As the Central Arizona Project celebrates the 50th anniversary of the federal act that authorized the massive water project, Arizona is still locked in complicated conversations about how the state will move forward on water issues.
A half century ago, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Colorado River Basin Project Act, which authorized construction of CAP to funnel water from the Colorado River Basin to central Arizona.
During the signing, Johnson called the bill landmark legislation that built on a series of previous conservation measures he had signed. He also proclaimed the signing day, “Carl Hayden Day” after the Arizona senator who played an integral role in furthering the state’s water interests.
“For the millions of Americans west of the Continental Divide, it will provide more water for growing cities; it will provide more water for expanding industries, for the farmers’ crops, and for the ranchers’ cattle,” Johnson said.
But decades-old conversations about the longevity of using the Colorado River Basin as a major water source are still ongoing today as a contingent of seven Western states work to prevent water shortages into the future.
CAP, which is now a 336-mile system of channels, pipelines and pumping stations that move water, was envisioned decades before Johnson gave his approval.
Congress allocated $1.2 million for CAP construction in 1970, but the federal government didn’t release the money until after Arizona created the Central Arizona Water Conservation District. Construction of CAP started five years after the act’s signing on September 30, 1968.
CAP Deputy General Manager Tom McCann said he’s not sure anybody really knows directly where the idea for CAP came from. People had the general idea of taking water from the Colorado River and bringing it to central Arizona for the past 100 years, he said.
During the 1930s and 1940s, both business and agriculture interests were working on plans to bring water from the Colorado River to the heart of the state to spur business and farming developments.
John Harrison, CAP’s construction contract administrator, still has a copy of a CAP project planning report from 1947. He estimates there were somewhere around 20 such planning reports.
“It was actually a long time coming to be,” he said. “It was on the drawing board from the state of Arizona for I don’t know how long.”
Some refer to CAP as, “the last big one” because the federal government hasn’t taken on a water project of that magnitude since.
Passing the Colorado River Basin Act through Congress was no easy task. Multiple attempts to pass the act were torpedoed by the California congressional delegation, which didn’t want its state to face any cuts to its water.
In order to make the deal happen, Arizona agreed to take junior priority status, meaning it would be the first state to take water reductions during a shortage.
McCann called the lengthy process of getting the act passed politics as usual.
“It’s easy to ask yourself today, especially from the Arizona perspective, well, why did Arizona politicians ever go along with that? If you read the things they said at the time, it was very clear that they felt they didn’t really have any alternative,” he said.
But water discussions continue among Arizona and other Western states. Right now, the Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California and the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are negotiating water conservation agreements as water levels in Lake Mead continue to decline.
The states have released draft agreements to implement drought-contingency plans in the Upper and Lower Basins after the Bureau of Reclamation predicted a shortage in Lake Mead — wherein water levels are projected to fall beneath elevation–1,075 feet above sea level — in 2020.
“To me, the law of the river emerges in an incremental fashion,” McCann said. “You solve what you can solve at the time and you leave other things for the future. This is just one more step in the evolution of water.”
The Western states have water agreements stretching back to the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which divided the states into two basins and distributed 7.5 million acre feet of river water each year per basin. Arizona had concerns about the water allocation and didn’t ratify the compact until 22 years later.
Another reason Arizona politicians agreed to the junior priority status in the Colorado River Act is because they believed they were getting a commitment to augment the flow of the river, McCann said. Augmentation would mean adding more water to the basin through options such as desalination or importing water from elsewhere.
But augmentation efforts are not cheap. And while the federal government studied the idea in 1975 and learned that eventually, there will not be enough water in the river basin to go around, it never started any sort of augmentation project.
While there is still more water available than necessary for current uses, the resources in the Colorado River Basin are finite and Arizona will likely be involved in water conversations for decades to come.
For as long as anyone can remember, Arizona’s water issues have been tackled in a non-political manner, with sober-minded participants debating genuine policy disagreements until a consensus was reached to the benefit of Arizona. With persistent drought conditions in the Western United States threatening our state’s Colorado River water entitlement, once again Arizona’s water leaders are called to this proven formula of fact-based analysis and thorough deliberation among the many vested interests engaged in water policy in Arizona. While it is crucial that the state address this situation in earnest, we fortunately have some time and capacity to develop creative solutions that make sense for everyone.
CAP leadership is ready to meet this most recent test of our precious natural resource. As an organization founded nearly 50 years ago, we’ve seen our share of challenges, controversies and compromises. We have worked collaboratively and successfully with the last ten governors to develop and implement water policy in Arizona that is the envy of other Western states. With this backdrop, we look forward to a cooperative partnership with Gov. Doug Ducey and other Arizona stakeholders to find answers to the problems facing us today.
CAP has a long and positive working relationship with the Arizona Department of Water Resources. This relationship is built on technical expertise and mutual respect for the important role each public entity plays in Arizona water management. CAP supports ADWR and its mission as the leader for Arizona on water policy.
CAP is unique in that it is the entity with contracting authority with the United States for delivery of the CAP water supply, which is the largest portion of Arizona’s Colorado River allocation. This authority – and CAP’s repayment and operating agreements with the federal government – are essential to the successful implementation of Arizona’s water policies.
Another aspect of CAP’s unique nature is its publicly elected board of directors. Fifteen people are chosen by voters in Maricopa, Pinal, and Pima counties to responsibly carry out CAP’s statutory and contractual obligations. CAP board members pride themselves on being accessible, open-minded, and willing to listen to differing viewpoints. Just last month, they conducted a half day meeting that was open to the public to hear concerns and insights from cities, tribal members, agriculture representatives and other interested parties. Governor Ducey and leadership from ADWR were also invited to attend. Opinions and grievances were aired, questions were asked, and a variety of topics relating to water management were discussed. One of the clear messages that came from board members and CAP staff at this public meeting was this: When genuine differences of opinion arise as to CAP’s authority or responsibilities under state or federal law, CAP is committed to working with all parties in an open process to address concerns, answer questions and eliminate confusion or uncertainty.
