ADWR’s Drought Contingency Planning website now live

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.

 

Arizona Moving Forward On Lower Basin Drought Contingency Planning Discussions

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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.

 

Attention focusing on planned June 28 Colorado River briefing by ADWR and CAP

New Mexico journalist John Fleck, whose well-informed blog has long served as a sort of news pathfinder regarding Colorado River issues, just posted a lengthy take on the briefing to be co-sponsored by the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project in Tempe on June 28.

The briefing, which is to feature Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman as keynote speaker, will examine the systemic risks posed by potential shortages on the Colorado River.

The event also represents the kick-off of a continuing Arizona discussion on how to adopt and implement the plans of the Lower Basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada for contending with a delivery shortfall, known as the Drought Contingency Plan (see details of the briefing below).

The June 28 event will be livestreamed.

According to Fleck, a shortfall in deliveries of Colorado River water will constitute a lesson in the difference between an “allocation” of water from the river and an “entitlement” to that water. Fleck illustrates the various challenges facing Colorado River water-users with an examination of agriculture in Pinal County, where the river water delivered via the CAP canal system is subject to availability. It’s an interesting analysis and well worth a read.

The June 28 event:

What: An Arizona Discussion of the Risks to Arizona’s Colorado River Supply and the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan

Who: Panel will include Bureau Commissioner Brenda Burman; ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke; and, CAP General Manager Ted Cooke; the event also will feature presentations from BOR staff on the conditions on the Colorado River and the potential for delivery shortfalls in coming years

Where: Arizona Historical Society Museum at the Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park – hosted in the auditorium; 1300 N. College Ave, Tempe 85281

When: June 28, 1-4 pm.

How: The briefing will be livestreamed online; visit azwater.gov or CentralArizonaProject.com for details

 

Public briefing on Colorado River Drought Contingency Planning set for June 28

Arizona Department of Water Resources & Central Arizona Project to co-sponsor

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Burman to be keynote speaker

Event to be livestreamed

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By clear consensus, the most important issue currently facing the Colorado River system is the as-yet unresolved question of what the states will do to lessen the risks of draconian shortages on the Colorado River.

What, exactly, will the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada — do to assure that instability at Lake Mead doesn’t lead toward the perilous state known as “dead pool,” in which water no longer can be drawn from the reservoir?

For several years, all seven Colorado River states, as well as the federal Bureau of Reclamation, have wrestled with the questions surrounding shortage on the Colorado River – how to implement a comprehensive Drought Contingency Plan that will manage the risks of an unstable Lake Mead presented by the on-going regional drought and over-allocation of river water.

In 2007, the seven states and the federal government (joined, in 2017, by the Republic of Mexico) agreed to specific shortage “trigger levels” – that is, specified water levels at the system’s most threatened reservoir, Lake Mead – and the reduced water-delivery volumes that would result from hitting those “triggers.”

Eleven years later, it is clear those triggers – formally, the 2007 Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead — are not enough.

Arizona is the only state in the system that requires legislative approval to sign a plan with our out-of-state river partners to deal with the difficult questions surrounding a shortage. The State’s water community is contending with those issues now.

On Thursday, June 28, the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project will co-sponsor a panel discussion of the systemic risks posed by potential shortage, as well as announce the kick off of an Arizona discussion on how to adopt and implement the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan.

Keynote speaker at the event will be Brenda Burman, Commissioner of the federal Bureau of Reclamation, who plans to discuss the risks to the system.

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Brenda Burman, Commissioner, Bureau of Reclamation

The event will include presentations from ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke and CAP General Manager Ted Cooke, as well as demonstrations depicting current river conditions from Bureau of Reclamation staff.

There will be a limited question-and-answer session following the presentations. Follow up discussions are scheduled for later in the month.

What: A Joint Briefing by the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project on a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan

Who: Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman; ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke; CAP General Manager Ted Cooke, as well as input from Colorado River technical experts from ADWR, CAP and the Bureau of Reclamation

When: June 28, 1-4 pm

Where: The Arizona Historical Society Museum auditorium at the Arizona Heritage Center at Papago Park, 1300 N. College Avenue, Tempe

Special Note: The event will be livestreamed.

 

Arizona Water Resources director recommends a denial of lease deal for Quartzsite’s Colorado River water

After nearly ten months of evaluation, the Arizona Department of Water Resources has recommended that the Secretary of the Interior deny a proposed lease of the town of Quartzsite’s Colorado River allocation to the Central Arizona Water Conservation District.

On August 2, 2017, Quartzsite and the CAWCD submitted a request for consultation to the Department for the proposed lease to the District of its 1,070 acre-feet per year allocation. CAWCD is seeking the water to partially fulfill its statutory groundwater-replenishment obligations.

