Binational agreement includes joint desalination proposals

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The cooperative measures on Colorado River water that the United States and Mexico agreed to in September – an agreement described, collectively, as “Minute 323” – have garnered a lot of media attention in the weeks since the documents were signed.

Most of the attention has been directed at Minute 323’s complex shortfall-sharing agreements, including the establishment of ground rules for how the two countries will share both shortfalls and excess of water deliveries on the river. The terms of that agreement run through 2026.

The public reaction has been positive. The Arizona Republic observed in a September 27 editorial that Minute 323 agreement extension between the two countries “provides a powerful incentive for Arizona, California and Nevada to finish a much-needed Drought Contingency Plan for the region.”

The Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP, is the agreement among the three Lower Basin Colorado River states to share in water-delivery cutbacks should Lake Mead fall below critical levels. It is still under negotiation.

There is one aspect of Minute 323, however, that largely has escaped media attention, yet could prove to be as significant as anything in the agreement: the agreement between the two nations to pursue “new water sources,” especially desalination opportunities.

The agreement called for the countries to “continue to evaluate all pertinent aspects” of proposed desalination plant concepts in three locations: on the Pacific Ocean coast; in the Sea of Cortez; and, one other location near Mexicali in Baja California.

The signatories of Minute 323 (the members of the International Boundary and Water Commission) recommended that the Binational Projects Work Group continue evaluating the three prospective desalination-plant locations for their potential for generating fresh water, their likely costs and distribution between the two countries, and other benefits.

Notably, the commissioners recommended following up on work already done by the Arizona-Mexico Commission on the potential for a desal plant near the Sea of Cortez. A new “Binational Desalination Work Group” is expected to develop the scope of work for a binational investigation of a plant at the Sea of Cortez site within six months.

As reported by Water Deeply – an online publication that closely follows California-related water issues – U.S. stakeholders “agreed to invest $31 million in Mexican water conservation and development projects” upon the signing of Minute 323. Those investment commitments include a variety of water-use efficiency upgrades to be built in Mexico.

The Minute 323 binational investigations of desalination opportunities are not the only ones on the table.

The Desalination Committee of Gov. Ducey’s Water Augmentation Council has been focusing on brackish groundwater desalination. The panel is evaluating three general areas for potential for brackish groundwater desal project: the Yuma Groundwater Mound, the West Salt River Valley in the Buckeye area and a site in the Leupp-Winslow area.

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Arizona Water Resources director joins U.S. & Mexico in finalizing epic CO River agreement

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Participants in the Minute 323 domestic-document signing ceremony in Santa Fe from the Basin States, the Department of Interior and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation join Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Bushatzke (seated, second from left)

With an eye to long-term, binational cooperation and to managing a more stable Colorado River System, representatives of the United States, Mexico and the Colorado River Basin States of the U.S. on Wednesday celebrated the “entry into force” of an agreement deemed essential to the System’s future.

The American signing, conducted at an “entry into force” ceremony in Santa Fe, N.M., applies the final flourish to the intensely negotiated agreement known as “Minute 323.”

“The State of Arizona appreciates the efforts of the United States and Mexico to continue binational cooperation on long-term water management,” said Tom Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Buschatzke participated in the Santa Fe ceremony and played a central role in the portions of the complex negotiations that were conducted among the U.S. Lower Basin participant-states.

“This agreement provides substantial benefits to Arizona, particularly regarding opportunities for augmenting existing water supplies, which is a top priority for Governor Ducey,” he said.

“In addition to the diligent efforts of the Commissioners, we’d also like to acknowledge the hard work and commitment of all the parties involved.”

The implications of the agreement for helping stabilize and augment Arizona’s water supplies are significant.

The “Minute” is an update to a 1944 U.S.-Mexico Water Treaty and is the successor update to Minute 319, which is set to expire in December 2017.

Officially, Minute 323 is the “Extension of Cooperative Measures and Adoption of a Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan in the Colorado River Basin.” It is an implementing agreement for the 1944 United States-Mexico Treaty on Utilization of Waters of the Colorado and Tijuana Rivers and of the Rio Grande.