In contrast, the governor’s current, hurried water policy process bears little resemblance to the proven formula for development of sound, nonpartisan water law in Arizona. Much of the focus of these invitation-only gatherings appears intent on merely criticizing (and silencing) CAP, not on resolving honest differences of opinion and developing a consensus solution to the critical issues facing us today. Regrettably, this is not in the best interest of Arizona.
To meet the challenge of historic drought conditions in our state, Arizona need only to look to the example of those leaders who have gone before us. The Golden Rule of Arizona governance is this: We do not politicize water policy. With this in mind, CAP asks Governor Ducey to open up the process and lead a genuine effort of principled cooperation that has been the hallmark of Arizona gubernatorial leadership for more than five decades.
— Ted Cooke is general manager of Central Arizona Project.
The meetings could be consequential for the state’s future water supply, as those involved will analyze current laws, policies and practices to see what should be changed.
As many in the water world like to boast, Arizona’s diligent planning, like the Groundwater Management Act of 1980 and various efforts to keep more water in Lake Mead to stave off any water cuts, brought the state to where it is today: a growing metropolis in the middle of the desert.
Gov. Doug Ducey intends these water meetings to be a next step, a way to find consensus around future needs and solutions, his spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, said.
Scarpinato emphasized the stakeholders, led by a “plenary group” of about 20 people from business organizations, utilities, water advocates, cities and districts, will be driving the discussions. Two work groups will focus on the Colorado River and groundwater issues.
“There needs to be leadership on this issue. The Governor’s Office is taking that leadership role,” Scarpinato said.
The top five priorities for the group, led by Ducey Chief of Staff Kirk Adams, include drought contingency plans and a program to keep tribal water in Lake Mead, and how the Central Arizona Project, the state’s canal system that delivers water to Phoenix and Tucson, manages excess supply. Another priority is coming up with a “permanent system conservation program.”
But the approach so far has made figuring out what exactly the meetings are about and what could happen next difficult for some involved.
And they’ve underscored an ongoing power struggle between the Central Arizona Project and the Governor’s Office and its Department of Water Resources over who controls water planning efforts.
None of the meetings have been open to the public, only to those invited to participate as stakeholders. There aren’t any publicly posted agendas or notes about the meetings from the Governor’s Office. Only CAP, which is subject to open meetings laws, has posted any information on the meetings.
Jim Holway, a member of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District board, which manages the Central Arizona Project, said he has more questions than answers at this point.
For instance, the group has suggested it may make some changes to the way the elected CAWCD board is structured, according to a slide show put together by CAP, though it’s not clear specifically how it could be changed. The board members are now elected by voters in the three counties that receive water from CAP.
Additionally, the state wants to make it clear the Arizona Department of Water Resources is the primary entity responsible for conserving water in Lake Mead, an idea that blew up earlier this year when the department said CAP overstated its role in a lawsuit claiming sovereign immunity.
And the state wants CAP to affirm, through legislation, that it doesn’t have sovereign immunity. Plus, the state wants to prohibit CAP from contracting for federal lobbying services and require a financial audit by the state’s auditor general every three years.
Holway, who has worked in the water world for decades, said the process for creating water policy has historically revolved around stakeholders coming together and finding common ground. Water policy is also typically handled within the water community, so having the Governor’s Office so involved is a bit unusual, he said.
“Why is there this effort on the part of the (Ducey) administration to restrict and change the authorities and responsibilities of an elected body?” Holway said.
But Warren Tenney, executive director of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, said he’s glad there’s been strong leadership from the Governor’s Office. Tenney, who has participated in the water meetings, said ironing out differences will ideally lead to good solutions everyone can get behind.
“Whenever you get together to talk about water issues, it’s going to be challenging and it’s going to be some tough discussions,” Tenney said.
Still, for Holway, some of the CAP-related policy ideas, like financial audits and federal lobbying bans, “kind of look like harassment,” he said.
While CAP staff was invited to the governor’s meetings, no one from the CAWCD board was. Holway said that seems “inappropriate” and “a little strange” to leave out the elected officials tasked with major water roles.
CAP spokeswoman Crystal Thompson said in a statement that water issues are typically “treated in a non-political manner,” where multiple views are considered to achieve compromises that benefit everyone. CAP wants to work with stakeholders to come up with a consensus for future water needs based on facts, she said.
“Unfortunately, recently proposed concepts are inexplicably focused on reducing the authority and responsibility of the CAP and its elected board. We do not understand the basis for these proposals nor do we believe they benefit Arizona water management and policy,” Thompson said.
Doug Miller, the former general counsel for CAWCD, told the board’s executive committee they should prepare for war. He said the list of initiatives aimed at CAWCD is alarming, and he doesn’t understand the reasons behind many of the proposals.
“It seems like a full-scale attack on CAWCD on any number of fronts,” Miller said.
The financial audit requirements are “just silly,” considering CAP already prepares audited financial reports each year, all of which are publicly available on their website, he said. And the federal lobbying ban could cripple the organization’s ability to talk to Congress about whatever it may need, he said.
Miller, who was not invited to be on any of the work groups, attended one of the Colorado River group’s meetings, but he said he was told not to come back. Judging from the meeting he attended, many of the proposals aimed at CAWCD don’t have a justification or rationale, Miller said.
“They’re like a David against Goliath. They’re being faced down by the governor of Arizona and the Arizona Department of Water Resources and a handpicked group of folks that the governor himself has invited to these meetings. That’s a pretty tough battle,” Miller said.
Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke said the various CAP-related measures are “part and parcel” of managing risk at Lake Mead and future water planning. The state would see water cutbacks if Lake Mead reaches 1,075 feet. It’s currently at 1,079 feet.
The issues the Governor’s Office wants to work on all relate to a desire and need for the state to “speak with one voice” on water issues, Buschatzke said.
With so many groups with many different points of views, the meetings provide a way for everyone to speak frankly and freely in order to get a broad perspective on issues, he said. Discussions then move forward based on input from the members, he said.
“The process was set up so folks could have a safe haven, so to speak, to discuss their viewpoints and their issue,” he said.
