Turning the tables: reporters covering the Colorado River explain their challenges to Colorado River water users

Left to right: Peter Prengaman (AP); Crystal Thompson (CAP); Alex Hager (KUNC); Hunter Bassler (12 News)

Left to right: Peter Prengaman (AP); Crystal Thompson (CAP); Alex Hager (KUNC); Hunter Bassler (12 News)

The 2022 Colorado River Water Users Association meetings are setting records for attendees. It has never before sold out. This time, it has.

It literally has “sold out” of credentials for media, too. The halls of the Caesar’s Palace vast meeting-room levels are swarming with more media than these meetings ever have seen before. This “colloquium” gives attendees a unique window into the news world and how it covers Colorado River water issues.

Peter Prengaman, an environmental news editor at the Associated Press, describes a package of Colorado River stories that AP and other journalists have created for AP subscribers, including Arizona publications such as the Yuma Sun and the Arizona Daily Star.

AP, says Prengaman, previously covered climate-change issues as a science story. In this latest Colorado River series, as well as in other coverage, the news service is attempting to examine climate change more “holistically,” including pursuing stories on water issues around the world.

“A lot of people are only now starting to engage with climate change,” he said. “But the science, really, is 40 or 50 years old.”

Alex Hager, a reporter who produces NPR-style stories for public radio at his home station of KUNC, as well as for numerous other public-radio stations around the US and Canada. In addition, he produces written web features on his subjects, which include a considerable number of stories related to the Colorado River.

His work on the Colorado River is funded by the Walton Family Foundation. Hager observes that there is “a strict firewall” between his reporting and the funding foundation.

Hager notes that a lot of his story subject come from sources “other than PR pitches.” That got a laugh from the audience, which seems to include a fair number of PR people.

Like a great many other people who are attempting to understand the complex issues facing the Colorado River, Hager acknowledges that learning the complex language of water has been a continuous challenge.

Hunter Bassler of KPNX, Channel 12 in Phoenix, is a digital reporter and producer, mainly for the news station’s website.

“Visually showing the effects of climate change is pretty difficult,” said Bassler.

Through his online articles, he said, TV reporters can see whether a story can translate into something they can turn for television. Water stories, he said, need to be interesting, accurate and digestible – a real problem, he acknowledges, given their complexity.

“Water agencies have done a fine job of making water data available online,” he observed.

Jerd Smith of Fresh Water News, a service provided by Water Education Colorado, described how her news service was created to help bolster the dwindling coverage afforded by traditional news media whose newsrooms have been decimated in recent years from layoffs.

“We share our content with media organizations across (Colorado),” said Smith.

Smith noted the importance of including maps with water stories, since “all water stories are local stories.” She pointed out the need for reporters to “get out and build relationships” rather than report from “your closets and basements” – an issue that to many observers became much more serious during the pandemic.

Teal Lehto, who bills herself as “Western Water Girl,” produces water-related videos on Tik Tok, a video-format social media platform that “is the most popular platform” for people under 30, she observed. Lehto has over 50,000 regular viewers.

Like Public Radio’s Alex Hager, she said, “I also use my closet as my studio.”

Lehto noted that she only started her water-news video platform in April. “And, now, here I am up here (on a CRWUA panel) today.”

“My platform is proof that young people are interested and will be engaged, but only if you are speaking their language,” she said.

Turning the tables: reporters covering the Colorado River explain their challenges to Colorado River water users

The 2022 Colorado River Water Users Association meetings are setting records for attendees. It has never before sold out. This time, it has.

It literally has “sold out” of credentials for media, too. The halls of the Caesar’s Palace vast meeting-room levels are swarming with more media than these meetings ever have seen before. This “colloquium” gives attendees a unique window into the news world and how it covers Colorado River water issues.

Peter Prengaman, an environmental news editor at the Associated Press, describes a package of Colorado River stories that AP and other journalists have created for AP subscribers, including Arizona publications such as the Yuma Sun and the Arizona Daily Star.

AP, says Prengaman, previously covered climate-change issues as a science story. In this latest Colorado River series, as well as in other coverage, the news service is attempting to examine climate change more “holistically,” including pursuing stories on water issues around the world.

“A lot of people are only now starting to engage with climate change,” he said. “But the science, really, is 40 or 50 years old.”

Alex Hager, a reporter who produces NPR-style stories for public radio at his home station of KUNC, as well as for numerous other public-radio stations around the US and Canada. In addition, he produces written web features on his subjects, which include a considerable number of stories related to the Colorado River.

His work on the Colorado River is funded by the Walton Family Foundation. Hager observes that there is “a strict firewall” between his reporting and the funding foundation.