On the U.S. side, Minute 323 was negotiated among representatives of the U.S. International Boundary and Waters Commission (IBWC), the federal Bureau of Reclamation, and the seven Colorado River Basin States, including Arizona, which was represented by Director Buschatzke.

The Minute 323 entry establishes a program of joint cooperative actions to improve Colorado River water management through 2026.

Like Minute 319, the new Minute 323 provides for the U.S. and Mexico to share proportionately in Lower Basin shortage and surplus, and allows Mexico to create water savings in the Colorado River System in the U.S.

Also like Minute 319, the updated agreement opens up opportunities for U.S. water users to fund conservation programs in Mexico, which in turn create “Intentionally Created Surplus,” or ICS, in Lake Mead, which benefits all of Lake Mead’s 35-million-plus water users in the Southwest.

The new agreement’s most important features, many of which are carried over from Minute 319, include:

  • Allowing Mexico to defer delivery of a portion of its Colorado River allotment in the event of potential emergencies, such as earthquakes, or as a result of water conservation projects in Mexico. This gives Mexico greater flexibility in how it manages its Colorado River allotment while also boosting Lake Mead elevation to the benefit of all users.
  • Providing additional Colorado River water to Mexico during certain high elevation reservoir conditions at Lake Mead when additional water is available to users in the United States.
  • Establishing a Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan so that, should a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan be put into effect in the United States, Mexico will also undertake water savings in parity with U.S. savings.  The Minute stipulates that the savings will be recoverable when reservoir conditions improve.
  • Providing for U.S. investment in water infrastructure and environmental projects in Mexico – investments that provide initial water benefits to the U.S. agencies while generating water efficiencies for Mexico in the long term.

New features that are unique to Minute 323 include the extension to 2026; creation of the Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan; measures addressing salinity; measures addressing daily flow variability; and, providing water for the environment and funding for environmental monitoring and habitat restoration.

Speaking on behalf of the Basin States, Director Buschatzke acknowledged the “trust and friendship we built as part of the process” during the signing ceremony in Santa Fe.

“That same spirit of cooperation and collaboration served us well in the negotiations that led to Minute 319 and now in Minute 323.”

Throughout much of the long negotiations,  which straddled two U.S. presidential administrations,  the Treaty’s update was known as “Minute 32x.” The execution and implementation of Minute 32x required a series of domestic agreements among the U.S., the IBWC, Reclamation, the Basin States, and U.S. water users.

Nowhere in the U.S. were those negotiations more challenging than in Arizona, which – unique among the Basin States – required Director Buschatzke to seek the approval of the Arizona Legislature before he could agree to “forbear” portions of the State’s Colorado River allotment.

The agreement allows Arizona water users to join users in California and Nevada in benefitting from the intentionally created surpluses generating from the water-savings projects the states fund in Mexico.

On March 2, 2017, Governor Ducey signed House Joint Resolution 2002, authorizing the director of Water Resources to execute the forbearance agreement on the assumption it met certain conditions and that the final form of Minute 32x – now, Minute 323 – would not harm Arizona water users.

In a letter to Arizona legislative leaders, the Director noted the establishment of a Binational Desalination Work Group, which will investigate desalination opportunities in the Sea of Cortez.

Minute 323 creates opportunities to augment Arizona water supplies, including a binational desalination plant near the Sea of Cortez.

“As you are aware,” wrote Buschatzke, “a binational desalination facility in the Sea of Cortez could be a critical component in Arizona’s long-term future water supplies.”

THE MEANING OF A “MINUTE”

The U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission has prepared a description of the complex protocol regarding the “Minute” process. In part, it includes the following:

The 1944 Water Treaty specifies that decisions of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) are recorded in the form of Minutes. Minutes are considered implementing agreements of the treaty. They are not treaty amendments. For example, the treaty says the IBWC may build dams on the Rio Grande. The Minutes specify where the dams will be built, how the costs will be shared between the two countries, etc.

