Every March, thousands of Sandhill cranes stop in #GreatSandDunes National Park & Preserve on their way to their northern breeding grounds. The fields and wetlands of #Colorado’s San Luis Valley provide excellent habitat for these majestic #birds. With the dunes and mountains nearby, they dance and call to each other. It’s one of nature’s great spectacles. Photo @greatsanddunesnps by #NationalPark Service.
Wetlands are a critical part of the San Luis Valley. Not only are they a key water resource, but they also provide habitat for numerous bird species and bring tourism dollars to the local economy. They are truly part of what makes the Rio Grande Basin distinct.
The San Luis Valley has three refuges that are overseen by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the direction of the United States Department of the Interior. They are the Monte Vista, Alamosa and Baca National Wildlife Refuges. The first refuge to be established was Monte Vista in 1952, followed by Alamosa in 1962, and finally the Baca in 2000. These areas make up the San Luis Valley Refuge Complex and are three in a system that consists of over 560 refuges nationwide. The Monte Vista Refuge is 14,804 acres and Alamosa comprises 12,026 acres and the Baca is 92,500 acres. The primary purpose of setting these lands aside is to protect vital wildlife corridors as well as water assets that are key to the well- being of the aquifer system that is crucial to the sustainability of the valley.
These refuges also serve as prime habitat and nesting grounds for over 200 species of birds as well as other species of native wildlife such as deer, elk, beaver, and coyotes. The Alamosa Refuge is also home to the historic Mum Well which serves as a key data collection point for Colorado and San Luis Valley Water users. The primary purpose, is to protect lands that are important and that make the San Luis Valley a beautiful place. The landscapes seen in the refuges also highlight the distinct regions of the Valley as well.
The Monte Vista Refuge was established for the purpose of protecting migratory bird species, especially the Sandhill Crane. The San Luis Valley U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office estimates that between 23 and 27,000 Sandhill Cranes make the San Luis Valley a rest stop during their annual migration to and from breeding grounds in the northern US.
The success of the migration north in the spring from winter habitat in New Mexico and Texas to summer habitat in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, and Canada and south in the fall is based largely on the birds eating enough food in the SLV to complete the trek, survive winter, and arrive healthy enough to nest and raise the next generation. Grain left after harvest on privately owned fields in the SLV is a major food source necessary to complete a successful migration. Nearly the entirety of the Rocky Mountain Population of Greater Sandhill Cranes passes through Colorado during their migration. The feed from the abundant barley and rest in wetlands that the cranes get in the SLV is critical to the success of the migration and upcoming breeding, and the most important part of the migration in Colorado is the availability of grain and roost sites in the SLV.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife also protect wetland areas across the San Luis Valley. According to a 2012 report by CPW, “The value of wetlands can’t be overstated. About 125 species that are found here in Colorado are dependent on wetlands for their survival, including 98 species of migratory birds.” The species that benefit include waterfowl and 20 priority non-game species.
The agency mitigates wetlands based on a set of criteria that include hydrology, vegetation, land use and conservation. To manage the hydrology the goal is to maintain adequate width and depth (4–8 inches deep) for roosting, maintain flowing water to prevent spread of disease. Vegetation goals include monitoring for the availability of vegetation that produces food, controlling woody vegetation where needed, control encroaching coarse emergent vegetation and the use of livestock and controlled burns to maintain grass overstory.
Land use surveys look at the roosting and feeding sites, provide grit (e.g., pebbles and small gravel) at roost sites if needed, and remove unused fences. Conservation goals include monitoring harvest rates to maintain desirable population numbers and forming and maintaining partnerships between agencies agricultural producers, landowners and the public.
