How do we sustain the Colorado River past 2026? Here’s how Arizona intends to find out.

The Opinion piece below was initially published on AZCentral.com on Friday, Sept. 13, 2019.

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


It didn’t take long for the completion of the Drought Contingency Plan to create value to Arizona and the Colorado River Basin.

Its focus on stabilizing Lake Mead and creating incentives to “bank” water in the reservoir already are paying dividends.

We can say with confidence that DCP is already a success.

DCP is providing a safe harbor while we work on important issues leading up to 2026, when the existing guidelines for the operation of the Colorado River system expire.

We now have an opportunity to build on the successful Arizona process that led to the DCP signing. Arizona is Stronger Together. And that will serve us well as we work toward the next step – maintaining a stable, healthy Colorado River system as we face a hotter and drier future.

Lake Mead is 22 feet higher than expected

A year ago, many of us were immersed in the details of Arizona’s Drought Contingency Implementation Plan, which benefited from the cooperative spirit of its participants, including elected leaders and representatives from every sector of the state’s water-using community.

ADWR Director Buschatzke
Tom Buschatzke

In 2020 and likely 2021, we will be operating under DCP’s Tier Zero, a reduction of 192,000 acre-feet to Arizona. The estimated impact of contributing this water is more than $40 million, but the investment is worth it to protect the Colorado River system.

Aerial View of the Colorado River
Ted Cooke

DCP’s incentives allowed for greater storage in Lake Mead this year. That, coupled with a lot of snow from the Rocky Mountains and additional tributary flow, increased storage in Lake Mead by more than 22 feet from what was initially projected.

An excellent winter snowpack in the Rockies helped Lake Mead a lot. But here is the kicker: Almost half of that 22-foot rise in Lake Mead was due to storage and contributions to system conservation.

But DCP won’t hold us forever

The term used for the coming negotiations on the system’s new guidelines is “reconsultation” of the “Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.”

The emphasis is on “interim.” The 2007 Guidelines expire in 2026. So, when people ask “what’s next?” for Colorado River management, that’s it – the difficult challenge of assessing the effectiveness of the current Guidelines, with the DCP overlay, and exploring new approaches for the next iteration of the Guidelines.

As we learned on January 31 when the State Legislature passed, and Governor Doug Ducey signed Arizona’s DCP, we achieved success because we worked together. We intend to bring the steering committee process back to life, reviving that spirit of cooperation that so infused negotiations.

To that end, we are embarking on a listening and data-collecting effort. It is our plan to meet first with the elected leaders who contributed so much time and effort to the successful steering committee process. Then, we plan to sit down with other delegates, including those representing Arizona tribes, cities, agriculture, mining, development and the nonprofit community.

Our goal: To develop a shared vision

Our new goal? Gather our stakeholders’ thoughts and develop a shared vision as we plan for Arizona’s Colorado River water supply.

This will ensure Arizona is a strong voice among the Colorado River Basin states and the federal government as we hammer out the next set of agreements for management of the Colorado River Basin beyond 2026.

That is our “Next Step.” It’s a big one and we must be prepared. And we will be, because Arizona truly is Stronger Together.

 

ADWR Director to present on potential impacts of DCP at Colo River conference

GWC_Conference 2019

Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke will participate Thursday in a panel discussion on “Charting a Better Course for the Colorado River” at the annual Getches-Wilkinson Center Summer Conference in Boulder, Colo.

Buschatzke’s panel discussion will delve into expectations for the new management guidelines on the Colorado River system, including the new Drought Contingency Plans that were signed on May 20 at an event at Hoover Dam. The panel also will discuss expectations for the new Guidelines for river management that must be worked out before the existing Guidelines expire in 2026.

Panelists will consider how (or, whether) the  DCPs may provide a “roadmap” for reaching agreement on those post-2026 Guidelines.

As noted in the GWC Summer Conference schedule of events, “(n)owhere was the DCP road more turbulent, and the upcoming implementation more salient, than in Arizona.”

The discussion, which begins at 9:00 a.m. (MST) will be recorded and livestreamed. It will be available for viewing here.

 

President signs Colorado DCP Authorization Act, clearing path to finalize historic agreement

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.

 

Effort to win Congressional support for the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plans begins in earnest on Wednesday

DCP Signing-19
Signers of the March 19 Letter to Congress urging federal support for the Drought Contingency Plans, with Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman. From left: Peter Nelson, California; John Entsminger, Nevada; James Eklund, Colorado; Tom Buschatzke, Arizona; Commissioner Burman; John D’Antonio, Jr., New Mexico; Norm Johnson, Utah; and, Pat Tyrrell, Wyoming. Buschatzke, Entsminger and Tyrrell will join the Commissioner before the Senate Subcommittee on Water and Power on March 27.

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.

 

Drought Contingency Plan focus now turns to Congress: ADWR Director to testify at U.S. House and Senate

DCP Signing-19
Signatories to the Letter to Congress, gathered for a post-signing photo with Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman (left to right): Peter Nelson of California; John J. Entsminger of Nevada; L. James Eklund of Colorado; Tom Buschatzke of Arizona; ; John R. D’Antonio, Jr. of New Mexico; Norm Johnson of Utah; and, Pat Tyrrell of Wyoming

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.

 

 

 

Final DCP Steering Committee meeting scheduled for February 19

Homepage_Thumbnail_New_DCP

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 for the meeting is available at the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Planning websites at both the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the CAP.

The agenda includes:

  • A recap of the Arizona DCP legislation
  • A status summary of the Intra-Arizona Implementation Plan
  • An outline of actions needed to achieve Congressional approval
  • Delegate comments
  • A Steering Committee resolution

Details:

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.

 

At the Inauguration: Governor Ducey’s comments on securing Arizona’s water future

inauguration day 2019

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.

Arizona water coalition declares support for “Implementation Plan” to complete state’s plan for Colorado River delivery shortfalls

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:

  • Governor Ducey’s pledge to allocate $30 million in funding for system conservation as a part of the implementation of DCP
  • The readiness of the Walton Family Foundation and Water Funders Initiative to work in partnership with public funders and other stakeholders to fill the $8 million funding gap for system conservation in the Lower Basin
  • The benefits of the proposed mitigation for the Colorado River system and water levels in Lake Mead

The coalition’s complete statement:

11.30.2018 Water for Arizona AZ DCP Statement

 

On-Going Experiment In High-Volume CO River Releases From Glen Canyon Dam Set for November 5

Glen Canyon Dam high flow release photo

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.

The Department reports that the HFE releases will not impact the total annual amount of water released from Lake Powell to Lake Mead in water year 2019.