Hager notes that a lot of his story subject come from sources “other than PR pitches.” That got a laugh from the audience, which seems to include a fair number of PR people.

Like a great many other people who are attempting to understand the complex issues facing the Colorado River, Hager acknowledges that learning the complex language of water has been a continuous challenge.

Hunter Bassler of KPNX, Channel 12 in Phoenix, is a digital reporter and producer, mainly for the news station’s website.

“Visually showing the effects of climate change is pretty difficult,” said Bassler.

Through his online articles, he said, TV reporters can see whether a story can translate into something they can turn for television. Water stories, he said, need to be interesting, accurate and digestible – a real problem, he acknowledges, given their complexity.

“Water agencies have done a fine job of making water data available online,” he observed.

Jerd Smith of Fresh Water News, a service provided by Water Education Colorado, described how her news service was created to help bolster the dwindling coverage afforded by traditional news media whose newsrooms have been decimated in recent years from layoffs.

Left to right: Peter Prengaman; Crystal Thompson; Alex Hager; Hunter Bassler

“We share our content with media organizations across (Colorado),” said Smith.

Smith noted the importance of including maps with water stories, since “all water stories are local stories.” She pointed out the need for reporters to “get out and build relationships” rather than report from “your closets and basements” – an issue that to many observers became much more serious during the pandemic.

Teal Lehto, who bills herself as “Western Water Girl,” produces water-related videos on Tik Tok, a video-format social media platform that “is the most popular platform” for people under 30, she observed. Lehto has over 50,000 regular viewers.

Like Public Radio’s Alex Hager, she said, “I also use my closet as my studio.”

Lehto noted that she only started her water-news video platform in April. “And, now, here I am up here (on a CRWUA panel) today.”

“My platform is proof that young people are interested and will be engaged, but only if you are speaking their language,” she said.

The most important CRWUA meetings ever begin with a Water 101 primer

Incoming Central Arizona Project GM Brenda Burman is kicking off the formal program for the 2022 meetings of the Colorado River Water Users Association with a primer on the rare language of water that come easily to regular attendees, but can be obscure and confusing to newbies to this conference. And with an overflow audience, there are a lot of newbies here.

A fundamental element of Burman’s lecture is terminology. There are familiar terms: “acre-feet” (the basic measurement of apportionments of water when you’re dealing literally with billions of gallons) and “junior priority,” the notorious status of certain Arizona water users who must stand in line for river water until California’s buckets all are full.

The newest term in Colorado River-ese: “aridification,” the phenomenon that has contributed to dramatically drier soils in the Rocky Mountain watershed, which has been soaking up stunning amounts of snowpack runoff, contributing hugely to the dire conditions at Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

Also: “You will hear people talking about ‘elevations at Lake Mead.’ We talk about that a lot,” said Burman. This is a relatively simple term. It refers to water levels at the biggest reservoir in the U.S., which are descending to near catastrophic levels (which also is the explanation for why the CRWUA annual meetings have sold out). When elevations at Lake Mead start descending toward the most notorious condition of all – dead pool – it attracts a whole lot of attention.

Brenda Burman, Executive Strategy Advisor, Central Arizona Project.
Brenda Burman, Executive Strategy Advisor, Central Arizona Project.

A part of the Burman presentation regards “intake valves” and “bypass tubes” at Glen Canyon Dam. This may be the most under-reported news story regarding threats to the river system’s infrastructure.

Once water levels at Lake Powell descend below the huge intake valves (which drive the generators at the dam and create electricity) the only way to pass water through the dam and down through the Grand Canyon is through a much smaller set of four “bypass tubes.” Burman observes that the Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Tom Buschatzke, often refers to these bypass tubes as “garden hoses.” He’s not wrong. The four much-smaller tubes literally are incapable of handling a typical year’s water flow out of Glen Canyon Dam, which is 7.5 million acre-feet. Relying on those intake tubes is a genuinely serious threat to the system.

“So what does all this mean?” she asks.

“We want to leave this river in a better place than how we found it. Given all we’ve seen here, that’s not an easy job.”

Note: A copy of Burman’s PowerPoint presentation will be posted on the CRWUA website.

Arizona Department of Water Resources field hydrologists conducting “basin sweep” to collect water level measurements in the Phoenix AMA

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PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                         December 1, 2022

Arizona Department of Water Resources field hydrologists conducting “basin sweep” to collect water level measurements in the Phoenix AMA

PHOENIX- Beginning the week of December 12, 2022, and continuing through January 2023, Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) field services staff will make an extensive effort to measure water levels in wells in the Phoenix Active Management Area (AMA). This survey of wells – or basin “sweep,” as it is known – was last conducted during the winter of 2016/2017. 

