Water Resources director hails agreement to expand uses of CAP canal system

“System-use agreement” between Central Arizona Project and the federal Bureau of Reclamation a major milestone for vital water-delivery system

Central Arizona Project photo by Philip A. Fortnam
Central Arizona Project board President Lisa Atkins and board member Sharon Megdal signing the CAP System Use Agreement on Feb. 2

 

Central Arizona Project and the federal Bureau of Reclamation reached an historic agreement on Thursday that allows for “new and innovative” uses of the CAP’s 336-mile system of canals, including transporting new water supplies, exchanging supplies among users and efficiently accessing water stored underground by the Arizona Water Banking Authority and others.

The agreement creates a legal framework for a variety of water supplies to be moved through the system, including many dedicated to addressing possible future shortfalls in Arizona’s Colorado River water allocations.

“It allows for flexibility in managing our Colorado River water supplies,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Until now, so-called “non-CAP water” – that is, water controlled by users other than the Central Arizona Project – flowed through the elaborate delivery system only on an ad hoc basis.  In 2014, for example, the cities of Phoenix and Tucson reached an agreement allowing Phoenix to store some of its unused Colorado River allocation in Tucson-area aquifers.

Thursday’s agreement provides a legal framework for such water exchanges, thus opening the door for further innovation, as well as for future agreements on water quality and financial issues.

CAP General Manager Ted Cooke also noted the additional flexibility that the agreement provides his agency. Cooke thanked the agencies involved in helping make it happen for their collaborative efforts:

“This agreement provides us with the flexibility for cost-effective recovery of stored water, including more than four million acre-feet of CAP water stored in the aquifers of central and southern Arizona,” said Cooke.

“I would like to thank the negotiators from the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation, along with the significant contributions from the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Arizona Water Banking Authority.”

Water Resources Director Buschatzke joined Cooke in extending thanks to the Arizona congressional delegation – especially noting the efforts of Arizona Senator Jeff Flake – for helping make the system use agreement happen.

“Our role was to support efforts to complete the system use agreement for the benefit of Arizona water users,” added Buschatzke.

“We sought to support the maximum flexibility of this important asset.”

Gov. Doug Ducey expressed thanks to former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell for her efforts in support of the system-use agreement.

The CAP canal system was built by the federal Bureau of Reclamation for the state of Arizona and is managed and operated by the Central Arizona Project.

The deal is especially valuable to the Water Bank, which pays to bring Colorado River water through the CAP system into central and southern Arizona. The Water Bank stores that water in underground aquifers, or directly recharges it into underground storage facilities. It also arranges for water deliveries to irrigation districts, which use the water in lieu of mined groundwater.

Water Bank officials helped review the agreement.

The deal creates a legal framework allowing the Water Bank to use the CAP system to make recovered water available during potential periods of shortage of Colorado River water deliveries to Arizona. Until now, the Water Bank’s capacity to make use of the water it stores has been extremely limited.

 (A Central Arizona Project statement released Thursday contributed to this blog post)

 

Ebbing Away: Latest land “subsidence” monitoring report finds lower ground levels and fissures in some regions of Arizona

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The problem of land subsidence in Arizona – the lowering in elevation of land-surface levels, largely the result of groundwater extraction – is a decidedly mixed bag, the Arizona Department of Water Resources is discovering.

Thanks to decreased groundwater pumping in the Phoenix and Tucson Active Management Areas, for example, subsidence rates in many areas of those AMAs have decreased between 25 and 90 percent compared to rates in the 1990s.

That is just one of the major findings of the department’s recent “Land Subsidence Monitoring Report No. 3,” released earlier this month.

And it’s the news from the happy side of the bag.

On the opposite side, land subsidence statewide is proving to be an increasingly serious challenge that is causing problems for infrastructure in some areas. And it is proving to be a headache even in certain parts of active-management areas.

 

Monitoring for subsidence

 

As the report describes, Water Resources first began monitoring for subsidence in the eastern areas of the Valley and around Luke Air Force Base in the west after numerous “non-exempt” wells – that is, wells that draw up groundwater at rates faster than 35 gallons per minute – were installed starting in 1997.

Historically, land levels in those areas have dropped at significant rates, the recent report finds.