Scarpinato said the Governor’s Office takes CAP’s concerns seriously, and that’s why the group is included in the water meetings.
“We would not invite (CAP) to the table if we didn’t want to consider them and take them seriously,” Scarpinato said.
The state of Arizona has been ordered to pay roughly $2.2 million in legal fees in the past eight years to organizations that challenge restrictive abortion laws adopted by the Republican-controlled state Legislature.
Some of those court orders are more than a decade in the making, like a challenge to a 1999 law with sweeping regulations of abortion providers that was finally settled in 2010, to a more recent case dealing with questionable medical advice the state required physicians to give to patients seeking medication abortions, for which a U.S. District Court judge ruled in August the state must cough up more than $600,000 in attorneys’ fees.
Just this week, the state and Planned Parenthood of Arizona settled the case for a sum of $550,000 in attorney fees.
Those court ordered payments, the result of five cases the state has either lost, settled or been nullified by legislative repeal, don’t include the costs to the Attorney General’s Office, which spent more than 3,300 hours and an estimated $173,500 defending the state in four such cases, according to an analysis of expense records and time sheets provided by the attorney general.
All told, that’s roughly $2.32 million spent defending laws that legislators were warned may not pass muster in court.
[Story continues after graphic.]
[tabs type=”vertical”][tabs_head][tab_title]Tucson Women’s Clinic v. Eden[/tab_title][tab_title]Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence v. Arizona Department of Revenue[/tab_title][tab_title]Isaacson v. Horne[/tab_title][/tabs_head][tab]Lawmakers approved HB2706 in 1999, and the lawsuit stemming from it would span for more than a decade. Known as a TRAP bill, or “targeted regulation of abortion providers,” the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a complaint on behalf of several Arizona physicians. The law was ultimately enjoined by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004. The state then negotiated with plaintiffs to reach a settlement that was ultimately finalized in April 2010. The Center for Arizona Policy notes on its bill tracker that the law was overturned in court. ATTORNEY FEES: $389,000 [/tab][tab]In 2011, lawmakers approved a bill sponsored by then-Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, that sought to prevent Arizona donors from receiving tax credits if they make financial contributions to abortion providers. Challengers never objected to that part of the law. However, the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence took issue with part of the law that banned even organizations that “promote” abortion or refer clients to abortion providers from being eligible for the state’s list of tax credit-eligible groups. The coalition, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona, blocked the law in court. Lesko sponsored a different bill in 2012 that omitted the problematic referral language. ATTORNEY FEES: $56,711.15 [/tab][tab]The Center for Reproductive Rights took the lead in this case challenging a 2012 law, sponsored by then-Rep. Kimberly Yee, R-Phoenix, which sought to place a 20-week ban on abortions on behalf of several Arizona physicians. The 20-week ban, one of several policies in Yee’s bill, was ultimately overturned in court. ATTORNEY FEES: $388,400.00 CIVIL DIVISION EXPENSES: $6,117.09 SOLICITOR GENERAL’S OFFICE EXPENSES: $6,125.82 HOURS / SALARY ESTIMATE: 65.8 / $2,282.20 [/tab][/tabs]
That’s on Republican legislators, who either don’t accept that they can’t regulate abortion to the degree they seek, or worse, said Jodi Liggett, vice president of public affairs with Planned Parenthood of Arizona.
“The less charitable view is that they understand perfectly that these are unconstitutional bills, they’re being advised that, and candidly, it’s a form of harassment,” Liggett said. “To make us go down there, spend money on lobbyists trying to stop things and then spend money on attorneys trying to stop them in court. So I think there’s a bit of burnishing their cred with the Center for Arizona Policy, or just as ‘pro-life’ legislators.”
The Center for Arizona Policy is often blamed by anti-abortion foes as the impetus for legislation targeting abortion access in the state. The center has made a name for itself as a conservative, evangelical policy group in Arizona by supporting anti-abortion candidates in elections and pushing Republican lawmakers to sponsor and vote for measures to restrict access to abortions in the state.
Center for Arizona Policy’s website boasts of its many legislative achievements, while also hinting at the repercussions of their efforts – an asterisk next to bills the organization helped pass that were later struck down in court. When Arizona loses those legal battles, taxpayers foot the bill for causes championed by the Center for Arizona Policy and its influential president, Cathi Herrod.
Out of six lawsuits brought against the state over Center for Arizona Policy-backed bills since 2009, the state has successfully defended two laws: A 2009 law requiring minors to get notarized parental consent for an abortion, and a 2011 law banning abortions sought for race-based purposes.
Herrod said 2009 is the place to start. That’s when Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano was replaced by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, a conservative friendlier to Herrod’s cause and thus when Herrod began tracking policies her organization has helped shepherd through the Legislature.
Herrod said the number of policies still in effect today far outweigh the losses in court. Thirty-seven “pro-life” policies are still on the books, ranging from a 2011 policy requiring women to receive an ultrasound before an abortion; a 2012 law requiring schools to push childbirth and adoption as preferred alternatives to abortion; and a 2016 policy prohibiting the research, experimentation or trafficking of fetuses.
“You have to first look at what is in effect. And then you need to look at what the court cases were,” Herrod said. “And the question is, why does the abortion industry oppose women being given information about abortion pill reversal? Why does the abortion industry file lawsuits on some of these bills?”
Abortion providers like Planned Parenthood, and Democratic legislators who’ve argued and voted against Center for Arizona Policy-supported bills, say lawsuits are filed because the policies are unconstitutional and harmful. Planned Parenthood and other organizations challenging the Legislature have indeed won more cases than they’ve lost since 2009, leaving Liggett of Planned Parenthood to question Herrod’s motives, and the motives of lawmakers who vote in Herrod’s favor.
“Are we really trying to create good public policy? Is this really about – in particular, is this really about women’s health and safety?” Liggett said. “Or is this just about making it as hard as possible (to have an abortion), which is actually harmful to women’s health and safety?”
