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.

 

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.”

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

 

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 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.

Latest Drought Contingency Plan meeting agenda is released

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.

 

 

DCP Steering Committee slide presentation now available at ADWR website

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.

 

Agenda for first Steering Committee gathering on Colorado River drought-contingency planning is released

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.

The agenda can be found here and here.

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.

 

 

Planning for July 10 Drought Contingency Plan public briefing underway

Lake Mead bathtub ring Mark Henle Arizona Republic

Lake Mead and the infamous “bathtub ring” photo courtesy Mark Henle/Arizona Republic

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.

Additional details can be found at https://new.azwater.gov/lbdcp  and www.cap-az.com/AZDCP .

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