By Jordan Williams/Arizona Sonora News
PHOENIX — States with vital stakes in the dispersal of Colorado River continue to struggle with planning for a long-term solution to deal with the realities of drought and water allocations in the West, where seven states depend on the Colorado.
On Wednesday, a day after President Trump signed a plan negotiated by those seven states to address water allocations from the Colorado, Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, updated the Senate Water and Agriculture committee on the Colorado River Drought Contingency plan.
Buschatzke, joined by Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Project, told the committee about the plan, which was passed by Congress. Also under discussion were outlooks for Lake Mead, the giant reservoir of Colorado River water that forms behind Hoover Dam.
The seven-state plan, which Arizona ratified on Jan. 31, outlines how much water each state along the Colorado River would give up in the event that the river falls below specified levels.
Arizona, along with California and Nevada, entered into the Lower Basin plan, aimed at keeping Lake Mead from dropping below 1,045 feet in elevation.
In years where Lake Mead is projected to be between 1,045 feet and 1,090 feet on Jan. 1, Arizona has to contribute 192,000 acre-feet of water annually.
If elevation is projected to be at or below 1,045 feet, then the contribution increases to 240,000 acre-feet.
These contributions are in addition to those Arizona currently makes under the 2007 Interim Guidelines, which stipulate that Arizona contributes 400,000 acres if Lake Mead is projected to fall below 1,050 feet, and 320,000 acres should be projected between 1,050 ft and 1,075 feet.
After Arizona ratified the Drought Contingency Plan, Arizona Sen. Martha McSally (R) and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-03) both introduced separate legislation at the federal level to allow Congress to authorize the plan.
Buschatzke told the committee that senators from all of the Basin states—Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming—co-sponsored the resolution.
But Trump ultimately signed Grijalva’s legislation, HR 2030 on Tuesday.
Under the legislation, co-sponsored by 36 bipartisan members including the rest of Arizona’s delegation, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior can sign onto the Drought Contingency Plan and has to operate pursuant to it.
Buzchatzke also told the committee that the Imperial Irrigation District in California (IID) filed a notice of intent to file a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) petition against the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California over its approval of the plan.
The notice, filed Monday, April 15, asserts that the Metropolitan District approved the plan in violation of CEQA without fully evaluating environmental consequences.
IID contends that in the plan, the Metropolitan District would forgo diverting water from the Colorado River without fully evaluating how to make up the shortfall, noting how the Salton Sea was affected by similar plans.
“The logic in going forward without IID was that the DCP couldn’t wait for the Salton Sea,” said Henry Martinez, IID general manager, in a news release.
“This legal challenge is going to put that logic to the test and the focus will now be where it should have been all along – at the Salton Sea.
The IID says that the plan is inadequate in that it leaves out the Salton Sea, the giant, shallow, heavily saline lake that’s predominantly in California’s Imperial Valley.
However, Buschatzke told the committee that Arizona intends to keep the plan going regardless.