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.
Ducey administration chief of staff Kirk Adams at a dinner on Wednesday hosted by Salt River Project. From Left: Hunter Moore, the Natural Resources Policy Adviser to Governor Ducey; Peter Hayes, associate SRP GM and chief public affairs executive; Mark Bonsall, general manager and CEO of SRP; Adams; David Rousseau, SRP President; Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke
Ducey chief of staff Kirk Adams attended the Colorado River Water Users Association meetings this week in Las Vegas.
Adams told the attendees with whom he met that Governor Ducey is committed to prioritizing a plan that will provide Arizona with a sustainable water future.
“We’re moving full-steam ahead with a broad coalition of stakeholders,” Adams said.
Adams addressed a theme that has become a central focus of the annual three-day CRWUA this year: pushing the long-debated Drought Contingency Plan agreement among Colorado River water users across the finish line.
At a keynote panel discussion involving top water executives organized the next day, all five panelists — including Arizona Water Resources Department Director Tom Buschatzke — emphasized the urgency of completing the multi-state agreement to protect Lake Mead.
“Not to be overly dramatic, but I believe that DCP is fundamental to the survival of how we do business,” said John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority.
Arizona Water Resources Director Buschatzke returned to the DCP theme during nearly all of his speaking engagements at the conference.
“I’ve said it before, we need all hands on deck” to complete Lake Mead-saving water agreements, including both those hands inside Arizona and outside the state.
Chief of Staff Adams met on Wednesday with members.
“I’m gratified we could arrange this,” he said. “Water security is vital to Arizona’s future and it was important, I think, to assure the Colorado River community that Governor Ducey is committed to doing what we need to do to make it all happen.”
SRP’s Mark Bonsall with Ducey Chief of Staff Kirk Adams at an event sponsored by SRP at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas
It is difficult to make out, but the map above, from Justice Hobbs’ collection, is a mid-19th century “Map of the Rocky Mountain Region.”
The first event of the annual Colorado River Water Users Association meetings by tradition is a look back. Retired Colorado Supreme Court Justice and senior water judge Gregory Hobbs escorts attendees back to the early, formative days of Colorado River law, which means he examines events in the mid-1800s and beyond.
As Hobbs himself observes, knowledge of the history of the Colorado River and its tributaries is essentially for understanding where things stand now.
“The most basic and fundamental lesson we ought to teach in our schools are these (Colorado River) compacts,” said Hobbs.
“The agreements among the Colorado River states allowed each state to use their allocation as they saw fit.”
An integral part of Justice Hobbs’ presentation each year is his effective use of maps, especially those created in the early days of Western settlement. Most of the maps that Hobbs uses in his CRWUA presentations are from his own extensive collection, which he since has donated to the Colorado Supreme Court. In 2010, Hobbs donated a substantial portion of his carefully archived papers to the Denver Public Library.
Many of the maps he uses at CRWUA are identified as “desecration maps.” Those mostly ancient maps, he said, constitute the “primary source documents that remind us who we are.”
Water Resources Director Buschatzke, speaking during the keynote panel discussion at CRWUA 2016
Editor’s Note: As a service to our readers, the Arizona Department of Water Resources once again is providing a live blog of events as they occur at the Colorado River Water Users Association conferences in Las Vegas, Dec. 12-15.
When they say water is fluid, they’re not kidding. Even convocations assembled to discuss water policy must remain fluid, especially when those discussions involve Colorado River water policy. Such is the rapidly evolving nature of the complex issues facing Colorado River water users.
Organizers of the Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA) annual conference have released the event’s agenda. But even as late as early December, the agenda is identified as “tentative” in order to accommodate potential changes in meeting planning.
Each year, water leaders from the Colorado River system states and the federal Bureau of Reclamation — as well as the system’s major water users, such as cities and agriculture — gather at CRWUA, sharing ideas about management of the most complex water system in the country, the Colorado River.
A focus of discussion among Colorado River states for the last several years has been drought contingency planning to protect and stabilize the river system, particularly Lake Mead, where water levels have drifted dangerously low in recent years.
Discussion about a “DCP,” or Drought Contingency Plan, is certain to play a central role this year as well.
It certainly will be one of the underlying themes of the Keynote Panel Discussion scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 14, entitled “A Ballet in the Making: Choreographing Issues Across the Basin.”
Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke will take part in that panel discussion, along with four other top Colorado River water-user executives. The panel will be moderated by Eric Kuhn, general manager of the Colorado River District for the State of Colorado.
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 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 Director Tom Buschatzke will testify before a Senate Committee on Wednesday in support of a breakthrough agreement settling the Hualapai Tribe’s claim to water rights on the Colorado River as well as other water sources in Arizona.
The agreement is the result of long, complex negotiations that began in 2011.
Buschatzke is one of just five witnesses scheduled to testify on Wednesday before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.
Pending congressional approval of the deal, the Hualapai Tribe will become the 12th of Arizona’s 22 federally recognized Indian tribes to fully resolve its water-rights claims.
According to the terms of the settlement, the Tribe would receive an annual allocation of 4,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water. The allocation will come from a volume of Colorado River water delivered by the Central Arizona Project that is designated for future Indian water rights settlements in the Arizona Water Settlements Act of 2004.
In addition, the agreement calls for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to plan, design and build a pipeline capable of delivering no less than 3,414 acre-feet per year from Diamond Creek on the Colorado River to the Tribe at Peach Springs, as well as to its Grand Canyon West tourist attraction. The legislation authorizes an appropriation of $134.5 million for construction of the pipeline, as well as additional funding for operating expenses.
Director Buschatzke is expected to affirm Arizona’s strong support for the settlement agreement, which constitutes a major step toward resolving the outstanding water-rights claims of Indian tribes throughout the State. The agreement also will provide the Tribe with a renewable source of water that will replace its current groundwater pumping.
The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs hearing is scheduled to begin at 12:30 pm (MST). The legislation, S. 1770, is sponsored by Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain. The Hualapai Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2017, as it is known, is one of three items on the Committee’s Wednesday agenda.
Live video of the hearing, as well as written witness testimony, can be found on the Committee’s website here.
The Hualapai Tribe’s famous “Skywalk” attraction overlooking the Grand Canyon
Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke will testify on Wednesday, Dec. 6, before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee on legislation that would provide the Hualapai Tribe of northwestern Arizona with 4,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water annually.
In 2016, the Tribe agreed to a settlement of its long-standing claim to Colorado River water. The legislation – S. 1770, introduced by Arizona Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain — secures the 2016 agreement.
The agreement ensures that the tribe’s previously outstanding water claims could not potentially displace water used by other customers that also rely on the Colorado and Verde rivers. As a result, the agreement helps provide certainty for water users throughout Arizona.
In addition to its claim to Colorado River water, the Tribe also has a claim to water of the Upper Verde River watershed.
At the time of the settlement agreement, Director Buschatzke noted that the settlement of tribal water-rights claims “has long been a top strategic priority for the State.”
“The resolution of the Hualapai Tribe’s water-rights claims, including its claims to Colorado River water, is a major step to providing long-term certainty to water-users throughout the State,” said Buschatzke.
“This settlement will allow the Hualapai Tribe to enjoy the assurance of a secure and dependable water supply to its communities. Senator John McCain and Senator Jeff Flake deserve great credit for sponsoring this settlement legislation in the Senate.”
The Senate Indian Affairs Committee hearing on the proposed legislation — known as the Hualapai Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act — is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. (MST).
In a recent oped, the Audubon Society illustrated the difficult choices facing California at fending off an “ecological disaster” in the area of the Imperial and Coachella Valleys
The state of California has been struggling for years with the consequences of the Salton Sea drying up, including toxic air pollution, loss of bird habitat and myriad health hazards for the thousands of children living in the region.
Audubon’s Salton Sea program director, Frank Ruiz, recently provided a comprehensive update of the issues facing the inland sea, published in several southern California media, including the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
There is some good news to report, noted Ruiz, especially the fact that legislation recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown would allocate $200 million (out of a statewide package of $4 billion for parks, water, coastal and climate-related projects) to addressing the sea’s ecological crises.
As Ruiz notes, that money is a good start, even though it constitutes about half of the estimated costs ($380 million, in total) for 29,000 acres of air-quality control efforts and habitat projects.
But, he added, money alone “will not avert the looming disaster” at the sea. Political will, he argued, is the difference-maker:
“Ultimately, the question of whether California will act fast enough in 2018 to avoid the worst impacts at the sea depends on leadership from Gov. Brown and California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird,” wrote Ruiz.
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.
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.
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.