Arizona’s Summer Monsoon Season Has Been A Lively One. But ‘Liveliest Ever?’

After a so-so start to the southern Arizona summer “monsoon” season, storms pounded Tucson through early August with almost rhythmic frequency.

It was much the same in the metropolitan Phoenix area, which saw an unusual spate of strong storms moving through Arizona’s south-central Valley on five out of six days beginning on August 7.

This year’s summer storm activity has been widespread. Arizona’s eastern mountains saw almost daily rainfall from mid-July through early- to mid-August.  To the north, meanwhile, the strong storms started in earnest early.

Persistent, heavy rain battered the Flagstaff region commencing in mid-July, generating flash floods and localized flooding in many Flagstaff-area neighborhoods.

On July 18, a an estimated “1,000-year” storm dumped an astonishing six inches of rain on Flagstaff, with 4.5 inches of it pouring down in a span of just two hours.

The summer storm season has been so strong at times, in fact, that it has prompted some to ask: Is this the strongest monsoon-storm season ever for Arizona?

There’s no simple answer to that.

Arizona takes its summer monsoon season seriously. There is an extended web of agencies, including the Arizona Department of Water Resources, that performs a vast array of services tied to storm activity.

The National Weather Service, for example, monitors the conditions that may provoke Arizona storms. It reports both locally and from the service’s Climate Prediction Center (a function of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) in Maryland.

A complex, multi-agency system in Arizona, meanwhile, uses sophisticated land- and satellite-based technology to track storm production, including rain levels and flooding, and gets that information out to the public as soon as possible.

ADWR is the lead State agency for the Arizona Flood Warning System, or AFWS.

The AFWS is comprised of local, state and federal entities that collaborate on statewide strategies for flood management.

Podcast: Arizona Water Resources talks with Brian Cosson, Flood Warning Coordinator for ADWR

So, what is all that data telling us about the strength of the 2018 summer monsoon season thus far? It has set records in Flagstaff. But elsewhere?

Paul Iñiguez, a meteorologist with the NWS in Phoenix, recently told the Arizona Republic that from the standpoint of rainfall, the summer monsoons have been very productive in central Arizona, too.

“From June 15th through August 12th, this is the second most rain on average across (Phoenix) since 1990,” Iñiguez said. “It’s been wet.”

Some of the strength of the summer storms may be derived from “moisture surges” egged along by “tropical cyclones.”

Jon Gottschalck, chief of the Operational Prediction Branch at the Climate Prediction Center with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told KJZZ recently about how “tropical cyclones” in the eastern Pacific basin are connected to Arizona’s monsoon storms.

Hurricanes, typhoons and other major Pacific storms all come under the general heading of tropical cyclones.

“Sea-surface temperatures, or ocean temperatures at the surface are strongly positive, meaning warmer than normal,” said Gottschalck. “And when those temperatures that are warmer than normal have been persisting for quite some time, there is more energy for tropical cyclones to develop.”

He said a spate of tropical cyclones in the eastern Pacific likely contributed to the moisture surges in Arizona and New Mexico that, among other things, produced the amazing string of consecutive stormy days in central Arizona.

Big Pacific storms, he said, do not have to  make direct hits on the Southwest to have an impact.

“The systems very often create moisture surges up the coast,” he said. “That very often tends to create stronger coverage of rainfall. In general, these storms don’t have to make direct hits on Arizona and New Mexico to do that.”

(For more on research into monsoon activity in Arizona, view the video below)

 

Arizona Water Protection Fund Accepting Applications for Fiscal Year 2019 Grant Cycle

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                                    

CONTACT: Sally Stewart Lee (602) 771-8530  sslee@azwater.gov 

water protection fund logo

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 is now accepting applications for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 AWPF grant cycle. The deadline to submit applications is September 7, 2018 at 3:00pm.  The AWPF Commission awards grants under three categories: capital projects, research and water conservation.  The grant cycle schedule, grant application manual, and electronic forms are available on the AWPF website at: www.azwpf.gov .

AWPF staff will be hosting one grant application workshop*:

Location Date Time Address
Phoenix, AZ  

August 10, 2018

 

1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Arizona Dept. of Water Resources

1110 W. Washington St. Suite 310

Phoenix, AZ  85007

Middle Verde Conference Room. 4th Floor

*Staff will also be hosting a live online webinar of the grant application workshop for those not able to attend in person.  Please contact the Arizona Water Protection Fund (602-771-8528) for more information prior to August 10, 2018.

The AWPF promotes the use of incentives emphasizing local implementation rather than regulation to address resource concerns.  As such, the AWPF Commission’s philosophy has been to utilize a grassroots approach to improving river and riparian resources statewide.

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.

Arizona Moving Forward On Lower Basin Drought Contingency Planning Discussions

Dcxvmj2WkAAomU9
By Thomas Buschatzke, Arizona Department of Water Resources Director and Ted Cooke, Central Arizona Project General Manager

In a joint statement in May, our agencies, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) and Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) announced that we are committed to bringing the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (LBDCP) to closure in Arizona by addressing a broad range of issues that respect the concerns of all stakeholders across the state.

