At the Inauguration: Governor Ducey’s comments on securing Arizona’s water future

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In delivering his second Inaugural Address, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey told the audience at the State Capitol that the time has come to “press forward on some of the biggest challenges facing us.”

“Because none of us came here to do little things — we came here to do the things that matter, big things — and we can do them together.”

Among those big things the Governor identified was securing the State’s water future. Specifically, Governor Ducey called on lawmakers and stakeholders to take action on protecting the State’s Colorado River water supplies.

“We cannot kick the can any further,” he said.

Governor Ducey’s comments on Arizona water security, in full:

Our duty is to leave this state in far better shape than we found it — and we are well on our way.

These are the tasks before us. And if there’s any question of how Arizonans expect us to solve these problems, I’d say, look around. Taking the oath with me today are Republicans and Democrats – all hired by the same electorate.

When conversations stall, as they sometimes do during difficult discussions, we let history be our guide and the hand that lifts us back up.

Nearly four decades ago, in 1980, Arizona’s accelerated water consumption forced a sobering ultimatum from the federal government: reform or suffer severe water cutbacks.

The can could not be kicked any further.

But Arizona’s history is not one of missed opportunities or efforts that came up short. Rather we find, that in the darkest times, Arizona’s pioneering spirit shines the brightest.

Democrats and Republicans rose above party labels. They brought skeptical and reluctant stakeholders to the table. And they acted – and they did it with good faith and honest intentions.

For the people in this crowd and many across our state, I don’t have to spell out the parallel circumstances in which we find ourselves today.

It’s simple. Arizona and our neighboring states draw more water from the Colorado River than mother nature puts back. And with a critical shortfall imminent, we cannot kick the can any further.

It’s going to mean rising above self-interest, and doing the right thing. It means taking the action our past and future generations demand.

Facing Down Arizona’s Impending Wildfire Season

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Flames and smoke rise from last year’s fire near Mayer, Ariz. (Jennifer Johnson/AP)

6 questions for Tiffany Davila of the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management

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Tiffany Davila, public information officer for Forestry and Fire Management

Among its many duties focused on the protection and health of Arizona’s forestlands, the Forestry Department provides public outreach through various platforms including social media, billboard marketing campaigns, public service announcements, and community-wide events – all of it focused on informing Arizonans about the condition of their forests and the need to protect this valuable resource.As Arizona warily approaches an early summer fire season marked by record-low watershed runoff and tinder-dry forests, the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management is gearing up for what many fear may be a challenging time ahead.

Much of that work falls to Tiffany Davila, a public information officer for Forestry and Fire Management. Tiffany has long been a familiar face among Arizona media covering wildfires in Arizona, providing up-to-date information on many of the more serious conflagrations that plague the state at this time of year.

Arizona Water News recently caught up with Tiffany to get her sense of what lies ahead for Arizona’s forests.

Arizona Water News: With the human-caused Rattlesnake Fire southwest of Alpine, the state’s wildfire ‘season’ already seems to be underway. Are we seeing an unusually early start this year for forest fires?

Tiffany Davila: Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be a ‘season’ anymore. Wildfire activity picks up every month nowadays. This January and February we had fire activity across southern Arizona and we expect it to get even busier across the entire State as we move into the warmer months.

The Rattlesnake Fire, posted to Inciweb approximately April 20, 2018. Photographer unknown;

Last year, the Sawmill Fire started on April 23rd and burned nearly 47,000 acres. This year, the Rattlesnake Fire started even earlier and has already reached 22,000 acres.

Southern Arizona was very active last year. But this year is different. The lack of precipitation over the winter and increasingly warm temperatures means a decrease in fuel moisture. Therefore, the fire outlook predicted is for high wildfire activity across all of Arizona.

AWN: Rangers in the Tonto National Forest reported issuing 300 warnings and citations between April 20 and 22 for violations of Stage II fire restrictions in the forest – violations that include use of wood and charcoal in campfires, smoking outdoors, parking on dry vegetation. Is it tough getting out the message that these are extremely dangerous things to do in the forest at this time of year?

TD: It’s very hard and at times I feel like a broken record repeating the same things: ‘Don’t drag tow chains… put out your campfires completely… create defensible space… don’t burn on windy days…’ I think I even say it in my sleep.

