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Water agencies announce partnership to invest $200 million in conservation efforts to bolster Colorado River’s Lake Mead, under 500+ plan

Las Vegas, Nevada (December 15, 2021) – LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Water agencies across Arizona, California and Nevada, together with the Department of the Interior, today announced a historic effort to invest up to $200 million in projects over the next two years to keep the Colorado River’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, from dropping to critically low levels.

The agreement, known as the 500+ Plan, aims to add 500,000 acre-feet of additional water to Lake Mead in both 2022 and 2023 by facilitating actions to conserve water across the Lower Colorado River Basin. The additional water – enough water to serve about 1.5 million households a year – would add about 16 feet total to the reservoir’s level, which continues to reach record low levels.

“Two decades of drought on the Colorado River is taking a toll across the Basin and on Lake Mead. By working together we’ve staved off these historic low levels for years, thanks to collaboration and conservation in the Lower Basin. But we need even more action, and we need it now,” said Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

In addition to Reclamation, the 500+ Plan includes the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Central Arizona Project, The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority.

Under the Memorandum of Understanding signed today during the Colorado River Water Users Association’s annual conference, ADWR commits up to $40 million to the initiative over two years, with CAP, Metropolitan and SNWA each contributing up to $20 million. The federal government plans to match those commitments, for a total funding pool of $200 million.

Some of the specific conservation actions and programs that will be implemented through the 500+ Plan have already begun, while others are still being identified. The MOU includes conservation efforts in both urban and agricultural communities, such as funding crop fallowing on farms to save water, including the recent approval of a short-term agricultural land fallowing program in California, or urban conservation to reduce diversions from Lake Mead.

In 2019, Arizona, Nevada and California signed the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan and agreed to contribute water to Lake Mead as it reached certain levels, to keep it from dropping even further and reaching critically low levels. The DCP also included a provision that if modeling indicates a possibility of the reservoir reaching an elevation of 1,030 feet, action would be required.

“Our work on the 2019 DCP took more than five years to complete. This commitment to work together to stabilize Lake Mead came together in a matter of a few months,” said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke. “That alone is a powerful testament to the commitment of the Lower Basin States to work together with our partners at Reclamation to protect this vital river system.”

“These past months have presented tremendous challenges with the additional pressure of the need to work quickly. But rather than drive us apart, this difficult situation has further strengthened our relationships. It’s amazing that work of this magnitude, sensitivity and expense could come together in this amount of time,” said Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke.

“We had hoped the contributions made under the DCP would be enough to stabilize Lake Mead while we seek longer-term solutions to the challenges on the Colorado River. But they aren’t, which is why we are moving forward with the 500+ Plan,” said Metropolitan General Manager Adel Hagekhalil.

“It is imperative that all users on the Colorado River take action now to preserve this critical resource that we all depend upon,” said SNWA General Manager John Entsminger. “We hope as this initiative is developed, that along with our other many conservation efforts, it will provide strong support for Lake Mead water levels.”

The plan marks the latest collaborative effort by the Lower Basin states in partnership with Reclamation to bring sustainability to the Colorado River, which has been in a historic drought since 2000.

The plan also highlights the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s historic $8.3 billion investment in water infrastructure and will help minimize the impacts of drought, and develop a long-term plan to facilitate conservation and economic growth. The BID’s investments will fund water efficiency and recycling programs, rural water projects, WaterSMART grants and dam safety to ensure that irrigators, Tribes and adjoining communities receive adequate assistance and support.

BUREAU OF RECLAMATION
Patti Aaron
paaron@usbr.gov
702-293-8189
ARIZONA DEPARTMENT OF WATER RESOURCES
Shauna Evans
smevans@azwater.gov
602-771-8079
SOUTHERN NEVADA WATER AUTHORITY
Bronson Mack
bronson.mack@lvvwd.com 702-249-5518
CENTRAL ARIZONA PROJECT
DeEtte Person
dperson@cap-az.com
623-869-2597
METROPOLITAN WATER DISTRICT
Rebecca Kimitch
rkimitch@mwdh2o.com
202-821-5253
 

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.

 

ADWR Director to provide congressional testimony on Wednesday on behalf of tribal settlement

Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke on Wednesday will express Arizona’s strong support for an important tribal settlement before a subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Director Buschatzke is scheduled to testify before the House Committee on Natural Resources’ Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife on H.R. 2459, the Hualapai Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2019.

