Is it so wrong to want to revel in good water news a bit?
After enduring more than 19 years of lingering drought in the Southwest and its implications for the Colorado River system, we think not.
This month, Congress has passed, and the President has signed into law, the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act, which permits the Secretary of the Interior to sign a DCP agreement with the Seven Basin States.
Considering the very serious potential consequences of Lake Mead water levels falling to critically low levels, that is truly something worthy of celebration. So, too, was the remarkable bipartisanship and leadership on display among the Arizona congressional delegation, which led the DCP effort in in both the House and Senate.
The implications of the Bureau of Reclamation’s recent April 2019 24-Month Study of projections for the 2020 water year (and, as the name implies, the next 24 months) are especially significant.
The Bureau updates its projections each month, but the April report and the August report are critical in determining how much water will be released from Lake Powell into Lake Mead in the coming year. The elevation levels forecasted to be in each of those reservoirs at the end of each year trigger those releases.
Up until the 2019 snowpack in the Rocky Mountains began seriously building in February, the odds of a first-ever shortage declaration in water deliveries in 2020 were better than even. With every 24-Month Study report from February onward, however, those odds decreased. By the recent April report, the Bureau’s analysts expressed confidence that Lake Mead would likely start 2020 “almost 10 feet above the shortage determination trigger of 1,075 feet.”
As reported by the Bureau, the improved hydrology allows Lake Powell’s operation this year to shift to a “balancing” release of up to 9.0 million acre-feet into Lake Mead.
As Bureau Commissioner Brenda Burman noted, this year’s snowpack “is welcome news.”
Still, she noted, “one good year cannot reverse the effects of nearly two decades of severe drought. Current total Colorado River System storage is approximately 45% of full capacity.”
Advocates for the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans will begin making their case to Congress on Wednesday, March 27, when four officials deeply involved in the effort to stabilize the system are scheduled to address the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Water and Power.
The witness panel includes Brenda Burman, Commissioner of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; Tom Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources; John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority; and, Patrick Tyrrell, State Engineer for the State of Wyoming.
Like other witnesses, ADWR Director Buschatzke will provide oral and written testimony to the panel about the DCP.
Chaired by Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona, the subcommittee will examine the drought plans of the Upper and Lower Basins of the river system. Before the plans can be finalized, Congress must first authorize the Department of the Interior to implement them.
Set to convene at 2:30 p.m. EDT (11:30 a.m. Arizona time), The hearing will be webcast live on the committee’s website, and an archived video will be available shortly after the hearing is complete.
Witness testimony will be available on the website at the start of the hearing.
Following the agreement reached on Tuesday to jointly pursue completion of their Drought Contingency Plans, the seven Colorado River Basin states now turn attention to Washington, D.C., where congressional action is necessary to complete the plans.
That congressional action commences next week.
On Tuesday, March 19, representatives of the seven States, including Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke, signed a Letter to Members of Congress, requesting that they support the Drought Contingency Plans. Congress first must approve legislation directing the Secretary of Interior to sign and implement the plans.
With that mission in mind, Director Buschatzke will testify next week before relevant subcommittees in the both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives.
The Director has been asked to testify regarding the drought plans on Wednesday, March 27, before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Water & Power.
In addition to Director Buschatzke, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman; John Entsminger, the general manager for Southern Nevada Water Authority; and, Pat Tyrrell, the Wyoming state engineer, are scheduled to testify before the subcommittee, which is chaired by Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona.
On Thursday, March 28, Buschatzke is scheduled to testify on the DCP before the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife. The Director will provide lawmakers five minutes of oral testimony and will submit a lengthier statement in writing.
Water, Oceans, and Wildlife is a subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee. Arizona Rep. Raul M. Grijalva chairs the Committee.
A final wrap-up meeting of the 40-plus member Steering Committee – the stakeholder group that over the last 8 months debated and negotiated the Intra-Arizona DCP Implementation Plan – is scheduled for Tuesday, February 19 at the Central Arizona Project headquarters.
The agenda includes:
Who: Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan Arizona Implementation Steering Committee
What: Wrap-up, recap, status reports, delegate observations and Steering Committee resolution
Where: CAP headquarters, 23636 N. Seventh St., Phoenix
When: February 19, 2019; 9 a.m. – 11 a.m.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is giving over much of his social media platform to getting a Drought Contingency Plan completed in Arizona.
The art on the Governor’s Twitter feed home page is one of those startling “bathtub ring” photos of Lake Mead, which depict the reservoir’s dramatic decline in recent years.
His official Facebook page includes the same image.
The Governor’s Office has emblazoned the Lake Mead photo with a quote from former Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt, who observed recently that “this is the moment” to get an Arizona DCP agreement through the State Legislature.
Ducey has asked lawmakers to act quickly to approve proposed legislation that would give the Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources authority to enter into a drought plan with the other Colorado River states, as well as the federal government.
In December, the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, Brenda Burman, set a January 31 deadline for states to complete work on their Drought Contingency plans. The Bureau, a division of the Interior Department, is overall manager of the river system.
In addition, the Governor’s Office has published video on Twitter of a briefing of Ducey’s proposed budget, which includes funding for the DCP. The briefing, held today in Tucson, includes the graphic copied below, which demonstrates why the drought plan is so vital. Discussion of the DCP funding begins after the 59-minute mark.