But seriously, if we keep reinforcing and pushing the messaging it will eventually stick with folks. Many times, people become complacent and yes, accidents do happen, but one spark is really all it takes to start a major wildfire and that’s why it’s very important we continue our marketing efforts to push out our prevention messaging year-round.

AWN: On the plus side, cooler weather and lighter winds for several days have appeared to have helped firefighters with the Rattlesnake Fire. On the minus side, forecasters anticipate dry lightning moving into Arizona during the coming weekend. Is it fair to say you have a love-hate relationship with the weather service at this time of the year?

TD: Actually, we have a love-hate relationship with mother nature. Ha! The forecasters are just doing their jobs. We are fortunate that all our forecasters excel at what they do.

The weather service is very good at keeping us briefed on incoming or poor weather conditions during a fire. In a critical fire situation, we can call them for a spot weather report and they will immediately get us the data we need. Spot weather forecasts are very important because they are based off a pinpointed location of a fire and can be customized to that area.

The forecasters help us do our jobs more effectively and safely and we thank them for that.

AWN: Governor Ducey recently announced doubling his request for fire prevention funding this year to $2 million. How does that funding get used?

TD: That funding is specific for the Department of Forestry and Fire Management’s Hazardous Vegetation Removal program. We use that funding to conduct mitigation projects across the state.

We have several ongoing projects, including one in Safford that is targeting the salt cedar along the Gila River Corridor. Salt cedar, or tamarisk, is a highly flammable and invasive plant that can cause a fire to spread fast and burn very hot. Since last fall, DFFM crews have been working to remove the salt cedar and treat it with herbicide to prevent it from growing back.

Another project that was part of our HVR funding was the fuel break project near Mayer. The 270-acre fuel break installation was a multi-year project that essentially created a buffer zone for the town of Mayer. The break was tested after last year’s Goodwin Fire and proved successful in stopping the fire from moving into the town.

HVR funding is essential for our work, and having that additional money, should the Legislature approve, will be critical in allowing us to do more projects in high-risk areas around our state.

AWN: The communications team at Forestry and Fire Management notoriously gets zero rest when a major fire breaks out. Can you tell us what you do to keep Arizonans aware of things during a fire incident?

TD: We just drink a lot of coffee and energy drinks. I think last year, I worked more than 100 hours during the first seven days the Sawmill Fire started. I’m not even sure how that’s possible.

We have multiple ways to get information out to the public, and one of them is using InciWeb, a public website. There, the public can find evacuation or road closure notices, fire size and containment numbers, pictures, maps, and other information they may be looking for or needing.

We also work closely with our county emergency managers, the sheriff departments, the Arizona Department of Transportation, the Red Cross and, of course, our partnering agencies — the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service — to make sure we are getting the public the pertinent information they need in a timely manner.

Often, we conduct public meetings or town halls to ensure we are reaching all the residents impacted by a fire. We also use ‘trap lines,’ which are basically informational booths, that we set up throughout impacted communities, like at a convenience store or post office, where residents can get information on fire size, suppression efforts, and assistance services, like the Red Cross.

And we can’t forget about social media! The Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management uses social media to update the public once a fire breaks out and throughout its duration.

Every fire is different, so each requires a different approach from a public information standpoint. In the end, our goal is to make sure our residents are safe, and they are getting the information they need to keep them briefed and try to make them at ease during tense situations.

AWN:  Your Twitter handle is “asusundevils2000.” Just how big a Sun Devils fan are you?

TD: Let’s just say I bleed maroon and gold. I’m a huge Sun Devil fan! How can I not be? I’m a native Arizonan! I graduated from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and I am a football season ticket holder! My grandparents were season ticket holders for decades and used to take my brother and I to football games and it just became a family tradition. Our whole family supports ASU, not only the football program, but the institution itself! Forks up! Go Devils!

 

Water Resources Director details plans for saving Lake Mead, concerns with CAWCD’s claim to “sovereign immunity”

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Director Buschatzke addresses legislative panel at “Learning Tour” gathering in Yuma

At a highly anticipated public meeting on water issues in Yuma on Friday, Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke told legislators and a packed audience that sound management of Arizona’s Colorado River supplies requires forbidding the operator of the Central Arizona Project canal from using “sovereign immunity” as a legal weapon against folks with Colorado River water entitlements.