Before the U.S. Section of the IBWC develops a Minute, it seeks negotiating authority from the Department of State. Once the Minute is negotiated, the USIBWC goes through a formal process to seek Department of State approval to sign the Minute, known as the Circular 175 process or C-175. This process may also involve consultations with other federal agencies and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff or members.

The Mexican Section of the IBWC goes through a similar domestic review/clearance process.

 

It’s official: Federal analysts expect no shortage at Lake Mead in 2018

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The federal Bureau of Reclamation has completed its crucial August 2017 24-Month Study, which is part of a study of hydrology and projected operations of the Colorado River system. Results depict water flows slightly improved from recent years, enough to assure that Lake Mead will avoid a “shortage declaration” for 2018, at least.

The August projections, which are used by the Bureau (or, BOR) and the Lower Basin States to determine whether the threatened reservoir may fall to levels that could trigger a shortage declaration, anticipate Lake Mead to be at an elevation of 1,083.46 feet at the end of the calendar year.

That would put Lake Mead levels more than eight feet above the 1,075-foot mark.  Under 1,075 feet, Arizona and Nevada begin taking delivery shortfalls according to terms set out in a 2007 agreement.

The improved hydrology also further decreases the likelihood of a 2019 shortfall declaration on Lake Mead, which according to the Bureau stood at 31 percent as recently as April.

While weather is variable and never entirely predictable, the trend line is positive. A year ago, the BOR was projecting that the chances of Lake Mead falling into shortfall as soon as January 1, 2018 stood at even odds. An unusually snowy early winter that blanketed the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains substantially brightened that outlook, however.

Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke credited conservation efforts enacted beginning in 2014 for making the difference at Lake Mead.

“The collective efforts of Arizona, California, Nevada and Mexico to conserve water in Lake Mead from 2014 through 2017 have created an additional 14 feet of elevation in the lake,” said Buschatzke.

Taken together, the conservation efforts left almost 1.2 million acre-feet of water in the reservoir.

“Absent those proactive actions to conserve water in the lake, the projected January 1, 2018 lake elevation would be at about 1,069 feet. These actions have clearly kept us out of shortage,” he said.

“This ‘all hands on deck’ approach is the key to successfully managing the Colorado River,” said the ADWR director.

“Tier 1” shortage declaration would cost Arizona about 11 percent of its 2.8 million acre-foot Colorado River allocation.

This year alone, a combined 465,000 acre-feet left in Lake Mead by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (200,000 acre-feet), the Gila River Indian Community (80,000 acre-feet) and the Central Arizona Project (185,000 acre-feet) have added over five feet to Lake Mead’s water levels.

The August 24-Month Study projections for anticipated elevations on the last day of calendar the year are used by the Secretary of the Interior to set the operating tiers for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

The projection also is used to determine whether or not a shortage will be declared in the Lower Basin.

While the results of the BOR’s August study are positive for the system, they also indicate the volatility of moisture levels in the Colorado River watershed and the challenges of making accurate predictions.

As recently as last March, some analysts were talking openly of the possibility of a huge “equalization” release of water this year from Lake Powell to Lake Mead – the result of a winter snowpack that, to that point, had been extraordinary.

Some predicted an 11 million acre-foot release from Powell, enough water to raise surface levels at the troubled reservoir downstream by as much as 27 feet.

A late-winter hot-and-dry spell, however, put an end to those giddy expectations.

“Arizona is committed to continuing conservation efforts to bolster the elevations of Lake Mead to avert shortages,” said Buschatzke.

“We are confident that our neighboring states and Mexico will also continue their efforts to conserve water.”

PRESS RELEASE: Historic water-conservation pact a “down payment” on Arizona’s effort to protect water levels at Lake Mead

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PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                              CONTACT: Doug MacEachern      

July 13,2017                                                                                                        PHONE: 602.510.0104

 Five partners in plan to store conserved tribal Colorado River water in the great reservoir to ink deal at Friday morning signing ceremony

What: Formal consummation of a five-party agreement for the Gila River Indian Community to conserve a portion of its Colorado River entitlement for the benefit of Lake Mead.

