Agenda for annual meeting of Colorado River water users is released

TB at CRWUA 2016

Water Resources Director Buschatzke, speaking during the keynote panel discussion at CRWUA 2016

Editor’s Note: As a service to our readers, the Arizona Department of Water Resources once again is providing a live blog of events as they occur at the Colorado River Water Users Association conferences in Las Vegas, Dec. 12-15.

When they say water is fluid, they’re not kidding. Even convocations assembled to  discuss water policy must remain fluid, especially when those discussions involve Colorado River water policy. Such is the rapidly evolving nature of the complex issues facing Colorado River water users.

Organizers of the Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA) annual conference have released the event’s agenda. But even as late as early December, the agenda is identified as “tentative” in order to accommodate potential changes in meeting planning.

Each year, water leaders from the Colorado River system states and the federal Bureau of Reclamation — as well as the system’s major water users, such as cities and agriculture — gather at CRWUA, sharing ideas about management of the most complex water system in the country, the Colorado River.

A focus of discussion among Colorado River states for the last several years has been drought contingency planning to protect and stabilize the river system, particularly Lake Mead, where water levels have drifted dangerously low in recent years.

Discussion about a “DCP,” or Drought Contingency Plan, is certain to play a central role this year as well.

It certainly will be one of the underlying themes of the Keynote Panel Discussion scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 14, entitled “A Ballet in the Making: Choreographing Issues Across the Basin.”

Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke will take part in that panel discussion, along with four other top Colorado River water-user executives. The panel will be moderated by Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District for the State of Colorado.

 

Flake, McCain legislation would formalize a tribal-water settlement agreement six years in the making

US-Senate-Committee-on-Indian-Affairs

Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke will testify before a Senate Committee on Wednesday in support of a breakthrough agreement settling the Hualapai Tribe’s claim to water rights on the Colorado River as well as other water sources in Arizona.

The agreement is the result of long, complex negotiations that began in 2011.

Buschatzke is one of just five witnesses scheduled to testify on Wednesday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Pending congressional approval of the deal, the Hualapai Tribe will become the 12th of Arizona’s 22 federally recognized Indian tribes to fully resolve its water-rights claims.

According to the terms of the  settlement, the Tribe would receive an annual allocation of 4,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water. The allocation will come from a volume of Colorado River water delivered by the Central Arizona Project that is designated for future Indian water rights settlements in the Arizona Water Settlements Act of 2004.

In addition, the agreement calls for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to plan, design and build a pipeline capable of delivering no less than 3,414 acre-feet per year from Diamond Creek on the Colorado River to the Tribe at Peach Springs, as well as to its Grand Canyon West tourist attraction. The legislation authorizes an appropriation of $134.5 million for construction of the pipeline, as well as additional funding for operating expenses.

Director Buschatzke is expected to affirm Arizona’s strong support for the settlement agreement, which constitutes a major step toward resolving the outstanding water-rights claims of Indian tribes throughout the State. The agreement also will provide the Tribe with a renewable source of water that will replace its current groundwater pumping.

The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing is scheduled to begin at 12:30 pm (MST). The legislation, S. 1770, is sponsored by Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain. The Hualapai Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2017, as it is known, is one of three items on the Committee’s Wednesday agenda.

Live video of the hearing, as well as written witness testimony,  can be found on the Committee’s website here.

 

 

Water Resources Director to testify before Senate committee on Hualapai water settlement legislation

hualapai skywalk

The Hualapai Tribe’s famous “Skywalk” attraction overlooking the Grand Canyon

Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke will testify on Wednesday, Dec. 6, before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on legislation that would provide the Hualapai Tribe of northwestern Arizona with 4,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water annually.

In 2016, the Tribe agreed to a settlement of its long-standing claim to Colorado River water. The legislation – S. 1770, introduced by Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain — secures the 2016 agreement.

The agreement ensures that the tribe’s previously outstanding water claims could not potentially displace water used by other customers that also rely on the Colorado and Verde rivers. As a result, the agreement helps provide certainty for water users throughout Arizona.

In addition to its claim to Colorado River water, the Tribe also has a claim to water of the Upper Verde River watershed.

At the time of the settlement agreement, Director Buschatzke noted that the settlement of tribal water-rights claims “has long been a top strategic priority for the State.”

