“We need to take Denver’s concerns seriously” — Colby Pellegrino #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From The Nevada Independent (Daniel Rothberg):

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.

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

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.

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

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.”

At a deeper level, there’s an internal dispute between Arizona water leaders. The Arizona Department of Water Resources has criticized these management practices by the Central Arizona Project.

“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.

From KJZZ.com (Bret Jaspers):

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.

From the Colorado River District (Martha Moore):

“It’s unfortunate that what we view as their internal dysfunction within Arizona has cause frankly damage within the water community on the Colorado River,” Mueller said.

Mueller wants to see Interior review whether the CAP’s water diversions are in compliance with Colorado River water law.

“It deserves looking at and will require some federal action probably,” he said, adding that the Arizona water district’s actions go beyond a “friendly water dispute.” — Andy Mueller

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 Arizona Republic (Brandon Loomis):

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.

Lake Mead viewed from Arizona.

Building a tank wall: Not just a concrete solution – News on TAP

Holding back 15 million gallons of water requires engineering design to make the structure stronger.

Source: Building a tank wall: Not just a concrete solution – News on TAP

Colorado Water Supply Planning Takes On a New Methodology

Your Water Colorado Blog

By Ana Ruiz

8147838501_1d53a186bf_z Dry agricultural land during Colorado’s 2012 drought. Photo by dalioPhoto, CC Flickr

Back in 2004, shortly after the state’s worst drought on record, the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) moved forward with the first in-depth technical study of Colorado’s water supply needs and gaps. The result was the first Statewide Water Supply Initiative (SWSI), which looked not only at water requirements but also identified projects and methods to meet potential shortages.

In 2010 came the next iteration of SWSI which, in addition to updating population and water supply and demand data, incorporated a comprehensive summary of consumptive and non-consumptive water supply requirements as identified by each of the state’s basin roundtables.

Eight years later, CWCB is working hard on the next SWSI update, slated to be finished by June 2019. However, much of the data, technical memos and online tools that will comprise the SWSI update should…

View original post 786 more words

#Drought news: D4 (exceptional drought) expanded in the Four Corners and NE #NewMexico

Click here to go to the US Drought Monitor website. Here’s an excerpt:


A powerful spring storm emerged from the West and brought extreme conditions to several regions. For example, historic, late-season snow blanketed portions of the northern Plains, upper Midwest, and Great Lakes region, snarling traffic and severely stressing livestock. Meanwhile, dry, windy weather contributed to a major wildfire outbreak, starting on April 12, and led to blowing dust and further reductions in rangeland, pasture, and crop conditions. Farther east, heavy showers and locally severe thunderstorms swept across portions of the southern and eastern U.S. Elsewhere, unsettled, showery weather lingered in the Northwest, extending as far south as northern California…


A sharp line between no drought and moderate to exceptional drought (D1 to D4) continued to slice across Oklahoma and Texas. On April 15, topsoil moisture was rated 72% very short in Oklahoma, along with 66% in Texas. In stark contrast, topsoil moisture was at least one-third surplus in Mississippi (58%), Tennessee (41%), Arkansas (37%), and Louisiana (34%). In the drought-affected areas, rangeland, pastures, and winter grains continued to greatly suffer. On April 15, nearly two-thirds of the winter wheat was rated in very poor to poor condition in Oklahoma (65%) and Texas (63%). On April 12-13 and 16-17, high-wind events brought blowing dust and a rash of major wildfires to western Oklahoma and portions of neighboring states. As of April 17, the two largest wildfires in Oklahoma had charred more than 300,000 acres of grass and brush and had destroyed more than 100 structures. The Rhea Fire, in Dewey County, had consumed more than one-quarter million acres, while the 34 Complex, in Woodward County, had burned across nearly 70,000 acres…

High Plains

Heavy snow also blanketed portions of the northern Plains, while dry, windy weather dominated drought-affected areas of the central Plains. The storm contributed to the elimination of severe drought (D2) from the Dakotas, and brought substantial reductions in the coverage of abnormal dryness (D0) and moderate drought (D1). In South Dakota, 2-day April snowfall records were broken on April 13-14 in Mitchell (16.2 inches) and Huron (15.5 inches), while peak gusts were clocked to 60 and 57 mph, respectively. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, received 14.5 inches of snow from April 13-15, and reported a gust to 67 mph on the 14th. Most of Sioux Falls’ snow—13.7 inches—fell on the 14th, easily becoming the snowiest April day on record in that location (previously, 10.5 inches on April 28, 1994). Farther south, however, topsoil moisture was rated 72% very short to short on April 15 in Kansas, along with 61% in Colorado. On the same date, winter wheat in Kansas was rated 46% very poor to poor. In Colorado, there was a significant introduction of exceptional drought (D4) into the southwestern corner of the state, where winter snowfall was abysmal and spring and summer runoff prospects are poor…