Like the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), National Park Service (NPS), US Forest Service (USFS) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) also work to protect wetland habitats. The Blanca Wildlife Habitat Area, managed by the BLM, serves as a refuge for birds, fish and other wildlife. The wetlands are a key area for birds since they provide habitat for migrating water and shorebirds. The bald eagle and the peregrine falcon also use the wetlands. Other Species of Management Priority that have been documented are American bittern, avocet, common yellowthroat, eared grebe, Forster’s tern, greater Sandhill crane, hen harrier, Savannah sparrow, snowy egret, sora rail, western grebe and yellow-headed blackbird. Shorebirds such as gulls, sandpipers and pelicans are at home in the salty environment, as well as 158 other species including a colony of breeding Snowy Plover. The Blanca Wildlife Habitat is a duck breeding concentration area, with mallards by far the most common, but good numbers of pintail and green-winged teal are also utilizing the area.
The Valleys farms and ranches also support the areas wetlands and see them as important part of the hydrologic cycle. Wetlands work as a sponge that helps to ensure that working ag lands maintain a water source in lean years and symbiotically rotationally grazed wetland remain healthier due do reduced grass overstory and less noxious weeds. San Luis Valley agriculture producers and water managers are partnering to do timed releases of water from area reservoirs to only supply irrigation water, but to insure river and wetland habitats benefit.
In the long run, wetlands provide wildlife habitat, grazing opportunities, groundwater recharge and sustainability of water resources.
Helen Smith is the Outreach Specialist for the Rio Grande Basin Roundtable.
In some ways, the impact of our work as a land trust is obvious. There is the stunning view of our valley from the overlook south of town. That is something every Taoseño treasures when coming home from a trip to Santa Fe, Albuquerque or further afield. There are the wide vistas to Taos Mountain across the fields north of Overland Sheepskin Company or the rolling forested mesas of Wolf Springs Ranch on the drive to Tres Piedras. Visually, our work protecting Taos’ landscape is kind of hard to miss.
Perhaps not quite as visible are the economic benefits that come with preserving these lands and building a connection between land and community. As Taos grows and changes Taos Land Trust aims to be a partner in bringing the positive economics of conservation to Taos.
Even though most conservation easements are placed on private land, there are huge benefits to the community as a whole. These include water supply protection, flood control, fish and wildlife habitat, hunting, fishing, hiking, bird watching and other outdoor activities, carbon sequestration, erosion control, agricultural crop production – AND economic growth. HOW?
For those who have placed land under a conservation easement with a land trust there is an upfront tax benefit. By removing the land’s development potential, the easement typically lowers the property’s market value, which in turn lowers potential estate tax. In New Mexico landowners at any income level can qualify for a tax credit worth 50% of the appraised value of the conservation easement up to a maximum of $250,000. That means money in people’s pockets that can be spent in the community or saved to enhance economic security.
Property is More Valuable
When a community protects open space, that community becomes a more desirable place to be. People enjoy vistas, parks, recreational opportunities and accessible natural areas. A trip to Kit Carson Park or Fred Baca Park on any given day will prove this point. These amenities in turn make land surrounding these protected areas more attractive.
Travel and Tourism
Tourism is a key component of the Taos County economy. In fact, we are the most tourism-dependent county in the state. There is no mystery as to why people come to Taos. From the wilderness areas in our surrounding mountains to the National Monument in our backyard, the Taos economy is built on open space recreation. All those people coming for our amazing open lands spend money on recreational equipment sales and rentals, special events, food, lodging and so on. Our open spaces and parks attract visitors and locals alike, creating revenue for local businesses.
Attracting New Businesses
Increasingly, the American economy is dominated by tech and knowledge companies. These type of businesses are not tied to a specific location as manufacturers are. These businesses have more freedom in choosing where to locate.
We all know that Taos needs more jobs. A wide range of studies show that when many businesses consider relocating they increasingly take into account the quality of life in the places where they might want to relocate. A number of studies note that these types of businesses (that typically pay well above minimum wage) seek to locate in places with open space, parks and protected lands. It is the same with retirees. Retired people bring money into communities and, again, surveys indicate that they typically to live in a place where recreation opportunities are plentiful. Communities that fail to provide recreation opportunities for retirees tend to see their tax base erode when retirees leave the community.
Beyond just open spaces and parks both tech business and retirees look for towns that are walk-able or bike-able and while Taos is not quite there yet, we are working with our partners to make bike paths, sidewalks and trails more available to Taoseños.