The federal legislation approves a settlement agreement involving the tribe and state parties that includes providing the tribe with 4,000 acre-feet per year of Central Arizona Project water from the Colorado River. The settlement also includes the planning, design and construction of the “Hualapai Water Project,” which includes a pipeline capable of delivering 3,414 acre-feet per year to the tribal reservation at Peach Springs and beyond to the tribe’s major tourist attractions at Grand Canyon West.

Approval by Congress would authorize an appropriation of $134.5 million for construction of the Project, $32 million for operation, maintenance and replacement costs by the Tribe, and $7 million for use by the Secretary of the Interior in operating the water project before title is conveyed to the Tribe. The funding also provides technical assistance to prepare the Tribe for the operation of the Project.

For the Hualapai Tribe, the settlement provides a renewable water supply and the infrastructure to convey that water supply from the Colorado River to critical areas on the Tribe’s reservation.

“The State of Arizona strongly supports this legislation,” said Director Buschatzke.

“Half of the 22 federally recognized Indian tribes in Arizona still have unresolved water rights claims. Resolving these claims through settlement is a priority for the State.”

This appearance is the second time this year that Director Buschatzke has testified before the House Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife. On March 28, he joined other representatives of the Colorado River Basin States, as well as Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, speaking on behalf the successful effort to pass the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan.

The Director also testified on Capitol Hill in support of the Hualapai Tribe water-rights settlement on December 6, 2017.

https://naturalresources.house.gov/hearings/legislative-hearing-on-hr-644-hr-2459-and-hr-3292

Who: ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke

What: Testimony on behalf of H.R. 2459, sponsored by Rep. Tom O’Halleran of Arizona

Where: Before the Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife of the House Natural Resources Committee

When: 2 p.m. (EDT); 11 a.m. (MST)

ADWR Director to present on potential impacts of DCP at Colo River conference

GWC_Conference 2019

Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke will participate Thursday in a panel discussion on “Charting a Better Course for the Colorado River” at the annual Getches-Wilkinson Center Summer Conference in Boulder, Colo.

Buschatzke’s panel discussion will delve into expectations for the new management guidelines on the Colorado River system, including the new Drought Contingency Plans that were signed on May 20 at an event at Hoover Dam. The panel also will discuss expectations for the new Guidelines for river management that must be worked out before the existing Guidelines expire in 2026.

Panelists will consider how (or, whether) the  DCPs may provide a “roadmap” for reaching agreement on those post-2026 Guidelines.

As noted in the GWC Summer Conference schedule of events, “(n)owhere was the DCP road more turbulent, and the upcoming implementation more salient, than in Arizona.”

The discussion, which begins at 9:00 a.m. (MST) will be recorded and livestreamed. It will be available for viewing here.

 

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.

 

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.

 

 

 

Organizers of Arizona’s Drought Contingency Plan effort tab Steering Committee members

The co-sponsors of the statewide effort to complete a Drought Contingency Plan for  Arizona that helps protect Lake Mead from falling to dangerously low levels have named their Steering Committee.

The 37-member panel, co-chaired by Tom Buschatzke of the Arizona Department of Water Resources and Ted Cooke of the Central Arizona Project, will gather for the first time on July 26 at the CAP board meeting room in north Phoenix.

The meeting is a first, major step toward bringing DCP to closure in Arizona by addressing a broad range of issues that respect the concerns of all Colorado River stakeholders across the state. The two co-sponsoring organizations previously hosted two public briefings illustrating the need for a Colorado River system-wide DCP and the perils facing the system without one.

The Steering Committee gatherings also will be open to the public.

The Steering Committee’s goal is to prepare the way for the state Legislature to authorize ADWR Director Buschatzke to sign onto a system-wide agreement on behalf of Arizona.

 

 

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

ADWR’s Drought Contingency Planning website now live

A web page dedicated to providing up-to-date information on the effort to complete a Drought Contingency Plan in Arizona is now live.

The web page includes the complete agenda from the June 28 briefing co-sponsored by the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project, which included presentations by Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman and Terry Fulp, BOR’s Lower Colorado Regional Director.

In addition, the web page includes the PowerPoint presentations by ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke, CAP General Manager Ted Cooke and BOR’s Fulp.

Also, the web pages include links to statements on the joint commitment to completing an Arizona DCP co-authored by Director Buschatzke and General Manager Cooke. As they are completed, the page will provide a calendar of upcoming DCP planning meetings, including the scheduled July 10 meeting.

Video of the June 28 briefing at the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Tempe will be posted when it becomes available.

The ADWR “Arizona Discussions on Drought Contingency Planning” web page can be found here.