Arizona and California, together again

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Arizona Water Resources Director Buschatzke joins a panel of California and Nevada water users discussing drought strategies

CRWUA meetings, Las Vegas — Following a welcome from Colorado River Water Users Association President Bart Fisher, Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke joined a keynote panel, titled “California – Conservation, Transfers and Drought Contingency Planning in the Lower Basin.”

Buschatzke joined John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority; Kevin Kelley, general manager of the Imperial Irrigation District; Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California; and, John Powell, Jr., President of the board of directors of the Coachella Valley Water District. The panel was devoted in large part to an airing of the most pressing drought-related water issues facing the Southwest, with an emphasis on those confronting major southern California water providers.

The panel was devoted in large part to an airing of the most pressing drought-related water issues facing the Southwest, with an emphasis on those confronting major southern California water providers.

Buschatzke told the audience of about 400 attendees at the Colorado River Water Users Association meetings that his State remains well-prepared in the near-term for the effects of the lingering drought. But he emphasized that, going forward, a drought contingency plan would be beneficial to all Colorado River water users, not just those in Arizona.

“The guts of the deal have been incentivizing flexibility,” said Buschatzke.

“At the bottom end, if we do get into trouble despite our best efforts, we do have a backstop.”

Kelley of the Imperial Irrigation District defined for an audience his concerns for the future of the Salton Sea, which has receded dramatically in recent years, exposing an enormous, now-dry expanse of former lake bed contaminated by decades of agricultural run-off.

“For us, it’s an existential threat,” said Kelley, who added that the area of the Salton Sea would be an “incredibly desolate” region if the lake dries up.

Nevertheless, he expressed confidence that a drought contingency plan that includes water for the Salton Sea remains a priority for his district’s users:

“We expect that there will be a solution to the Salton Sea because the situation at Lake Mead demands that there be one,” said Kelley.

On a much lighter note, Kightlinger of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the largest municipal water provider of the Colorado River system, joked that “We’re this agency in southern California, and we want to make our problems your problems.”

The audience representing the entire range of system water users roared in laughter.

Kightlinger noted the vital nature of the Colorado River system to his region’s water supply (observing, for example, that one in every 15 Americans gets water from his district). He also praised the recent U.S. Senate legislation that provides drought relief for the region, especially for California.

Powell of the Coachella Valley district told the audience that water levels in the valley’s enormous aquifer have been going up since 2005, an important conservation signal.

Buschatzke told the audience that Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is a strong proponent of maintaining the health of the Colorado River system. He recalled that Ducey had been in Las Vegas earlier in the week discussing water issues at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event.

“For Gov. Doug Ducey, DCP is his number one water related priority,” said Buschatzke.

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