Reduced Costs to Town and County
The fact is that sprawl development is expensive. It costs more to hook people up to vital infrastructure like water, sewer and electricity that more they are spread out. Not to mention the road building and other transportation issues. Compact or focused development reduces state and municipal costs on road maintenance and delivery of services from water to solid waste to transit, to fire and police protection and school buses. Taos needs to protect its most valuable landscapes while increasing its densification.
Support Farming and Ranching
Land conservation supports working landscapes on which many in our county depend.
Farms and ranches are sometimes referred to as “working lands,” because they produce products and value for communities. The category also includes forests that produce timber and other wood products in a sustainable manner. The Trust for Public Land points out that:
“Lori Lynch, an economist at the University of Maryland, studied what farmers do with the money they earn from selling development rights as part of farmland preservation. Farmers in Maryland who had participated in conservation programs were more likely than other farmers to have invested in their farm over the past five years and to have attended workshops to learn new technologies and enhance their farming skills. According to the research, money paid to the farmers for the easement purchases circulated back into the local economy via debt reduction, savings or farm investment, farm operation financing , or retirement investment. Some bought more land or equipment.”
Clean Water, Clean Air
Parks and conserved lands reduce storm water by capturing precipitation, slowing its runoff, and reducing the volume of water that enters the storm water system. Think of our Rio Fernando property and how our work to restore that wetland will increase clean water in our community and better manage the flow of that water.
Many communities have to build expensive infrastructure like drainage channels and storm sewers to deal with flooding from storms or big winter runoff. There is also the question of how to pay for and deal with nonpoint-source pollution caused when water picks up chemicals and contaminants from parking lots and other impermeable surfaces. As the impacts of climate change become more severe (think of Hurricane Harvey) a resilient community will need to rely on ecosystem services to deal with increased rainfall and other severe weather events.
Trees and shrubs in parks and open spaces remove air pollutants that endanger human health and damage structures. Trees and other vegetation promote air quality by taking up pollutants through their leaves and diffusing them into their cells.
We all know that one key way to incorporate exercise into daily activity is to walk or bike for errands near home. However, many towns such as ours unfortunately do not facilitate easy exercise. As mentioned before, we are working with local governments and citizens to develop land use regulations, mapping and paths to shape our community into one where Taoseños can easily integrate exercise into daily activity. And our conservation work has a role too. Some of the land we have protected can eventually be used for greenways that support hiking, biking, and other human-powered transportation.
We’re all in this together. Taos Land Trust is a partner and resource in building a resilient and thriving future – and economy! – for our northern New Mexico community.
From the City of Northglenn via Colorado Community Media:
The City of Northglenn is partnering with nonprofit group Resource Central on its popular ‘Garden In A Box’ program to provide low-water gardens to local residents.
The program helps Colorado residents conserve water and save money. It’s a regional water conservation program that provides an assortment of water-wise plants and flowers that can reduce outdoor water use by up to 60 percent. As a participating community, Northglenn residents can get a limited number of $25 discounts on these water-saving plants through this nonprofit program.
“Local families are rethinking their grassy yards,” said Neal Lurie, president of Resource Central, a Boulder-based nonprofit. “Traditional turf lawns are surprisingly thirsty and expensive.
After years of watering and mowing, people are starting to look at how drought-tolerant gardens can help simplify their yards.”
There are five new Garden In A Box kits this year, with a big focus on colors and pollinators. The new kits include “Hummingbird Delight,” “Butterfly Bounty,” and “Colors of Colorado.”
Additional kits focus on vegetable gardens, shaded areas, sun-loving flowers, and attracting honeybees. All gardens are Colorado-grown, pollinator-friendly, and available for pickup in May or June.
Garden In A Box is one of the largest programs of its kind in the United States, helping Front Range families transition more than 1.4 million square feet of land to beautiful, low-water landscaping. This initiative has saved more than 100 million gallons of water since the program started in 1997.
“It’s heartening to see so many people embracing this program,” said Devon Booth, water program manager at Resource Central. “Garden In A Box makes water conservation simple – change happens one family at a time.”