“The State has concerns that [the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, operator of the CAP canal] will attempt to use the defense of sovereign immunity at the expense of water users in Arizona,” said Buschatzke. CAWCD has maneuvered, unsuccessfully thus far, to just do that.

“Sovereign immunity” is a legal protection that indemnifies some public entities – such as states and the federal government – from many types of lawsuits. CAWCD has acknowledged that gaining sovereign immunity as a so-called “arm of the State” of Arizona is of “fundamental importance” to the canal operator.

The Director reminded lawmakers that the District has attempted to use the defense in the past, notably in a federal case involving a Colorado River water entitlement holder, the Ak Chin Indian Community.

“To prevent CAWCD from claiming sovereign immunity in the future, the Governor’s Office and DWR proposed legislation that would clarify that CAWCD is not entitled to sovereign immunity in any type of lawsuit,” said Buschatzke.

“I would like to see our proposed legislation move forward this session.”

Buschatzke delivered his remarks at a special “Learning Tour” organized by legislative leaders seeking public input on proposals to reform Arizona water laws.

Organized by Sen. Gail Griffin and Rep. Rusty Bowers — chairmen, respectively, of the Senate and House natural resources committees — the tour already has taken public commentary at a meeting on March 9 in Casa Grande.

In addition to his oral testimony expressing opposition to CAWCD’s pursuit of a “sovereign immunity” legal defense against its own customers, Buschatzke also provided the panel with a more expansive written testimony.

That written statement illustrated the State’s priorities in reforming Arizona water law this year.

Those priorities include taking action to protect Lake Mead from falling to critically low elevation. Among those actions: winning legislative authority to finalize a “Drought Contingency Plan” with Arizona’s Lower Basin Colorado River partners.

A central feature of that plan is giving the ADWR Director authority to “forbear” delivery of Colorado River water conserved by an Arizona Contractor in Lake Mead. That means the Director would assure no other contractor could take that water from the troubled reservoir.

Director Buschatzke’s full statement to the legislative Learning Tour panel in Yuma follows:

Testimony of ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke Before the Special Meeting of the Arizona House Committee on Energy, Environment and Natural Resources

Yuma City Hall, March 23, 2018

My name is Tom Buschatzke. I am the Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources or DWR.

I know that most of you are familiar with DWR, but for those who are not, it is the agency designated by the Legislature to represent the State of Arizona with the United States, other states, and Mexico on matters involving the Colorado River. The State Legislature and DWR, working with the Governor, are the appropriate entities to represent the State. DWR is also the agency tasked with protecting the State’s rights to Colorado River water.

I take those responsibilities very seriously.

Colorado River water is vital to our State.  No one knows that better than the people who live and work in Yuma, where approximately 1 million of Arizona’s 2.8 million acre-feet of Colorado River water is used. Colorado River supplies are becoming increasingly at-risk. Continuous, long-term drought coupled with an over-allocation of Colorado River supplies, the structural deficit, has not only brought Lake Mead to the brink of shortage, it has increased the probability of the Lake dropping to critically low elevations that could affect all Colorado River water users in the State.

The volume of water that Arizona receives every year from the Colorado River is tied to Lake Mead elevations. Once the Lake’s elevation falls below 1,075 feet, Arizona deliveries are reduced by 320,000 acre-feet, approximately 11% of Arizona’s total Colorado River allocation. Deeper, more extensive shortages occur at lower “trigger” elevations. Early shortages will hit water users in Central Arizona, and particularly the CAGRD and the Arizona Water Banking Authority, the hardest. At even lower elevations, draconian reductions will be necessary to protect remaining water supplies in the Lake.

“Continuous, long-term drought, coupled with… the structural deficit, has not only brought Lake Mead to the brink of shortage, it has increased the probability of the Lake dropping to critically low elevations that could affect all Colorado River water users in the State.”

Yuma water contractors hold some of the most senior rights on the River. But even senior rights are at risk when Lake Mead elevations plunge. If Lake Mead reaches deadpool at elevation 895 feet, no water can move past the dam. Picture a bathtub with only an overflow drain. It could have water in the tub that you could not get out of the tub. That is what “deadpool” is.

We anticipate that the Secretary of the Interior will act to avoid the Lake reaching deadpool, but we can’t know how. Modelling projects that waiting to act until the Lake reaches elevation 1020 could result in a 3 to 6 million acre-feet reduction in the Lower Basin. All Arizona Contractors should be concerned about the uncertainty that could result from possible Secretarial intervention.