In his May 24 letter to Secretary Zinke, ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke said he recommended that the Interior Department deny the lease based on the fact that the allocation had never been put to a beneficial use, or “perfected” — a fundamental principle governing Arizona’s water law. As a result, the lease would be “inconsistent with the policies and laws of the State.”

“For that reason, the Department recommends that the United States deny the proposed lease if it is submitted for approval by Quartzsite and CAWCD,” wrote Buschatzke.

 

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

 

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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.”

New “Water Book” outlines Arizona’s path forward on water

The Governor’s Office has released “Securing Arizona’s Water Future,” an illustrated outline of Governor Ducey’s plan for taking action to help secure the State’s water supplies.

The “water book,” as it is known, is available on the Governor’s website.

It escorts readers through Arizona’s storied (and, often, trailblazing) history of water management, including a candid outline of the challenges now facing the State in this era of drought. It also proposes legislative solutions to those issues.

Arizona is a renowned leader in water management thanks to its long history of careful planning and effective governance. But, with the State facing serious challenges to some of its key water supplies, the Governor’s Office asserts that the time to act on water policy is now.

Governor Ducey has prioritized Arizona’s water future as one of the most crucial policy issues facing the State. He highlighted the issue in his 2018 State of the State address:

“Earning Arizona’s reputation as a national leader in water management was no easy feat and it didn’t happen by accident. It was the proactive nature of our predecessors, and our state’s willingness to take-on complex issues.

“This session, we must follow their lead and put forward responsible policies that will ensure Arizona speaks with one-voice to secure the state’s future for generations to come.”

As the water book illustrates, Arizona relies on the Colorado River for 40 percent of its water supply. Unfortunately, the Colorado River system has experienced severe drought conditions for more than 17 years. Lake Mead, a vital reservoir on the Colorado River, is less than 40 percent full.

Lake Mead water levels are important because they determine whether a shortage is declared in the State’s Colorado River allocation, which would result in decreased delivery levels of water.

Based on data from the Bureau of Reclamation, the threat of a shortage declaration by the Bureau at Lake Mead is real.

Building on Arizona’s history of responsible initiatives, the Governor’s Office has proposed a plan that focuses on strategic conservation.

The plan also calls for protecting consumers through responsible groundwater management and by speaking with one voice on water-management issues, particularly regarding the Colorado River.

Governor Ducey’s plan would better enable voluntary conservation of Colorado River water by providing the State with forbearance authority relating to specified circumstances. This would contribute to higher Lake Mead elevations, reducing the likelihood of a shortage and providing increased protection from the economic consequences of water-delivery reductions.

With an eye toward achieving the management goals of Active Management Areas (the geographic areas created through Arizona’s landmark 1980 Groundwater Management Act), the Governor’s proposal would also establish an advisory committee to monitor the progress of AMAs.

Finally, since decisions about Arizona’s water supply affect the entire state, the Governor’s plan ensures accountability by requiring State authorization before entering into interstate deals involving Colorado River water.

Attack of the Blob: How an enormous, persistent arctic low-pressure system is helping dry out the American Southwest

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It’s… the blob. It came from above. And it’s got the world in its grip.

And… it’s not going anywhere any time soon.

If that sounds like a trailer line for a low-budget sci-fi movie… well, it could be.

But it also fairly describes the powerful “Strong Hudson Bay Low” – an Arctic-spawned low-pressure systemthat locked in place over much of the Northern Hemisphere in mid-November. The strong, static “blocking” system is showing no sign of releasing its grip any time in the foreseeable future.

“WITH SNOW CONDITIONS IN THE UPPER COLORADO RIVER BASIN TRACKING AT JUST 31 PERCENT OF THE TOTAL AVERAGE SEASONAL ACCUMULATION AS OF MID-JANUARY, THE 2018 SEASON IS LOOKING DRYER THAN THE RECORD-DRY 2002 SEASON.”

And neither is one of the stronger regional effects of the huge low-pressure system:

An equally persistent, equally strong high-pressure ridge has locked into place beneath the blob. It sits in an equally unyielding “blocking” pattern over the eastern Pacific and the southwestern U.S., which is driving the west-east jet stream and its storms well to the north of the parched American Southwest.

That strong high-pressure system is proving to be a virtual mirror image of the Strong Hudson Bay Low, driving temperatures dramatically up and sapping the atmosphere of moisture.

“How strong and permanent it becomes depends on establishment of other high- and low-pressure systems as well as the amplitude of the jet stream around the globe,” explained Greg Smith, a senior hydrologist at the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center, a division of the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Coming at the time of year when the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains typically build snowpack that, come spring, provides run-off into the Colorado River system, the moisture-robbing effects of this static high-pressure system may prove to be record-setting.