From Governor Hickenlooper’s office via The Loveland Reporter-Herald:
Gov. John Hickenlooper signed Senate Bill 18-066 into law Monday, reauthorizing the Colorado Lottery through 2049.
“The Colorado Lottery is the only lottery in the nation that commits nearly all of its yearly proceeds to outdoor recreation or habitat and wildlife conservation,” Michael Hartman, executive director of the Colorado Department of Revenue, said in a press release. “Coloradans can rest assured that their lottery game spending will continue to support the incredible resources that make our state so special, including supporting the capital needs of our state’s great school systems.”
According to the release, in the last five fiscal years, the lottery has distributed more than $670 million to its four beneficiaries — the Conservation Trust Fund, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Great Outdoors Colorado and the Building Excellent Schools Today program.
Since its start in 1983 through fiscal year 2017, the Colorado Lottery has returned to more than $3.1 billion to its beneficiaries.
The money is distributed 50 percent to the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund, 40 percent to the Conservation Trust Fund, and 10 percent to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. GOCO funds in fiscal year 2018 are capped at $66.2 million and funds that exceed the cap will go to the Colorado Department of Education’s Public School Capital Construction Assistance Fund, according to the lottery website.
The current structure of the primary lottery beneficiaries has been in place since 1992, when the people of Colorado voted to the amend the Colorado constitution and create the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund.
Lottery funds have been used to create and restore hundreds of miles of trails, protect hundreds of miles of rivers, create thousands of jobs, add thousands of acres to the state parks system, create more than 1,000 parks and recreation areas, and protect over 1 million acres of land.
Under a reauthorization passed by the Colorado Legislature in 2002, the Lottery division was extended 15 years from 2009 to 2024. The new bill adds 25 years, authorizing the lottery until 2049.
Led by California, the states of the Lower Colorado River Basin had their lowest consumptive water use in 2017 since 1992, according to a near-final tally by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The final numbers won’t be out until mid-May, so could change slightly, but at this point they won’t change much. And they show that, despite the chaotic politics you’ve been hearing about lately, Lower Colorado River Basin water users are pushing their water use in the right direction.
In each case, the three Lower Basin states in different ways and on different time scales have been confronting the reality that they had come to depend on more water than the river could provide in the long run. Policy interventions that include municipal conservation, agricultural conservation, and ag-to-urban water transfers are shifting the water balance in the right direction…
At 6.782 million acre feet, that’s the lowest since 1992, before the Central Arizona Project was completed – the last big straw sucking water out of Lake Mead.
When the final numbers are completed, they’ll be published here.
The real problem isn’t one water user striving to achieve a “sweet spot” in reservoir levels to maximize its own water use; it’s the failure so far of the basin states to adjust to the new hydrology. Region-wide aridity and a warming climate just might force that hand for them.
Over the last week, those of us who eat, sleep, and drink Colorado River issues have watched with alternating measures of surprise, concern, and alarm as water users from the Upper Basin states publicly called out the operators of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) for “gaming” reservoir levels to maximize water deliveries to Arizona. The worry is that CAP’s efforts to find a “sweet spot” in managing the Colorado River has the effects of undoing nearly a decade of collaborative conservation successes and threatens to pull the entire Basin into shortage more quickly than is already likely.
Media coverage of this dustup has been welcome, highlighting the complexity and conflicting motivations at the heart of efforts to manage the Colorado River as a water supply for seven states and 40-plus million people. The states and major water users along the river agreed in 2007 to a set of guidelines that spelled out collaborative responses to drought and shortages in water supply. But these guidelines don’t resolve the tension between an ethic of “we’re all in it together” and the long-practiced tendency of each state to maximize their own water use. More critically, the guidelines are a good effort to respond to short-term drought, but deftly avoid the substantive management changes needed to address permanently diminished flows associated with long-term aridity.