The discussions between ADWR and CAWCD were only the first step and today, we hosted a public briefing describing the proposed LBDCP, which was developed to address those risks. Colorado River managers were invited to learn about the LBDCP and its importance within Arizona.

We were joined by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. The Bureau of Reclamation discussed how the risks to the Colorado River have increased from what was expected when the Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages were established in 2007.

In fact, the risks of Lake Mead falling below critically low reservoir elevations have tripled in the past decade, increasing the risks of potentially draconian reductions to Arizona’s Colorado River supply.  The tools provided in those guidelines now are insufficient to address the current risks to the system.

In recognition of these increasing risks, Arizona, California, Nevada, and Mexico have worked together in recent years to voluntarily contribute water to Lake Mead.  These efforts include system conservation programs and storage programs, and have served to stave off shortages in the Lower Basin from 2015 through 2018, and very likely in 2019.

We recognize that even these efforts may not be sufficient to reduce the risks posed by a drier future on the Colorado River.

More needs to be done.

Drought Contingency Planning

In today’s briefing, we outlined a framework of additional measures to reduce risks in the Colorado River system, called the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (LBDCP).

The LBDCP is a plan developed by Arizona, California and Nevada and the United States.   It has several major components, including:

  1. Additional contributions to Lake Mead from Arizona and Nevada, along with new contributions from California and the United States.
  2. Incentives for additional storage in Lake Mead by creating flexibility for water users to store water and take delivery of storage even during lower reservoir conditions.
  3. A commitment by parties in the Lower Basin to protect elevation 1020 feet in Lake Mead, implemented through consultation to determine what additional measures would be necessary to protect that elevation.

Implementation of the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan will trigger additional contributions from Mexico through the Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan as detailed in the Minute 323 agreement, adopted in 2017.

Projections by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation show that the LBDCP, along with contributions from Mexico and actions by the Upper Basin States, would reduce the risks of falling below critical elevations in Lake Mead.

The LBDCP achieves this reduction of risks by requiring additional incremental water-delivery reductions by Arizona water users.  These reductions will impact Arizona’s junior Colorado River priority holders. The LBDCP has the potential to impact to all CAP priority pools, but the most significant impacts are likely to be to the CAP NIA priority pool.

Arizona Next Steps

This briefing was the beginning of a series of public discussions involving many Colorado River water users, elected officials, and other key stakeholders in Arizona. We recognize that the LBDCP and its impacts are complex issues, and there will be more questions than those addressed today.  Therefore, we have scheduled a meeting on July 10 at the Heard Museum to answer questions, as well as to provide additional details about the LBDCP.

Today’s briefing closed with the announcement that an Arizona Steering Committee will be formed to discuss and recommend how to adopt and implement the LBDCP in a way that is acceptable to Arizona water users. While the delegates to the Steering Committee will be by invitation jointly provided by ADWR and CAWCD, the meetings and discussions will be open, and the public is invited to participate. The Steering Committee is tentatively scheduled to conduct its first public meeting on July 26th.  Additional details will be provided at our websites www.azwater.gov and www.cap-az.com/AZDCP.

We recognize that more must be done to protect Arizona’s Colorado River users from the uncertainty and risks of critically low elevations in Lake Mead.  We are committed to working with Arizona water users and other stakeholders to adopt and implement the LBDCP in a way that is acceptable to Arizona water users.

 

Respected water blogger sees a (barely) hidden message in federal press release on Colorado River management

 

Burman
Bureau of  Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman

Well-respected water journalist and author John Fleck is serving up some intriguing thoughts on his blog about a recent press release issued by the Bureau of Reclamation.

Author of Water is for Fighting Over: and Other Myths about Water in the West, Fleck contends the Bureau’s press release was less of a traditional press announcement than an implicit call to action directed at the Colorado River basin states.

John Fleck at Morelos Dam
Journalist and author John Fleck

Fleck argues that Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman used the press statement as an opportunity to kick-start the effort to finalize drought-contingency planning among the seven Colorado River states.It’s hard to argue with Fleck’s point. As quoted in her press release, Commissioner Burman observes that “(w)e need action and we need it now.

“We can’t afford to wait for a crisis before we implement drought contingency plans,” she said.

Fleck noted that the press release also took the unusual step of including messages supportive of drought-contingency planning from representatives of all seven Colorado River basin states. He said his favorite quote was from John Entsminger of Nevada, who observed that “Mother Nature does not care about our politics or our schedules.”

Well spoken, indeed. But the representative from Arizona, we should note, also had interesting points to make:

“The completion of the lower basin states’ Drought Contingency Plan is vitally important to Arizonans,” wrote Tom Buschatzke,  Director of the Arizona Department of  Water Resources.