As depicted in the “Securing Arizona’s Water Future” graphic below, Lake Mead is in jeopardy of falling into a high-risk zone within five years if a system-wide DCP is not in effect. Implementing the DCP, on the other hand, flattens out the curve and gives the Colorado River states time to enact additional drought-fighting measures.
While Arizona water managers and affected stakeholders have been meeting almost daily over the past several months to finalize the state’s Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), plans have been underway on a parallel track for several years to ensure the framework is in place for the entire Colorado River Basin DCP.
Chronic, often severe drought in the Southwest is seriously straining the Colorado River system. With Lake Powell less than half full and Lake Mead below 40 percent of capacity, the seven Colorado River states are preparing to act should Lake Mead continue falling toward critical surface levels. At the same time, some states – including Arizona – are developing drought contingency plans supporting intrastate needs to contend with future Colorado River shortages.
Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released drafts of the Upper Basin DCP and Lower Basin DCP documents. This gives the first glimpse at what will be included in the interstate agreement amongst the Upper Basin and Lower Basin states. These documents contain actions that are in addition to the provisions of the existing system-wide agreement, formally known as the Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
According to the Bureau’s website:
These documents show the interstate framework into which the intrastate (in our case, AZDCP) will fit. AZDCP work continues and we anticipate our intrastate implementation plan and framework will be completed by the end of November, prior to the December Colorado River Water Users Association meeting, at which point the entire plan will come together.
By Tom Buschatzke, Arizona Department of Water Resources Director, and Ted Cooke, Central Arizona Project General Manager
The State’s water stakeholders have been engaged for more than two months to craft Arizona’s approach to the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan. This effort, led by our two agencies, is directed toward “bending the curve” to protect Lake Mead from falling to critical levels.
Recent reports from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation have stated that the Colorado River Basin has avoided shortage for 2019, but has at least a 50/50 chance of moving into a shortage declaration in 2020.
So, will this drought contingency planning effort change that course? Will it keep the basin out of the Tier 1 shortage to be declared at Lake Mead elevation 1075’?
The answer to both questions is, simply, “no.”
The Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, or LBDCP, is not designed to keep Lake Mead above the first tier of shortage. Rather, it’s meant to keep Lake Mead from further dropping to the most critical elevation levels, at which point Arizona’s Colorado River water users would be facing deep cuts to their water supplies and the river system would be in extreme stress.
The risks to the Colorado River have increased from what was expected when the Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortage were established in 2007. The tools provided in those guidelines now are insufficient to address the current risks to the system.
Over the last several years, water users in the Lower Basin states have worked together to voluntarily contribute water to Lake Mead, staving off shortage since 2015. However, after nearly two decades of drought and the recent poor hydrology (meaning little snow in the Upper Basin), a Tier 1 shortage is imminent, even with these increased conservation efforts. Whether it’s in 2020 or a year or two after, that first level of shortage likely will occur, regardless of LBDCP.
If not to keep us from shortage, then why is the Lower Basin’s DCP important?
One of the most important components lies in the realm of collaboration.
By working together, Arizona, California, Nevada, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and now Mexico (through the recent treaty update known as Minute 323), we can chart a path forward so one state alone does not feel the brunt of shortage. Once LBDCP is in place, we can work in partnership to leave enough water in Lake Mead so the lake begins to recede at a slower level – the “bending of the curve,” which has been rapidly trending downward. It will take some time to get there, but by starting now, there will be more leverage and momentum to prevent the lake from falling to critically low levels.
To make this happen sooner, rather than later, we have formed a Steering Committee with representation from a variety of sectors within Arizona. This group has been meeting bi-weekly beginning in late July and likely will continue past Thanksgiving. This “AZDCP” effort includes four essential elements for implementing the LBDCP in Arizona, which the group has begun to work through. The goal is to have a plan in place before the end of the year that would incorporate broad-based agreement within Arizona supporting an effective LBDCP. The State Legislature would then consider the proposal in early 2019 to authorize the State of Arizona to sign the LBDCP.
Each public Steering Committee meeting we’ve held has essentially been standing-room only. It’s clear a lot of people believe negotiating an effective Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan is vital to our State. And each meeting tends to spawn additional meetings with people throughout Arizona working feverishly to get this done – not to keep us out of shortage, but to keep us and the Colorado River system from being in an even worse place.
Much work has been done and much will continue to be done – but the sooner we have the drought-contingency plan in place, the greater the benefits we will all reap via a plan that is acceptable to all Arizona water users.
A web page dedicated to providing up-to-date information on the effort to complete a Drought Contingency Plan in Arizona is now live.
The web page includes the complete agenda from the June 28 briefing co-sponsored by the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project, which included presentations by Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman and Terry Fulp, BOR’s Lower Colorado Regional Director.
In addition, the web page includes the PowerPoint presentations by ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke, CAP General Manager Ted Cooke and BOR’s Fulp.
Also, the web pages include links to statements on the joint commitment to completing an Arizona DCP co-authored by Director Buschatzke and General Manager Cooke. As they are completed, the page will provide a calendar of upcoming DCP planning meetings, including the scheduled July 10 meeting.
Video of the June 28 briefing at the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe will be posted when it becomes available.
The ADWR “Arizona Discussions on Drought Contingency Planning” web page can be found here.
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:
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.