Real people, affected by real-world water policy, gather to talk about dealing with it

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Western Farm Press, May 7, 2017

The talk about stabilizing Lake Mead and resolving chronic over-allocation of the Colorado River system tends to dwell at the 30,000-foot level.

It’s all about how cutbacks might affect the states. It’s about law and policy. About the consequences of inaction for millions of people and for industries, like agriculture, valued in the billions of dollars.

At some point, though, someone has to think retail. Someone has to contemplate the real-world, on-the-ground impact of what happens at the end of the irrigation canal for the end-user of Colorado River water that may no longer be flowing in quite the volumes that it used to flow.

Unsurprisingly, there are such people contemplating the consequences of the anticipated multi-state “drought contingency plan,” which at some point might result in cuts to Arizona’s allocation by hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of Colorado River water.

About 350 of them – mostly Arizona farmers and ranchers – recently attended the 2017 Irrigated Agriculture Conference, a one-day event in Tucson that this year included 33 speakers analyzing the kind of water-wise management practices that will work best when and/or if a shortfall is declared on the Colorado River system.

Speakers and attendees shared views on water-conservation strategies and water-wise cropping systems. Arnott Duncan of Duncan Family Farms, for example, told attendees how his irrigation system is specifically designed for the organic-vegetable crops he grows.

Speakers weighed the relative importance of balancing lower water-use crops with higher value crops to get the most bang for their farming buck.

The Western Farm Press story on the event can be found here.

A word about Western Farm Press: More than a mere niche publication, WFP has almost 19,000 subscribers and gets annual page-view counts approaching two million. The linked story above is typical of WFP: it reports on and analyzes farming issues from the point of view of the local farmer. It’s not just an “industry” publication. It’s a “how industry issues affect real people” publication.

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Drought to continue in Arizona? We’ll find out tomorrow

May 2 2017 drought monitor report

The water-news cycle has drifted east all the way across the continent.

It seems like just yesterday the drought story was all about California. Now, the nation’s eyes have shifted all the way from the Left Coast to the Right Coast as drought worries have ebbed in the Land of Avocadoes, but have intensified in the Land of Grapefruit.

Not to be snowflake-y about it, but what about us and our needs? Arizona has been dealing with this drought phenomenon far longer than California and Florida combined.

The formal process to determine whether Arizona officially will enter its 18th consecutive year of drought is approaching.

The Governor’s Drought Interagency Coordinating Group will meet tomorrow, May 9, here at the Arizona Department of Water Resources (1110 W. Washington St., Phoenix, Suite 310, 10 a.m. – 12 noon). And while the details about Arizona’s climactic conditions no doubt will prove fascinating, the ultimate conclusions of the panel don’t look all that much in doubt.

Although dry conditions have ebbed, particularly through the most recent winter months, Arizona continues to see a substantial portion of its territory in drought. The drought portrait has improved considerably since early 2016 — only a tiny portion of southwestern Arizona remains in a “severe drought” condition, which is the second-highest drought category.

The coordinating group will report on drought conditions, Colorado River water-supply conditions and the weather outlook for the upcoming summer and winter seasons.

Parking is limited, so it helps to RSVP by email to ehenenson@azwater.gov. The meeting also will be available via phone and webinar.

To attend the meeting via phone and webinar: Call-in Number: 1-877-820-7831 / Passcode: 886948#

Web Meeting Link: https://stateofarizona.centurylinkccc.com/CenturylinkWeb/Verdes

At the end, the ICG will be asked to make a recommendation to Gov. Doug Ducey about whether or not he should keep the drought declarations currently in place.

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

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

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

That’s changing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zero Mass Water of Scottsdale, Ariz.

Soggy Tucson: UA researchers find Old Pueblo gets more monsoon action than anywhere else

california-rainstorm

What happens in Tucson appears to stay in Tucson — at least when the things “happening” in the Old Pueblo are the effects of strong summer thunderstorms.

Tucson and southern Arizona get more Wagnerian excitement –– and suffer more economic harm — from severe “monsoon” storms than any other Southwestern metropolis, according to a pair of researchers from the University of Arizona.

