Celebration! Is It So Wrong To Revel In Good Water News For A Change?

Is it so wrong to want to revel in good water news a bit?

After enduring more than 19 years of lingering drought in the Southwest and its implications for the Colorado River system, we think not.

This month, Congress has passed, and the President has signed into law, the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act, which permits the Secretary of the Interior to sign a DCP agreement with the Seven Basin States.

Considering the very serious potential consequences of Lake Mead water levels falling to critically low levels, that is truly something worthy of celebration. So, too, was the remarkable bipartisanship and leadership on display among the Arizona congressional delegation, which led the DCP effort in in both the House and Senate.

On top of that, hydrology reports both in-state and in the Colorado River system indicate a 2019 winter snowpack that in many cases is well above average.

The implications of the Bureau of Reclamation’s recent April 2019 24-Month Study of projections for the 2020 water year (and, as the name implies, the next 24 months) are especially significant.

The Bureau updates its projections each month, but the April report and the August report are critical in determining how much water will be released from Lake Powell into Lake Mead in the coming year. The elevation levels forecasted to be in each of those reservoirs at the end of each year trigger those releases.

Up until the 2019 snowpack in the Rocky Mountains began seriously building in February, the odds of a first-ever shortage declaration in water deliveries in 2020 were better than even. With every 24-Month Study report from February onward, however, those odds decreased. By the recent April report, the Bureau’s analysts expressed confidence that Lake Mead would likely start 2020 “almost 10 feet above the shortage determination trigger of 1,075 feet.”

As reported by the Bureau, the improved hydrology allows Lake Powell’s operation this year to shift to a “balancing” release of up to 9.0 million acre-feet into Lake Mead.

As Bureau Commissioner Brenda Burman noted, this year’s snowpack “is welcome news.”

Still, she noted, “one good year cannot reverse the effects of nearly two decades of severe drought. Current total Colorado River System storage is approximately 45% of full capacity.”

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

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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.

 

Arizona Governor puts saving Lake Mead onto center stage on social media platforms

Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is giving over much of his social media platform to  getting a Drought Contingency Plan completed in Arizona.

governor ducey facebook page lake mead 1.23.2019

The art on the Governor’s Twitter feed home page is one of those startling “bathtub ring” photos of Lake Mead, which depict the reservoir’s dramatic decline in recent years.

His official Facebook page includes the same image.

The Governor’s Office has emblazoned the Lake Mead photo with a quote from former Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt, who observed recently that “this is the moment” to get an Arizona DCP agreement through the State Legislature.

governor ducey twitter feed 1.23.2019

Ducey has asked lawmakers to act quickly to approve proposed legislation that would give the Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources authority to enter into a drought plan with the other Colorado River states, as well as the federal government.

In December, the Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation, Brenda Burman, set a January 31 deadline for states to complete work on their Drought Contingency plans. The Bureau, a division of the Interior Department, is overall manager of the river system.

In addition, the Governor’s Office has published  video on Twitter of a briefing of Ducey’s proposed budget, which includes funding for the DCP. The briefing, held today in Tucson, includes the graphic copied below, which demonstrates why the drought plan is so vital. Discussion of the DCP funding begins after the 59-minute mark.

As depicted in the “Securing Arizona’s Water Future” graphic below, Lake Mead is in jeopardy of falling into a high-risk zone within five years if a system-wide DCP is not in effect. Implementing the DCP, on the other hand, flattens out the curve and gives the Colorado River states time to enact additional drought-fighting measures.

securing arizona water future graphic 1.23.2019

 

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

 

How Will AZDCP Fit Into The Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plan?

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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:

  • The Upper Basin DCP is designed to: a) protect critical elevations at Lake Powell and help assure continued compliance with the 1922 Colorado River Compact, and b) authorize storage of conserved water in the Upper Basin that could help establish the foundation for a Demand Management Program that may be developed in the future.
  • The Lower Basin DCP is designed to: a) require Arizona, California and Nevada to contribute additional water to Lake Mead storage at predetermined elevations, and b) create additional flexibility to incentivize additional voluntary conservation of water to be stored in Lake Mead.

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.

For more information on AZDCP, visit ADWR’s website or CAP’s website.

The Pumpkin speaks: Be afraid, water users… be very afraid

The Arizona Department of Water Resources held its annual “Fall Festival” celebration during the lunch hour on Thursday. Needless to say, a fun time was had by all.  In addition to caramel apples, cider and (the ubiquitous) hot dogs and popcorn, the Department employees held a pumpkin-decorating contest.

The “Most Creative” pumpkin? An absolutely precious offering from water-resources specialist (and, cat lover) Claire Jaramillo:

Basket of Kittens Pumpkin 2018

In addition, Mark Joyner of the Surface Water Rights division created the “Spookiest” pumpkin. For those of us knee-deep in the effort to conclude a Drought Contingency Plan, Mark’s offering was spooky, indeed:

Fall Festival 2018 Scariest Pumpkin

Analysts on the scene calculated that, yes, the amount of water in Mark’s pumpkin was approaching… deadpool.

(Editor’s note: for readers not conversant in DCP-speak, the Bureau of Reclamation calculates a better-than 50-50 chance that water levels at Lake Mead will fall below 1,075 feet by 2020, triggering a Tier 1 shortage declaration. Should the reservoir some day fall below 1,025 feet, it would be entering the most serious shortage tier, Tier 3, and would be approaching levels at which water no longer would flow through the Hoover Dam spillways. Those worst-case-scenario levels – generally believed to be below 900 feet – are known as “deadpool.” Negotiations in Arizona on an in-state Drought Contingency Plan that would mitigate the most dire scenarios are underway.) 

The winners:

2018 Fall Festival pics 2

 

 

The DCP Makes CO River Delivery Shortfalls Less Painful, But It Doesn’t Make Them Go Away

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.

To stay informed, visit www.azwater.gov and www.cap-az.com/AZDCP.