“The plan reduces the likelihood of Lake Mead declining to critically low levels and incentivizes the use of tools to conserve water in the Lake so that reductions in delivery of Arizona’s Colorado River supplies are avoided or lessened.”

Facing Down Arizona’s Impending Wildfire Season

Article_banner-Wildfire
Flames and smoke rise from last year’s fire near Mayer, Ariz. (Jennifer Johnson/AP)

6 questions for Tiffany Davila of the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management

Tiffanie_NEW
Tiffany Davila, public information officer for Forestry and Fire Management

Among its many duties focused on the protection and health of Arizona’s forestlands, the Forestry Department provides public outreach through various platforms including social media, billboard marketing campaigns, public service announcements, and community-wide events – all of it focused on informing Arizonans about the condition of their forests and the need to protect this valuable resource.As Arizona warily approaches an early summer fire season marked by record-low watershed runoff and tinder-dry forests, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management is gearing up for what many fear may be a challenging time ahead.

Much of that work falls to Tiffany Davila, a public information officer for Forestry and Fire Management. Tiffany has long been a familiar face among Arizona media covering wildfires in Arizona, providing up-to-date information on many of the more serious conflagrations that plague the state at this time of year.

Arizona Water News recently caught up with Tiffany to get her sense of what lies ahead for Arizona’s forests.

Arizona Water News: With the human-caused Rattlesnake Fire southwest of Alpine, the state’s wildfire ‘season’ already seems to be underway. Are we seeing an unusually early start this year for forest fires?

Tiffany Davila: Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a ‘season’ anymore. Wildfire activity picks up every month nowadays. This January and February we had fire activity across southern Arizona and we expect it to get even busier across the entire State as we move into the warmer months.

The Rattlesnake Fire, posted to Inciweb approximately April 20, 2018. Photographer unknown;

Last year, the Sawmill Fire started on April 23rd and burned nearly 47,000 acres. This year, the Rattlesnake Fire started even earlier and has already reached 22,000 acres.

Southern Arizona was very active last year. But this year is different. The lack of precipitation over the winter and increasingly warm temperatures means a decrease in fuel moisture. Therefore, the fire outlook predicted is for high wildfire activity across all of Arizona.

AWN: Rangers in the Tonto National Forest reported issuing 300 warnings and citations between April 20 and 22 for violations of Stage II fire restrictions in the forest – violations that include use of wood and charcoal in campfires, smoking outdoors, parking on dry vegetation. Is it tough getting out the message that these are extremely dangerous things to do in the forest at this time of year?

TD: It’s very hard and at times I feel like a broken record repeating the same things: ‘Don’t drag tow chains… put out your campfires completely… create defensible space… don’t burn on windy days…’ I think I even say it in my sleep.

But seriously, if we keep reinforcing and pushing the messaging it will eventually stick with folks. Many times, people become complacent and yes, accidents do happen, but one spark is really all it takes to start a major wildfire and that’s why it’s very important we continue our marketing efforts to push out our prevention messaging year-round.

AWN: On the plus side, cooler weather and lighter winds for several days have appeared to have helped firefighters with the Rattlesnake Fire. On the minus side, forecasters anticipate dry lightning moving into Arizona during the coming weekend. Is it fair to say you have a love-hate relationship with the weather service at this time of the year?

TD: Actually, we have a love-hate relationship with mother nature. Ha! The forecasters are just doing their jobs. We are fortunate that all our forecasters excel at what they do.

The weather service is very good at keeping us briefed on incoming or poor weather conditions during a fire. In a critical fire situation, we can call them for a spot weather report and they will immediately get us the data we need. Spot weather forecasts are very important because they are based off a pinpointed location of a fire and can be customized to that area.

The forecasters help us do our jobs more effectively and safely and we thank them for that.

AWN: Governor Ducey recently announced doubling his request for fire prevention funding this year to $2 million. How does that funding get used?

TD: That funding is specific for the Department of Forestry and Fire Management’s Hazardous Vegetation Removal program. We use that funding to conduct mitigation projects across the state.

We have several ongoing projects, including one in Safford that is targeting the salt cedar along the Gila River Corridor. Salt cedar, or tamarisk, is a highly flammable and invasive plant that can cause a fire to spread fast and burn very hot. Since last fall, DFFM crews have been working to remove the salt cedar and treat it with herbicide to prevent it from growing back.

Another project that was part of our HVR funding was the fuel break project near Mayer. The 270-acre fuel break installation was a multi-year project that essentially created a buffer zone for the town of Mayer. The break was tested after last year’s Goodwin Fire and proved successful in stopping the fire from moving into the town.

HVR funding is essential for our work, and having that additional money, should the Legislature approve, will be critical in allowing us to do more projects in high-risk areas around our state.

AWN: The communications team at Forestry and Fire Management notoriously gets zero rest when a major fire breaks out. Can you tell us what you do to keep Arizonans aware of things during a fire incident?