Conflict between states and water users is regrettable, but more so, there is a missed opportunity within ongoing multi-state negotiations to fully acknowledge what all of us privately admit… there isn’t going to be enough water in the Colorado River in the future to fulfill all of the previously made promises. If the Colorado basin ever really provided a reliable fifteen to seventeen million-acre-foot (MAF) supply, those days were brief, and they are long gone. The consensus of climate science and hydrology points toward a future in which Colorado River flows total 12 MAF or less, perhaps as low as 9 MAF. The real problem isn’t one water user striving to achieve a “sweet spot” in reservoir levels to maximize its own water use; it’s the failure so far of the basin states to adjust to the new hydrology. Region-wide aridity and a warming climate just might force that hand for them.
In this regard, Arizona certainly could be doing more. Individual users of Colorado River water, some of the major urban water providers, and an irrigation district or two, have shown innovation and commitment to conserving water and creating more flexible tools for sharing their water resources. Likewise, cities in southern Nevada and southern California have demonstrated real foresight, either in reducing demand or developing resilient local water supplies as alternatives to uncertain and declining Colorado River imports. But as a whole, the states that share the river haven’t yet shown a full commitment to solving the underlying problem of getting by with a smaller share of Colorado River water.
If there’s a silver lining in last week’s airing of dirty laundry, maybe, just maybe, it’s in the way the family feud has highlighted our need to get to the real issues. As the basin looks toward negotiations around a new set of operating guidelines to succeed those adopted in 2007, let’s hope they can bring a spirit of innovation and honest, intentional, collaboration to meet this challenge.
After four states and Denver’s municipal water agency wrote letters accusing Arizona’s largest water provider of manipulating the Colorado River system to advantage itself, a former general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority lashed Arizona as a “bad actor.” An official at the water authority said this week that the utility was taking the concerns seriously.
Pat Mulroy, the water authority’s former general manager, offered a sharp critique of the Arizona utility — the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) — in an interview with The Nevada Independent. She said the utility’s actions had made it a “bad actor” on the river, adding that she believed the claims that CAWCD was manipulating the system to the detriment of other users. She said the fight plays into the internal power struggle within Arizona.
“They are willing to let the entire Colorado River system crash in order to win this parochial battle against the state,” Mulroy said. “It’s illogical… But that’s where they’re headed.”
In a letter Monday, Denver Water said it would end funding for a conservation program in 2019 if CAWCD did not alter its actions. The Southern Nevada agency, which manages water throughout Clark County, also funds the program.
No decision has been made about whether it will pull funding too. A spokesman said that the authority will take a “wait and see” approach to evaluate whether to fund the program next year. Colby Pellegrino, who manages the authority’s Colorado River supply, said the Denver Water letter was significant. Through Lake Mead, Southern Nevada gets about 90 percent of its drinking water from the river.
“We need to take Denver’s concerns seriously,” she said in an interview.
The funding in question is for a pilot program designed to conserve water in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, an attempt to prop up the elevation of the two major interconnected reservoirs in the Colorado River system. The Colorado River is split into two basins, an Upper Basin and a Lower Basin. The Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada pull their water from Lake Mead. Both basins have an interest in keeping their respective reservoirs above critical elevations that trigger losses in hydropower production and shortages in their water deliveries.
The Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are concerned that the CAWCD is manipulating supply and demand, to take more water from their reservoir, Lake Powell, than is appropriate for a system that is over-stressed and runs through an increasingly arid region. Even Arizona state officials have spoken out against CAWCD, which is locked in an internal battle with the Arizona Department of Water Resources, an arm of the governor’s office.
Mulroy applauded the Upper Basin for writing its letter, saying she hoped it would put pressure on Arizona water managers to settle their fighting, one of the factors holding up a drought plan.
Denver Water raised concerns in an April 16 letter over perceived “manipulation of water demands” by the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District, which manages the Central Arizona Project. CAP’s system of canals feeds Colorado River Water to Arizona farms and the cities of Phoenix and Tucson.
In the letter, Denver Water CEO/manager Jim Lochhead called into question recent CAP statements about a so-called “sweet spot” in Lake Mead. CAP water managers are publicly discussing keeping measurement levels within a specific range in the lower Colorado River Basin reservoir so more water will come from Lake Powell upstream.