At over 6.08 inches of rain falling during the hot, muggy monsoon season, Tucson leads the Southwestern pack. It gets nearly an inch more than the next soggiest community, El Paso, and easily twice as much as that place north of the Gila River, metro Phoenix.

Like Phoenix, Tucson is an extraordinarily stable environment. It is not in an earthquake zone. Hurricanes rarely make it to southern Arizona intact. And damaging winter weather is a non-starter. There’s a good reason why the local chambers of commerce tout the climate.

Indeed, the report’s authors go out of their way to note that “Tucson’s weather also provides opportunities for economic activity, including a vibrant winter tourism economy and growing solar industry across Southern Arizona.”

And, really, in an environment that in recent years has endured chronic drought, the main effect of summer monsoons is a big attraction. We like water falling in great gobs from the sky.

But something has to top every community’s list of “most damaging” weather effects, even if those effects themselves are comparatively modest.

In Tucson, it’s those often-sensational monsoons, which according to UA researchers Laura A. Bakkensen and Riana D. Johnson account for 84 percent of all “extreme” weather events there and 96 percent of all property losses.

Notably, the Bakkensen/Johnson white paper did not include the net impact of long-term drought.

On the other hand, it did illustrate the most effective ways to mitigate the impacts of those unpredictable monsoons, most of which Southwesterners already “get.”

Like not driving on Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix when it gets dark and windy. Like not pushing the limits of “stupid driver” laws by driving into running washes after summer storms. And, not least, buying a little home and car insurance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NPR’s interview with Colorado River author misses an important angle: The effort to save Lake Mead

Where the Water Goes by David Owen

National Public Radio has some of the best interviewing talent in American journalism, and there’s none better than Terry Gross, whose Peabody Award-winning weekday program, “Fresh Air,” has consistently delivered provocative and fascinating interview sessions. On radio, there’s really none better.

But, let’s face it Westerners, the perspective of much of NPR’s programming is often East Coast-centric. Gross’s interview on Thursday with the author of a new book on the Colorado River is further evidence that if they don’t know about it in New York… well, it just isn’t.

Where the Water Goes: Life and Death Along the Colorado River (Penguin Group USA) by David Owen by and large is an honest and fair assessment of the challenges facing the Colorado River today — a source of water for over 35 million people living in the American Southwest. Especially in the face of long-term, chronic drought, those challenges have been daunting. Owen chronicles most of them in Where the Water Goes, including the tender status of Lake Mead, the largest reservoir on the Colorado River system, which today is less than 40 percent full.

In his NPR interview with Gross, Owen explained the 1922 agreement among the federal government and the Colorado River states to apportion shares of the river’s water. The long-standing agreement, as it has turned out, is one of the biggest reasons why Lake Mead is in danger of descending now to “deadpool” level, the critical point at which water may no longer flow out of the lake. Said Owen:

“It’s one of these great sort of ironies of history that in the 19 – the 1920s were some of the wettest years in that part of the country since the 1400s. So the river at that time was carrying more water than ever. And so when the states divided up the river, they were dividing up – actually water that didn’t exist. On the other side, the good side is that, well, it’s almost a century later and that compact, the agreement among those states, still exists.”

Owen’s assessment is pretty much spot on… as far as it goes. But what he leaves out in his interview with Gross is some vital perspective: Fixing that structural deficit created in 1922 is the consuming issue facing Colorado River water managers today.

It’s not like they’re all slapping their foreheads, going, “Oh, that’s why we’re in this mess!”

Addressing the structural deficit is one of the highest priorities of the “Drought Contingency Plan,” or DCP, that the river states and the federal government have been negotiating for nearly three years. See: here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and…(whew!) here.

We appreciate Owen and Terry Gross educating NPR’s mostly waterlogged, mostly Eastern audience about the challenges facing the much more arid West. Just because California and much of the West has gotten drenched of late doesn’t mean pursuing a DCP is any less of a priority.

There really is another important chapter to that story about where the water goes. It’s about the effort to keep a lot of it in Lake Mead.

 

 

Where does our water come from? The real meaning of “Water Awareness Month”

Water Awareness Month image

 

By proclamation of the Governor in 2008, it is Water Awareness Month in Arizona.

So, what do you suppose that means?

