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.

 

Facing Down Arizona’s Impending Wildfire Season

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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

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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!

 

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.

Decision time for the Salton Sea

Shrinking Salton Sea

In a recent oped, the Audubon Society illustrated the difficult choices facing California at fending off an “ecological disaster” in the area of the Imperial and Coachella Valleys

The state of California has been struggling for years with the consequences of the Salton Sea drying up, including toxic air pollution, loss of bird habitat and myriad health hazards for the thousands of children living in the region.

Audubon’s Salton Sea program director, Frank Ruiz, recently provided a comprehensive update of the issues facing the inland sea, published in several southern California media, including the Riverside Press-Enterprise.

There is some good news to report, noted Ruiz, especially the fact that legislation recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown would allocate $200 million (out of a statewide package of $4 billion for parks, water, coastal and climate-related projects) to addressing the sea’s ecological crises.

As Ruiz notes, that money is a good start, even though it constitutes about half of the estimated costs ($380 million, in total) for 29,000 acres of air-quality control efforts and habitat projects.

But, he added, money alone “will not avert the looming disaster” at the sea. Political will, he argued, is the difference-maker:

“Ultimately, the question of whether California will act fast enough in 2018 to avoid the worst impacts at the sea depends on leadership from Gov. Brown and California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird,” wrote Ruiz.

 

 

 

Drought to continue in Arizona? We’ll find out tomorrow

May 2 2017 drought monitor report

The water-news cycle has drifted east all the way across the continent.

It seems like just yesterday the drought story was all about California. Now, the nation’s eyes have shifted all the way from the Left Coast to the Right Coast as drought worries have ebbed in the Land of Avocadoes, but have intensified in the Land of Grapefruit.

Not to be snowflake-y about it, but what about us and our needs? Arizona has been dealing with this drought phenomenon far longer than California and Florida combined.

The formal process to determine whether Arizona officially will enter its 18th consecutive year of drought is approaching.

The Governor’s Drought Interagency Coordinating Group will meet tomorrow, May 9, here at the Arizona Department of Water Resources (1110 W. Washington St., Phoenix, Suite 310, 10 a.m. – 12 noon). And while the details about Arizona’s climactic conditions no doubt will prove fascinating, the ultimate conclusions of the panel don’t look all that much in doubt.

Although dry conditions have ebbed, particularly through the most recent winter months, Arizona continues to see a substantial portion of its territory in drought. The drought portrait has improved considerably since early 2016 — only a tiny portion of southwestern Arizona remains in a “severe drought” condition, which is the second-highest drought category.

The coordinating group will report on drought conditions, Colorado River water-supply conditions and the weather outlook for the upcoming summer and winter seasons.

Parking is limited, so it helps to RSVP by email to ehenenson@azwater.gov. The meeting also will be available via phone and webinar.

To attend the meeting via phone and webinar: Call-in Number: 1-877-820-7831 / Passcode: 886948#

Web Meeting Link: https://stateofarizona.centurylinkccc.com/CenturylinkWeb/Verdes

At the end, the ICG will be asked to make a recommendation to Gov. Doug Ducey about whether or not he should keep the drought declarations currently in place.