For example, a 2012 bill designed to block clinics that provide abortions from receiving federal funds through Medicaid was flagged by House staff as problematic. House Rules Attorney Tim Fleming told the House Rules Committee that the measure, sponsored by then-GOP Rep. Justin Olson, may conflict with aspects of federal law.
Fleming told legislators he found similar measures, approved by other states that were then being litigated.
“Each of the statutes in each of those states were at least preliminarily enjoined,” he said, meaning a judge thought there was a good chance challenges to those laws would succeed. Fleming added that those cases had not yet been decided at the time.
[Story continues after graphic.]
[tabs type=”vertical”][tabs_head][tab_title]Planned Parenthood v. Betlach[/tab_title][tab_title]Planned Parenthood v. Humble[/tab_title][tab_title]Planned Parenthood v. Brnovich[/tab_title][/tabs_head][tab][tab]In 2012, Rep. Justin Olsen sought to block Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers from receiving federal funds through Medicaid. HB2800 specifically banned organizations that provide abortions from being considered “qualified providers” for purposes of providing Medicaid funds for family planning services. The law was overturned in court, as the court ruled federal law dictates Medicaid enrollees can seek services from any qualified provider and that Planned Parenthood certainly qualifies as such. ATTORNEY FEES: $295,500.00 CIVIL DIVISION EXPENSES: $455.00 SOLICITOR GENERAL’S OFFICE EXPENSES: $480.44 HOURS / SALARY ESTIMATE: 46.10 / $1,648.10 [/tab][tab]A flurry of legislative activity in 2016 settled this case, which was spurred by Yee’s HB2036 – the same bill with the overturned 20-week abortion ban. In this case, Planned Parenthood challenged a policy requiring doctors to administer medication abortions using only the steps approved on U.S. Food and Drug Administration labels. A federal lawsuit blocked the policy in the 9th Circuit, while a separate lawsuit was filed against the policy in state court. While the law was hung up in court, Yee sought a legislative fix in 2016 that was spoiled when the FDA updated the label for medication abortion pills. Legislators repealed the law entirely later that year, rendering the cases moot, but leaving the state on the hook for legal fees. ATTORNEY FEES: $467,099* CIVIL DIVISION EXPENSES: $4,937.50 HOURS / SALARY ESTIMATE: 2,493.20 / $88,150.40* *Combined total from cases in state and federal courts.[/tab][tab]Despite pleas and warning from obstetricians and gynecologists, Republican lawmakers still passed SB1318 in 2015. The bill required doctors to tell their patients that there was a chance medication abortions could be reversed in between doses. Women’s health providers said there was no scientific evidence to support that claim. Still, the bill became law, though lawmakers ultimately repealed it in 2016 when faced with a likely court loss. That still left state taxpayers on the hook for attorney’s fees. ATTORNEY FEES: $550,000* CIVIL DIVISION EXPENSES: $36,278.70 SALARIES BY THE HOUR: $25,958.60 *The state settled for less than the $612,218.78 it was ordered to pay.[/tab][/tabs]
Nonetheless, HB2800 was approved and a lawsuit was filed by Planned Parenthood. The law was overturned. And a judge ordered $388,400 be paid in attorneys’ fees, with the cost split evenly between the state and Maricopa County.
Liggett said it’s incumbent on legislators, particularly Republicans who promote themselves as fiscally conservative, to consider those costs when there are warnings the bills legislators sponsor and debate will have trouble in court. If not, they’re letting the Center for Arizona Policy use the state as a means to litigate their anti-abortion cause.
“A Republican legislator a long time ago used to talk about OPM – other people’s money. So if you can do this all day long, year in and year out, and spend taxpayer money – let’s remember, we’re talking about litigation costs. There’s also just cost of running legislation. There’s leg council, there’s staff. It’s not free. And when you have bills that you know early on that are not viable, that seems to me to be irresponsible,” Liggett said.
Among Arizona Democrats, Center for Arizona Policy takes a lot of the blame for pushing these bills and essentially having the state pay the cost of litigating abortion issues. But Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs said the buck stops with legislators, not Herrod.
“Herrod has a lot of clout, and she has a way to get lawmakers to do what she wants. But nobody has to do what she tells them to do,” said Hobbs, D-Phoenix.
Herrod said the Center for Arizona Policy, just like any other lobbying group, is well within the norm by pushing policy it favors at the Legislature. Contrary to the warning of other lobbyists, and at times the Legislature’s own attorneys, Herrod said her organization doesn’t push legislation if they don’t think it’s constitutional and believe it will be upheld in court.
Herrod pointed to HB2036, sponsored by then Rep. Kimberly Yee in 2012, which included a ban on abortions after 20 weeks. That policy was overturned in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But at the time Yee, a Phoenix Republican, sponsored the bill and the center helped guide it through the Legislature, Herrod said there were “maybe nine or 10 states” that had a 20-week ban on the books.
“So we approached this certainly with what we believe – what problems are being solved by a pro-life bill, what the needs are, what we believe will be upheld in court, and what we believe is constitutional,” she said.
In other instances, court battles are simply part of the legislative process, Herrod said. The parental consent law, passed in 2009, “took, I think, three different tries, if not four tries, to get the parental consent requirement in Arizona upheld and enforced in law,” she said.
As for the losses in court, Center for Arizona Policy’s wins make the cost of litigation worth it, Herrod said.
“We would say that our batting average is something like 37 to 4. And I’ll take that average any day,” she said.
Republican legislators who back Herrod’s bills often feel the same way. None of the sponsors of bills that led to legal losses for the state returned calls for comment. But Sen. Debbie Lesko, who as a representative sponsored the bill to block abortion providers from tax credit benefits in 2011, had her reason for pushing the bill cited in an order preliminarily blocking the law.
“I believe God has put me here for a reason,” Lesko, a Peoria Republican, had said during a committee hearing. “And I often ask Him, ‘What is that reason?’ and I ask for a purpose. (I ask Him to) ‘Please guide me and tell me what you want me to do.’ And I truly believe that one of the purposes that I have been put in this position is to protect the lives of innocent children.”