So too might the effects of the Artic blob.

On January 2 in the U.S., at least one location in all 50 states recorded temperatures below freezing. Yes, even in Hawaii.

Water fountains in Florida froze over. Off-shore, sharks swimming near Cape Cod froze to death. And all that occurred before the infamous “bomb cyclone” drove temperatures deeply negative on the entire East Coast for nearly a week.

On the opposite side of the globe, meanwhile, it’s the same deal. The Arctic blob has much of the eastern side of the Northern Hemisphere frozen and snow-bound, too.

In Yakutia, Siberia – 3,300 miles east of Moscow – residents reported their eyelashes freezing as temperatures dropped to an astonishing 88 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. In southwestern Scotland — typically cold and wet in the winter — blizzard conditions shut down highways. And shipping on the normally blue Danube – for now, icy gray – was halted because of ice.

All weather patterns being inter-related with all other weather patterns, the powerful high-pressure ridge sitting over much of the southwestern U.S. built up around the same time as the Strong Hudson Bay Low gathered its global steam – in mid-November.

And like its Hudson Bay “polar” opposite, there it has remained. And remained. Strong. Resolute. And dry.

While neither strong low-pressure systems that sweep down from the Arctic nor high-pressure ridges laying out over the western U.S. are unusual at this time of year, these systems are unique in one important respect: their persistence. They won’t quit.

The high-pressure ridge has proved so persistent – and the conditions it creates so dry – that hydrologists at the Forecast Center now are comparing this season’s snowpack in the Rockies (as well as in the Arizona mountains) to that of the infamously dry winter of 1976-1977, which produced one of the lowest inflows into Lake Powell on the Colorado River system on record.

How low did that inflow go?

The fall-winter “water year” season that ended in 1977 produced an unregulated Colorado River inflow into Lake Powell of roughly 5.8 million acre-feet. That is almost three million acre-feet less than the average river flow into Powell since 2000, a period when much of the Southwest, including Arizona, has been locked in chronic drought.

Measured against the historic average since 1964, the 1977 inflow into Powell was almost five million acre-feet below average. Since 1964, only three seasons have provided less runoff than 1977.

“What drew us to the comparison (with 1977) initially was the snow situation,” said Smith.

The Forecast Center’s highly advanced “SNOTEL” (for “snow telemetry”) network indicated that many of the Colorado River Basin’s snowpack areas, especially in the southern regions, were experiencing the “lowest snow on record,” according to Smith.

To Smith and other hydrologists, the atmospheric patterns prompting the weak snowpack seemed familiar:

“Some of us recall how poor conditions were in 1976-77. Then we noticed these large atmospheric features — strong low in the east and ridge in the west — were similar.”

Added Smith: “These are not uncommon features from year to year. But in both 1976-1977 and this year they were fairly strong, and the jet stream flow in the atmosphere similarly had a high amplitude. These strong low- and high-pressure systems, known as blocking features, or a blocking pattern, can be quite stubborn.”

As it stood in mid-January, the estimate for unregulated inflow into Lake Powell from the western slopes of the Rockies indicated the lake would receive 6.75 million acre-feet of runoff, or 62 percent of the historic, 30-year average. Not good, obviously. But not historically bad.

That estimate may be changing, however. And not for the better.

The lowest Colorado River inflow into Powell ever recorded was about 2.3 million acre-feet in 2002.

With snow conditions in the Upper Colorado River basin tracking at just 31 percent of the total average seasonal accumulation as of mid-January, the 2018 Water Year season – at this point in time — is looking dryer than the record-dry 2002 season.

A “snapshot” chart recently released by the federal Bureau of Reclamation compares the current water-year snow conditions with Water Year 2002. As of January 17, which is 57 percent through the snow-accumulation season, snow conditions were tracking well below conditions in 2001-2002.

Caveats apply, certainly.

Weather changes. The “blocking” low- and high-pressure systems could weaken and dissipate. And we are still relatively early in the snow-accumulation season. The very dry mid-January snapshot of conditions could look very different by mid-February.

As Smith notes, the 1976-1977 pattern finally broke down in March 1977, ushering in a much wetter late-winter period, especially in the northern Colorado and Great Basins.

As our days of unnervingly pleasant sunshine and annoyingly dry, easy breezes drone on – and on – the prospects for matching (or, gulp, “besting”) the Great Colorado River Dribble of 2002 increase.

But, again, as the forecasters well know, weather changes. Even the extraordinarily dry winter of 1977 ended pretty wet.

 

Agenda for annual meeting of Colorado River water users is released

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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

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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.