Late-season precipitation continued to move ashore as far south as northern California, resulting in some minor reductions in the coverage of abnormal dryness (D0). In the Southwest, however, dry, often windy weather resulted in drought persistence or intensification. Arizona’s rangeland and pastures were rated 86% very poor to poor on April 15, compared to the 5-year average of 30%. On the same date, New Mexico’s rangeland and pastures were rated 50% very poor to poor, while winter wheat was rated 68% very poor to poor. New Mexico’s topsoil moisture on April 15 was rated 91% very short to short. Due to deteriorating agricultural and hydrological conditions, exceptional drought (D4) was expanded in the Four Corners region as well as northeastern New Mexico…

Looking Ahead

A storm system crossing the nation’s northern tier will reach the Northeast on Thursday, bearing rain and snow. A more significant storm will traverse the West and produce heavy snow in the central Rockies before crossing the Plains on Friday. Precipitation totals associated with the storm will be variable, but some drought-stricken areas of the central and southern Plains could receive as much as 0.5 to 2.0 inches of rain. During the weekend, showers and thunderstorms will erupt across the mid-South and spread into the Southeast. By early next week, warm, dry weather should overspread much of the western U.S., while chilly conditions will linger across the South and East.

The NWS 6- to 10-day outlook for April 24 – 28 calls for the likelihood of near- to below-normal temperatures across most of the eastern half of the U.S., while warmer-than-normal weather will cover the West. Meanwhile, near- to below-normal precipitation across the majority of the country should contrast with wetter-than-normal conditions in a few areas, including the Atlantic Coast States and central and southern sections of the Rockies and High Plains.

@CAPArizona accused of manipulating supply and demand #ColoradoRiver #COriver

From H2ORadio:

Officials from Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico recently sent a letter to counterparts in Arizona, hoping to avert a crisis. The problem, if unresolved, could affect people in seven western states.

A potential water war may be breaking out over the Colorado River, a conflict that could pit Arizona against Colorado, and other states. On April 13th, water managers from states in the north of the river system, called the Upper Basin, sent a letter to Arizona officials asking for their continued cooperation in managing the river for the benefit of everyone.

It all started when the Central Arizona Project, managed by Central Arizona Water Conservation District, posted a graphic on its website showing that it could—and should—take more water than it needs from the river—instead of conserving as much as possible. Many people in Colorado, and even in Arizona, think this potential water grab goes too far.

The Colorado River supplies 40 million people with water under a complex set of rules, laws, and agreements among seven states. James Eklund was one of those who signed the letter to Arizona officials. He is the state of Colorado’s representative on the Upper Colorado River Commission. Eklund explained that the Colorado River system has two major reservoirs that are operated to the benefit of everybody in the basin. The reservoir in the Upper Basin is called Lake Powell, which was filled when Glen Canyon Dam was completed, and below it is Lake Mead, which is the product of Hoover Dam.

The Upper Basin states (comprising Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado) send water to Lake Powell to store in order to meet their requirement to deliver supplies to the Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada, and California. According to Eklund, the Upper Basin depends on a healthy amount of water in Lake Powell to act as an insurance policy against calls for more water from the Lower Basin.

Think of the reservoirs this way—they are like two bathtubs connected one above the other. When the lower bathtub needs water, the upper one has to let some out. The Central Arizona Project wants to force water to be released from the upper bathtub—even if not needed. This got people in the Upper Basin concerned. Up until this point, the perception was that everyone was acting in everyone else’s interest—all for one, and one for all—but Central Arizona Project’s recent move made it appear it’s acting for its own benefit to the detriment of others—especially those in the Upper Basin.

Eklund said that if we start working in our own self interest at the expense of others, then we start getting into more of a zero-sum game, and that’s a place that’s fraught with peril on this river. He added that they have worked very hard not to have the Upper and Lower basins pitted against each other, but the messaging that the Central Arizona Project put out implies that it wants to game the system.