To address this increasing risk, beginning in 2015 DWR, on behalf of Arizona, began meeting with representatives of California and Nevada, which also receive Colorado River water from Lake Mead, and the federal government to devise ways to keep more water in Lake Mead. That group developed a water management framework designed to do just that, called the Drought Contingency Plan or DCP.

The DCP is not yet in effect. There are still aspects of it which need to be resolved, and ultimately, the Legislature must approve it. But the core commitments embodied in the DCP are historically remarkable in many ways. The plan contains a collective commitment on behalf of the Lower Basin states to protect against Lake elevations falling below elevation 1020. It would require California, for the first time, to participate in mandatory shortage reductions. It also contains additional efforts by Nevada to conserve water in Lake Mead, and through its connection to Minute 323 to the Mexico Water Treaty, would require additional water savings from Mexico.

In order to receive these benefits, Arizona must be willing to give something as well. The DCP contemplates that Arizona will begin taking shortages at higher Lake elevations, Specifically, Arizona would be required to leave 192,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead at elevation 1090.

Impacts of that additional reduction will be partially mitigated when Lake Mead is kept above elevation 1075 by keeping CAP agriculture’s water supply whole. Incentives included in the DCP for conservation by Nevada, California, and Mexico are expected to help achieve that goal. But Arizona must also act to conserve water in Lake Mead to achieve that goal. Those actions by Arizona are known as DCP Plus.

In June of 2017, the Governor’s Office convened a group of stakeholders to deliver support for DCP and to find a way to make DCP Plus work. During that process, the Governor’s Office and DWR proposed a program to facilitate conservation efforts by Arizona Colorado River Contractors to target maintaining Lake elevations at or around 1,080 feet. The proposed program would facilitate conservation in several ways, one of which is to ensure that water that is kept or stored in Lake Mead by an Arizona Contractor would not be taken out by another Arizona water user. This last feature is achieved by giving the ADWR Director authority to “forbear” delivery of the water to other water users.

The Governor’s proposal has met with resistance. One the most vocal opponents has been CAWCD.

CAWCD is resisting efforts for all Colorado River water contractors to create conserved water, and in the process has sought to exercise an outsized role in shaping Arizona’s Colorado River water policy.

For example, Arizona Indian tribes have rights to nearly half of all the Colorado River water delivered through the CAP canal. At least one of those tribes, the Gila River Indian Community, is already leaving water in the Lake to help prop up Lake elevations. Tribes are interested in conserving additional water in Lake Mead through the creation of something known as Intentionally Created Surplus. Both the U.S. and the State of Arizona agree that they have the legal right to create ICS. However, to date, CAWCD refuses to recognize that right. We need all hands on deck within the State of Arizona.

“CAWCD is resisting efforts for all Colorado River water contractors to create conserved water, and in the process has sought to exercise an outsized role in shaping Arizona’s Colorado River water policy.”

With respect to DWR and the Governor’s Conservation Program proposal, CAWCD has asserted that it should have veto authority in all decisions about who in Arizona can conserve water and under what conditions.

CAWCD is governed by elected officials from Maricopa, Pima, and Pinal counties, yet they make decisions affecting all of Arizona. Several actions taken by CAWCD over the past few years demonstrate that CAWCD gives little thought to the broader statewide impacts of its actions.

I will give two specific examples, though there are more:

In 2014, the CAWCD entered into an agreement with the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Southern Nevada Water Authority, and Denver Water for a pilot program to fund the creation of Colorado River system water through voluntary water conservation. Water that was left in Lake Mead pursuant to that agreement has been important in avoiding shortage, and no one seeks to deny or minimize that fact. However, that agreement was negotiated without the involvement of DWR, and contains at least one provision that should cause concern throughout the State of Arizona.

The pilot agreement recognizes conservation through reductions in the “consumptive use” of Colorado River water; however, rather than defining consumptive uses with reference to the “Colorado River mainstream,” as it was defined in U.S. Supreme Court’s Decree in the landmark case of Arizona v. California, the pilot agreement allows for the creation of system water through reductions to consumptive uses of water from the “Colorado River System,” including “water drawn from the Colorado River System by underground pumping.” The term “Colorado River System,” is defined in the pilot agreement to have the same meaning as in the 1922 Interstate Compact among the seven Basin States, which included not only the Colorado River mainstream in its definition, but also all of its tributaries.