The data collected will be analyzed and used to obtain a comprehensive overview of the groundwater conditions and used to support scientific and water management planning efforts. Among others, data uses will include:

  • Analysis of water-level trends
  • Groundwater modeling
  • Water-level change maps
  • Hydrologic reports
  • Water resource planning and management

This basin sweep covers an area generally in the central portion of the state and extends west of the Phoenix Metro area past Tonopah, east near the Superstition Mountain and Globe, AZ, north of New River, AZ and south to Sacaton. The Phoenix AMA consists of the following subbasins; Hassayampa, West Salt River Valley, Lake Pleasant, East Salt River Valley, Rainbow Valley, Carefree and Fountain Hills.

Map of the Phoenix AMA

For more information regarding this matter, please contact Public Information Officer Shauna Evans at smevans@azwater.gov or (602) 771-8079. Details about the nature of basin sweeps and groundwater modeling can be found here.

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Comment Period for Arizona Water Protection Fund Fiscal Year 2023 Grant Applications Now Open

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

September 12, 2022

Press Release

CONTACT: Shauna Evans

(602) 771-8079

smevans@azwater.gov

Comment Period for Arizona Water Protection Fund Fiscal Year 2023 Grant Applications Now Open

PHOENIX – The Arizona Water Protection Fund* has received grant applications for its fiscal year 2023 funding cycle. 

Grant applications are now available for public review at the Arizona Water Protection Fund website at https://www.azwpf.gov/grant-information/2023

Written comments regarding grant applications may be submitted during the 45-day public comment period, which begins September 14, 2022 and ends October 28, 2022 at 5:00 p.m.  Written public comments must be received no later than 5:00 p.m., October 28, 2022.  Written comments can be mailed, sent via email, or sent by fax.  If mailed, written comments must be postmarked no later than October 28, 2022.  Please include application numbers and project titles. For additional information, please contact Reuben Teran, Executive Director at (602) 771-8528.

Mailing AddressFaxEmail
Arizona Water Protection Fund
Arizona Department of Water Resources
Attn: Reuben Teran
1802 W Jackson St. Box #79 
Phoenix, Arizona 85007
(602) 771-8687rteran@azwater.gov

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* The Arizona Water Protection Fund supports projects that develop or implement on the ground measures that directly maintain, enhance and restore Arizona’s river and riparian resources

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Arizona Water Protection Fund Accepting Applications for Fiscal Year 2023 Grant Cycle

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 7, 2027

Press Release

CONTACT: Shauna Evans

(602) 771-8079

smevans@azwater.gov

Arizona Water Protection Fund Accepting Applications for Fiscal Year 2023 Grant Cycle

PHOENIX- The Arizona Water Protection Fund (AWPF) supports projects that develop or implement on the ground measures that directly maintain, enhance and restore Arizona’s river and riparian resources.

The AWPF Commission will be accepting applications for the Fiscal Year 2023 grant cycle, and will award grants under three categories: capital projects, research, and water conservation. The deadline to submit applications is August 26, 2022 at 5:00pm. Applications will only be accepted electronically via the eCivis Grants Management System.  The eCivis grant application link, grant cycle schedule, grant application manual, and electronic forms are available on the AWPF website at https://www.azwpf.gov/grant-information/2023.

AWPF staff will be hosting one grant application workshop:

LocationDateTime
Online Webinar*Wednesday, July 13, 2022 1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.
Webinar Information
Link: https://azwater.webex.com/azwater/j.php?MTID=m698a60dc10b5d820e9aec422b9272934
Webinar Number (Access Code): 2594 425 7646
Webinar Password: GmwNniX4p55
Join by Phone: 1-415-655-0001 US Toll (Access Code is same as above)

*Staff will be providing the grant application workshop via online webinar only, but a recording will also be available on the AWPF website at https://www.azwpf.gov/grant-information/2023.   Please contact the Arizona Water Protection Fund at 602-771-8528 or rteran@azwater.gov with any questions.

The Arizona Legislature established the AWPF in 1994 (A.R.S. § 45-2101, et seq.). The Arizona Department of Water Resources provides administrative, technical, and legal support to the AWPF Commission. The legislation establishing the AWPF provides that it is the declared policy of the Legislature to provide for a coordinated effort between state funding and locally led solutions for the restoration and conservation of the water resources of the state. A.R.S. § 45-2101(A). The primary purpose of the AWPF is to provide monies through a competitive public grant process for implementation of measures to protect water of sufficient quality and quantity to maintain, enhance, and restore rivers and streams and associated riparian resources consistent with existing water law and water rights, and measures to increase water availability. A.R.S. § 45-2101(B).