The problems caused by land subsidence do not go away simply by fixing cracked foundations, reconnecting broken pipelines or repairing roadways.

Subsidence is caused by the collapse of open-pore spaces in subsurface aquifers, an unseen water-storage catastrophe in the making. When the open-pore spaces of aquifers fully collapse, they collapse permanently, in most cases.

“Land subsidence is a regional problem for some groundwater basins in the state and may continue to be an ongoing problem,” said Brian Conway, who prepared the report on behalf of Water Resources.

 

Arizona Department of Water Resources’s Brian Conway, Supervisor for the Geophysics/Surveying Unit

“Even if sustainable, safe-yield groundwater withdrawal occurred, residual land subsidence would continue until the groundwater levels recover — and/or the open pore-spaces in the sub-surface fully collapse.

As one would expect, the Water Resources report finds that subsidence is most active in regions outside the active-management areas – that is, in areas where groundwater pumping is unregulated.

Land subsidence has resulted in more than 160 miles of earth fissures. The Arizona Geological Survey maps all the earth fissures throughout the state. The Geological Survey analysts provide Water Resources with the data from their research.

The Geological Survey and Water Resources analysts have found that the Willcox Groundwater Basin in southeastern Arizona is the most active area for forming new earth fissures.

Southeastern Arizona is one of the regions most severely impacted by drought. The area also has seen substantial increases in farming operations that rely on mined groundwater.

 

Earth Fissure

 

The Willcox Basin is outside the reach of the state’s Groundwater Management Act of 1980, which regulates groundwater extraction in active-management areas. According to the report, new earth fissures in the area are impacting roads, highways, power lines and a pipeline.

The report observes that other non-AMA regions of the state also have seen considerable increases in their rates of earth subsidence, notably parts of the McMullen Valley Basin and the San Simon Valley Sub-basin. Both of those regions have seen increased agriculture activity in recent years that is reliant on mined groundwater

The subsidence mapping process employs the latest radar technology — known as “InSAR,” or satellite-based synthetic aperture radar.

The introduction of the InSAR technology has proved to be a game-changer in terms of the state’s ability to accurately track the development of subsidence over time.

Water Resources was awarded a $1.3 million grant from NASA in 2002 that kicked off a three-year effort to integrate the InSAR system into Arizona’s subsidence-monitoring programs.

The program now has 14 different partners in the effort whose financial support allows the department to fund the InSAR data collection.

The side-looking, self-illuminating, radar-imaging system has helped Water Resources develop an extensive library of scenes, covering an area greater than 150,000 square miles.

With the InSAR data, Water Resources has identified more than 26 individual land subsidence features around the state, collectively covering more than 3,400 square miles.

“The InSAR data is a huge part of our monitoring efforts now,” said Conway.

“We are able to cover large areas with the data and are able to see millimeter changes of deformation at a very high resolution.”

Busy water author explains water “collaboration” in the Southwest

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And just who is the busiest water writer out there?

Not much argument that it’s John Fleck, longtime author of an authoritative blog on water in the Southwest ( http://www.inkstain.net/fleck/ ), former water reporter for the Albuquerque Journal, and author of an influential new book on water in the arid West, Water is for Fighting Over and Other Myths about Water in the West.

None of those credentials, however, are evidence of Fleck’s breakneck schedule in recent months.

In August, Fleck was named director of the University of New Mexico’s Water Resources program. He already had served at UNM as a professor of Practice in Water Policy and Governance.

In December, Fleck served on a panel titled “communicating the drought” at the Colorado River Water Users Association meetings in Las Vegas.

Now, he’s in Tempe, where he spoke at an event organized by a trio of Arizona State University-affiliated organizations about the need to nurture collaborative water governance in response to increasing drought-driven scarcity.

“We have this ‘myth’ of water being anchored in conflict, wealth and power (in the West),” said Fleck to an audience of about 35 at the Brickyard Orchid House near ASU’s Tempe campus.

“And that myth just hasn’t played out in the last century.” Rather, he said, regional collaboration, combined with unanticipated adaptations to water scarcity (think: low-flow showerheads and toilets), have effectively “decoupled” growth in regional population from growth in water usage.

“Water use is declining (in the West) overall and on a per-capita basis,” noted Fleck. “This is a phenomenon the economists call ‘decoupling.’”