“The resolution of the Hualapai Tribe’s water-rights claims, including its claims to Colorado River water, is a major step to providing long-term certainty to water-users throughout the State,” said  Buschatzke.

“This settlement will allow the Hualapai Tribe to enjoy the assurance of a secure and dependable water supply to its communities. Senator John McCain and Senator Jeff Flake deserve great credit for sponsoring this settlement legislation in the Senate.”

The Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on the proposed legislation — known as the Hualapai Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act — is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. (MST).

 

 

 

 

Feds now see Lake Mead levels sinking 20 feet lower by ‘19 than predicted just last month

 

Mead

The sensational news about record-setting snowpack in the Sierra Nevada of California and “atmospheric rivers” delivering over 1,000 percent of normal winter rainfall to Big Sur has disguised a much less-than-sensational record of winter moisture elsewhere in the West.

The winter snowpack on the western slopes of the Rockies – the source moisture for the Colorado River – is producing much less runoff than had been anticipated.

As a result, the federal Bureau of Reclamation now is predicting that Colorado River releases from Lake Powell into Lake Mead will be far lower than what the Bureau had anticipated in March of this year.

Indeed, the Bureau now is predicting a huge drop in Lake Mead inflows from those predicted just a month ago.

According to BOR’s June 24-Month Study , projected flows into Lake Mead most likely will result in water levels 20 feet lower on January 1, 2019 than the Bureau had estimated in its 24-Month Study released in May.

The May 24-Month Study prepared by BOR (based on the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center’s water supply forecast) concluded that on January 1, 2019, Lake Mead’s depth likely would be 1,096.77 feet.

Just one month later, the Bureau now is projecting Lake Mead’s surface level on that date at 1,076.53 feet, literally inches above the level that would trigger automatic delivery cutbacks, mostly to central Arizona’s allotment of Colorado River water.

The dramatic turn-around in anticipated water flow into Lake Mead is a direct result of disappointing expectations for water flow into Lake Powell upstream. Powell’s diminished inflows are due to a dry early spring and consistently warmer-than-average temperatures in the Rocky Mountain region through the spring.

The sudden drop-off of moisture in the wake of an extremely wet January and February was “the big game-changer,” said Jeff Inwood of the Arizona Department of Water Resources’ Colorado River Team.

“The spring snows stopped and it got warmer faster, so lots of the snowpack melted off.”

The severe drop-off in anticipated flows into Lake Mead represents a shocking turn-around in expectations for the near-term health of the great reservoir.

Scarcely more than a month ago, most water analysts were breathing a sigh of relief in the wake of years of drought and diminished Rocky Mountain snowpack.

Improved moisture levels this past winter, they believed, had pushed back a Day of Reckoning for Lake Mead. Better-than-average winter snows would prompt water releases from Lake Powell that would raise Mead levels above critical stages.

The anticipation of relief was so palpable, in fact, that some Arizona water users and managers began to believe that the state would have more time to deal with the “Drought Contingency Plan – Plus,” the intra-Arizona plan that, once approved, would spread water-delivery cuts among a wider swath of Arizona water users.

In fact, as recently as March, some analysts were talking openly of a possible “equalization” release this year from Lake Powell to Lake Mead – a comparatively enormous release of water, perhaps of more than 11 million acre-feet. John Fleck, the Water Resources Program director at the University of New Mexico, calculated in mid-March that if the heavy winter moisture held, Lake Mead “would rise 27 feet this year.” 

Fleck added that “it probably won’t” hold. And he was right. The June 2017 24-Month Study results have made that prediction official: the big 2017 water balloon now appears to have burst.

Modeling conducted by the Bureau in addition to the 24-Month Study in April indicated that there remained a 45% probability of Lake Powell operating in the Equalization Tier with a release from Lake Powell of greater than 8.23 MAF in 2018.

In March, water analysts were predicting a very healthy 10.4 million acre-feet inflow into Lake Powell off the Rocky Mountain watershed during the critical April-July runoff season.

Now? Updated June statistics indicate inflows to Lake Powell of just 8.3 million acre-feet, a drop-off of over 2 million acre-feet — more than the entire annual delivery of the Central Arizona Project’s allotment for its Maricopa, Pinal and Pima County customers.

“We’ve seen this before,” said Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke, noting that some of the region’s driest winter seasons started out with hope-inspiring bursts of moisture. “We saw it as recently as 2012 and 2013.”