TD: We just drink a lot of coffee and energy drinks. I think last year, I worked more than 100 hours during the first seven days the Sawmill Fire started. I’m not even sure how that’s possible.

We have multiple ways to get information out to the public, and one of them is using InciWeb, a public website. There, the public can find evacuation or road closure notices, fire size and containment numbers, pictures, maps, and other information they may be looking for or needing.

We also work closely with our county emergency managers, the sheriff departments, the Arizona Department of Transportation, the Red Cross and, of course, our partnering agencies — the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service — to make sure we are getting the public the pertinent information they need in a timely manner.

Often, we conduct public meetings or town halls to ensure we are reaching all the residents impacted by a fire. We also use ‘trap lines,’ which are basically informational booths, that we set up throughout impacted communities, like at a convenience store or post office, where residents can get information on fire size, suppression efforts, and assistance services, like the Red Cross.

And we can’t forget about social media! The Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management uses social media to update the public once a fire breaks out and throughout its duration.

Every fire is different, so each requires a different approach from a public information standpoint. In the end, our goal is to make sure our residents are safe, and they are getting the information they need to keep them briefed and try to make them at ease during tense situations.

AWN:  Your Twitter handle is “asusundevils2000.” Just how big a Sun Devils fan are you?

TD: Let’s just say I bleed maroon and gold. I’m a huge Sun Devil fan! How can I not be? I’m a native Arizonan! I graduated from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and I am a football season ticket holder! My grandparents were season ticket holders for decades and used to take my brother and I to football games and it just became a family tradition. Our whole family supports ASU, not only the football program, but the institution itself! Forks up! Go Devils!

 

Water Resources Director details plans for saving Lake Mead, concerns with CAWCD’s claim to “sovereign immunity”

Article_banner-YUMA

Director Buschatzke addresses legislative panel at “Learning Tour” gathering in Yuma

At a highly anticipated public meeting on water issues in Yuma on Friday, Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke told legislators and a packed audience that sound management of Arizona’s Colorado River supplies requires forbidding the operator of the Central Arizona Project canal from using “sovereign immunity” as a legal weapon against folks with Colorado River water entitlements.

“The State has concerns that [the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, operator of the CAP canal] will attempt to use the defense of sovereign immunity at the expense of water users in Arizona,” said Buschatzke. CAWCD has maneuvered, unsuccessfully thus far, to just do that.

“Sovereign immunity” is a legal protection that indemnifies some public entities – such as states and the federal government – from many types of lawsuits. CAWCD has acknowledged that gaining sovereign immunity as a so-called “arm of the State” of Arizona is of “fundamental importance” to the canal operator.

The Director reminded lawmakers that the District has attempted to use the defense in the past, notably in a federal case involving a Colorado River water entitlement holder, the Ak Chin Indian Community.

“To prevent CAWCD from claiming sovereign immunity in the future, the Governor’s Office and DWR proposed legislation that would clarify that CAWCD is not entitled to sovereign immunity in any type of lawsuit,” said Buschatzke.

“I would like to see our proposed legislation move forward this session.”

Buschatzke delivered his remarks at a special “Learning Tour” organized by legislative leaders seeking public input on proposals to reform Arizona water laws.

Organized by Sen. Gail Griffin and Rep. Rusty Bowers — chairmen, respectively, of the Senate and House natural resources committees — the tour already has taken public commentary at a meeting on March 9 in Casa Grande.

In addition to his oral testimony expressing opposition to CAWCD’s pursuit of a “sovereign immunity” legal defense against its own customers, Buschatzke also provided the panel with a more expansive written testimony.

That written statement illustrated the State’s priorities in reforming Arizona water law this year.

Those priorities include taking action to protect Lake Mead from falling to critically low elevation. Among those actions: winning legislative authority to finalize a “Drought Contingency Plan” with Arizona’s Lower Basin Colorado River partners.

A central feature of that plan is giving the ADWR Director authority to “forbear” delivery of Colorado River water conserved by an Arizona Contractor in Lake Mead. That means the Director would assure no other contractor could take that water from the troubled reservoir.

Director Buschatzke’s full statement to the legislative Learning Tour panel in Yuma follows:

Testimony of ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke Before the Special Meeting of the Arizona House Committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources

Yuma City Hall, March 23, 2018

My name is Tom Buschatzke. I am the Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources or DWR.

I know that most of you are familiar with DWR, but for those who are not, it is the agency designated by the Legislature to represent the State of Arizona with the United States, other states, and Mexico on matters involving the Colorado River. The State Legislature and DWR, working with the Governor, are the appropriate entities to represent the State. DWR is also the agency tasked with protecting the State’s rights to Colorado River water.

I take those responsibilities very seriously.