We vigorously disagree with this reckless definition of “consumptive use.” It flies in the face of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Arizona v. California and the Boulder Canyon Project Act of 1928. The literal reading of this language suggests that all wells used by agriculture, industry, mining, cities, towns, and counties connected to water that is tributary to the Colorado River might be pumping Colorado River System water. If that were the case, all of those wells would need a contract with the Secretary of the Interior and those withdrawals would count against Arizona allocation of 2.8 million acre-feet. It appears that CAWCD gave no thought to the potential impacts of this language on water users across the State.

CAWCD’s disregard of the impacts of actions to other water users is also evidenced in its relentless efforts to claim sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Under the Eleventh Amendment, states cannot be sued in federal court with certain exceptions. Political subdivisions of the state, like CAWCD, generally are not entitled to claim this immunity.

CAWCD nevertheless raised the defense in 2012 in an employment case filed in federal district court known as the Gressett case.  CAWCD argued that it should be entitled to sovereign immunity because it is an “arm of the State.” The district court rejected that argument.

CAWCD appealed the ruling and, in an effort to convince the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that it is an arm of the State, it made inaccurate claims about its authority and responsibility in securing and managing Colorado River water.  CAWCD also argued that the State of Arizona would be functionally liable for CAWCD’s debts if CAWCD were unable to meet them.

In fact, CAWCD was established to ensure that the cost of repayment of the State’s share of the construction of the Central Arizona Project would be borne by water users and tax payers in the three counties that benefit from CAP water deliveries, and not by the taxpayers in Arizona’s 12 remaining counties, who rely on other water supplies.

The State has concerns that CAWCD will attempt to use the defense of sovereign immunity at the expense of water users in Arizona. And in fact, CAWCD raised the defense in a case brought by the Ak-Chin Indian Community regarding the Community’s rights to the delivery of Colorado River water. The State of Arizona opposed CAWCD’s attempts to obtain a court ruling that it has sovereign immunity. CAWCD settled that case before the Ninth Circuit ruled on it.

CAWCD testified to the Legislature in early February that sovereign immunity is limited, and that it would not be used in contractual disputes. However, on February 26, 2018, CAWCD requested the court vacate its decision so that it can raise the defense of sovereign immunity in future lawsuits. CAWCD said that sovereign immunity is of “fundamental importance” to it. The State opposed this action as well.

The State is seeking a permanent resolution to this issue. To prevent CAWCD from claiming sovereign immunity in the future, the Governor’s Office and DWR have proposed legislation that would clarify that CAWCD is not entitled to sovereign immunity in any type of lawsuit. But that legislation appears nowhere in any bill. We are committed to protecting Colorado River water users in Yuma, La Paz, and Mohave counties, as well as those water users within CAWCD’s service area.

I would like to see our proposed legislation move forward this session.

 

Arizona water-users and managers meet and do business at CRWUA

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Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke briefs the Arizona contingent at CRWUA about Minute 323 developments whil Chuck Podolak, aide to U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, and Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke look on

Under the direction of master-of-ceremonies Tom Buschatzke, the Arizona delegation conducted its necessary business work and house-keeping duties related to the Colorado River Water Users Association during the organization’s meetings last week.

The big news coming out of the Thursday breakfast meeting was that the so-called “big four” Arizona water organizations, which rotate Arizona presence on the Board of Trustees, rotated. Three of the four (the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Salt River Project, Yuma Area water users and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District) were in. One was out.

The odd group out this year? The CAWCD. The rotation scheme was set up years ago, noted Wade Noble, a representative of Yuma agriculture.

Buschatzke, Dave Roberts of SRP and Elston Grubaugh of the Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation & Drainage District will take on trustee duties.

Water Resources Director Buschatzke updated the Arizona attendees on 2017 state-related water issues.

Buschatzke briefed attendees on the status of Minute 323, the important water agreement completed this year between the U.S. and Mexico. A big part of the agreement involves progress on desalination efforts, he said.

“Desalination is a long-term project for the State of Arizona,” said Buschatzke. “It’s a long ways away, but at least we’re starting with that project.”

