Arizona water-users and managers meet and do business at CRWUA

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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.

 

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Arizona Governor’s chief of staff makes surprise appearance at Colorado River water conference

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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.”

Kirk Adams and Mark Bonsal

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

 

 

 

 

Intro to CRWUA: noted historian Gregory Hobbs escorts Colorado River conference attendees into the past

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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.”

 

Agenda for annual meeting of Colorado River water users is released

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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.

 

ADWR Director to U.S. Senate: Tribal water settlement is a “strategic priority” for AZ

ADWR Director at Senate Indian Affairs

 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 both written and oral testimony, Buschatzke expressed Arizona’s strong support of S. 1770 – the Hualapai Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2017, sponsored by Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain – to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

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.

Flake, McCain legislation would formalize a tribal-water settlement agreement six years in the making

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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.

 

 

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

 

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.

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.

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.