“Recent scientific studies have been predicting this would be more of what we could expect to see in the future,” Buschatzke said.

The diminished expectations of water flowing into Lake Powell directly impact expectations for the health of Lake Mead in the coming years.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s data analysis indicate that on January 1, 2018 – the period during which heavy Lake Powell releases were expected to give Colorado River water officials a “breather” – Lake Mead’s water level likely will be at just 1,080.49 feet, barely more than five feet above the shortage trigger of 1,075 feet.

The primary driver of those lower lake levels is the diminishing amount of water to be released from Lake Powell – down from an anticipated “equalization release” of 10.8 million acre-feet during Water Year 2018, as reported in May, to a “balancing release” of just 9.0 million acre-feet, as reported by the Bureau in June.

Arizona Department of Water Resources turns 37!

37th birthday

So what were you up to 37 years ago today?

If you’re a Millennial, the answer is existential: nothing, really.

But if you happened to have been the governor of Arizona at the time, you would have been spending June 12, 1980 at a signing ceremony for legislation that ultimately would be hailed as the most far-sighted set of groundwater-management laws in the country: The Arizona Groundwater Management Act.

As historian Desmond D. Connall, Jr., noted, Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt signed the Act establishing “ambitious goals for water conservation and a complex regulatory scheme to achieve them.”

groundwater act signing

Enforcing that “complex regulatory scheme” would be us — the Arizona Department of Water Resources — which came into being with the same stroke of Gov. Babbitt’s pen, since one of the provisions of the Groundwater Management Act was that it should create a division of State government devoted to managing all that complexity.  Babbitt appointed Wes Steiner, at the time the executive director of the Arizona Water Commission, as the department’s first director.

Whether they celebrated with cake or not is a matter lost to history.

 

 

Water Resources director exchanges chip shots on water in Arizona on “For Love of the Game” sports radio show

For Love of the Game image

Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke appeared live Monday with Mike “Uncle Buck” Rafferty on NBC Sports Radio 1060 AM’s “For the Love of the Game” program. Uncle Buck wanted to talk water — specifically, the use of water by golf courses — with the director, who, for some reason, Buck insisted on referring to as “Thomas.”

Clearly a genuine, heartfelt fan of golf and the golf industry, Uncle Buck peppered the director with a lot of well-developed questions about the importance of wise water use and about the history of water management in Arizona. It was a fun interview. And for anyone curious about the extent to which golf courses now go to conserve water, an informative one.

As noted, Uncle Buck came to the 17-minute interview prepared with well-developed questions, especially considering how complicated water as an issue can be. In fact, their interview may represent the first time ever that a sports-radio talk-show host inquired about the complex genesis of groundwater management in Arizona. (Click here to hear the interview)

Where does our water come from? The real meaning of “Water Awareness Month”

Water Awareness Month image

 

By proclamation of the Governor in 2008, it is Water Awareness Month in Arizona.

So, what do you suppose that means?

On a personal level, being “water aware” almost universally means learning to conserve water. It is a precious and scarce resource, after all. As citizens of an arid Western state who are approaching our 17th consecutive year of drought, water conservation is an imperative.

As the British used to say during the grim days of World War II, we all need to “do our bit.”

In a “Water Awareness Month” promotion in the lobby of the Arizona Department of Water Resources building, state employees offered plenty of suggestions for conserving.

Arizona Water Champions

Taking shorter showers is good. So is avoiding over-watering plants, fixing leaky faucets and toilets and collecting rainwater in old-fashioned barrels.

But while conservation indisputably is a big part of “water awareness,” that’s not all it means.

It also means being aware of the nature of water in our arid environment. It means reaching beyond the kitchen faucet.

Only when we understand and appreciate the sources of our vital liquid resource can we truly claim to be water “aware.” Making wise choices as water consumers is important, but making wise water choices as a society is just as important. Maybe more so.

Perhaps the most important water-conservation choice Arizonans ever made as a society came about in 1980 when the state Legislature approved the Arizona Groundwater Management Act, which placed strict regulatory limitations on groundwater pumping in Arizona’s most populous regions.

That Act, as well as other legislation governing groundwater use enacted in subsequent years, is credited with making the difference between the genuine, drought-inspired crisis that California recently endured, and the comparative ease with which Arizona has managed to navigate its own much-longer period of drought.

