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:
The coalition’s complete statement:
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:
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:
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.)
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.