Swaths of mineral-stained white rock, more than 100 feet tall, mark Lake Mead’s basin, punctuating decades of drought in the Southwest. At one point, the white rock was underwater.
If the lake levels dip too low, Arizona could lose about a seventh of its annual water allotment to the Central Arizona Project, which supplies much of the state’s water. Water experts said that could lead to farmers and homeowners paying higher water rates and prioritize Arizona behind neighboring states in CAP water availability. Conservation may be key to keeping water in everyone’s taps in Arizona.
Still, drought has some advantages. Visitors to Lake Mead this fall were excited about the rocky islands and hundreds of miles of beaches that otherwise would be submerged.
“If you want to go to a nice sandy beach and hang out with 25 boats and 150 people, then the water level isn’t an issue,” said Clifford Denning. He and his wife, Cheri, stood on the shore of Lake Mead, which they have been visiting for seven years.
“We encourage anyone to come out, enjoy it while you can. It’s here, it’s great, it’s beautiful,” Cheri Denning said.
Prolonged drought stalks Arizona
The dark side of low-water levels could mean cutbacks to Arizona, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The bureau, responsible for divvying up Lake Mead’s water and electric power, in August reported a 57 percent chance that Lake Mead’s water levels would be so dismal in 2020 that Arizona and Nevada would face reductions. If the water level falls to 1,075 feet above sea level, a shortage declaration would be issued and cuts would be scheduled.
Arizona water experts said mainly farms and rural areas, rather than cities, could be restricted. California, despite having the rights to largest allocation of Lake Mead’s water, would not undergo a reduction under a multistate agreement.
Dan Bunk, a river operations manager with the bureau who helped create the simulation that predicted a shortage, said lower precipitation and higher temperatures helped create the nearly two-decade-old drought.
“There’s a sense of concern and urgency by water users throughout the basin,” Bunk said.
In September, the water level was 1,078 feet above sea level, according to the bureau.
Cutbacks will begin if water levels dip 3 feet lower in December, with restrictions getting worse as water levels drop more. Those initial cutbacks would reach rural areas that rely on CAP water.
If Lake Mead’s water level falls below 1,050 feet, Arizona would lose an additional 80,000 acre-feet of water, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.
Arizona cities wouldn’t be forced to take a reduction, said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. Still, cities might impose some water rationing as a preventative measure, he said.
Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy, said consumers could see a rise in municipal water rates.
She said Pinal County, which includes the far Southeast Valley, would be most affected by cuts because of CAP priorities. But bigger cities are already considering policies that would reduce their water use and float their water allotments over to Pinal County.
That would mean how Arizona uses and sources its water would change, Porter said. Arizonans would find ways to more efficiently use water and the state might rely more on groundwater.
Conserving, collaborating, banking
Conservation programs continue to be a point in the state’s favor. Although more people have moved to the Southwest, conservation programs have reduced water consumption so well that they have avoided water cutbacks, Bunk said.
Buschatzke said Arizona officials are collaborating with California, Nevada and Mexico to develop a drought contingency plan that would prevent a more severe round of cutbacks.
Buschatzke said Arizona receives 46 percent of the water Lake Mead supplies to states, compared with Nevada’s 4 percent and California’s 50 percent. Although California receives the largest allotment from Lake Mead, agreements forged years ago give it priority.
Porter said political pressures played a large part of who would receive water cuts in the event of a shortage.
“There might have been reasons why California didn’t think Arizona should be taken very seriously,” Porter said. “As a water user, we didn’t have nearly the population and the developed industry that California had.”
But that isn’t the whole picture. California, the most populous state in the country, has some disadvantages compared to Arizona when it comes to storing water, Porter said.
“California has not had the luxury of other water it could bank in the aquifers,” she said. “So they have a need for it that is more immediate.”
Arizona has not needed its entire allocation of water from Lake Mead, Porter said, so CAP and the Arizona Water Banking Authority have used the excess to recharge aquifers. Since the 1990s, she said, the state has stored 3.8 million acre-feet of water – enough to cover all of Phoenix 11 feet deep.
“All of the water banking goes to show that there is some give in the system,” Porter said.
Beaches, boat ramps updated as Mead drops
The recreational opportunities brought on by drought at Lake Mead National Recreation Area also come at a cost – $2 million in updates for every 10-foot drop in the water level.
Most of the cost comes from the materials and engineering needed to extend boat ramps, but any large fluctuation in lake level requires moving signs and tightening the ropes that keep docks within reach of the shore.
“With every change, there’s a new fun thing to do here,” said Christie Vanover, public affairs officer for the recreation area.
About the size of Delaware, the recreation area includes an abandoned Mormon village and a slot canyon. Both usually are submerged, Vanover said.
But considering the Bureau of Reclamation’s prediction, they are likely to stay above water, at least for the next few years. Time enough to enjoy the drought’s upside.
“It’s just a fun little getaway in the desert,” Vanover said.
Candidates for the Central Arizona Water Conservation District board aren’t running for the sexiest elected office in the state. They aren’t likely to be the subject of many headlines locally, let alone nationally. They aren’t going to attract millions in campaign contributions. They aren’t paid. And they aren’t going to be on stage with political superstars.
They are, however, going to be responsible for ensuring 1.5 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River gets to central Arizona. One acre-foot of water, or the amount of water needed to cover an acre of land to a depth of one foot, works out to 326,000 gallons. That means the CAWCD, which governs the Central Arizona Project, a 336-mile system of channels, pipelines and pumping stations that move water, has been entrusted with about 489 billion gallons of water for more than 5 million people living in Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties – or about 80 percent of the state’s population.
Yet the board elections have never quite managed to capture the widespread attention of voters.
Terry Goddard, who was elected to the board in 2012 and is up for reelection in November, said the CAWCD is part of a complicated puzzle that isn’t for everyone.
“At the risk of being over-simplistic and trite, water is a dry topic,” he said.
Goddard is one of three incumbents running for reelection this year, including current CAWCD Board President Lisa Atkins and Heather Macre.
There’s no quicker way to put an audience to sleep than to delve into the intricacies of water policy, Goddard said, but voters are increasingly waking up to the issue.