Who: The Gila River Indian Community; the United States of America, through the Bureau of Reclamation; the State of Arizona, through the Department of Water Resources; the City of Phoenix; and, the Walton Family Foundation, Inc.

Where: Arizona Department of Water Resources; 1110 W. Washington St., Third Floor; Hearing Room 3175; Phoenix

When: Friday, July 14; 11 a.m.

The five participants in a historic effort to help stabilize Lake Mead water levels will make their agreement formal at a signing ceremony hosted by the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

As part of the $6 million partnership agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation, the State of Arizona, the City of Phoenix and the Walton Family Foundation, Inc., The Gila River Indian Community will forego delivery of 40,000 acre-feet of its 2017 Colorado River allocation.

The tribe will leave that water in Lake Mead. It will be saved in the Colorado River system rather than be tied to any defined use.

“Today’s agreement and the Community’s ongoing effort to protect the Colorado River carry immense importance for our people and our neighbors across the Southwest. Being good stewards of this most sacred resource is a part of who we are as a people and what the Gila River Indian Community has stood for across time,” said Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis.

“The first positive is that this agreement allows the Community to generate income today from water we otherwise would have stored off-reservation to create long-term credits for future marketing. This revenue will help our economy right now, in the present, without sacrificing our future or our water.

“Second, this agreement helps conserve water in Lake Mead. That conservation effort benefits our people and every resident of Arizona by helping to protect the Colorado River and our water future.”

Added Governor Lewis: “Given the central role of water in our economy and our culture, today’s agreement is truly a cause for celebration.”

The five partners effectively view the agreement as a “down payment” on an Arizona-based plan for protecting the great Colorado River-system reservoir, where water levels have been dropping rapidly in recent years as a result of long-running drought and over-allocation.

The Arizona plan – known as the “Drought Contingency Plan Plus” – represents an effort on the part of leaders in the Arizona water community to keep Lake Mead above the first shortage trigger for as long as possible.

“This partnership lays the groundwork for a compensated system-conservation program in the state of Arizona for the benefit of all Colorado River water users,” said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.

The State of Arizona contributed $2 million to the conservation effort – part of a three-year financial commitment totaling $6 million approved this year by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey.

The City of Phoenix, whose mayor and council approved this agreement on June 13, provided $2 million.

“Smart water policy is essential to our economy and to every Arizonan,” Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said.

Added Mayor Stanton: “This historic agreement shows how by thinking creatively and working together we can protect our future Colorado River water supply and safeguard against the continued drought and climate change that are directly impacting Lake Mead.”

The Walton Family Foundation, which believes conservation solutions that make economic sense stand the test of time, contributed $1 million.

“Today’s agreement is about coming together to forge solutions for a sustainable Colorado River that benefit people and the environment,” said Barry Gold, director of the environment program at the Walton Family Foundation.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation also contributed $1 million to this Lake Mead stabilization effort. On January 17 of this year, Reclamation provided $6 million to the Gila River Community for system conservation that resulted in the Community’s first 40,000 acre-feet stored in Lake Mead.

“We are pleased to continue to help our partners in Arizona in their efforts to conserve water in Lake Mead and to implement a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan with California and Nevada,” said Terry Fulp, Lower Colorado Regional Director.

An acre-foot is generally considered enough water to cover an acre of land in a foot of water.

For further information, contact Michelle Moreno, Water Resources Public Information Officer, at mamoreno@azwater.gov or Doug MacEachern, Water Resources Communications Administrator at dmaceachern@azwater.gov

 

Arizona drought status summary, May 2017

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Short-term Drought Status Summary for May 2017

While several storm systems passed through the state in May, the precipitation fell primarily across central and northern Arizona, leaving southern Arizona relatively dry.

The dry spring that followed the dry winter in southeastern Arizona led to deterioration in drought conditions in this area. Pima, Cochise, Santa Cruz, southern Maricopa, Pinal, Graham and Greenlee counties are now all in moderate drought (D1).

Until the monsoon activity begins, conditions are not likely to improve, and fire danger continues to be high in central and southern Arizona.