Colorado River water is vital to our State.  No one knows that better than the people who live and work in Yuma, where approximately 1 million of Arizona’s 2.8 million acre-feet of Colorado River water is used. Colorado River supplies are becoming increasingly at-risk. Continuous, long-term drought coupled with an over-allocation of Colorado River supplies, the structural deficit, has not only brought Lake Mead to the brink of shortage, it has increased the probability of the Lake dropping to critically low elevations that could affect all Colorado River water users in the State.

The volume of water that Arizona receives every year from the Colorado River is tied to Lake Mead elevations. Once the Lake’s elevation falls below 1,075 feet, Arizona deliveries are reduced by 320,000 acre-feet, approximately 11% of Arizona’s total Colorado River allocation. Deeper, more extensive shortages occur at lower “trigger” elevations. Early shortages will hit water users in Central Arizona, and particularly the CAGRD and the Arizona Water Banking Authority, the hardest. At even lower elevations, draconian reductions will be necessary to protect remaining water supplies in the Lake.

“Continuous, long-term drought, coupled with… the structural deficit, has not only brought Lake Mead to the brink of shortage, it has increased the probability of the Lake dropping to critically low elevations that could affect all Colorado River water users in the State.”

Yuma water contractors hold some of the most senior rights on the River. But even senior rights are at risk when Lake Mead elevations plunge. If Lake Mead reaches deadpool at elevation 895 feet, no water can move past the dam. Picture a bathtub with only an overflow drain. It could have water in the tub that you could not get out of the tub. That is what “deadpool” is.

We anticipate that the Secretary of the Interior will act to avoid the Lake reaching deadpool, but we can’t know how. Modelling projects that waiting to act until the Lake reaches elevation 1020 could result in a 3 to 6 million acre-feet reduction in the Lower Basin. All Arizona Contractors should be concerned about the uncertainty that could result from possible Secretarial intervention.

To address this increasing risk, beginning in 2015 DWR, on behalf of Arizona, began meeting with representatives of California and Nevada, which also receive Colorado River water from Lake Mead, and the federal government to devise ways to keep more water in Lake Mead. That group developed a water management framework designed to do just that, called the Drought Contingency Plan or DCP.

The DCP is not yet in effect. There are still aspects of it which need to be resolved, and ultimately, the Legislature must approve it. But the core commitments embodied in the DCP are historically remarkable in many ways. The plan contains a collective commitment on behalf of the Lower Basin states to protect against Lake elevations falling below elevation 1020. It would require California, for the first time, to participate in mandatory shortage reductions. It also contains additional efforts by Nevada to conserve water in Lake Mead, and through its connection to Minute 323 to the Mexico Water Treaty, would require additional water savings from Mexico.

In order to receive these benefits, Arizona must be willing to give something as well. The DCP contemplates that Arizona will begin taking shortages at higher Lake elevations, Specifically, Arizona would be required to leave 192,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead at elevation 1090.

Impacts of that additional reduction will be partially mitigated when Lake Mead is kept above elevation 1075 by keeping CAP agriculture’s water supply whole. Incentives included in the DCP for conservation by Nevada, California, and Mexico are expected to help achieve that goal. But Arizona must also act to conserve water in Lake Mead to achieve that goal. Those actions by Arizona are known as DCP Plus.

In June of 2017, the Governor’s Office convened a group of stakeholders to deliver support for DCP and to find a way to make DCP Plus work. During that process, the Governor’s Office and DWR proposed a program to facilitate conservation efforts by Arizona Colorado River Contractors to target maintaining Lake elevations at or around 1,080 feet. The proposed program would facilitate conservation in several ways, one of which is to ensure that water that is kept or stored in Lake Mead by an Arizona Contractor would not be taken out by another Arizona water user. This last feature is achieved by giving the ADWR Director authority to “forbear” delivery of the water to other water users.

The Governor’s proposal has met with resistance. One the most vocal opponents has been CAWCD.

CAWCD is resisting efforts for all Colorado River water contractors to create conserved water, and in the process has sought to exercise an outsized role in shaping Arizona’s Colorado River water policy.

For example, Arizona Indian tribes have rights to nearly half of all the Colorado River water delivered through the CAP canal. At least one of those tribes, the Gila River Indian Community, is already leaving water in the Lake to help prop up Lake elevations. Tribes are interested in conserving additional water in Lake Mead through the creation of something known as Intentionally Created Surplus. Both the U.S. and the State of Arizona agree that they have the legal right to create ICS. However, to date, CAWCD refuses to recognize that right. We need all hands on deck within the State of Arizona.

“CAWCD is resisting efforts for all Colorado River water contractors to create conserved water, and in the process has sought to exercise an outsized role in shaping Arizona’s Colorado River water policy.”

With respect to DWR and the Governor’s Conservation Program proposal, CAWCD has asserted that it should have veto authority in all decisions about who in Arizona can conserve water and under what conditions.

CAWCD is governed by elected officials from Maricopa, Pima, and Pinal counties, yet they make decisions affecting all of Arizona. Several actions taken by CAWCD over the past few years demonstrate that CAWCD gives little thought to the broader statewide impacts of its actions.