This maneuver would discourage farmers and cities in Colorado from conserving water to send to the upper bathtub—Lake Powell—to meet Lower Basin requirements. People in the Upper Basin have been working hard to promote those conservation efforts. Jim Lochhead, CEO of Denver Water is concerned enough about this potential water grab that he sent a letter to the managers of the Central Arizona Project on April 16th. He threatens to stop funding some conservation efforts unless the Central Arizona Project shows it is not manipulating the system and is aggressively conserving water with other entities in Arizona.

The potential water war along the Colorado underscores how everybody on the river is tied together—especially in a dry year. James Eklund said that inflow into the system is shaping up to be low this year, and we might skirt by; but, if there are back-to-back dry years like this one, then we are really in a crisis.

A crisis where everyone up and down the Colorado River needs to cooperate.

From Water Deeply (Eric Kuhn, John Fleck):

While some problems on the Colorado River are the result of drought and climate change, Congress set the course for serious trouble in the watershed decades ago by authorizing the Central Arizona Project.

WITH THE POTENTIAL of a Colorado River shortage declaration looming as Lake Mead drops, Arizona is struggling with the politics of who will have to cut their water use, and by how much. As Arizona wrestles, it is important to remember how we got here.

It’s easy to blame today’s problems – an overallocated river and declining reservoir levels – on drought and climate change, and both of these do play a role. But our predecessors knew 50 years ago this was inevitable. In 1968, as Congress debated authorization of the Central Arizona Project (CAP), it was clear there was not enough water to supply the 336-mile-long canal, which diverts Colorado River water. But the federal government, with Arizona’s enthusiastic support and the concurrence of the other six U.S. states in the Colorado River basin, charged ahead.

The objective of the half-century of river development that had gone before had not changed in 1968 – massive dams and canals would supply water to farms and cities, backed by the financial might of the federal government. But the fictions on which the preceding half-century’s water development had been based – enough water for all, and a surplus at that – could no longer be supported by the real-world hydrology of the Colorado River.

Today the Central Arizona Project, pumping 1.5 million acre-feet per year to the farms, tribes and cities of the Phoenix and Tucson valleys, is essential to Arizona’s water supply future. But the record left by the project’s congressional debates a half-century ago is clear. Even before we had an inkling of the implications of climate change, the basin’s leadership understood the CAP’s long-term water supply would be far less than 1.5 million acre-feet. Experts in the 1960s agreed that by 2030 the CAP’s reliable water supply, as the project with the most junior priority on the lower river, would be less than 900,000 acre-feet per year and that in many years its actual diversions would be zero.

It was Floyd Dominy, the legendary head of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, who delivered the bad news in 1965 as hearings on the Central Arizona Project began. “Sooner or later,” Dominy told members of the House Subcommittee on Irrigation and Reclamation, “and mostly sooner, the natural flows of the Colorado River will not be sufficient to meet the water demands, either in the lower basin or the upper basin, if these great regions of the nation are to maintain their established economies and realize their growth potential.”

Since the early 1900s, we have repeatedly overestimated how much water the Colorado River could provide. Scientists who suggested otherwise were ignored or marginalized. The negotiators of the 1922 Colorado River Compact believed the natural flow of the river at Lee’s Ferry was 17.5 million acre-feet per year. By the mid-1960s, the reality of the river’s actual hydrology, a natural flow of 15 million acre-feet per year, could no longer be ignored. Absent enough water to fill the CAP canal, the politicians and basin water officials turned to a dreamy fiction. All the basin needed to do was augment the river with a series of canals, pumping plants and pipelines to import water from the Columbia River basin in the Pacific Northwest. If the compact and treaty with Mexico allocated 17.5 million acre-feet, but the river only provided 15 million, they would find 2.5 million acre-feet somewhere else.

But the Columbia basin states blocked that option. Despite the reality that there would be no augmentation, Congress, with the acquiescence of the Colorado River basin, approved the CAP. This guaranteed the situation we have today. The CAP, a project essential to the water supply of one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, has, by legislative design, an unreliable water supply.

It would be easy to blame Arizona for expanding based on the fiction that there was enough water to fill its CAP, but it is not alone. California, too, overbuilt based on unrealistic expectations of a surplus on the river large enough to fill its Colorado River Aqueduct, which provides critical water to millions of people from Los Angeles to San Diego. The managers of these projects now face the politically daunting task of cannibalizing their agricultural neighbors, with the senior rights, to provide the water their customers rely on, a process that is already well underway in California.

In the upper basin, the transmountain diversions that provide water to growing cities on the Colorado Front Range and Utah’s Wasatch Front are in the same situation. Even as others continue to harbor grand plans to export even more water out of the basin, project sponsors try to improve the reliability of their junior rights at the expense of their agricultural neighbors.

