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.
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.”
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey is giving over much of his social media platform to getting a Drought Contingency Plan completed in Arizona.
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.
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.
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.
The Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project, co-hosts for the series of meetings on an intra-Arizona Drought Contingency Plan for protecting the Colorado River system, have released the agenda for their August 9 meeting.
The agenda can be found here.
Scheduled for between 1-4 p.m. at the Burton Barr Public Library in central Phoenix, Thursday’s meeting represents the second gathering of the group’s Steering Committee.
The public is invited to attend.
A 22-slide PowerPoint presentation prepared jointly by the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project on behalf of the new Steering Committee is now available at ADWR’s Drought Contingency Plan web page.
The presentation, released just before the July 26 Steering Committee meeting, offers an overview of the key elements for implementing a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan in Arizona.
This first public meeting of the Steering Committee was scheduled at CAP headquarters in north Phoenix and is being videotaped for release on ADWR’s and CAP’s websites soon afterward.
It is the first meeting of the group whose mission is to recommend an LB DCP that is acceptable to Arizona water users, and, ultimately, to facilitate Arizona joining with the rest of the Colorado River community in devising a strategy to protect Lake Mead from falling to intolerable elevations.
The agenda is out for Thursday’s meeting of the newly formed Steering Committee that will recommend how to adopt and implement a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan for Arizona.
Thursday’s agenda includes plans for discussing four key elements for implementing a drought-contingency plan in Arizona. They will include: plans for mitigating the impact on agriculture of a Colorado River water delivery shortage; tribal “intentionally created surplus” (ICS) water for Lake Mead; an Arizona Conservation Plan; and issues involving excess Colorado River water.
The Steering Committee was formed as a collaborative effort by the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project to help protect Lake Mead from falling to dangerously low levels.
The Steering Committee’s mission is to recommend an LB DCP that is acceptable to Arizona water users. In addition to the July 26 event, eight more Steering Committee meetings are scheduled to be held between now and December. All meetings are open to the public.
Thursday’s meeting, scheduled for 1-4 p.m. at CAP’s headquarters at 23636 N 7th Street in north Phoenix, will be recorded for a later posting on the ADWR and CAP websites.
The next step toward bringing a Drought Contingency Plan in Arizona to closure is scheduled for Tuesday, July 10, at the Heard Museum in central Phoenix.
Co-hosted once again by the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the public meeting is set for 1-4 pm at the museum auditorium, located at 2301 N. Central Ave.
The first step in this process – which is expected to open the door for legislative authorization for the ADWR Director to sign the system-wide DCP – began with a three-hour briefing on June 28.
The briefing, as well as the renewed commitment to drought-contingency planning in Arizona, is spurred by the serious conditions facing the Colorado River system, especially the Lower Basin region and Lake Mead.
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 existing guidelines created by agreements among the Colorado River states now are insufficient to address the current risks to the system.
Information about that June 28 briefing, including a video recording of the entire proceeding, is available here.
Also available at ADWR’s Drought Contingency Planning website is a background packet about the briefing, as well as the complete package of slide presentations by ADWR Director Buschatzke, Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke and Terry Fulp, the Lower Colorado Regional Director for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
A major focus of the July 10 briefing will include answering inquiries from the public about the DCP.
ADWR and CAWCD staff fielded dozens of questions during the June 28 briefing, including questions from audience members and from online viewers. The event on July 10 – which will include technical staff from both organizations on hand – will devote more time for responding to questions from the public.
The June 28 briefing closed with the announcement that an “Arizona Steering Committee” will be formed to discuss and recommend how to adopt and implement the Drought Contingency Plan in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River system 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.
The July 10 Meeting
What: A further discussion, including more public inquiries, on the Arizona Discussion on a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan
When: July 10, 1-4 p.m.
Where: The Heard Museum, 2301 N. Central Ave., Phoenix 85004
Who: The Arizona Department of Water Resources, the Central Arizona Water Conservation District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation
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:
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.