President Trump this afternoon signed the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act, the federal legislation that opens the door for the Secretary of the Interior to sign the vital drought plan along with the governor’s representatives of the Seven Basin States.
Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke will sign on behalf of Governor Ducey. Buschatzke himself was authorized to sign the agreement on January 31 by an act of the Arizona Legislature, which the governor promptly signed.
The DCP is an agreement among the Colorado River states to take steps to protect Lake Mead in the event of a shortage declaration. Years in the making, the agreement would help protect Lake Mead water levels from falling into critical depths.
Introduced to Congress in late March, the DCP Authorization Act flew through both the U.S. Senate and House, thanks in no small part to the strong support provided by the Arizona congressional delegation, notably Sen. Martha McSally and Rep. Raul Grijalva, both of whom played key roles.
Within eleven days of its introduction, on April 8, both the House and Senate approved the legislation by acclimation and sent the Act to the President’s desk for his signature.
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.
In delivering his second Inaugural Address, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey told the audience at the State Capitol that the time has come to “press forward on some of the biggest challenges facing us.”
“Because none of us came here to do little things — we came here to do the things that matter, big things — and we can do them together.”
Among those big things the Governor identified was securing the State’s water future. Specifically, Governor Ducey called on lawmakers and stakeholders to take action on protecting the State’s Colorado River water supplies.
“We cannot kick the can any further,” he said.
Governor Ducey’s comments on Arizona water security, in full:
Our duty is to leave this state in far better shape than we found it — and we are well on our way.
These are the tasks before us. And if there’s any question of how Arizonans expect us to solve these problems, I’d say, look around. Taking the oath with me today are Republicans and Democrats – all hired by the same electorate.
When conversations stall, as they sometimes do during difficult discussions, we let history be our guide and the hand that lifts us back up.
Nearly four decades ago, in 1980, Arizona’s accelerated water consumption forced a sobering ultimatum from the federal government: reform or suffer severe water cutbacks.
The can could not be kicked any further.
But Arizona’s history is not one of missed opportunities or efforts that came up short. Rather we find, that in the darkest times, Arizona’s pioneering spirit shines the brightest.
Democrats and Republicans rose above party labels. They brought skeptical and reluctant stakeholders to the table. And they acted – and they did it with good faith and honest intentions.
For the people in this crowd and many across our state, I don’t have to spell out the parallel circumstances in which we find ourselves today.
It’s simple. Arizona and our neighboring states draw more water from the Colorado River than mother nature puts back. And with a critical shortfall imminent, we cannot kick the can any further.
It’s going to mean rising above self-interest, and doing the right thing. It means taking the action our past and future generations demand.
The Water for Arizona Coalition, a group comprising Arizonans who support policies and innovative practices to ensure a reliable water supply to meet the state’s needs, has released a statement of support for the “Implementation Plan” that was unveiled at the November 29 Steering Committee meeting at Central Arizona Project headquarters.
The coalition singled out three tenets of the Implementation Plan that its members consider key:
The coalition’s complete statement:
Science is all about experimentation, and one of the more spectacular experiments in the movement of Colorado River sediment is set to begin in a matter of days.
Beginning November 5, the Department of Interior will begin a High-Flow Experiment (HFE) release of water out of Glen Canyon Dam, slowly ramping up the volume to 38,100 cubic feet per second, which it will maintain for 60 hours over three days.
The forceful water release is intended to mimic the floods that once drove enormous volumes of sand through the river canyons prior to the construction of Glen Canyon Dam, which rebuilt eroded sandbars downstream.
Those reconstituted, enlarged beaches serve a number of valuable purposes – from providing camping space for river-rafters to creating backwater habitat for native fish populations. The enlarged eddies and pools enhanced by those bigger sandbars also encourage the growth of riparian vegetation that provides habitat for birds and other wildlife.
The upcoming “HFE” release is the first under the newly minted 2016 Record of Decision for the Glen Canyon Dam, which provides a framework for adaptively managing Glen Canyon Dam over the next 20 years. The goal of the “ROD” is to create certainty and predictability for water and power users while protecting environmental and cultural resources in Grand Canyon National Park and the Colorado River ecosystem.
The high-volume water release experiment, meanwhile, is a component of the 1992 Grand Canyon Protection Act, which mandated that Glen Canyon Dam be operated in a manner that protects the values for which Grand Canyon National Park and Glen Canyon Recreational Area were established. The first-ever release was conducted in 1996. Known as the Beach Habitat Building Flow, it was designed to mimic the dynamics of a natural system, including building high-elevation sandbars, depositing nutrients, and restoring backwater channels.
Given its unprecedented mission – imitating the sediment-rich flood conditions of a pre-Glen Canyon Dam river – the HFE releases have been genuinely experimental, adapting and changing as more data were accumulated about their impact.
Release times are scheduled to coincide with the periods that its tributaries – the Paria and Little Colorado rivers – have deposited their largest volumes of sand into the Colorado River.
A lot of concerns factor into the timing of HFE releases. One of the primary concerns is avoiding spreading the seeds of non-native vegetation, such as tamarisk, whose seed production generally occurs between April and September.
The effort to improve habitat for native fish species is a work in progress, too. Early on, researchers found that the intensity of the releases actually worked to expand habitat for non-native trout, which fed on rare native species like the humpback chub.
These discoveries have been the cornerstone of the “adaptive management” strategies adopted by the Department of Interior for the Glen Canyon Dam. The USGS researchers – considered the architects of the HFE — have had to change their strategies of making maximum use of the HFE releases by changing and adapting as new scientific findings improved their understanding of how HFE releases affect the Colorado River ecosystem.
The releases by the Department of Interior are conducted in consultation with the Colorado River Basin States, including Arizona, as well as with Native American tribes, federal and state agencies and with input from Glen Canyon Adaptive Management Program stakeholders.
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.