On a personal level, being “water aware” almost universally means learning to conserve water. It is a precious and scarce resource, after all. As citizens of an arid Western state who are approaching our 17th consecutive year of drought, water conservation is an imperative.

As the British used to say during the grim days of World War II, we all need to “do our bit.”

In a “Water Awareness Month” promotion in the lobby of the Arizona Department of Water Resources building, state employees offered plenty of suggestions for conserving.

Arizona Water Champions

Taking shorter showers is good. So is avoiding over-watering plants, fixing leaky faucets and toilets and collecting rainwater in old-fashioned barrels.

But while conservation indisputably is a big part of “water awareness,” that’s not all it means.

It also means being aware of the nature of water in our arid environment. It means reaching beyond the kitchen faucet.

Only when we understand and appreciate the sources of our vital liquid resource can we truly claim to be water “aware.” Making wise choices as water consumers is important, but making wise water choices as a society is just as important. Maybe more so.

Perhaps the most important water-conservation choice Arizonans ever made as a society came about in 1980 when the state Legislature approved the Arizona Groundwater Management Act, which placed strict regulatory limitations on groundwater pumping in Arizona’s most populous regions.

That Act, as well as other legislation governing groundwater use enacted in subsequent years, is credited with making the difference between the genuine, drought-inspired crisis that California recently endured, and the comparative ease with which Arizona has managed to navigate its own much-longer period of drought.

In 1980, Arizona’s elected leaders clearly were water aware.

Today, water awareness includes having at least a rough appreciation for our state’s sources of water.

 

Arizona Water Champions

How many of us, for example, know that the largest portion of our water supply doesn’t even originate in Arizona?

Forty-one percent of Arizona’s annual supply – on average 912.4 billion gallons per year – begins its existence as snowpack on the Western slopes of the Rocky Mountains, eventually flowing into the Colorado River system through countless tributaries that become hundreds of streams, then dozens of rivers before rushing into the single, mighty and vital Colorado.

Another 16 percent of our supply, meanwhile, arrives at the kitchen spigot via the complex capture of in-state surface-water sources, notably the Salt River Project’s system of dams and reservoirs along the Salt and Verde rivers.

Arizona still gets 40 percent of its water supply from its underground aquifers – so-called “mined” groundwater. Just three percent, meanwhile, comes to us through reclaimed sources, although that percentage has risen sharply in recent years.

And tomorrow’s sources? Gov. Doug Ducey’s Water Augmentation Council is researching the prospects of adding new supplies, including desalination projects that could rehabilitate brackish water or even tap into salt-water sources off the coast of Mexico or southern California.

The governor’s council is… aware of every option. As citizens of the arid West, we all should be too.

Weather and climate in the Southwest: Part Two

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

storm over monument valley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about Arizona?

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

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

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

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

 

Governor Ducey Appoints Attorney, Gila River Indian Community Member Rodney Lewis To CAWCD Board

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PHOENIX – Governor Doug Ducey today announced the appointment of longtime water rights attorney and Gila River Indian Community member Rodney B. Lewis to the 15-member Central Arizona Water Conservation District Board of Directors. Lewis, the first member of an Arizona Indian Tribe to gain admission to the Arizona State Bar, will fill the open Maricopa County seat created by the resignation of Guy Carpenter.

“Given Rod’s long and respectable experience in water law, I am pleased that a person of his caliber is available to fill this important position on the CAWCD board,” said Governor Ducey. “At a time when Arizona and its Colorado River system partners are working hard to find solutions to the complex issues facing us, it is good to have CAWCD board member of Rod’s experience working with us.”

Lewis’s board term will expire in 2018.

“The chance to serve on the CAWCD board is, for me, the culmination of a career-long interest and passion for effectively managing Arizona’s crucial water supply and the water rights of Indian Tribes across the state and the Southwest,” said Lewis. “I want to be an advocate for Tribes and for every Arizona resident, making sure the Central Arizona Project manages our water and tax dollars with a focus on true stewardship. I hope my 40 years’ experience and my tribal perspective bring a helpful vision to the CAWCD Board.”