Long-term Drought Status Update: January – March 2017

The winter storms in January and February combined with the earlier storms in November and December brought significant rain and snow to northern and central Arizona.

The relatively heavy winter precipitation has finally improved many watersheds that were bordering an improvement over the past six months or longer.

Long-term drought and water supply conditions in northern Arizona and the Salt River watersheds are much better than they were over the past six to ten years. However, this winter was still not as wet as in late 1980s and early 1990s, before this drought began, and abnormally dry conditions still persist in many parts of the state.

Feds now see Lake Mead levels sinking 20 feet lower by ‘19 than predicted just last month

 

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The sensational news about record-setting snowpack in the Sierra Nevada of California and “atmospheric rivers” delivering over 1,000 percent of normal winter rainfall to Big Sur has disguised a much less-than-sensational record of winter moisture elsewhere in the West.

The winter snowpack on the western slopes of the Rockies – the source moisture for the Colorado River – is producing much less runoff than had been anticipated.

As a result, the federal Bureau of Reclamation now is predicting that Colorado River releases from Lake Powell into Lake Mead will be far lower than what the Bureau had anticipated in March of this year.

Indeed, the Bureau now is predicting a huge drop in Lake Mead inflows from those predicted just a month ago.

According to BOR’s June 24-Month Study , projected flows into Lake Mead most likely will result in water levels 20 feet lower on January 1, 2019 than the Bureau had estimated in its 24-Month Study released in May.

The May 24-Month Study prepared by BOR (based on the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center’s water supply forecast) concluded that on January 1, 2019, Lake Mead’s depth likely would be 1,096.77 feet.

Just one month later, the Bureau now is projecting Lake Mead’s surface level on that date at 1,076.53 feet, literally inches above the level that would trigger automatic delivery cutbacks, mostly to central Arizona’s allotment of Colorado River water.

The dramatic turn-around in anticipated water flow into Lake Mead is a direct result of disappointing expectations for water flow into Lake Powell upstream. Powell’s diminished inflows are due to a dry early spring and consistently warmer-than-average temperatures in the Rocky Mountain region through the spring.

The sudden drop-off of moisture in the wake of an extremely wet January and February was “the big game-changer,” said Jeff Inwood of the Arizona Department of Water Resources’ Colorado River Team.

“The spring snows stopped and it got warmer faster, so lots of the snowpack melted off.”

The severe drop-off in anticipated flows into Lake Mead represents a shocking turn-around in expectations for the near-term health of the great reservoir.

Scarcely more than a month ago, most water analysts were breathing a sigh of relief in the wake of years of drought and diminished Rocky Mountain snowpack.

Improved moisture levels this past winter, they believed, had pushed back a Day of Reckoning for Lake Mead. Better-than-average winter snows would prompt water releases from Lake Powell that would raise Mead levels above critical stages.

The anticipation of relief was so palpable, in fact, that some Arizona water users and managers began to believe that the state would have more time to deal with the “Drought Contingency Plan – Plus,” the intra-Arizona plan that, once approved, would spread water-delivery cuts among a wider swath of Arizona water users.

In fact, as recently as March, some analysts were talking openly of a possible “equalization” release this year from Lake Powell to Lake Mead – a comparatively enormous release of water, perhaps of more than 11 million acre-feet. John Fleck, the Water Resources Program director at the University of New Mexico, calculated in mid-March that if the heavy winter moisture held, Lake Mead “would rise 27 feet this year.” 

Fleck added that “it probably won’t” hold. And he was right. The June 2017 24-Month Study results have made that prediction official: the big 2017 water balloon now appears to have burst.

Modeling conducted by the Bureau in addition to the 24-Month Study in April indicated that there remained a 45% probability of Lake Powell operating in the Equalization Tier with a release from Lake Powell of greater than 8.23 MAF in 2018.

In March, water analysts were predicting a very healthy 10.4 million acre-feet inflow into Lake Powell off the Rocky Mountain watershed during the critical April-July runoff season.