Goddard said part of the problem underlying the dearth of attention paid to the CAWCD board is that complexity. But the other part is the human tendency to take water for granted.
“Like air, you assume water’s always going to be there,” he said. “You turn the tap and it’s always going to flow. So, it’s hard to generate a lot of popular concern until that day that the water doesn’t flow.”
Goddard said the stakes have risen dramatically in recent years as the state and region face a drought.
When a shortage is declared – Goddard said when, not if – the first reductions will come from non-tribal agricultural interests under the Central Arizona Project. He said people have known that for years and carried on assuming the officials in power would handle it like they always have.
That assumption is grounded in the state’s strong water policy, Goddard said, but there will be panic when that day comes unless the general public gets more information now.
Kathleen Ferris, senior research fellow at the Kyl Center for Water Policy, said water may be the fundamental reason Arizona will survive, or not, but it’s competing with so much else: education, taxes, topics more familiar or immediate to a wider audience.
Arizonans don’t have a future here without water, she said. But there’s still a lot of work to be done to help the general public understand just how critical the state’s water needs are.
In previous election cycles, staff at the Central Arizona Project often fielded calls from curious voters. What can you tell us about candidates for the Central Arizona Water Conservation District board, they’d ask.
The board didn’t feel comfortable telling them anything, according to its lobbyist, Jeff Gray. It can’t risk giving the appearance of favoritism, or to be seen as electioneering. So board staff would urge them to call officials in Maricopa County, or wherever else board candidates were from. The open seats in this election cycle are for Maricopa County candidates.
County officials were left in the same conundrum as CAP, and would often refer voters back to the board.
And so it went the back and forth, leaving voters searching for answers without reliable information about a little known, but not insignificant, down-ballot election.
This year, the outlook for voters has slightly improved.
The Citizen Clean Elections Commission, at the CAP’s request, has included information about board candidates on their website for the first time.
It’s a start, and a welcome sign for those who’ve always watched the board elections closely in a state where voters are increasingly inundated with reports of Arizona’s ongoing drought and bleak water future.
Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, said people know water is important, and they’re concerned when they see it on their ballot.
They rely on people they trust to help them pick suitable candidates.
But Bahr also had a simple suggestion for voters trying to pick five candidates out of a pool of 14 – Google them.
“I think it’s important for people to understand how important it is that this body is required to operate in the public eye. They’re elected, so there’s a way to hold them accountable,” she said. “But that only works if they actually do it.”
The Central Arizona Project has paid more than $2.5 million for lobbyists in Arizona and Washington D.C. over the past five years, an analysis of the agency’s lobbying contracts shows.
The water canal system’s lobbying costs came under fire from Gov. Doug Ducey’s office as part of meetings he has convened to lay out future plans for water policy.
In early proposals of what the meetings would cover, the Governor’s Office suggested banning Central Arizona Water Conservation District, CAP’s manager, from hiring federal lobbyists. More recent documents from the meetings show lobbying costs could be considered as part of required performance audits from the state’s auditor general.
The $2.5 million on lobbying over five years is a tiny fraction of CAP’s budget, its spokeswoman, Crystal Thompson, said in an email. During those five years, CAP’s overall budget amounted to $1.25 billion, so the lobbying money was only 0.2 percent of the agency’s budget, she pointed out.
From 2012 to 2015, Robert Lynch was CAP’s lobbyist in D.C. at $70,000 per year. CAP also had a contract for federal lobbying services with Bracy, Tucker, Brown and Valanzano from 2010 to 2016 at $20,000 per month.
Now, the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck lobbies for CAP in Washington. Their contract at $210,000 per year ends in May 2018.
At the state level, Don Isaacson has lobbied on CAP’s behalf for 33 years, CAP said. Its current contract, which started in January 2016 and ends in December 2017, is for $182,000.
“His historic knowledge of the legislative history of the CAWCD, and water issues in general, is invaluable and his partner, Cheyenne Walsh, is equally adept,” Thompson said.
But the lobbying costs in general, whatever they may be, are just a distraction, CAP claims.
“Whether or not the CAP utilizes the services of consultants to help understand the politics of the nation’s capitol or the state capitol is not the issue – prolonged drought conditions and the effect on Arizona’s Colorado River allocation is the issue,” Thompson said.
The meetings aren’t open to the general public, and the documents and agendas are not publicly posted. There will likely be a host of proposals that become bills in the next legislative session.
CAP has repeatedly said the meetings mark a change in how the state has approached water issues. In the past, though groups had varying interests, there wasn’t a high level of political infighting. Now, the tone has changed.
“CAP respectfully asks Governor Ducey to open up the process he has begun and lead a genuine effort of principled cooperation that has been the hallmark of Arizona gubernatorial leadership for more than five decades,” Thompson said.
The topic of lobbying costs has not been discussed verbally at recent water meetings, CAP and the Department of Water Resources both confirmed.
While cost for lobbyists is a concern for the Governor’s Office, the need for the state to speak with one voice on water issues is the larger point of the water meetings and any proposals that come out of them, Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said. Lobbying on opposite sides of an issue would run counter to the “speaking with one voice” issue, he said.
But it would be premature to say whether Ducey’s office would pursue a lobbying ban or include lobbying costs in audits at this point, Scarpinato said.
An audit of CAP was initiated by the Legislature last year, and the Governor’s Office is interested in seeing the results, he said.
“Our office isn’t a huge fan of public dollars paying for lobbyists,” Scarpinato said. “But I think we want to get to a place where entities can do their job, advocate for their users, but also be part of a state effort and a state approach to our water future.”
CAP said it’s necessary to have a federal lobbyist on hand because of the aqueduct system’s ongoing relationship with the federal government. CAP, which was initially formed as part of contract with the U.S. secretary of the Interior, also has a contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to deliver water, Thompson said. It’s important to have an experienced government affairs group working at the federal level to maintain these relationships, she said.
Thompson also sent several links to other lobbying contracts for public entities both at the state and federal levels in response to questions from the Arizona Capitol Times about its lobbyists. Other contracts show the annual contract prices for CAP aren’t out of the ordinary.