For additional information, please contact Reuben Teran at rteran@azwater.gov.

“Appreciation Week” Recognizes Essential Services of Arizona Water Professionals

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PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                         April 6, 2022

Appreciation Week” Recognizes Essential Services of Arizona Water Professionals

PHOENIX – During the week of April 11-17 Arizona leaders from both within and outside the state’s “water community” will take time during Arizona Water Professionals Appreciation Week to recognize the thousands of water professionals working to provide residents with clean and sustainable water supplies. Appreciation Week also aims to highlight career opportunities in the water industry and increase awareness of the state’s unique water resources.

The kick-off of the fourth-annual Arizona Water Professionals Appreciation Week — April 11-17 — is scheduled for 4 p.m. on Monday, April 11 at the State Capitol.

All Arizona water professionals are invited to be recognized at 4 p.m. on Monday, April 11 in the Rose Garden at the state capitol to participate in the photo opportunity and receive a free lapel pin.

As in previous years, Sen. Rosanna Gabaldon (D-Sahuarita) will read the Senate Proclamation from the Arizona Senate floor the day of the celebration. The Senate reading will be recorded and archived on the Arizona Legislature website (azleg.gov) under the Arizona Capitol Television tab.

More information regarding the Arizona Water Professionals Appreciation Week celebration can be found at arizonawaterprofessionals.com.

See Also

This event is sponsored by AZ Water Association. For more information, please contact Suzanne Durkin-Bighorn, Executive Director suzannedb@azwater.org or Juliet McKenna, event co-organizer, jmckenna@elmontgomery.com

Arizona Department of Water Resources field hydrologists conducting “basin sweep” to collect water level measurements in the Prescott AMA and the Verde River Basin

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PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                         February 4, 2022

Arizona Department of Water Resources field hydrologists conducting “basin sweep” to collect water level measurements in the Prescott AMA and the Verde River Basin

PHOENIX – Beginning the week of February 28, 2022, and continuing for several months, Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) field services staff will make an extensive effort to measure water levels in wells in the Prescott Active Management Area (AMA) and the Verde River Basin.  ADWR staff will attempt to measure water levels at hundreds of wells in these groundwater basins. This survey of wells – or basin “sweep,” as it is known – was last conducted in spring 2017 for the Prescott AMA and Verde River Basin.  

The data collected will be analyzed and used to obtain a comprehensive overview of the groundwater conditions and used to support scientific and water management planning efforts. Among others, data uses will include:

  • Analysis of water-level trends
  • Groundwater modeling
  • Water-level change maps
  • Hydrologic reports
  • Water resource planning and management.

This basin sweep covers an area generally in the central – northwestern portion of the state and extends west of Payson and Flagstaff, east and southeast of Peach Springs and north of Bradshaw and Mazatzal Mountains.  The Phoenix AMA consists of the Little Chino and Upper Agua Fria Sub-basins and the Verde River Basin consists of the Big Chino, Verde Valley and Verde Canyon Sub-basins.

For more information regarding this matter, please contact Public Information Officer Shauna Evans at smevans@azwater.gov or (602) 771-8079.

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Arizona Department of Water Resources field hydrologists conducting “basin sweep” to collect water level measurements in the Western Planning Area: Butler Valley, Harquahala, McMullen Valley, Ranegras Plain, and Tiger Wash Basins

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PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                         January 5, 2022

Arizona Department of Water Resources field hydrologists conducting “basin sweep” to collect water level measurements in the Western Planning Area: Butler Valley, Harquahala, McMullen Valley, Ranegras Plain, and Tiger Wash Basins

PHOENIX – Beginning the week of January 1st, 2022, and scheduled to continue for multiple months, Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) field services staff will be making an extensive effort to measure water levels in wells in the Western Planning Area (WPA): Butler Valley, Harquahala, McMullen Valley, Ranegras Plain, and Tiger Wash Basins.  ADWR’s objective is to measure water levels at hundreds of wells in these groundwater basins. This survey of wells – or basin “sweep,” as it is known – was last conducted in winter 2016 for the WPA.  The Harquahala Irrigation Non-Expansion Area (INA) will also be included in the basin sweep as it is contained within the Harquahala Basin. 

The data collected will be analyzed and used to obtain a comprehensive overview of the groundwater conditions and used to support scientific and water management planning efforts. Data collected will be used for several purposes, including:

  • Analysis of water-level trends
  • Groundwater modeling
  • Water-level change maps
  • Hydrologic reports
  • Water resource planning and management.