This isn’t confirmed, but Yuma-area ag representative Wade Noble told the substantial Arizona delegation to CRWUA that there is a reason why Arizona attendees must walk farther than anyone else when going to their caucus breakfast meetings.

It’s because Arizona is the largest of all the CRWUA contingents and their breakfast meeting room was the only one capable of holding such a large group.

 

ADWR Director to U.S. Senate: Tribal water settlement is a “strategic priority” for AZ

ADWR Director at Senate Indian Affairs

 Photo courtesy of U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs

Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke on Wednesday told a panel of U.S. senators that an agreement to settle a tribal water-rights claim in northwestern Arizona constitutes a rare resolution that creates positive outcomes for all involved.

In both written and oral testimony, Buschatzke expressed Arizona’s strong support of S. 1770 – the Hualapai Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2017, sponsored by Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain – to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

In his opening statement, Buschatzke called the agreement “a great step forward.”

He told the panel that the State of Arizona is strongly supportive of S. 1770, which formalizes an agreement reached in 2016 between the Tribe, the State of Arizona and several other major Arizona water users.

The United States participated in the negotiations through a team appointed by the Secretary of the Interior.

The agreement provides 4,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water annually to the Hualapai Tribe. As sponsor, Sen. Flake welcomed Director Buschatzke to the hearing.

In written testimony, Buschatzke told the senators that it represents a major step forward in providing water-certainty to all water users throughout Arizona.

“Half of the 22 federally recognized Indian tribes in Arizona still have unresolved water rights claims,” wrote Buschatzke.

“Resolving these claims through settlement is a strategic priority for the State, not only because it will avoid the cost and uncertainty of litigating the claims, but it will provide certainty to all water users in the state regarding available water supplies in the most expeditious manner possible,” he said.

The United States also will benefit from the reduced risk of costs associated with litigating the Tribe’s water-rights claims, Buschatzke noted.

Director Buschatzke observed that the agreement constitutes an economic opportunity for the Tribe, whose lands enjoy “breathtaking views of the west rim of the Grand Canyon.”

The Tribe operates the famous “Skywalk” tourist attraction at the western edge of the canyon, which attracts an estimated one million visitors annually. The Tribe has announced plans to expand that attraction.

By providing the Tribe with a renewable source of water from the Colorado River, the agreement is consistent with State policy of conserving groundwater supplies for times of drought, the Director wrote.

“Because the aquifer beneath the Tribe’s reservation extends to areas off the reservation, the Tribe’s use of a renewable water supply will help preserve groundwater supplies not just for the Tribe, but for non-tribal water users in the region,” said Buschatzke.

In his written testimony, the Water Resources Director broke down the financial responsibilities that each of the parties agreed to shoulder in 2016.

Those investments included a congressional appropriation of $134.5 million to build a pipeline to deliver the Colorado River water to Peach Springs and to the Tribe’s Grand Canyon West development. In addition, S. 1770 would authorize annual operation, maintenance and replacement costs of $32 million, as well as other federal expenditures.

Under questioning from Sen. Flake during the hearing, Buschatzke assured the committee that the infrastructure and water would “go exclusively to the Hualapai.”

Non-federal contributions to the agreement “are significant,” said Buschatzke.

The State of Arizona agreed to “firm” 557.5 acre-feet of the 4,000 acre-foot annual allocation to the Tribe, at a cost of $3.2 million to Arizona.

“The financial benefits that the United States will receive through the settlement will greatly exceed the costs that the United States will incur in constructing a pipeline to bring water from the Colorado River to the Tribe’s reservation,” Buschatzke wrote to the Senate panel.

Arizona Department of Water Resources turns 37!

37th birthday

So what were you up to 37 years ago today?

If you’re a Millennial, the answer is existential: nothing, really.

But if you happened to have been the governor of Arizona at the time, you would have been spending June 12, 1980 at a signing ceremony for legislation that ultimately would be hailed as the most far-sighted set of groundwater-management laws in the country: The Arizona Groundwater Management Act.

As historian Desmond D. Connall, Jr., noted, Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt signed the Act establishing “ambitious goals for water conservation and a complex regulatory scheme to achieve them.”

groundwater act signing

Enforcing that “complex regulatory scheme” would be us — the Arizona Department of Water Resources — which came into being with the same stroke of Gov. Babbitt’s pen, since one of the provisions of the Groundwater Management Act was that it should create a division of State government devoted to managing all that complexity.  Babbitt appointed Wes Steiner, at the time the executive director of the Arizona Water Commission, as the department’s first director.