I will give two specific examples, though there are more:

In 2014, the CAWCD entered into an agreement with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, and Denver Water for a pilot program to fund the creation of Colorado River system water through voluntary water conservation. Water that was left in Lake Mead pursuant to that agreement has been important in avoiding shortage, and no one seeks to deny or minimize that fact. However, that agreement was negotiated without the involvement of DWR, and contains at least one provision that should cause concern throughout the State of Arizona.

The pilot agreement recognizes conservation through reductions in the “consumptive use” of Colorado River water; however, rather than defining consumptive uses with reference to the “Colorado River mainstream,” as it was defined in U.S. Supreme Court’s Decree in the landmark case of Arizona v. California, the pilot agreement allows for the creation of system water through reductions to consumptive uses of water from the “Colorado River System,” including “water drawn from the Colorado River System by underground pumping.” The term “Colorado River System,” is defined in the pilot agreement to have the same meaning as in the 1922 Interstate Compact among the seven Basin States, which included not only the Colorado River mainstream in its definition, but also all of its tributaries.

We vigorously disagree with this reckless definition of “consumptive use.” It flies in the face of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Arizona v. California and the Boulder Canyon Project Act of 1928. The literal reading of this language suggests that all wells used by agriculture, industry, mining, cities, towns, and counties connected to water that is tributary to the Colorado River might be pumping Colorado River System water. If that were the case, all of those wells would need a contract with the Secretary of the Interior and those withdrawals would count against Arizona allocation of 2.8 million acre-feet. It appears that CAWCD gave no thought to the potential impacts of this language on water users across the State.

CAWCD’s disregard of the impacts of actions to other water users is also evidenced in its relentless efforts to claim sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Under the Eleventh Amendment, states cannot be sued in federal court with certain exceptions. Political subdivisions of the state, like CAWCD, generally are not entitled to claim this immunity.

CAWCD nevertheless raised the defense in 2012 in an employment case filed in federal district court known as the Gressett case.  CAWCD argued that it should be entitled to sovereign immunity because it is an “arm of the State.” The district court rejected that argument.

CAWCD appealed the ruling and, in an effort to convince the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that it is an arm of the State, it made inaccurate claims about its authority and responsibility in securing and managing Colorado River water.  CAWCD also argued that the State of Arizona would be functionally liable for CAWCD’s debts if CAWCD were unable to meet them.

In fact, CAWCD was established to ensure that the cost of repayment of the State’s share of the construction of the Central Arizona Project would be borne by water users and tax payers in the three counties that benefit from CAP water deliveries, and not by the taxpayers in Arizona’s 12 remaining counties, who rely on other water supplies.

The State has concerns that CAWCD will attempt to use the defense of sovereign immunity at the expense of water users in Arizona. And in fact, CAWCD raised the defense in a case brought by the Ak-Chin Indian Community regarding the Community’s rights to the delivery of Colorado River water. The State of Arizona opposed CAWCD’s attempts to obtain a court ruling that it has sovereign immunity. CAWCD settled that case before the Ninth Circuit ruled on it.

CAWCD testified to the Legislature in early February that sovereign immunity is limited, and that it would not be used in contractual disputes. However, on February 26, 2018, CAWCD requested the court vacate its decision so that it can raise the defense of sovereign immunity in future lawsuits. CAWCD said that sovereign immunity is of “fundamental importance” to it. The State opposed this action as well.

The State is seeking a permanent resolution to this issue. To prevent CAWCD from claiming sovereign immunity in the future, the Governor’s Office and DWR have proposed legislation that would clarify that CAWCD is not entitled to sovereign immunity in any type of lawsuit. But that legislation appears nowhere in any bill. We are committed to protecting Colorado River water users in Yuma, La Paz, and Mohave counties, as well as those water users within CAWCD’s service area.

I would like to see our proposed legislation move forward this session.

 

Arizona water-users and managers meet and do business at CRWUA

IMG_0681

Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke briefs the Arizona contingent at CRWUA about Minute 323 developments whil Chuck Podolak, aide to U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, and Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke look on

Under the direction of master-of-ceremonies Tom Buschatzke, the Arizona delegation conducted its necessary business work and house-keeping duties related to the Colorado River Water Users Association during the organization’s meetings last week.

The big news coming out of the Thursday breakfast meeting was that the so-called “big four” Arizona water organizations, which rotate Arizona presence on the Board of Trustees, rotated. Three of the four (the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Salt River Project, Yuma Area water users and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District) were in. One was out.

The odd group out this year? The CAWCD. The rotation scheme was set up years ago, noted Wade Noble, a representative of Yuma agriculture.

Buschatzke, Dave Roberts of SRP and Elston Grubaugh of the Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation & Drainage District will take on trustee duties.

Water Resources Director Buschatzke updated the Arizona attendees on 2017 state-related water issues.