In 1980, Arizona’s elected leaders clearly were water aware.

Today, water awareness includes having at least a rough appreciation for our state’s sources of water.

 

Arizona Water Champions

How many of us, for example, know that the largest portion of our water supply doesn’t even originate in Arizona?

Forty-one percent of Arizona’s annual supply – on average 912.4 billion gallons per year – begins its existence as snowpack on the Western slopes of the Rocky Mountains, eventually flowing into the Colorado River system through countless tributaries that become hundreds of streams, then dozens of rivers before rushing into the single, mighty and vital Colorado.

Another 16 percent of our supply, meanwhile, arrives at the kitchen spigot via the complex capture of in-state surface-water sources, notably the Salt River Project’s system of dams and reservoirs along the Salt and Verde rivers.

Arizona still gets 40 percent of its water supply from its underground aquifers – so-called “mined” groundwater. Just three percent, meanwhile, comes to us through reclaimed sources, although that percentage has risen sharply in recent years.

And tomorrow’s sources? Gov. Doug Ducey’s Water Augmentation Council is researching the prospects of adding new supplies, including desalination projects that could rehabilitate brackish water or even tap into salt-water sources off the coast of Mexico or southern California.

The governor’s council is… aware of every option. As citizens of the arid West, we all should be too.

Water Resources director hails agreement to expand uses of CAP canal system

“System-use agreement” between Central Arizona Project and the federal Bureau of Reclamation a major milestone for vital water-delivery system

Central Arizona Project photo by Philip A. Fortnam
Central Arizona Project board President Lisa Atkins and board member Sharon Megdal signing the CAP System Use Agreement on Feb. 2

 

Central Arizona Project and the federal Bureau of Reclamation reached an historic agreement on Thursday that allows for “new and innovative” uses of the CAP’s 336-mile system of canals, including transporting new water supplies, exchanging supplies among users and efficiently accessing water stored underground by the Arizona Water Banking Authority and others.

The agreement creates a legal framework for a variety of water supplies to be moved through the system, including many dedicated to addressing possible future shortfalls in Arizona’s Colorado River water allocations.

“It allows for flexibility in managing our Colorado River water supplies,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Until now, so-called “non-CAP water” – that is, water controlled by users other than the Central Arizona Project – flowed through the elaborate delivery system only on an ad hoc basis.  In 2014, for example, the cities of Phoenix and Tucson reached an agreement allowing Phoenix to store some of its unused Colorado River allocation in Tucson-area aquifers.

Thursday’s agreement provides a legal framework for such water exchanges, thus opening the door for further innovation, as well as for future agreements on water quality and financial issues.

CAP General Manager Ted Cooke also noted the additional flexibility that the agreement provides his agency. Cooke thanked the agencies involved in helping make it happen for their collaborative efforts:

“This agreement provides us with the flexibility for cost-effective recovery of stored water, including more than four million acre-feet of CAP water stored in the aquifers of central and southern Arizona,” said Cooke.

“I would like to thank the negotiators from the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation, along with the significant contributions from the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Arizona Water Banking Authority.”

Water Resources Director Buschatzke joined Cooke in extending thanks to the Arizona congressional delegation – especially noting the efforts of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake – for helping make the system use agreement happen.

“Our role was to support efforts to complete the system use agreement for the benefit of Arizona water users,” added Buschatzke.

“We sought to support the maximum flexibility of this important asset.”

Gov. Doug Ducey expressed thanks to former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for her efforts in support of the system-use agreement.

The CAP canal system was built by the federal Bureau of Reclamation for the state of Arizona and is managed and operated by the Central Arizona Project.

The deal is especially valuable to the Water Bank, which pays to bring Colorado River water through the CAP system into central and southern Arizona. The Water Bank stores that water in underground aquifers, or directly recharges it into underground storage facilities. It also arranges for water deliveries to irrigation districts, which use the water in lieu of mined groundwater.

Water Bank officials helped review the agreement.

The deal creates a legal framework allowing the Water Bank to use the CAP system to make recovered water available during potential periods of shortage of Colorado River water deliveries to Arizona. Until now, the Water Bank’s capacity to make use of the water it stores has been extremely limited.

 (A Central Arizona Project statement released Thursday contributed to this blog post)