Water for Arizona Coalition Applauds the Arizona House and Senate Water Committees for Approving Arizona’s Drought Contingency Plan
Water is Arizona’s most precious resource—it grows our food, it provides vibrant recreational opportunities, it fuels Arizona’s growing economy, and sustains fish and wildlife habitats across the state. But Arizona is at a crossroads with its water security, and we are facing an uncertain future. Arizona and the West are in a ‘new normal’ with less water for human and natural uses than in the past—calling it a “drought” assumes things will go back to the old normal…but evidence shows that they won’t. Population growth over recent decades, coupled with declining snowpacks and rising temperatures is stretching water supplies to the limit, threatening some of the very things we love so much about living here. If you think of our water supply like a bank account, we are withdrawing more than we deposit.
Arizona must implement effective water policies to help our state live within our means and only use as much water as we need. It is essential that we maintain secure water supplies for cities, farms and ranches, and businesses as well as for wildlife habitats. To do that, we must all work together, creatively, to confront and design a sustainable water future that serves the needs of our economy, our recreational lifestyle, and the wildlife that depends on it.
Nearly half of Arizona’s water is provided by the Colorado River, and with dramatic overuse across the Southwest, coupled with the prolonged 19-year drought and a new normal of less water to go around, there are risks to Arizona’s lifestyle and economic vitality. Our supply of Colorado River water is measured and managed by levels in Lake Mead, on our northern border with Nevada, but due to reduced flows into the river and demand that exceeds supply, Lake Mead has been dropping rapidly.
In October of 2018 the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) predicted a 57 percent chance of the river’s first shortage in 2020, with the odds of shortages increasing in future years. Similar predictions were confirmed in January, and a shortage must be declared in 2020 if Lake Mead is projected to drop below 1,075 feet at the end of 2019. Shortages, at least initial ones, are expected and can be managed without conflict if Lake Mead does not experience a precipitous drop in water level.
In decades past, as Arizona was grappling with growth, the state took the lead in responsible water management, especially addressing chronic overuse of groundwater. Now, we have an opportunity to lead on this issue again.We must pass DCP legislation—it is critical for people, the economy, and the environment.
Legislation is Needed in 2019 to Improve Arizona Water Management:
The CAP Board voted on December 6 and January 3 to support the DCP and the AZDCP Implementation Plan, and the Coalition urges the Legislature to authorize the DWR Director to sign the DCP through a Joint Resolution and to pass companion legislation that implements the AZDCP Implementation Plan with funding and only water policy changes that are crucial to making the implementation plan work.
- The Implementation Plan provides mitigation water to Pinal Agriculture of up to 621,000 acre-feet (KAF) of CAP and ground water, and the plan includes the Gila River Indian Community Lease to CAGRD for developer water of about 30 KAF annually for 25 years.
- In addition to AZ’s contributions, the multi-state DCP adds water to the Lake from Mexico, BOR, Nevada and California: 149 KAF immediately upon signing, 138 KAF in Tier 1 Shortage, 142 KAF in Tier 2a, 386 KAF in Tier 2b, and 610 KAF in Tier 3. DCP also protects 1.5 to 2.0 MAF of water stored as Intentionally Created Surplus (ICS) in Lake Mead today and incentivizes storage of additional water in Lake Mead through the ICS program.
- The plan is balanced because CAP will order water it legally controls from Lake Mead to provide to Pinal Ag, while the System Conservation Offset Program adds more water to the lake than the CAP orders remove. In short, Arizona’s DCP Implementation Plan will have a net positive benefit to the system.
- The plan achieves a workable compromise that, while not including everything everybody wants, avoids deal-breaker pitfalls, and it does so while benefiting the Colorado River system, leaving more water in Lake Mead than would otherwise occur, which is the whole point of DCP.
Arizona leaders have a long tradition of successfully managing our State’s most precious resource. We are facing a pressing problem and believe it is critical that the public and our state leaders join together to pass smart water policies to protect Arizona’s Colorado River water supply and ensure we have enough to meet the state’s needs.
- Support the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP): Without a formal Drought Contingency Plan in place, under which less water would be used, there’s a significant chance (>45%) of Mead dropping below 1,020 feet by 2026, which would require severe cuts in deliveries, according to BOR. That prediction is based on assuming the trends of declining river flows from 1988 to 2015 continues. With a plan, the odds of such low levels drop to less than 10 percent through 2026. These probability numbers have likely increased since October and a first tier shortage is very likely in 2020 according to BOR’s January 8 presentation to the Steering Committee.At 1,020 feet, a federal takeover of how the river’s flows are divided is possible, as federal officials would need to reduce water uses to keep the lake from sinking lower and approaching “dead pool” at 895 feet, when no water is available from Lake Mead.
- Support a Long-Term Colorado River Conservation Plan: The plan would establish an ongoing and collaborative process to ensure Lake Mead elevations are always protected. The plan would estimate conservation volumes needed on a yearly basis to ensure Lake Mead elevations do not fall to the point at which Arizona will experience harmful shortages. The Coalition supports a plan that would assure water users that the water they choose to forbear and conserve in Lake Mead will benefit all Arizonans, and not be consumed by another water user.
The Water for Arizona Coalition is a community of Arizonans who support innovative practices and smart policies to ensure a reliable water supply to meet the state’s needs. Organizational support is provided by solution-oriented groups like American Rivers, Audubon Arizona, Business for Water Stewardship, Environmental Defense Action Fund, and Western Resource Advocates that collectively have over 60,000 Arizona members, as well as hundreds of hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreation enthusiasts across the state. Kevin Moran, a longtime Arizonan and former government relations consultant and Cox Communications executive, is the Chairman of the Coalition.
Coalition Members currently include:
- Environmental Defense Action Fund – Kevin Moran
- Western Resource Advocates – Kim Mitchell
- Audubon Arizona – Sonia Perillo
- Business for Water Stewardship – Nicole Gonzalez Patterson
- American Rivers – Jeff Odefey
Learn more, and keep in touch with us. We welcome your thoughts, insights, and solutions, and we need to all work together to create a sustainable water future for Arizona.
Please contact us at: email@example.com