Buschatzke briefed attendees on the status of Minute 323, the important water agreement completed this year between the U.S. and Mexico. A big part of the agreement involves progress on desalination efforts, he said.

“Desalination is a long-term project for the State of Arizona,” said Buschatzke. “It’s a long ways away, but at least we’re starting with that project.”

This isn’t confirmed, but Yuma-area ag representative Wade Noble told the substantial Arizona delegation to CRWUA that there is a reason why Arizona attendees must walk farther than anyone else when going to their caucus breakfast meetings.

It’s because Arizona is the largest of all the CRWUA contingents and their breakfast meeting room was the only one capable of holding such a large group.

 

Arizona Governor’s chief of staff makes surprise appearance at Colorado River water conference

IMG_0674

Ducey administration chief of staff Kirk Adams at a dinner on Wednesday hosted by Salt River Project. From Left: Hunter Moore, the Natural Resources Policy Adviser to Governor Ducey; Peter Hayes, associate SRP GM and chief public affairs executive; Mark Bonsall, general manager and CEO of SRP; Adams; David Rousseau, SRP President; Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke

Ducey chief of staff Kirk Adams attended the Colorado River Water Users Association meetings this week in Las Vegas.

Adams told the attendees with whom he met that Governor Ducey is committed to prioritizing a plan that will provide Arizona with a sustainable water future.

“We’re moving full-steam ahead with a broad coalition of stakeholders,” Adams said.

Adams addressed a theme that has become a central focus of the annual three-day CRWUA this year: pushing the long-debated Drought Contingency Plan agreement among Colorado River water users across the finish line.

At a keynote panel discussion involving top water executives organized the next day, all five panelists — including Arizona Water Resources Department Director Tom Buschatzke — emphasized the urgency of completing the multi-state agreement to protect Lake Mead.

“Not to be overly dramatic, but I believe that DCP is fundamental to the survival of how we do business,” said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Arizona Water Resources Director Buschatzke returned to the DCP theme during nearly all of his speaking engagements at the conference.

“I’ve said it before, we need all hands on deck” to complete Lake Mead-saving water agreements, including both those hands inside Arizona and outside the state.

Chief of Staff Adams met on Wednesday with members.

“I’m gratified we could arrange this,” he said. “Water security is vital to Arizona’s future and it was important, I think, to assure the Colorado River community that Governor Ducey is committed to doing what we need to do to make it all happen.”

Kirk Adams and Mark Bonsal

SRP’s Mark Bonsall with Ducey Chief of Staff Kirk Adams at an event sponsored by SRP at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas

 

 

 

 

ADWR Director to U.S. Senate: Tribal water settlement is a “strategic priority” for AZ

ADWR Director at Senate Indian Affairs

 Photo courtesy of U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke on Wednesday told a panel of U.S. senators that an agreement to settle a tribal water-rights claim in northwestern Arizona constitutes a rare resolution that creates positive outcomes for all involved.

In both written and oral testimony, Buschatzke expressed Arizona’s strong support of S. 1770 – the Hualapai Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2017, sponsored by Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain – to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

In his opening statement, Buschatzke called the agreement “a great step forward.”

He told the panel that the State of Arizona is strongly supportive of S. 1770, which formalizes an agreement reached in 2016 between the Tribe, the State of Arizona and several other major Arizona water users.

The United States participated in the negotiations through a team appointed by the Secretary of the Interior.

The agreement provides 4,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water annually to the Hualapai Tribe. As sponsor, Sen. Flake welcomed Director Buschatzke to the hearing.

In written testimony, Buschatzke told the senators that it represents a major step forward in providing water-certainty to all water users throughout Arizona.

“Half of the 22 federally recognized Indian tribes in Arizona still have unresolved water rights claims,” wrote Buschatzke.

“Resolving these claims through settlement is a strategic priority for the State, not only because it will avoid the cost and uncertainty of litigating the claims, but it will provide certainty to all water users in the state regarding available water supplies in the most expeditious manner possible,” he said.

The United States also will benefit from the reduced risk of costs associated with litigating the Tribe’s water-rights claims, Buschatzke noted.

Director Buschatzke observed that the agreement constitutes an economic opportunity for the Tribe, whose lands enjoy “breathtaking views of the west rim of the Grand Canyon.”

The Tribe operates the famous “Skywalk” tourist attraction at the western edge of the canyon, which attracts an estimated one million visitors annually. The Tribe has announced plans to expand that attraction.

By providing the Tribe with a renewable source of water from the Colorado River, the agreement is consistent with State policy of conserving groundwater supplies for times of drought, the Director wrote.

“Because the aquifer beneath the Tribe’s reservation extends to areas off the reservation, the Tribe’s use of a renewable water supply will help preserve groundwater supplies not just for the Tribe, but for non-tribal water users in the region,” said Buschatzke.

In his written testimony, the Water Resources Director broke down the financial responsibilities that each of the parties agreed to shoulder in 2016.