There’s no way to avoid using this common Arizona phrase: Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting.
Today, more than ever, that old saying rings true.
With Republican Gov. Doug Ducey convening water giants into meetings this summer, it’s become all the more apparent that major water players in Arizona, namely the state’s water department and its canal system, the Central Arizona Project, are at odds.
And historically it’s not uncommon for water policy to be contentious here. It’s a scarce resource, and Arizona is a desert that’s been experiencing drought for more than a decade.
Still, to see the two entities publicly butting heads is novel, water experts say. And CAP sees the effort as blatantly political, with one elected office going after a duly elected board of directors.
But those who have been around awhile believe it will all be worked out in the end for the betterment of the state’s water users, like Arizona has in the past with water policy.
“It’s always fighting and conflict. It’s never pretty,” said Kathleen Ferris, an attorney who has been involved in water policy for more than 40 years. “The key is to force the agreement and the compromise. The Governor’s Office has encouraged people in this process to take a statewide view. At some point, I hope people will.”
Arizonans like to ding our Western neighbor, California, for having water cutbacks during recent dry years, boasting the state’s proactive water planning for putting us in a favorable spot.
But that current advantageous position didn’t come without skirmishes, much like the most recent iteration of water wars.
David Iwanski, director of the AZ Water Association, has been working on water issues in the state for 30 years. And he said there’s a long history of contentiousness on water policy that usually takes a “dump truck full of political leadership” to be resolved. He’s confident it will happen again this time.
“You always start with contention, and you end up with collaboration. We’re all Arizona water users. We’ll take care of each other eventually,” he said.
Where we’ve been
To take it way back, the process that eventually led to the building of the Central Arizona Project took more than five decades of intense battles both within the state and outside it to come to fruition.
U.S. Sen. Carl Hayden advocated for the canal project for the majority of his time in Washington (really, for the majority of his life). He found disagreement from all sorts of folks, from governors to industry to federal officials.
He announced he wouldn’t run for Senate again in 1968, the same year Congress finally approved legislation that created CAP.
In historian Jack August’s book “Vision in the Desert,” which recounts Hayden’s role in water policy, August describes Hayden’s “uncanny ability to organize disparate groups behind an idea or program” as one of the keys to his success. Certainly, his work on water illustrated this ability, August argues in the book.
Fast forward a bit: The Groundwater Management Act of 1980, an Arizona law often cited as ahead of its time that helped prevent over-pumping of water, had its fair share of dust-ups, too.
During that time, Ferris, a young attorney, led a state committee of water stakeholders who worked on what eventually would become the landmark legislation. But the groups didn’t fall into line willingly. Cities diverged from farmers and mines.
Then-Gov. Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat, brought in the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Cecil Andrus, at one point to levy a threat against the warring parties. In an oral history given to CAP, Babbitt details how Andrus told water folks here that he would kill CAP if the state didn’t reform its groundwater laws.
“And I would periodically call him up and say, ‘Cec, give me some leverage, threaten to kill it and I will go out in public and condemn you as interfering in our business and telling you to stay out of our affairs.’ At the same time I would go back into the group and say, ‘OK, you hear him, he just might do that,’” Babbitt said.
The groundwater process took several years of debate among stakeholders, at public hearings and then ultimately at the Legislature. And Ferris said it all came together because of strong leadership from Babbitt. Without someone in charge, pushing the process forward, stakeholders lose focus, she said.
“Without that sort of hammer, if you will, water people just tend to talk forever and nothing gets done,” Ferris said.
Where we are
Now, Ducey is the hammer in this generation’s water policy efforts. His office convened the water meetings and chose who would be involved, in a process that hasn’t yet been open to the public.
The major idea underlying the discussion is the need for the state to “speak with one voice” on water policy, according to the Governor’s Office.
“We feel like it’s important that this generation of leaders, because it’s been that long, take another deep dive in this and see if there are things that we can improve,” said Ducey chief of staff Kirk Adams, who is leading the meetings.
In these meetings, it’s become clear the state, through the Department of Water Resources, is not pleased with CAP. Over the past couple years, the disagreements between the two entities have become increasingly heated, from a claim that CAP has sovereign immunity as an arm of the state to an alleged water “sale” where the department said CAP negotiated beyond its authority.
Among the CAP-related provisions discussed at the meetings:
Changes to the way the elected CAP board is structured.
Laws to make it clear the Department of Water Resources is the primary entity responsible for conserving water in Lake Mead.
Affirm through legislation that CAP doesn’t have sovereign immunity.
Prohibit CAP from contracting for federal lobbying services.
Require a financial audit by the state’s auditor general every three years.
The meetings are expected to result in a package of legislation that should move through the Legislature in the 2018 session. The six-month meeting process is much more condensed than the 1980 groundwater talks.
Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University, said the state has a history of addressing water problems before they become urgent, something this process continues.
And the meetings have revealed there’s a need for clarity on who’s in charge on water in Arizona, something Porter said is critical for the state’s success with other Colorado River users.
“It can look either puzzling or like gamesmanship if we are not speaking with one voice. It’s OK for us as a state to show that we don’t have unanimity in terms of management decisions,” she said, adding that the state needs to look predictable to those who call the shots on water in Arizona and other states.
For the Ducey administration, the water meetings provide a way to have a generational, legacy impact on water policy. Major discussions of this sort haven’t really happened since the 1970s, Adams said. And the conflicts between DWR and CAP show why an intervention was needed.
“You can’t have, in our view, an entity as well-intentioned as (CAP) may be, going down a different track than the rest of the state. And state government is the only entity that has the ability to speak for all of the water stakeholders in the state,” Adams said.
CAP vs the world
CAP sees the meetings as a politically motivated power grab. The organization sent a statement saying water issues require nonpartisan approaches in order to be successful.
In the statement, CAP spokeswoman Crystal Thompson said that all of the governors who have led Arizona since CAP was created have managed water issues non-politically by demanding stakeholders deliberate policy disagreements “until a consensus is reached for the benefit of all.”