Lochhead said those actions jeopardize millions spent by his agency to conserve Colorado River water upstream. Denver Water gets about half of what it needs from the river, and has invested in recent years in the Colorado River Conservation Program, which pays state farmers and ranchers to conserve Colorado River water as the entire basin struggles to manage the effects of an 18-year drought.
Denver Water is prepared to terminate our funding of the program after we meet our obligations in 2018…unless the [Central Arizona Water Conservancy District] is able to verifiably establish it has ceased all actions to manipulate demands and is fully participating in aggressive conservation measures along with other entities in Arizona,” the letter said.
In an interview, Lochhead said actions by Arizona water managers “undermines both the investment that Denver Water has made in this program and it undermines the conservation efforts that are being made by water users in the upper basin including in Western Colorado.”
For its part, the Arizona district said it will contact Denver Water officials and can’t comment now.
More Unusual Steps
Denver Water’s missive isn’t the first warning received by the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District. Just three days before Denver’s communique, the Upper Colorado River Commission sent its own strongly worded dispatch to Arizona Department of Water Resources chief Tom Buschatzke.
“[The Central Arizona Water Conservation District’s] goal appears to be to delay agreement on drought plans in order to take advantage of what it terms the ‘sweet spot’ by drawing ‘bonus water’ from Lake Powell… characterizations indicate that CAWCD intends to disregard the basin’s dire situation at the expense of Lake Powell and all other basin states,” the commission wrote.
Upper Colorado River Commissioner James Eklund signed the letter along with representatives from New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah. He said it was “an unusual step to see language like this in a letter from one state to another. That said, we feel like it was timely and the situation warranted the letter.”
For Eklund, the crux of the issue is one water district in Arizona “maximizing one interest over the interest of the entire basin.”
“We assumed good faith dealing and when we saw something that suggested a contrary message or policy being adopted by the district in Arizona,” Eklund continued. “That’s when we decided we have to bring them back into the fold, into the herd, and get them back at the negotiating table.”
“It raises important questions about actions taken by Central Arizona Water Conservation District that threaten to blow up the collaborative effort that we have been enjoying on the Colorado River for the last 20 years,” Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke told KJZZ in Phoenix.
Commissioners for the Upper Colorado River sent a letter late last week to Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke. In the letter, they specifically criticized a water management strategy of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD).
Here’s what the upper basin doesn’t like: the CAWCD aims to keep Lake Mead at a so-called “sweet spot.” If the level of the lake stays in that range, then under current agreements, more water comes down from Lake Powell.
The Commissioners’ letter expressed deep concern that CAWCD “intends to disregard the basin’s dire situation at the expense of Lake Powell and all other basin states.” Don Ostler, executive director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, said bluntly in an interview. “That kind of manipulation is unacceptable to the Upper Basin.”
The letter echoed an argument long made by Buschatzke.
“It raises important questions about actions taken by Central Arizona Water Conservation District that threaten to blow up the collaborative effort that we have been enjoying on the Colorado River for the last 20 years,” he said.
A statement from the CAWCD, in part, said, “We are surprised and disappointed to have received a letter from the Upper Colorado River Commission questioning CAWCD’s intentions in leaving water in Lake Mead. We have been reaching out to our partners in the Upper Basin, hoping to clarify apparent misunderstandings, and to facilitate in-person, collaborative discussions aimed at finding solutions that will benefit the communities and environment served by this mighty river.”
CAWCD also reminded people of the water the agency has conserved on behalf of Lake Mead, “at a significant cost to CAP water users in terms of water and water rates.” CAWCD runs the Central Arizona Project canal system, which delivers water to the Phoenix and Tuscon areas.
The Upper Colorado River Commissioners also urged Arizona to get its internal house in order so all seven states and Mexico can plan for long-term drought.
“The seven Colorado River Basin states and Mexico are connected at the hip in this river,” Ostler said. “And what is going on with regards to one state, its failure to make progress, is having an effect on all seven states.”
Buschatzke and Gov. Doug Ducey are trying to get big-ticket water legislation through the state Capitol this year. But time is running out on the legislative session.