This basin sweep covers an area generally in the western to southwestern portion of the State and extends east of Plomosa and Kofa Mountains, west of Big Horn, Vulture and Harquahala Mountains, north of Eagle Tail Mountains and south of Bouse Hills, Buckskin and Harcuvar Mountains. 

For more information regarding this matter, please contact Public Information Officer Shauna Evans at smevans@azwater.gov or (602) 771-8079. Details about the nature of basin sweeps and groundwater modeling can be found here.

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Water agencies announce partnership to invest $200 million in conservation efforts to bolster Colorado River’s Lake Mead, under 500+ plan

Las Vegas, Nevada (December 15, 2021) – LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Water agencies across Arizona, California and Nevada, together with the Department of the Interior, today announced a historic effort to invest up to $200 million in projects over the next two years to keep the Colorado River’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, from dropping to critically low levels.

The agreement, known as the 500+ Plan, aims to add 500,000 acre-feet of additional water to Lake Mead in both 2022 and 2023 by facilitating actions to conserve water across the Lower Colorado River Basin. The additional water – enough water to serve about 1.5 million households a year – would add about 16 feet total to the reservoir’s level, which continues to reach record low levels.

“Two decades of drought on the Colorado River is taking a toll across the Basin and on Lake Mead. By working together we’ve staved off these historic low levels for years, thanks to collaboration and conservation in the Lower Basin. But we need even more action, and we need it now,” said Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

In addition to Reclamation, the 500+ Plan includes the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Central Arizona Project, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Under the Memorandum of Understanding signed today during the Colorado River Water Users Association’s annual conference, ADWR commits up to $40 million to the initiative over two years, with CAP, Metropolitan and SNWA each contributing up to $20 million. The federal government plans to match those commitments, for a total funding pool of $200 million.

Some of the specific conservation actions and programs that will be implemented through the 500+ Plan have already begun, while others are still being identified. The MOU includes conservation efforts in both urban and agricultural communities, such as funding crop fallowing on farms to save water, including the recent approval of a short-term agricultural land fallowing program in California, or urban conservation to reduce diversions from Lake Mead.

In 2019, Arizona, Nevada and California signed the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan and agreed to contribute water to Lake Mead as it reached certain levels, to keep it from dropping even further and reaching critically low levels. The DCP also included a provision that if modeling indicates a possibility of the reservoir reaching an elevation of 1,030 feet, action would be required.

“Our work on the 2019 DCP took more than five years to complete. This commitment to work together to stabilize Lake Mead came together in a matter of a few months,” said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke. “That alone is a powerful testament to the commitment of the Lower Basin States to work together with our partners at Reclamation to protect this vital river system.”

“These past months have presented tremendous challenges with the additional pressure of the need to work quickly. But rather than drive us apart, this difficult situation has further strengthened our relationships. It’s amazing that work of this magnitude, sensitivity and expense could come together in this amount of time,” said Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke.

“We had hoped the contributions made under the DCP would be enough to stabilize Lake Mead while we seek longer-term solutions to the challenges on the Colorado River. But they aren’t, which is why we are moving forward with the 500+ Plan,” said Metropolitan General Manager Adel Hagekhalil.

“It is imperative that all users on the Colorado River take action now to preserve this critical resource that we all depend upon,” said SNWA General Manager John Entsminger. “We hope as this initiative is developed, that along with our other many conservation efforts, it will provide strong support for Lake Mead water levels.”

The plan marks the latest collaborative effort by the Lower Basin states in partnership with Reclamation to bring sustainability to the Colorado River, which has been in a historic drought since 2000.

The plan also highlights the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s historic $8.3 billion investment in water infrastructure and will help minimize the impacts of drought, and develop a long-term plan to facilitate conservation and economic growth. The BID’s investments will fund water efficiency and recycling programs, rural water projects, WaterSMART grants and dam safety to ensure that irrigators, Tribes and adjoining communities receive adequate assistance and support.

BUREAU OF RECLAMATION
Patti Aaron
paaron@usbr.gov
702-293-8189
ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF WATER RESOURCES
Shauna Evans
smevans@azwater.gov
602-771-8079
SOUTHERN NEVADA WATER AUTHORITY
Bronson Mack
bronson.mack@lvvwd.com 702-249-5518
CENTRAL ARIZONA PROJECT
DeEtte Person
dperson@cap-az.com
623-869-2597
METROPOLITAN WATER DISTRICT
Rebecca Kimitch
rkimitch@mwdh2o.com
202-821-5253