“Unfortunately, Governor Ducey has chosen to approach Arizona’s current water challenges with an overtly political action that bears little resemblance to this time-honored formula,” Thompson said.
CAP wants Ducey to “open up the process and lead a genuine effort of principled cooperation and open discussion that has been the hallmark of Arizona gubernatorial leadership for more than 50 years.”
Jim Holway, CAP’s board vice president, said the current water battle feels different than things he has been involved in since the 1990s here. Usually, water stakeholders get together, each with their own viewpoints, but politics doesn’t typically enter the conversations, he said.
“What I find unusual and I think unfortunate and inappropriate is the degree to which the current argument has become personalized,” Holway said. There’s been an “intentional propagation of malicious misinformation” against CAP this time around, he said.
The public beating up on one specific entity, CAP, is “outside the normal,” he said.
CAP agrees that the water resources department is the primary entity tasked with speaking for the state on water policy, Holway noted. And he agrees with the idea of speaking with one voice, but not in a way that stifles debate and input.
Lawmakers aren’t all pleased about the process, either. Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, recently sent an email to all his fellow lawmakers calling on them to cautiously approach these water conversations and not make any commitments to specific policies before fully understanding the issues involved.
In his email, Bowers noted that the 1980 process took multiple years and involved plenty of public debate. The governor’s meetings have turned water policymaking on its head, Bowers wrote. He said water policy should have unanimity in order to be most effective.
“Your humble servant is asking you not to allow water to be politicized by pitting party against party. It has always been like Switzerland,” he wrote to lawmakers.
Bowers said in an interview that not including rank-and-file lawmakers so far and trying to conduct the meetings in secret isn’t right. And while he believes the disagreements between CAP and the Department of Water Resources should be worked out, the way it’s being handled now isn’t ideal, he said.
“I just think what (the Governor’s Office is) doing is wrong. It’s not the way you handle water policy. We’ll work it out, then here’s the cabbage, here’s the cow. If you want to figure out who’s going to eat who, then you go right ahead. That’s not how we’re going to do water policy,” Bowers said.
For those who weren’t invited to participate in the governor’s meetings, like the Sierra Club-Grand Canyon Chapter’s Sandy Bahr, the process is typical — hearing from selected voices in government, industry and agriculture without much input from the environmental community.
The process hasn’t been inclusive or transparent, she said.
“It’s just more of the same in a lot of ways, except worse,” she said.
The fact that the water resources department and CAP are fighting makes her question whether the state can actually put together something positive on water. And it sends a bad message to neighboring states, who both collaborate and compete with Arizona on water issues, she said.
“To me, it’s like they’re dancing around the real issues,” Bahr said. “Focus on the problem. The problem is that there is only so much water to go around. We’re looking at a future with less water. So how about if we all work together on problem-solving that, and in the meantime figure out ways to keep some water flowing in our rivers as well. It seems silly to spend a whole bunch of time on changing the structure and the authority of CAP.”
Where we’re going
Water resources director Tom Buschatzke said it’s necessary to address these authority issues with CAP in order to mend the relationship and work on other, bigger challenges, like managing Colorado River water.
“I think it is a watershed moment in policy for the state of Arizona. … I think it is critically important we resolve that relationship,” Buschatzke said.
The problems that led to this point for the two entities didn’t bubble up overnight, and the solutions for those problems won’t be quick and easy either, he said.
“We will be able to mend those fences with (CAP). It’s going to take an effort to do that. But I think we will be professionals in our jobs and we will find a path forward to work together once we have our roles clearly defined again,” he said.
Holway also believes the relationships between CAP and the state and other water players will be mended because it has to be.
“In the end, those entities are going to have to get along,” Holway said. “There’s going to have to be a process by which trust has been rebuilt.”
Ferris said the relationship between CAP and DWR has “really disintegrated” from where it used to be, and she pointed to CAP “stretching its authority” as one of the culprits.
“I don’t think it’s healthy, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world either,” Ferris said of the fractured relationship.
But she’s hopeful — “more hopeful than I’ve been a long time” — that working through the conflicts and putting protections into law will prevent future calamities, she said.
Porter said she thinks funding cuts to DWR during the Great Recession may have played a role, allowing CAP to step into a more active role while the department was understaffed. The department has seen modest funding and staffing increases in the past few years.
How the two entities got to this point is understandable because of the “new normal” of potential shortages on the Colorado River always looming, she said. But the problems are “definitely surmountable,” Porter said.
Most of the water experts who spoke to the Arizona Capitol Times agreed: These water issues will be worked out eventually, leading to a compromise everyone can love and hate. It’s too important for them to fall apart, they said.
“These are meaty, weighty things that will be in the best interest of Arizona to deal with,” Ferris said.
The who’s who in Arizona’s water future
Gov. Doug Ducey called water stakeholders together for meetings designed to have the state “speak with one voice” on water issues. Two groups focus on Colorado River and groundwater issues, and fed information to a “plenary group” of major players who will decide what policies and legislation to put forward.
Here’s who’s involved in the plenary group:
Kirk Adams, Governor’s Office
Richard Adkerson, Freeport-McMoRan
Mark Bonsall, Salt River Project
Don Brandt, Arizona Public Service
Tom Buschatzke, Arizona Department of Water Resources
Ted Cooke, Central Arizona Water Conservation District
Kathy Ferris, Kyl Center for Water Policy
Bill Garfield, Arizona Water Company
Maureen George, Mohave County Water Authority
John Graham, Sun Belt Holdings/Valley Partnership
Pat Graham, The Nature Conservancy
Joe Gysel, EPCOR Water
Glenn Hamer, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Michael Hunter, Arizona Legislature
David Hutchens, Tucson Electric Power
Jim Lane, City of Scottsdale
Stephen Lewis, Gila River Indian Community
Hunter Moore, Governor’s Office
Mark Smith, Yuma County
Jim O’Haco, Arizona Cattlemen’s Association
Paul Orme, Pinal County Agriculture
Dennis Patch, Colorado River Indian Tribes
Craig Sullivan, County Supervisors
Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.
Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.