This will not get easier. With climate change, we face the probability that the 15 million acre-foot river at Lee’s Ferry we refused to accept in 1968 is now a 13 million acre-foot river, and headed down. The genius of the 1922 Colorado River Compact was a social contract between the faster- and slower-growing basins that enabled the political coalitions necessary to pass federal legislation to develop the river. Today, with the basin fully developed and overallocated, the problem is the reallocation of supplies between agricultural districts with senior rights and cities that, though holding junior rights, require certainty. Can we find a similar social contract between cities, agriculture, tribes and the environmental and recreation communities to allow reallocation to proceed in a manner acceptable to all?

From InkStain (John Fleck):

Four years ago, when I was young and naive, I pointed to what in retrospect I now realize was a warning sign of the train wreck we’re now seeing. Phoenix had rights to some extra Colorado River water it wasn’t using, and it wanted to leave it in Lake Mead. The Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the government agency that runs the Central Arizona Project, had the power to block this, and did.

It’s an example of what an academic colleague described to me at the time as “the anticommons” – where single users of a common pool resource have the power individually to block solutions that are in the collective best interest of the users as a whole.

From the Associated Press (Dan Elliott):

The four states — Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — plus Denver’s water utility said the Central Arizona Project was trying to avoid a reduction in its share of the Colorado River while others are voluntarily cutting back to avoid a crisis amid a prolonged drought.

“It’s one water user taking advantage of a situation for their own benefit, to the detriment of a river that supplies nearly 40 million people,” said Jim Lochhead, manager of Denver Water, which gets about half its supply from the Colorado River.

The Central Arizona Project denied the allegations and said it’s been conserving…

Last winter was exceptionally dry across most of the central and southern Rocky Mountains, so there will be below-average melting snow to feed the river.

The dispute over the Central Arizona Project revolves around how much water flows from the upper part of the Colorado River system to the lower. The upper part, called the Upper Basin, includes the four states challenging the Arizona utility. The Lower Basin includes Arizona, California and Nevada.

Each basin is entitled to about half the river’s water under rules laid out in a collection of interstate agreements, court rulings and international treaties. To make sure the Lower Basin states get their share, the Upper Basin states send water from the massive Lake Powell reservoir to the even bigger Lake Mead reservoir downstream. In 2007, the Upper Basin states agreed to send Lake Mead additional water if conditions were right to keep that reservoir from dropping too low.

The Upper Basin states now claim the Central Arizona Project is manipulating its share in a way that keeps Lake Mead low enough that the Upper Basin is required to send extra water, but high enough to avoid mandatory cutbacks in Lower Basin consumption.

Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project, called that level the “sweet spot.” In remarks posted on the project’s website, he indicated the utility wants to keep Lake Mead there for as long as possible.

That prompted the four Upper Basin states to send Arizona an unusually blunt letter Friday. They accused the Central Arizona Project of ignoring the river’s dire condition and endangering water supplies for millions of people. They warned they wouldn’t voluntarily conserve water if the Arizona utility was going to take it.

In an interview, the Colorado representative who signed the letter, James Eklund, said the Arizona utility has made “gaming the system” a policy goal.

“That’s just not conducive to collaboration,” he said.

Lochhead sent his own letter to Arizona officials on Monday, saying Denver Water would stop contributing to a fund that promotes Colorado River conservation unless the Central Arizona Project stopped manipulating the river.

In a tweet last week, Cooke denied the utility was manipulating the river and described its practices as wise management.

He declined comment this week through a spokeswoman. The utility released a written statement saying it was surprised and disappointed by the Upper Basin states’ letter and wanted to “clarify apparent misunderstandings.”

What happens next wasn’t immediately clear. Eklund said the topic could come up at meetings this month among the Colorado River states and federal officials.

The states have a long history of cooperating on ways to conserve the waterway, Eklund said, and the Upper Basin states want that to continue.

He said they can’t afford to wait, because another dry winter could trigger mandatory cutbacks for water users under the rules governing the river.

“We’re really hoping that we get good precipitation, but that is not something we can control,” Eklund said. “What we can control is how we deal with each other.”

Lake Mead December 2017. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

Planning for #drought, or planning for a drier future? — Hannah Holm

From the Hutchins Water Center (Hannah Holm) via The Glenwood Springs Post Independent:

Looking up at the Grand Mesa from Grand Junction in early April, it’s good to see snow on its flanks. For too much of this past winter, they have been bare. Skiers felt the pain of the dry winter early; fish and ranchers will feel it this summer.