Now? Updated June statistics indicate inflows to Lake Powell of just 8.3 million acre-feet, a drop-off of over 2 million acre-feet — more than the entire annual delivery of the Central Arizona Project’s allotment for its Maricopa, Pinal and Pima County customers.

“We’ve seen this before,” said Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke, noting that some of the region’s driest winter seasons started out with hope-inspiring bursts of moisture. “We saw it as recently as 2012 and 2013.”

“Recent scientific studies have been predicting this would be more of what we could expect to see in the future,” Buschatzke said.

The diminished expectations of water flowing into Lake Powell directly impact expectations for the health of Lake Mead in the coming years.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s data analysis indicate that on January 1, 2018 – the period during which heavy Lake Powell releases were expected to give Colorado River water officials a “breather” – Lake Mead’s water level likely will be at just 1,080.49 feet, barely more than five feet above the shortage trigger of 1,075 feet.

The primary driver of those lower lake levels is the diminishing amount of water to be released from Lake Powell – down from an anticipated “equalization release” of 10.8 million acre-feet during Water Year 2018, as reported in May, to a “balancing release” of just 9.0 million acre-feet, as reported by the Bureau in June.

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)

Groundwater documentary and discussion in downtown Prescott on Wednesday

Kathy Ferris

Groundwater expert and documentarian Kathleen Ferris, discussing her film on the creation of the 1980 Groundwater Management Act

It is always helpful to have a solid appreciation for the past before making big decisions about the future. Especially when the subject is water.

Prescott and surrounding northern Arizona communities are hard at work right now attempting to accurately analyze their water future. In March, the high country community, along with Salt River Project, agreed to conduct a refined groundwater-flow model for the Big Chino Sub-basin, which Prescott anticipates will be an important future water supply. The plan is to accurately assess the hydrogeologic connection of the Big Chino aquifer with the Upper Verde River.

The analysis is expected to be completed in 2020.

On Wednesday, meanwhile, the producers of a much-acclaimed documentary on the history of Arizona’s landmark groundwater-protection act — the Groundwater Management Act of 1980 — have scheduled a viewing of their film in downtown Prescott this week.

Kathleen Ferris, Senior Research Fellow at the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University, and her movie-making partner, film producer Michael Schiffer, will host the presentation at the Elks Theater at 117 E. Gurley Street in Prescott on Wednesday evening.

Immediately following the 26-minute viewing, Ferris will host a panel discussion on the present-day issues facing Arizona’s water supply — including a discussion of what steps, if any, the Arizona Legislature ought to take to update the 37-year-old Groundwater Code.

The six-person panel will include Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. Joining Buschatzke will be Greg Kornrumph of SRP, Sarah Porter of the Kyl Center, Yavapai County Supervisor Thomas Thurman, town of Clarkdale Mayor Doug Von Gausig, as well as Schiffer.

Doors open at 6 p.m. More information is available online at https://www.facebook.com/GroundwaterFilmScreeningandDiscussion

 

Panel recommends Arizona drought declaration continue for umpteenth year

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It is, indisputably, the best weather show in Arizona all year.

Nothing against the fine work of Arizona’s TV weather forecasters and meteorologists, but the best two hours of weather analysis, climate analysis, near-term predictions, long-term predictions, precipitation, Colorado River flows and the various impacts of all of it is the report of the Governor’s Drought Interagency Coordinating Group.

On Tuesday, the panel of water-weather-climate-watershed experts concluded Arizona remains in a state of drought.

As they have consistently since 1999, the coordinating group’s members voted to make an official recommendation that a letter be sent to the Arizona Governor alerting him to that fact.

The recommendation will serve as the basis for an official drought declaration from Gov. Doug Ducey.

“Our outlook has improved and there have been a lot of proactive efforts to mitigate our (water) risks,” said Wendy Smith-Reeve of the Arizona Division of Emergency Management. Together with Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke, Smith-Reeve co-chairs the coordinating group.

“(But) while our short-term outlook is positive, long-term recommends we continue with a drought declaration,” she said. “This is not the time to stop pressing forward.”

Preceding that decision was some of the clearest and most precise weather-climate analysis provided anywhere in the state.