Whether they celebrated with cake or not is a matter lost to history.

 

 

Water Resources director exchanges chip shots on water in Arizona on “For Love of the Game” sports radio show

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Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke appeared live Monday with Mike “Uncle Buck” Rafferty on NBC Sports Radio 1060 AM’s “For the Love of the Game” program. Uncle Buck wanted to talk water — specifically, the use of water by golf courses — with the director, who, for some reason, Buck insisted on referring to as “Thomas.”

Clearly a genuine, heartfelt fan of golf and the golf industry, Uncle Buck peppered the director with a lot of well-developed questions about the importance of wise water use and about the history of water management in Arizona. It was a fun interview. And for anyone curious about the extent to which golf courses now go to conserve water, an informative one.

As noted, Uncle Buck came to the 17-minute interview prepared with well-developed questions, especially considering how complicated water as an issue can be. In fact, their interview may represent the first time ever that a sports-radio talk-show host inquired about the complex genesis of groundwater management in Arizona. (Click here to hear the interview)

Science and water: a more potable mix than you may have thought

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Rhizobacteria illustration courtesy of artist Victor Leshyk and Rachel Rubin of Northern Arizona University’s  Center for Ecosystem Science and Society

Historically, the role of science in combating drought has been limited to relatively back-bench strategies like cloud-seeding, or to mitigating the effects of water scarcity through new and improved farming techniques that wring every drop of value from a drop of water.

That’s changing.

One of the most talked-about consumer items in the water business today is a solar product that pulls water vapor from the air, producing clean, potable water.

An Arizona State University spinoff company, Zero Mass Water of Scottsdale, is developing a consumer version of a wireless, stand-alone “drinking water solar panel” capable of producing two to five liters of drinking water per day.

Some marketing efforts are touting the solar water makers in the same way as energy-producing solar panels – that is, as a self-reliant means of escaping from the “grid.”

Its implications for clean-water-parched and impoverished corners of the world, however, may be even more substantial. Zero Mass Water recently told the Phoenix Business Journal that it sees itself and its customers as “water democratizers” — collaborators in a program to deliver the solar-panel devices to families “with no access to safe water who can’t afford a panel on their own.”

Mass production of the devices – which require little more than an air-filter replacement each year and a new mineral cartridge every five years – could mean that people who have never known dependable sources of clean water now could have it.

Meanwhile, researchers at Northern Arizona University recently published findings that certain bacteria can help mitigate crop loss due to drought.

NAU doctoral candidate Rachel Rubin recently told the Arizona Daily Sun about her work with rhizobacteria, a bacteria that strengthens plants in certain drought-stricken regions around the world. Rubin’s team is finding a 20-40 percent increase in growth in plants introduced to rhizobacteria, according to the Daily Sun.

“This is encouraging because it means that the places most vulnerable to climate change will benefit the most” Rubin told the Daily Sun.

Rubin’s research is finding that rhizobacteria promote plant growth even better under drought conditions than they do in a wetter climate.

Zero Mass Water of Scottsdale, Ariz.

A water drop’s journey: A Las Vegas newspaper produces a splendid, little video on how a desert city’s water gets where it needs to be

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Just what does it take to quench the thirst of two million people living in the middle of a desert?

Especially in these drought years, news media have become adept at telling us what it takes to deliver water to communities — what it takes to quench the thirst of desert-dwellers and others in the Southwest.

The Las Vegas Review Journal recently did a marvelous job of showing readers — rather than merely telling them — precisely what it takes for a drop of water to exit Lake Mead (Sin City’s primary water resource) and travel to a residential water faucet.

Produced by Rachel Aston of the Review-Journal, the video starts with that basic question — “What does it take to quench the thirst of two million people” living in the middle of a desert? — and escorts viewers on that journey.

(For traditionalists, Review-Journal reporter Henry Brean provided a story about the water-journey, too)

The water-journey video starts in Lake Mead (actually, the video includes a shot or two of the Colorado River, too) and moves with the water through the 20-foot-tall, 3,000- and 4,600-horsepower pumps that draw the water to one of the city’s two treatment facilities. It depicts the cleansing and filtration systems, as well as the various means by which the water is delivered to homes and businesses. And, we assume, casinos.

