By Thomas Galvin, land use attorney at Rose Law Group, with a focus on water law; candidate for the CAP board in 2016.
At a recent briefing, Thomas Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, and Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project (CAP), provided a stark assessment of the Colorado River for those assembled in a Phoenix conference room and those listening around the state at satellite locations.
The cause for concern is clear: Lake Powell and especially Lake Mead are in precarious states. In 2000, Lake Powell was 87 percent full; it is now 55 percent full. In 2000, Lake Mead was 91 percent full; it is now 37 percent full.
In 2007, the Lower Basin states, California, Arizona and Nevada, signed Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages. In that framework, Arizona agreed to take the brunt of the shortages should Lake Mead fall below certain levels.
At this time, there are protections and plans in place, namely the Lower Basin Pilot Drought Response Action and the Pilot System Conservation Agreement. In addition, the CAP has coperative programs with 12 agricultural interests, four cities and three Native American tribes.
Tom Buschatzke, ADWR director, said Lake Mead is a “structural deficit.” The lake declines about 12 feet per year. “Lake Mead becomes a dead pool if water drops to 895 feet because then you can’t get water through the dam.”
Lake Mead is officially at emergency shortage if it falls below 1,075 feet. It is forecasted to be slightly above that level on December 31, 2016, which would mean it’s not yet officially at shortage status for 2016. However, there’s a 50
Lake Mead is officially at emergency shortage if it falls below 1,075 feet. It is forecasted to be slightly above that level on December 31, 2016, which would mean it’s not yet officially at shortage status for 2016. However, there’s a 50 percent risk of falling below that level, during 2017, which would mean shortage measures are implemented in 2018.. Additionally, the risk of shortage increases from 2019 thru 2021.
“CAP is committed to conservation and additional measures are needed,”CAP General Manager Ted Cooke said,
To facilitate conservation, Arizona and its representatives are actively participating in the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Proposal. While still a work in progress, the goal of protecting Lake Mead’s water levels is paramount. The proposal outlines responsibility for such efforts will be shared through all lower Basin Colorado River states, including California. Voluntary reductions by states are indicated as steps to be taken if water level drops to critical levels.
Planning for the fall and beyond, Buschaztke said support will be needed from the legislature and the federal government.
“There will be have to be a concurrent resolution for the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) from the Arizona legislature, and, targeted for Spring 2017, we will need Congress to give the director of the Bureau of Reclamation more flexibility,” Buschaztke said.
What happens now largely falls on the Drought Contingency Proposal and any potential legislative action at the state and federal levels. There is certainly cause for concern for all of the states that depend on the Colorado River.
For additional information on the briefing click here.
For additional information on the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Proposal click here.