In Grand Junction, the impacts of this year’s drought will likely be eased by last year’s bounty, stored in reservoirs upstream. More troubling is the trend we’ve been seeing since 2000, which scientists are warning could signal a shift to a more arid climate.

Since 2000, we’ve had a lot more dry years than wet years in the Colorado River Basin. In a report released in March, the Colorado River Research Group warns that it may be more accurate to see this succession of dry years as a process of aridification, rather than a drought: we shouldn’t assume that it will end any time soon.

The group points to several recent studies showing that warmer temperatures have already led to a larger portion of our snowpack evaporating or getting taken up by plants before it has a chance to reach streams. 2017 was a case in point, with a very large snowpack converted into only moderately above-average inflows into Lake Powell.

Water managers and policymakers have not failed to notice this drying trend, reflected most obviously in dropping levels in Lakes Powell and Mead. Water users in the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada have reigned in their water use a bit, managing to keep Lake Mead just barely above official shortage levels for the past few years. In the upper basin states of Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado, water leaders have been conducting modeling exercises to assess the risk of critical shortages and experiments to test options for responding.

The Colorado River Risk Study, spearheaded by the Colorado River District and the Southwestern Water Conservation District, has modeled several hydrology and water demand scenarios to assess the risk of Lake Powell dropping too low to reliably generate hydropower (somewhere between elevations of 3,490 and 3,525 feet above sea level). If Powell drops much further, it could also become difficult to release enough water through the dam to meet downstream obligations under the 1922 Colorado River Compact. If that happens, cities could rush to purchase water rights from farms, potentially drying up much of the agriculture on the Western Slope.

Using historical hydrology from 1988–2012 and demand numbers that roughly track current use trends, modeling indicates a 20 percent chance of Powell dropping to elevation 3,525 between now and 2036 if we don’t significantly change how water is managed. Using the same demand and hydrology data, that risk could be cut in half if major reservoirs like Blue Mesa and Flaming Gorge release extra water to Powell, and the lower basin states implement their own plans to protect Lake Mead water levels. The risk drops further if conservation activities generate water that can be stored in a “bank” and released as needed. However, major benefits would come only after such a bank has had time to accumulate a significant amount of water.

Meanwhile, the Upper Colorado River Commission has been giving out grants to test whether paying willing water users to temporarily reduce their use could help boost water levels in Powell. Such temporary reductions, rotated between different water users, are seen as an alternative to the permanent “buy and dry” of agricultural water rights.

Participants in the grant program include the Grand Valley Water Users Association, which chose several farmers by lottery to temporarily fallow their land in exchange for payment, and farmers in the North Fork and Uncompahgre Valleys who reduced irrigation or grew alternative crops under the program.

The Commission’s report on the program concluded that it could work, but several hurdles would have to be overcome. For example, it is unclear if sufficient legal tools currently exist to ensure that water conserved by one user could make it to Lake Powell without being picked up by someone else along the way. Measuring the amount of water saved through modified irrigation practices is also technically challenging. And the cost could be high — at the rates used by the program in 2017, it would cost $40 million to conserve about 200,000 acre feet of water.

As drought planning has been discussed at Western Slope water meetings, concerns have been raised about how to ensure fairness, with a strong desire to ensure that cities share the pain of any use cuts with farmers. There is also concern that proactive conservation could simply facilitate new drains on the Colorado River system, rather than protect existing users from drier conditions.

The data clearly demonstrate that we face the risk of a drier future, in which past ways of managing water will not continue to be viable. There are ways to mitigate the impact on our communities, but they are likely to be expensive and will certainly be complicated. This makes it all the more important to press forward now. The sooner we can find equitable, feasible mechanisms for adapting to drier conditions, the more smoothly we will be able to handle both temporary droughts and drier conditions over the long term.

Hannah Holm coordinates the Hutchins Water Center at Colorado Mesa University, which promotes research, education and dialogue to address the water issues facing the Upper Colorado River Basin. Support for Hutchins Water Center articles is provided by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation. You can learn more about the center at http://www.coloradomesa.edu/water-center.

@COWaterTrust: RiverBank tickets are on sale!

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This year, we have the honor of recognizing our 2018 David Getches Flowing Waters Award winner, Jeff Shoemaker and The Greenway Foundation!

Read more about Jeff’s accomplishments here.