The video is just a little over two minutes long, but it depicts all of the essential infrastructural elements of water delivery that everyone should understand, but in fact a very few number of us actually do.

Weather and climate in the Southwest: Part Two

This is the second part of a discussion with Arizona’s top weather climatologists about drought, rainy winters and why California gets so much more of those “atmospheric rivers” than we do

storm over monument valley

In this discussion with Arizona’s top weather climatologists about the long (and continuing) drought in the Southwest, we talk about the reasons behind the abundant moisture during the 2016-2017 winter and expectations for the future (cross your fingers!).

Today’s talk features Mark O’Malley, forecaster and Climate Science Program manager for the National Weather Service.

Published on March 8, Part One featured an interview with Arizona State Climatologist Nancy Selover. Dr. Selover is the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability Research Professor at Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences.

Selover and O’Malley are the co-chairs of the State Drought Monitoring Technical Committee, which is responsible for gathering and analyzing data regarding Arizona drought, climate and weather.

The information they provide is used by the Governor’s Interagency Coordination Group, which makes an annual recommendation to the Arizona Governor about whether the state’s long-running state of drought should be extended. Or… not. Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke co-chairs the ICG.

Climate science – a field of study that has evolved rapidly in this century – examines a phenomenon like “drought” from an increasing number of factors.

For one thing, it makes the recommendation to the governor on whether to continue the drought declaration more precise.

Drought impacts can range from a lack of soil moisture, affecting range land and farming, to water levels in the state’s reservoirs. And all of the factors that climatologists weigh when deciding whether drought exists can vary widely in time and scale. But all the drought factors taken together make it more difficult to establish with certainty when a drought may begin or end.

“I think it’s generally accepted that Arizona is in a standing, long-term drought since 1999,” said Mark O’Malley of the National Weather Service.

“But clearly there are years and parts of years in the past 17 years where drought has been less expansive and less intense. There really is no good way to say drought in Arizona started on ‘x’ day in 1999.”

Like State Climatologist Nancy Selover – O’Malley’s co-chair on the State Drought Monitoring Technical Committee – O’Malley sees the effects of the very wet 2016-2017 winter as a real positive for most of Arizona. But the slowly improving drought conditions locally are impacted by the summer monsoons, too, he notes.

“We have experienced three to four excellent summer monsoon seasons where thunderstorms and rainfall across the state have been quite good, but we’ve also had five consecutive winters with below average snow in the mountains,” said O’Malley. And it is that snowpack in the mountains that is important for the state’s water supply.

“This winter has been good — especially around the Flagstaff area — but doesn’t totally compensate for the five previous dry winters.”

In terms of moisture, “good” in Arizona consistently is less good than on the California coast, where unprecedented winter moisture largely has ended that state’s drought. There are a number of reasons for that phenomenon, says O’Malley. Some are atmospheric. Some are geographic.

For one, he notes, central and northern California are at higher latitudes than Arizona, and so more commonly fall under the jet stream – which also explains why even during the sodden 2016-2017 winter, Los Angeles and San Diego are getting less moisture than, say, Sacramento.

Then there is the effect of those mountains separating the coastal cities from Phoenix, which, among other things, tends to wring out moisture from those Pacific storms as they sweep inland.

“Moisture from the Pacific streams unencumbered into the coastal cities with lift provided by air flowing over the mountains providing even more rain and snow,” said O’Malley.

“As the air flows over the mountains into far southeastern California and Arizona, it sinks. And you generally need air rising to produce precipitation.”

Often, he notes, there is “nothing left over for Arizona” in those storms. “This is why the deserts from Yuma through Death Valley, Calif., are the driest places in the United States.”

With California reservoirs literally overflowing and with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti calling for a state of emergency as a result of the melting snowpack in the eastern Sierra Nevada, California is confident – for now, at least – that it is nearly free of drought.

What about Arizona?

“By both objective measures and impacts, drought in Arizona is certainly better  — which is to say, we have less drought — than last year at this time, and substantially better than two to three years ago,” said O’Malley.

“I wouldn’t go as far as using the term ‘waning’ — that word infers a resolution or termination in the immediate future.”

It doesn’t take much for an arid state to slip back into serious, widespread drought conditions.

“Bottom line, because of our location, growing population, and demand for water, Arizona will always be susceptible to drought.”