Arizonans have a history of putting partisanship aside and finding common ground when it comes to resolving our water disputes. With vision and leadership, we have created a thriving economy and secured our water future. It has not been easy, requiring negotiation, cooperation and compromise every step of the way.
Arizona water leaders have continued this collaborative paradigm to protect water levels in Lake Mead, during an almost two-decade long drought, by negotiating the 2007 Shortage and Sharing Guidelines, as well as Minute 32x with Mexico, the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) with California and Nevada, and the Drought Contingency Plan Plus (DCP Plus) between Arizona water interests.
The water scarcity dilemma on the Colorado River is two-fold, however: 1) extended drought and 2) a “structural deficit,” which means that the Colorado River is over-allocated by about 1.2 million acre feet (or a 12 foot reduction in Lake Mead’s water elevation per year).
Responding to drought: DCP and DCP Plus
The purpose of DCP is to address the immediate problem of drought by reducing the use of Colorado River water to prevent lower water levels in Lake Mead from triggering water shortages. The urgency of the dilemma is felt most profoundly by Arizona because we have the lowest priority to Colorado River water, meaning that our Central Arizona Project (CAP) supplies will be reduced first and in larger quantities than California and Nevada, with potentially significant impacts on our economy.
Because the risks of shortage at Lake Mead are so high to Arizonans, we got together and negotiated DCP Plus to save even more water in Lake Mead. DCP Plus would save water in Lake Mead by reducing CAP water use and storage within Arizona for three years. Some water users would receive monetary compensation or credits to temporarily leave their water in the lake rather than using it or storing it in aquifers within Arizona. Some of the funding would come from tax dollars.
In wet years, however, the contributions of water to Lake Mead contemplated by DCP Plus could have the unintended consequence of reducing the amount of water that gets released from Lake Powell under the 2007 Guidelines, which could then trigger a shortage at Lake Mead. CAP experts want to avoid unintentionally triggering shortage at taxpayer expense and believe that a flexible approach to managing water savings in Lake Mead, which takes into account the highly variable hydrology of the river as well as water savings efforts of other states, would allow CAP water managers to more effectively avoid future shortages at the lake.
Toward lasting conservation on the Colorado River
Ultimately, lasting conservation measures are critical to the long-term health of the Colorado River and to solving the ‘structural deficit.’ Arizonans must work together to increase the efficiency of our water use, to be cognizant of how we grow, and to cut back on our water consumption. It is essential that we put our differences aside to find innovative solutions that result in lasting conservation to improve the health of the river and to secure our water supplies.
In the short term, we need the flexibility to determine the best way to save our water each year with the goal of reducing the probability of triggering shortage at Lake Mead. In the long-term, we must work together towards the goal of lasting conservation on the Colorado River and reducing the “structural deficit.”
Arizona benefits when CAWCD and ADWR work together
The Arizona Legislature created the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which is overseen by an elected non-partisan board accountable to the people of Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties, to levy taxes, pay for construction of the CAP canal, operate and maintain the canal, and deliver safe, reliable CAP water to its customers. CAWCD is also responsible for managing replenishment and water storage programs.
CAWCD works closely with the Arizona Department of Water Resources, which has general control and supervision of surface water, including CAP water, and groundwater in the state. This collaborative partnership is an essential element in Arizona’s effective water management, ensuring that the knowledge and expertise of both CAWCD and ADWR are harnessed when making decisions that impact the Colorado River and CAP.
The best solutions require negotiation, cooperation and compromise
It is essential that Arizonans continue working together toward an effective solution for avoiding shortages on Lake Mead in times of drought and to achieve lasting conservation of Colorado River water. This means there must be room to express a variety of viewpoints, creative alternatives and innovative approaches to water management. Negotiation, cooperation and compromise, while difficult, result in the best solutions. One thing is certain, however. If we can’t reach agreement, everyone is worse off; we live in this desert together and water sustains us all.
— Alexandra Arboleda is a water rights attorney with The Storey Lawyers. She was elected to serve as a Maricopa County representative on the Central Arizona Water Conservation District Board of Directors.
Mark Taylor is a civil engineer and a founding partner of Westland Resources Inc. He is a Pima County representative on the CAWCD Board.
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.