Fleck spoke at the invitation of ASU’s Future H2O, the Kyl Center at the Morrison Institute and Decision Center for a Desert City.

In the course of a question-and-answer period, Fleck acknowledged in response to an audience-member’s question that there are water-related events that are counter-factual to his thesis about rampant water collaboration.

One of those contradictory issues is the on-going question in California about what to do about the Salton Sea – the ‘accidental’ lake that is fed largely by runoff from the vast Imperial Valley farmlands. With drought and water conservation limiting flows into the Salton Sea, the potential for catastrophic wind-borne chemical pollutants filling the air in the region grows daily.

“The Salton Sea is one of those unsolved problems,” he said.

 

An end-of-year report: Why Water Resources is putting more resources into informing the public about what we do

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It is a safe bet that at one time or another nearly every member of the Water Resources team has needed to explain to an acquaintance what we are not.

No, we’re not the people primarily responsible for assuring the quality of the state’s water supply. Those are our valued colleagues over at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

ADEQ is just across the hall. Come on over some day. We’ll introduce you.

Water Resources protects the state’s water supplies. It is our complex duty to help assure the taps keep flowing.

But, no, we’re not your water provider. Not exactly. In most cases, that would be your community’s water department, like the city of Phoenix. Or – in big-picture terms – our friends over at the Central Arizona Project. Or the Salt River Project.

All of them literally deliver water. We help assure the supply. For the entire state.

And we do more. Lots more. At which point, your casual conversation with that acquaintance gets really complicated.

“It is the mission of the Water Resources communications team to express to the public – to those millions of “acquaintances” out there – what it is that this small-but-vital division of Arizona’s government does. As you can see, there’s a lot to it.”

We administer and enforce the most far-sighted groundwater-management laws in the nation. And, not to brag, but we’ve done that job so well that water demand in many of our communities – despite skyrocketing population and economic growth – has remained flat.

In fact, since 1986, we’ve stored over three and a half trillion gallons of water underground for future use.

Other states and localities have been forced to resort to emergency water-saving measures to combat drought conditions that seem to have caught them by surprise. Through Water Resources, Arizona has been vigilantly preparing for drought for decades.

We negotiate with external political entities – including other states and the federal government – over Arizona’s rights to the Colorado River, a mind-bendingly complex mix of salesmanship, diplomacy and a raw determination to protect the vital interests of Arizonans.

We assure the safety of non-federal dams. We collect and analyze data on groundwater levels. We research the complex intersections of weather and climate and create modelling that attempts to accurately assess Arizona’s water future.

“Other states and localities have been forced to resort to emergency water-saving measures to combat drought conditions that seem to have caught them by surprise. Through Water Resources, Arizona has been vigilantly preparing for drought for decades.”

And we are actively – indeed, urgently – working with Governor Ducey to seek out ways to augment Arizona’s water supplies while taking steps to further conserve what we already have.

That’s not the end of it. Not by a long shot. But you get the picture.

It is the mission of the Water Resources communications team to express to the public – to those millions of “acquaintances” out there – what it is that this small-but-vital division of Arizona’s government does. As you can see, there’s a lot to it.

Gov. Ducey has asked each division of state government to report on their efforts to put into practice efficiencies and best-management practices taught by his “Arizona Management System” instructors. It is part of the governor’s commitment to assure the public gets the most bang for its tax-paying buck.

From time to time in the coming months, this Arizona Water News newsletter will report on the progress that our teams here at Water Resources are making at implementing those AMS efficiencies.

We’ll describe how our strategic-planning team is doing. And report on the efficiency efforts of our team coordinating the Assured and Adequate Water Supply program. We’ll describe how the work of our hydrologists, geologists, engineers, modelers and surveyors is progressing.

This week? Well, it’s all about us. The Water Resources communications team. To paraphrase the late, indefatigable mayor of New York, Ed Koch, “How are we doin’?”

Our Arizona Water News newsletter – the “flagship” of the Arizona Department of Water Resources media empire – increased its subscriber listings from 134 in March to over 2,000 by the end of the year.

Since the early months of 2016, the Water Resources communications team has taken steps to accomplish two primary goals: 1) to enhance public awareness of the condition of the state’s water supply during an epochal period of drought; and, 2) to ensure the transparency of the records and data to which the department has been entrusted.

