which Mexican participation is contingent on the separate deal within the U.S. being signed. The only way folks are willing now to go forward with the U.S.-Mexico piece is because they’re confident that the U.S. piece will follow.

These “minutes” (they function kinda like amendments to the U.S.-Mexico treaty, but don’t call them that the lawyers will scold you) part part of a trend away from conflict and toward collaboration as the Colorado River crosses its international border. They add a crucial piece – a joining of water management institutions across the international border in an effort to manage the Colorado River as one river.

Together, these steps demonstrate the extraordinary pivot on the Colorado River from Mark Reisner’s “most litigated river in the entire world” to a system in which the parties stay out of the courts and international tribunals and negotiate mutually beneficial agreements to deal with the Colorado’s problem of overallocation.