Central Arizona water managers, facing backlash from other Colorado River users for allegedly undercutting regional conservation efforts, will visit Utah later this month aiming to smooth relations across a region struggling to agree on a way to save a key water supply…
CAP General Manager Ted Cooke initially shot back that his agency was following the rules and manipulating nothing. But as the week progressed, CAP asked for an audience and planned an April 30 meeting with the Upper Colorado Basin Commission in Salt Lake City.
“We reached out to (commissioners) individually, and they said, ‘How about we hear you all at once?’” CAP spokeswoman Crystal Thompson said.
An official with the commission representing Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico water interests confirmed they are scheduling a private meeting to discuss the conflict…
The Arizona Department of Water Resources and Gov. Doug Ducey have sought but so far failed to secure legislative authority to hold back some of the water the CAP delivers from Lake Mead as part of the state’s offering for a regional conservation agreement. That water would come from Arizona tribes and other users who would willingly store it in the Southwest’s largest reservoir rather than taking their full legal share each year.
CAP, which traditionally has sold excess water to users or groundwater storage projects, objected and argued that keeping too much water in Lake Mead could hurt the state. That’s because federal rules for balancing the levels of Lake Mead and its upstream counterpart, Lake Powell, call for releasing more water from Powell if Mead hovers near a level that would trigger a shortage and mandate cutbacks in use.
Under a formula set by the state and the U.S. Interior Department, Lake Powell will send 9 million acre-feet to Lake Mead this year to prevent shortage, rather than the 8.23 million acre-feet it would send under normal river conditions. Each acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons and is enough to serve about two households for a year.
Conserving enough to prevent a shortage but not so much as to slow the flow from Lake Powell represents a “sweet spot,” CAP argued, in language that has now alarmed upstream water officials.
A CAP graphic circulated among water managers set off the criticism. It depicted Lake Mead’s “sweet spot” as being around elevation 1,080 to 1,085 feet above sea level, or 5 to10 feet above the level that would trigger mandated cutbacks for Arizona water users.
CAP’s “manipulation of demands in order to take advantage of the supposed ‘sweet spot’ in Lake Powell water releases undermines (regional conservation), and is unacceptable,” Denver Water CEO James Lochhead wrote.
He said his agency would cease funding conservation measures by farms and other users if CAP doesn’t embrace “aggressive conservation measures along with other entities in Arizona.”
CAP has participated in Colorado River conservation, and has argued that without its actions in recent years Lake Mead would already be in shortage mode. Critics have argued it’s not enough, and that another dry winter like the last one could end the “bonus” that Lake Powell is sending downstream.
Current projections for this spring’s runoff suggest Lake Powell will drop 30 feet this year and end up just 7 feet above the level that would mandate reductions from normal releases into Lake Mead and start a cycle of shortage.
If that happens, the reduced flows could leave Lake Mead vulnerable to declines that would impose steeper reductions on Arizona consumption.
Buschatzke worried that the letters from upstream interests might signal a lawsuit that could upend years of efforts at working across state lines to protect reservoir levels. The shortage triggers and reservoir operating plans are based largely on a 2007 agreement negotiated among the seven river states.
“For the last 10 years we’ve been on the collaborative path,” he said. “This threatens to send us back down the parochial path.”
He called on CAP to heed the message and negotiate a way to keep more water in Lake Mead. That would require an interim, interagency agreement about some of the authority the state has sought from the Legislature, until the governor can get a bill passed this year or next.
Arizona faces more severe cutbacks if it ignores interstate collaboration and lets the reservoir keep dropping. Those cuts would initially affect central Arizona farmers and groundwater banking efforts in the next two years, but urban users and developers could suffer if the depletion gets worse.
Buschatzke cautioned Arizonans against getting defensive about criticism from upstream states. Doing so and refusing to conserve more could leave the state in a bad spot, he said.
“I hope it doesn’t result in some folks in Arizona saying, ‘Man, they’re ganging up on us, we better hunker down,’” he said.
CAP officials will decline further comment to avoid undermining the planned Salt Lake City talks, Thompson said.