To accomplish that first goal, we have done a simple thing. It is the same thing that communications teams large and small in our fragmented, decentralized, mostly-online media world are attempting to do: We are expanding our viewing audience by providing useful, timely information and by carefully tracking what our analytics tell us interests that audience.

So, how’s that doin’?

In March 2016, the Water Resources news site attracted 158 page-views. We made a commitment to increase website viewers to 11,000 by year’s end. We blew past that figure in mid-summer and re-set our goal at 20,000. In December, we tallied 3,114 page views, and we logged a total of 26,747 page views for the year. Speaking technically, we crushed it.

How? Well, we gave our audience valuable water-related news to consume, of course, including a multi-media supply of written features, audio podcasts and YouTube video, all of which we made more easily accessible.

But we also dramatically diversified how our audience finds us.

Our Arizona Water News newsletter – the “flagship” of the Arizona Department of Water Resources media empire – increased its subscriber listings from 134 in March to over 2,000 by the end of the year.

Our presence on Twitter and Facebook has increased exponentially. In March, we counted 480 profile visits and 4,272 impressions. In December, those figures stood at 3,914 and 77,100, respectively.

“The advancing news cycle, obviously, played the dominant role in the growth of media interest in water issues involving Arizona and the Southwest. There is that matter of descending water levels at Lake Mead, after all. Still…”

Not all those readers are local readers, either. Our analytics show readers coming to our pages from Canada, India, the United Kingdom, Mexico and at least eight other countries.

In mid-December, meanwhile, we launched our Arizona Water News blog, a regularly updated news feature that began as a special “live news” report on Colorado River negotiations among Upper and Lower Basin Colorado River water users. One recent blog post between Christmas and New Year’s Eve attracted over 700 readers.

Small potatoes by New York Times standards? Well… OK. Sure. But the growth curve is up. Not all “media centers” can say that.

Precious few of them, for that matter, can say they have increased their audiences without having spent a penny on promotion or advertising – or on anything outside their own doors. At Water Resources, all the media magic happens here.

What’s more, our effort to problem-solve our way to better public outreach is bearing fruit in another important respect: It appears to be improving the factual awareness about Arizona’s water story among news media in and outside the state.

Our (admittedly subjective) log of accurate news-media reports on water issues in Arizona tracked an average of one or two reports a month in early 2016 that in our judgment related a factually accurate story.

 In November, we recorded 39 such reports, including news accounts published by Politico, International Business Times, the Denver Post, the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal.

The advancing news cycle, obviously, played the dominant role in the growth of media interest in water issues involving Arizona and the Southwest. There is that whole matter of descending water levels at Lake Mead, after all.

But we’re also confident the steps we have taken to assertively tell Arizona’s water story ourselves have had an impact. Many, if not most, of the media writing about drought in the Southwest now come to the Arizona Department of Water Resources for accurate and timely water data and analysis.

Arizona water podcast: A chat with the head of Arizona’s golf-course supervisors association about results of recent golf-industry study

Rory Van Poucke, president of the Cactus & Pine Golf Course Supervisors Association, recently took time with the Arizona Department of Water Resources to discuss the results of a study of the state’s golf-course industry, including its economic impact and its water use.

An ADWR report on the study, conducted by University of Arizona researchers, as well as a link to the study itself, can be found here.

 

Click Here!

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Golf in Arizona: UofA researchers find that industry is reducing golf-course reliance on fresh water

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A University of Arizona study of the golf industry in Arizona has found that golf – with an economic impact of $3.9 billion in 2014 — has re-established its footing as an important driver of the state’s economy following the tumult of the 2009-10 economic downturn.

Just as important, however, are the data the U of A researchers collected regarding the industry’s use of water for course irrigation, which is in a rapid state of transition from a supply that once was largely fresh water to one that increasingly includes effluent.

 The five researchers from the U of A’s Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics concluded their work in December, based on 2014 data.

The study is an update of a 2006 study of the economic impact of golf to the state’s economy. It is largely the product of primary data collected from Arizona golf facilities statewide through a survey.

The University of Arizona team concluded that the golf-course industry is in a more rapid transition to the use of effluent to irrigate greens and fairways than previous research had indicated.

They found that fully 34 percent of water used to irrigate Arizona golf courses statewide is treated effluent.