After graduating from UCLA Law School, Lewis served as the General Counsel for the Gila River Indian Community beginning in 1978. Since the mid-1980s, Lewis has led the Community’s negotiations with the federal government, the State of Arizona, and over 30 non-Indian parties for settlement of the Community’s water rights and claims. As a result of these negotiations, the Arizona Water Settlements Act of 2004 was signed into law by President George W. Bush on December 10, 2004.

In 1980, Lewis became the first member of an Indian Tribe to win a case before the United States Supreme Court, successfully arguing Central Machinery  v. Arizona State Tax Commission. In 2010, Lewis was honored by the Crow Tribe of Montana for his contributions and dedication leading to the Crow Nation Water Settlement of 2010.

Lewis also worked as a principal representing the Pechanga Tribe of California. The Pechanga Water Settlement was approved by Congress and signed by President Obama enacted into law in 2016.

Lewis was inducted into the Maricopa County Bar’s Hall of Fame in 2009.

Gila River Indian Community, State Of Arizona, City Of Phoenix, Walton Family Foundation Announce Cooperative Water Conservation Partnership

Agreement to work together on groundwater storage, water conservation efforts will help Lake Mead water level, drought relief strategies statewide

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SACATON, AZ. – To continue drought relief efforts to address falling elevation in Lake Mead, the Gila River Indian Community, the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the City of Phoenix and the Walton Family Foundation today announced the signing of a cooperative agreement to continue efforts to conserve water that will serve as a foundation to secure water supplies for Arizona’s more than 6 million residents and businesses.

“This agreement is an important step to continue cooperative efforts to help slow the falling elevations at Lake Mead,” said Gila River Governor Stephen R. Lewis.  “Having the largest entitlement of Colorado River water delivered through the CAP system, the Community recognizes that it can make its supply available in times of need, and we consider this agreement a continuation of our commitments made to United States in January that will allow Arizona parties to continue their negotiations and efforts to conclude a comprehensive plan, commonly called the Drought Contingency Plan Plus or DCP Plus, to address the severe drought on the Colorado River.”

“Solving our most difficult long-term water challenges like the over-allocation of Colorado River water will require innovation and collaboration,” said Mayor Greg Stanton. “Today we are embarking on a creative new way for the Gila River Indian Community, Phoenix, and others to help build drought resiliency together to protect the Colorado and Lake Mead for the long run.”

Thomas Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) stated, “This agreement will allow for the creation of tools that will be effective in protecting Lake Mead.   Those tools will be enduring and inclusive, allowing for participation by a broad group of Arizona water entitlement holders and other constituencies.”

The agreement establishes a long-term partnership between tribal, federal, state and local leaders and a philanthropic foundation with a lengthy, laudable history of supporting binational and multi-state water agreements in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River. The Foundation has worked diligently to protect the viability of Lake Mead and the overall health of the Colorado River system.

“Our goal is the long-term sustainability of the Colorado River Basin, and solutions will take cooperation, collaboration, and creativity,” said Ted Kowalski, who leads the Colorado River initiative for the Walton Family Foundation. “We are proud to partner with these forward-thinking federal, state, tribal and local interests. We welcome additional partners interested in supporting the long-term health of the Colorado River and the farmers, ranchers and communities who depend on it.”

One way the Community is making CAP water supplies available for conservation is to expand its groundwater capacity by developing underground storage facilities.  Representatives from the State of Arizona, City of Phoenix and the Walton Family Foundation toured the Community’s Olberg Dam Underground Storage Facility (ODUSF), a riparian aquifer recharge project that restores portions of the Gila River on the Community’s reservation and recharges the Community’s aquifer.  Located on the Gila River near Sacaton, AZ the ODUSF has restored approximately three miles of Gila River riparian ecosystem on the Reservation.

“The Community plans to develop a number of these storage facilities that both bring back the Gila River and ensures that as the Community relies more on groundwater, this water is replenished and we can maintain a healthy aquifer,” said Governor Lewis.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources has been instrumental in helping the Community develop the ODUSF.  “Having worked with ADWR for the last two years on a pilot program at the Olberg Dam Underground Storage Facility site, the Community has done its due diligence and demonstrated that they can successfully recharge CAP water at this site,” said Mr. Buschatzke.  “This pilot program has provided valuable information as the Community develops a permanent recharge program here and pursues recharge at other sites.”

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