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Next step? Make AZ a strong voice among Colorado River states

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It didn’t take long for the completion of the Drought Contingency Plan to create value to Arizona and the Colorado River Basin.

Its focus on stabilizing Lake Mead and creating incentives to “bank” water in the reservoir already are paying dividends.t didn’t take long for the completion of the Drought Contingency Plan to create value to Arizona and the Colorado River Basin.

Tom Buschatzke

Tom Buschatzke

We can say with confidence that DCP is already a success.

DCP is providing a safe harbor while we work on important issues leading up to 2026, when the existing guidelines for the operation of the Colorado River system expire.

We now have an opportunity to build on the successful Arizona process that led to the DCP signing. Arizona is stronger together. And that will serve us well as we work toward the next step – maintaining a stable, healthy Colorado River system as we face a hotter and drier future.

Lake Mead is 22 feet higher than expected

A year ago, many of us were immersed in the details of Arizona’s Drought Contingency Implementation Plan, which benefited from the cooperative spirit of its participants, including elected leaders and representatives from every sector of the state’s water-using community.

In 2020 and likely 2021, we will be operating under DCP’s Tier Zero, a reduction of 192,000 acre-feet to Arizona. The estimated impact of contributing this water is more than $40 million, but the investment is worth it to protect the Colorado River system.

DCP’s incentives allowed for greater storage in Lake Mead this year. That, coupled with a lot of snow from the Rocky Mountains and additional tributary flow, increased storage in Lake Mead by more than 22 feet from what was initially projected.

An excellent winter snowpack in the Rockies helped Lake Mead a lot. But here is the kicker – almost half of that 22-foot rise in Lake Mead was due to storage and contributions to system conservation.

But DCP won’t hold us forever

The term used for the coming negotiations on the system’s new guidelines is “reconsultation” of the “Colorado River Interim Guidelines for Lower Basin Shortages and the Coordinated Operations for Lake Powell and Lake Mead.”

The emphasis is on “interim.” The 2007 guidelines expire in 2026. So, when people ask “what’s next?” for Colorado River management, that’s it – the difficult challenge of assessing the effectiveness of the current guidelines, with the DCP overlay, and exploring new approaches for the next iteration of the guidelines.

As we learned on January 31 when the Legislature passed, and Gov. Doug Ducey signed Arizona’s DCP, we achieved success because we worked together. We intend to bring the steering committee process back to life, reviving that spirit of cooperation that so infused negotiations.

Ted Cooke

Ted Cooke

To that end, we are embarking on a listening and data-collecting effort. It is our plan to meet first with the elected leaders who contributed so much time and effort to the successful steering committee process. Then, we plan to sit down with other delegates, including those representing Arizona tribes, cities, agriculture, mining, development and the nonprofit community.

Our goal – to develop a shared vision

Our new goal? Gather our stakeholders’ thoughts and develop a shared vision as we plan for Arizona’s Colorado River water supply.

This will ensure Arizona is a strong voice among the Colorado River Basin states and the federal government as we hammer out the next set of agreements for management of the Colorado River Basin beyond 2026.

That is our “Next Step.” It’s a big one and we must be prepared. And we will be, because Arizona truly is stronger together.

Tom Buschatzke is director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources and Ted Cooke is general manager of Central Arizona Project.

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