The most comprehensive water-use data previously had been collected by the U.S. Geological Survey in 2010, which at that time found that effluent accounted for just 28 percent of golf’s total statewide water use. That new data indicates a six percent increase industry-wide in effluent use in just six years.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources also contributed water-use data to the researchers. The department’s data are limited to golf-course irrigation practices in the state’s active-management areas.

Active-management areas, or AMAs, are the areas of the state where water use is regulated by the tenets of the Arizona Groundwater Management Act of 1980.

The department’s data showed that effluent use in 2014 had increased by 27 percent since 2004, and that by 2014 effluent represented 26.3 percent of the water mix of golf courses in AMAs. The U of A researchers contend the actual use of effluent statewide is nearly nine percent higher than that AMA-only figure would indicate.

The study found that, in addition to the increasing use of effluent for irrigation, water-related “best management practices” over the last ten years appear to resulted in the following:

  • An average annual savings per-facility of 19.5 acre-feet of water, in large part due to the extensive use of irrigation audits
  • An average of 10.4 acres of turf grass removed
  • An average of 75.8 acres per facility over-seeded for winter play, down from 89.3 acres in 2009
  • Thirty-nine percent of responding golf facilities report that they have engagement in a partnership with a conservation organization

The data compiled by the U of A researchers also bolstered the conclusion that the Arizona golfing industry is bucking a national trend in terms of the sport’s popularity.

Nationally, the golf industry has struggled to rise out of the effects of the Great Recession. As the study notes, “the national supply of golf courses has been decreasing in what is considered a market correction after significant increases in golf course construction during the 1990s.”

Arizona has seen course closures too, but those have been matched by new construction. Also, numerous courses have undergone substantial renovation, according to the study.

One of the more striking economy-related conclusions of the study is that of the 11.6 million rounds of golf played around the state in 2014, nearly a third of those rounds were played by golfers from out of state.

“Over 32 percent of those rounds were played by out-of-state and foreign visitors accounting for $1.1 billion in total sales,”, said Carmella Ruggiero, executive director of the Cactus & Pine Golf Course Supervisors Association. “The golf industry continues to be one of the primary drivers of tourism to Arizona.”

 

 

 

 

Interior Secretary Jewell signs the Record of Decision implementing the new 20-year management plan for operating Glen Canyon Dam

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Negotiators reaffirm commitment to completing a drought contingency plan

CRWUA meetings, Las Vegas — The members of the Colorado River Water Users Association may have parted ways last week disappointed that the Colorado River Basin states and the federal government were unable to finalize negotiations to protect the river system from drought.

But they still managed to finish their meetings on a high note, including encouragement from Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell to continue negotiating.

“We want to get as far as we possibly can, and that’s what we’re going to be urging everybody to do,” Jewell said to reporters at the CRWUA meetings on Thursday.

Many of the negotiators themselves reaffirmed their commitment to getting a drought-contingency plan done soon, if not before the change of administration in Washington, D.C.

“It’s critical that we do this,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. “It benefits everyone, up and down the river.”

 

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Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell

Also on Thursday afternoon, Secretary Jewell officially signed a decision for managing the Glen Canyon Dam over the next 20 years, a deal that significantly updates environmental considerations in the dam’s operation.

 

Known as the Long-term Experimental and Management Plan (or, LTEMP), the plan is consistent with the federal Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992 and represents two decades of study of the dam and its impacts on downstream resources.

The Act required the Secretary of Interior to operate Glen Canyon Dam in such a manner as to protect and mitigate adverse effects and improve the values for which Grand Canyon and Glen Canyon were established, which provided the basis for the new management plan signed by Secretary Jewell.

The out-going Interior Secretary signed the Record of Decision approving the management plan shortly before the end of the annual CRWUA meetings in Las Vegas.

Secretary Jewell also expressed optimism that an agreement to protect Lake Mead and the rest of the Colorado River system, as well as a separately negotiated river-system agreement with the Republic of Mexico, should be forthcoming soon.

“We have an agreement that is pending with Mexico that we need to get across the finish line in order to address our water needs between the two countries…  and that has to take first priority,” she said to reporters.

In a letter to Jewell sent in November, representatives of Arizona and the other six Colorado River basin states voiced their qualified approval of the LTEMP.