Those investments included a congressional appropriation of $134.5 million to build a pipeline to deliver the Colorado River water to Peach Springs and to the Tribe’s Grand Canyon West development. In addition, S. 1770 would authorize annual operation, maintenance and replacement costs of $32 million, as well as other federal expenditures.

Under questioning from Sen. Flake during the hearing, Buschatzke assured the committee that the infrastructure and water would “go exclusively to the Hualapai.”

Non-federal contributions to the agreement “are significant,” said Buschatzke.

The State of Arizona agreed to “firm” 557.5 acre-feet of the 4,000 acre-foot annual allocation to the Tribe, at a cost of $3.2 million to Arizona.

“The financial benefits that the United States will receive through the settlement will greatly exceed the costs that the United States will incur in constructing a pipeline to bring water from the Colorado River to the Tribe’s reservation,” Buschatzke wrote to the Senate panel.

PRESS RELEASE: Historic water-conservation pact a “down payment” on Arizona’s effort to protect water levels at Lake Mead

ADWR logo

 

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                              CONTACT: Doug MacEachern      

July 13,2017                                                                                                        PHONE: 602.510.0104

 Five partners in plan to store conserved tribal Colorado River water in the great reservoir to ink deal at Friday morning signing ceremony

What: Formal consummation of a five-party agreement for the Gila River Indian Community to conserve a portion of its Colorado River entitlement for the benefit of Lake Mead.

Who: The Gila River Indian Community; the United States of America, through the Bureau of Reclamation; the State of Arizona, through the Department of Water Resources; the City of Phoenix; and, the Walton Family Foundation, Inc.

Where: Arizona Department of Water Resources; 1110 W. Washington St., Third Floor; Hearing Room 3175; Phoenix

When: Friday, July 14; 11 a.m.

The five participants in a historic effort to help stabilize Lake Mead water levels will make their agreement formal at a signing ceremony hosted by the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

As part of the $6 million partnership agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation, the State of Arizona, the City of Phoenix and the Walton Family Foundation, Inc., The Gila River Indian Community will forego delivery of 40,000 acre-feet of its 2017 Colorado River allocation.

The tribe will leave that water in Lake Mead. It will be saved in the Colorado River system rather than be tied to any defined use.

“Today’s agreement and the Community’s ongoing effort to protect the Colorado River carry immense importance for our people and our neighbors across the Southwest. Being good stewards of this most sacred resource is a part of who we are as a people and what the Gila River Indian Community has stood for across time,” said Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis.

“The first positive is that this agreement allows the Community to generate income today from water we otherwise would have stored off-reservation to create long-term credits for future marketing. This revenue will help our economy right now, in the present, without sacrificing our future or our water.

“Second, this agreement helps conserve water in Lake Mead. That conservation effort benefits our people and every resident of Arizona by helping to protect the Colorado River and our water future.”

Added Governor Lewis: “Given the central role of water in our economy and our culture, today’s agreement is truly a cause for celebration.”

The five partners effectively view the agreement as a “down payment” on an Arizona-based plan for protecting the great Colorado River-system reservoir, where water levels have been dropping rapidly in recent years as a result of long-running drought and over-allocation.

The Arizona plan – known as the “Drought Contingency Plan Plus” – represents an effort on the part of leaders in the Arizona water community to keep Lake Mead above the first shortage trigger for as long as possible.

“This partnership lays the groundwork for a compensated system-conservation program in the state of Arizona for the benefit of all Colorado River water users,” said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.

The State of Arizona contributed $2 million to the conservation effort – part of a three-year financial commitment totaling $6 million approved this year by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey.

The City of Phoenix, whose mayor and council approved this agreement on June 13, provided $2 million.

“Smart water policy is essential to our economy and to every Arizonan,” Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said.

Added Mayor Stanton: “This historic agreement shows how by thinking creatively and working together we can protect our future Colorado River water supply and safeguard against the continued drought and climate change that are directly impacting Lake Mead.”

The Walton Family Foundation, which believes conservation solutions that make economic sense stand the test of time, contributed $1 million.

“Today’s agreement is about coming together to forge solutions for a sustainable Colorado River that benefit people and the environment,” said Barry Gold, director of the environment program at the Walton Family Foundation.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation also contributed $1 million to this Lake Mead stabilization effort. On January 17 of this year, Reclamation provided $6 million to the Gila River Community for system conservation that resulted in the Community’s first 40,000 acre-feet stored in Lake Mead.

“We are pleased to continue to help our partners in Arizona in their efforts to conserve water in Lake Mead and to implement a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan with California and Nevada,” said Terry Fulp, Lower Colorado Regional Director.

An acre-foot is generally considered enough water to cover an acre of land in a foot of water.

For further information, contact Michelle Moreno, Water Resources Public Information Officer, at mamoreno@azwater.gov or Doug MacEachern, Water Resources Communications Administrator at dmaceachern@azwater.gov