Members of the seven-state Colorado River coalition told a panel of U.S. senators today that the river system serving 40 million people in the Southwest and Mexico is threatened seriously by extended drought and asked that Congress back their unified plan for addressing potential delivery shortfalls.
Joined by Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, the Colorado River system representatives — including Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke — testified Wednesday before the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Water and Power.
Commissioner Burman testified first. She outlined the drought issues facing their region and described for the lawmakers the steps taken jointly in recent years in the U.S. by the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and the seven states to address those issues.
In an extended written statement, Commissioner Burman related how, in December 2018, she “called on all seven Basin States and key water districts in the Lower Basin to complete their work on finalizing the Drought Contingency Plans by the end of 2018.”
That work was effectively completed on March 19, when the representatives of all seven Colorado River States signed the Drought Contingency Plans at the ADWR offices in Phoenix and transmitted for consideration by Congress. Buschatzke signed the DCP agreement on behalf of Arizona.
Director Buschatzke provided the Senate panel with details about the creation of the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, or LBDCP (the Colorado River system is divided into two “basins;” the Upper Basin states including Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming and the Lower Basin including Arizona, Nevada and California).
Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke providing testimony before the Senate subcommittee
“The LBDCP and the drought contingency plans crafted by the Upper Basin States are the latest examples of the States working together with the Bureau of Reclamation to achieve agreed-upon solutions to issues facing the States regarding the Colorado River,” said Director Buschatzke.
Buschatzke also described the involvement of the Republic of Mexico in the effort to protect Lake Mead from falling to critical levels. In September 2017, the U.S. and Mexico signed an update, known as Minute 323, to the 1944 U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty, assuring binational cooperation in managing a more stable Colorado River system.
That agreement, said Buschatzke, “provides additional benefit to the actions of the Seven Basin States.”
Also testifying alongside Commissioner Burman and Director Buschatzke were John Entsminger, General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority and Patrick Tyrrell, Wyoming State Engineer.
Buschatzke, Entsminger and Tyrrell, following Wednesday’s hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Power
Chaired by Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, the Senate panelists present included Subcommittee Ranking Member Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, Sen John Barrasso of Wyoming and Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado.
“Now that the states have finished their work, it’s time for Congress to take it across the finish line,” said Sen. McSally, who added that she wished “to get this (legislation) dropped as soon as possible and signed into law.”
Links to the written testimony of the witnesses can be found here.
On Thursday, March 28, Director Buschatzke is again scheduled to provide congressional testimony, this time before the Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva.
Bureau Commissioner Burman and the ADWR Director will be joined again by Entsminger and Tyrrell, as well as by representatives from the other Colorado River states, including Peter Nelson of California, James Eklund of Colorado, John D’Antonio, Jr., of New Mexico and Eric Millis of Utah.
The Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee hearing is scheduled at 10 a.m. EDT. (7 a.m. Arizona time) on Thursday. The hearing can be viewed live here.