The most important CRWUA meetings ever begin with a Water 101 primer

Incoming Central Arizona Project GM Brenda Burman is kicking off the formal program for the 2022 meetings of the Colorado River Water Users Association with a primer on the rare language of water that come easily to regular attendees, but can be obscure and confusing to newbies to this conference. And with an overflow audience, there are a lot of newbies here.

A fundamental element of Burman’s lecture is terminology. There are familiar terms: “acre-feet” (the basic measurement of apportionments of water when you’re dealing literally with billions of gallons) and “junior priority,” the notorious status of certain Arizona water users who must stand in line for river water until California’s buckets all are full.

The newest term in Colorado River-ese: “aridification,” the phenomenon that has contributed to dramatically drier soils in the Rocky Mountain watershed, which has been soaking up stunning amounts of snowpack runoff, contributing hugely to the dire conditions at Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

Also: “You will hear people talking about ‘elevations at Lake Mead.’ We talk about that a lot,” said Burman. This is a relatively simple term. It refers to water levels at the biggest reservoir in the U.S., which are descending to near catastrophic levels (which also is the explanation for why the CRWUA annual meetings have sold out). When elevations at Lake Mead start descending toward the most notorious condition of all – dead pool – it attracts a whole lot of attention.

Brenda Burman, Executive Strategy Advisor, Central Arizona Project.
Brenda Burman, Executive Strategy Advisor, Central Arizona Project.

A part of the Burman presentation regards “intake valves” and “bypass tubes” at Glen Canyon Dam. This may be the most under-reported news story regarding threats to the river system’s infrastructure.

Once water levels at Lake Powell descend below the huge intake valves (which drive the generators at the dam and create electricity) the only way to pass water through the dam and down through the Grand Canyon is through a much smaller set of four “bypass tubes.” Burman observes that the Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Tom Buschatzke, often refers to these bypass tubes as “garden hoses.” He’s not wrong. The four much-smaller tubes literally are incapable of handling a typical year’s water flow out of Glen Canyon Dam, which is 7.5 million acre-feet. Relying on those intake tubes is a genuinely serious threat to the system.

“So what does all this mean?” she asks.

“We want to leave this river in a better place than how we found it. Given all we’ve seen here, that’s not an easy job.”

Note: A copy of Burman’s PowerPoint presentation will be posted on the CRWUA website.

Arizona water-users and managers meet and do business at CRWUA


Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke briefs the Arizona contingent at CRWUA about Minute 323 developments whil Chuck Podolak, aide to U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, and Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke look on

Under the direction of master-of-ceremonies Tom Buschatzke, the Arizona delegation conducted its necessary business work and house-keeping duties related to the Colorado River Water Users Association during the organization’s meetings last week.

The big news coming out of the Thursday breakfast meeting was that the so-called “big four” Arizona water organizations, which rotate Arizona presence on the Board of Trustees, rotated. Three of the four (the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Salt River Project, Yuma Area water users and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District) were in. One was out.

The odd group out this year? The CAWCD. The rotation scheme was set up years ago, noted Wade Noble, a representative of Yuma agriculture.

Buschatzke, Dave Roberts of SRP and Elston Grubaugh of the Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation & Drainage District will take on trustee duties.

Water Resources Director Buschatzke updated the Arizona attendees on 2017 state-related water issues.

Buschatzke briefed attendees on the status of Minute 323, the important water agreement completed this year between the U.S. and Mexico. A big part of the agreement involves progress on desalination efforts, he said.

“Desalination is a long-term project for the State of Arizona,” said Buschatzke. “It’s a long ways away, but at least we’re starting with that project.”

This isn’t confirmed, but Yuma-area ag representative Wade Noble told the substantial Arizona delegation to CRWUA that there is a reason why Arizona attendees must walk farther than anyone else when going to their caucus breakfast meetings.

It’s because Arizona is the largest of all the CRWUA contingents and their breakfast meeting room was the only one capable of holding such a large group.


Agenda for annual meeting of Colorado River water users is released

TB at CRWUA 2016

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.


Interior Secretary Jewell signs the Record of Decision implementing the new 20-year management plan for operating Glen Canyon Dam


Negotiators reaffirm commitment to completing a drought contingency plan

CRWUA meetings, Las Vegas — The members of the Colorado River Water Users Association may have parted ways last week disappointed that the Colorado River Basin states and the federal government were unable to finalize negotiations to protect the river system from drought.

But they still managed to finish their meetings on a high note, including encouragement from Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell to continue negotiating.

“We want to get as far as we possibly can, and that’s what we’re going to be urging everybody to do,” Jewell said to reporters at the CRWUA meetings on Thursday.

Many of the negotiators themselves reaffirmed their commitment to getting a drought-contingency plan done soon, if not before the change of administration in Washington, D.C.

“It’s critical that we do this,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. “It benefits everyone, up and down the river.”


Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell

Also on Thursday afternoon, Secretary Jewell officially signed a decision for managing the Glen Canyon Dam over the next 20 years, a deal that significantly updates environmental considerations in the dam’s operation.


Known as the Long-term Experimental and Management Plan (or, LTEMP), the plan is consistent with the federal Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992 and represents two decades of study of the dam and its impacts on downstream resources.

The Act required the Secretary of Interior to operate Glen Canyon Dam in such a manner as to protect and mitigate adverse effects and improve the values for which Grand Canyon and Glen Canyon were established, which provided the basis for the new management plan signed by Secretary Jewell.

The out-going Interior Secretary signed the Record of Decision approving the management plan shortly before the end of the annual CRWUA meetings in Las Vegas.

Secretary Jewell also expressed optimism that an agreement to protect Lake Mead and the rest of the Colorado River system, as well as a separately negotiated river-system agreement with the Republic of Mexico, should be forthcoming soon.

“We have an agreement that is pending with Mexico that we need to get across the finish line in order to address our water needs between the two countries…  and that has to take first priority,” she said to reporters.

In a letter to Jewell sent in November, representatives of Arizona and the other six Colorado River basin states voiced their qualified approval of the LTEMP.