State Climatologist Nancy Selover and Mark O’Malley of the National Weather Service provided a near-term retrospective and near-term prediction, respectively, on the state’s weather.

Arizona State Climatologist Nancy Selover

A thumbnail: weather in the recent past has been a little wetter; weather in the near future, meanwhile, looks at least 50-50 to stay that way.

“Our monsoon picked up a lot of good activity, but for the short-term it still has been a little dry in the southern part of the state,” said Selover, analyzing the 2016 summer storm season.

Regarding the approaching summer monsoon season, O’Malley explained that the intensity of the rainy season will be determined by the “persistence” of a subtropical high-pressure system.

“If the high (pressure system) moves to the north (of Arizona), we get the moisture,” he said.

O’Malley said there is a “50-50” chance that conditions this summer will be ripe for the advent of a so-called “El Nino” weather pattern, which enhances the prospects of moisture in Arizona.

“Same for the (2017-18) winter,” he added.

As for air temperatures this coming summer, stow the sweaters: “It’s very favorable that we’ll be warmer than average,” he said.

Conditions at Lake Mead and on the Colorado River, meanwhile, are moderately improved from last year, continuing the trend of positive effects arising from the strong, early-winter snowstorms in the western Rocky Mountains, said Jeff Inwood of the Department of Water Resources.

Mark O’Malley of the National Weather Service

A warmer, “less wet” spring, however, kept the snowpack from fueling a banner-year runoff into the Colorado River system, said Inwood. Nevertheless, the good (if not quite ‘great’) news is that Lake Mead water levels stand now at about ten feet higher than at this time last year.

Inwood’s report, of course, directly impacts the on-going drama surrounding the chances that Lake Mead may descend to a depth that would trigger a water-delivery shortage declaration for Colorado River water users.

“As a result of the improved hydrologies, we are seeing decreased probabilities of a shortage,” said Inwood.

The report on Colorado River conditions dovetailed with the next presentation, a report on progress toward a drought contingency plan – including both inter- and intra-state agreements – by Water Resources Director Buschatzke.

Buschatzke, too, observed that “we’re in good shape going forward,” but reminded the audience that the chronic structural imbalance in Lake Mead remains. About 1.2 million acre-feet more water is extracted from the reservoir each year than on average flows into it.

Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke

Buschatzke updated the coordinating group on the progress of drought contingency planning negotiations.

The Water Resources director also reported that the Fiscal Year 2018 state budget recently passed by the Arizona Legislature included $2 million for each of the next three years for funding conservation efforts in Lake Mead.

Charlie Ester of Salt River Project reported that Arizona’s mountains enjoyed a wetter-than-average winter season, too. But not a record-breaker.

By mid-winter, SRP was crossing its fingers for a snowpack that might fill its premier reservoir, Roosevelt Lake. A dry April and snowfall that “didn’t slide” into the White Mountains — the main watershed for Roosevelt Lake – kept the big reservoir at just 76 percent of capacity, he said.

Still, inflow into Roosevelt wasn’t shabby: Prior to the winter snows, Roosevelt had dropped to just 44 percent of capacity. 

Charlie Ester, Salt River Project

The snowpack in Arizona’s Ponderosa pine country, meanwhile, was good enough to make the state’s approaching fire season “manageable,” said Jeff Whitney of the Arizona Department of Forestry and Fire Management.

In the forests, said Whitney, “we’re looking at a ‘normal’ year.”

“It’s not out of the realm of probability that we could have an upper-elevation fire,” he said. “But I see it being manageable.”

The real challenge, he said, would be in lower-elevation grasslands, which feasted on winter rains and now present a serious fire danger. Whitney noted the southern Arizona Sawmill Fire, which consumed 47,000 acres of mostly grasslands, as well as the smaller Mulberry Fire.

Thanks to the prospects of an earlier-than-average monsoon season, he said, “we are guardedly optimistic – with the caveat that we will have an elevated amount of lightning.”

At that, the co-chairs recommended – and the coordinating group unanimously supported – a recommendation of another drought declaration to be sent to the governor.