Serving as the “lifeline of the Southwest,” and one of the most
heavily regulated rivers in the world, the Colorado River
provides water to 35 million people and more than 4 million acres
of farmland in a region encompassing some 246,000 square miles.
From its headwaters northwest of Denver in the Rocky Mountains,
the 1,450-mile long river and its tributaries pass through parts
of seven states: Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico,
Nevada, Utah and Wyoming and is also used by the
Republic of Mexico. Along the way, almost every drop of the
Colorado River is allocated for use.
The Colorado River Basin is also home to a range of habitats and
ecosystems from mountain to desert to ocean.
Even as stakeholders in the Colorado River Basin celebrate the recent completion of an unprecedented drought plan intended to stave off a crashing Lake Mead, there is little time to rest. An even larger hurdle lies ahead as they prepare to hammer out the next set of rules that could vastly reshape the river’s future.
Set to expire in 2026, the current guidelines for water deliveries and shortage sharing, launched in 2007 amid a multiyear drought, were designed to prevent disputes that could provoke conflict.
Snowpack in every part of Colorado’s high country is sporting
layers of dust, according to a new statewide survey of the
state’s winter accumulation. … Dust is darker than snow. Just
like a black T-shirt on a sunny day, it absorbs more sunlight,
causing what’s underneath it to heat up more rapidly.
In the past several years, Los Angeles-based Renewable
Resources Group has helped sell 33,000 acres of land to
California’s most powerful water agency, the Metropolitan Water
District of Southern California. Documents obtained by Voice of
San Diego raise fresh questions about those deals. Now,
Renewable may be working on another deal that could rearrange
the distribution of water in California forever.
According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the snowpack in the
Upper Basin is nearly 140% above average as of April 15 and it
forecasts that seasonal inflow to Lake Powell will be at 128%
of average. … “These developments may lessen the chance of
shortage in 2020,” Terry Fulp, BOR’s Lower Colorado regional
director, said in a prepared statement.
Ted Kennedy sums up what he sees along the river in the Grand
Canyon: “It’s buggy out there.” That is to say, an experiment
to change the flow of water from a dam near the Arizona-Utah
state line appeared to boost the number of aquatic insects that
fish in the Colorado River eat. Scientists are hoping to better
understand those results with a second bug flow experiment that
started this month and will run through August.
Set to expire in 2026, the current guidelines for water
deliveries and shortage sharing, launched in 2007 amid a
multi‐year drought, were designed to prevent disputes that
could provoke conflict. But as the time for crafting a new set
of rules draws near, some river veterans suggest the result
will be nothing less than a dramatic re-imagining of how the
overworked Colorado River is managed…
The giant reservoir, formed by Glen Canyon Dam, was under 40
percent full the last week of April. And a lot of water is
still being released from the reservoir, more demands on the
water are expected, and the water supply above the reservoir,
in the sprawling Colorado River system, is expected to
The drought contingency plan is in the can (well, mostly), and
an unusually wet winter means we’ll likely avoid the water
shortage declaration everyone was expecting in 2020. If this
were the past, we’d take a few months off to revel in our
success. But thank goodness we’re not living in the past.
Arizona’s water leaders know that the drought plan didn’t solve
DCP puts safeguards in place to help manage water use now and
better deal with a potential shortage. Utah, Arizona and the
five other Colorado River basin states wisely chose to include
conservation measures in the DCP — and shared in their
sacrifice to avoid costly litigation and imposed cuts. Congress
and the states should be commended for this bipartisan,
“3.1 million acre-feet of the (Imperial) Valley’s entitlement
to Colorado River water is now up for grabs in Sacramento and
it ought to concern all of us,” IID Board President Erik Ortega
said Tuesday afternoon in El Centro. “That’s why I’m calling
today for the general manager to bring back to this board a
plan for the divestment of IID’s energy assets in the Coachella
Some lawyers say the Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP, may be
built on shaky legal ground and could be vulnerable to
litigation — depending on how the Bureau of Reclamation
implements it. One California water district has already sued
to block it.
Imperial Irrigation District general manager Henry Martinez and
California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot have
reached an agreement in principle that the state will be
responsible for construction and maintenance of more than 3,700
acres of wetlands aimed at controlling toxic dust and restoring
wildlife habitat. In exchange, the water district will sign
easements for access onto lands it owns that border
California’s largest lake.
Groundwater levels throughout most of the Coachella Valley have
increased significantly over the past decade, according to an
annual analysis released today by the local water district. …
The report documents “significant increases” in groundwater
levels in the range of 2-50 feet in the past decade in
most of the Indio Subbasin, located under the cities of
Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert,
Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio and Coachella…
In the DCP, there was no consideration of deeper conservation,
no consideration of mechanisms to shift our state to less
thirsty crops, and no consideration of what kind of development
is sustainable. There was no consideration of our other rivers
and the need for ecological flows.
One water rights attorney views the recently approved Colorado
River Drought Contingency Plan as an opportunity for the
municipal bond market. “Now that the agreement’s been signed,
everybody’s looking at augmentation,” said Paul Orme, a water
rights specialist at the Arizona law firm Salmon Lewis & Weldon
who served on a steering committee for the state. “I can
certainly see a role for municipal finance in that.”
A new report paints a grim future for birds that rely on the
Salton Sea habitat. Audubon California-released
report uses bird-monitoring data from several different
sources to show just how the destruction of the Salton Sea
ecological habitat has decimated the populations of both
pelicans and cormorants endemic to the area.
California’s inability to compromise and work together has put
a big question mark on the Lower Basin Drought Contingency
Plan. And that directly impacts Arizona’s ability to
proactively plan for our new, drier water future.
Above-average snowpack in the upper Colorado River basin not
only means a good forecast for Colorado, but for all seven
states in its river system. That’s according to the latest
monthly study released by the Bureau of Reclamation earlier
this week. Officials found that the snowpack in the basin
through the winter ended up being 130 percent of average.
Should the state of California honor a commitment made in 2003
to restore the Salton Sea, despite moving water away from the
area to thirsty coastal cities? Or should this artificial,
long-festering sea be left alone to dry up entirely? While
politicians have dithered, Bombay Beach’s atmospheric decay has
drawn filmmakers, novelists and other artists who marvel at the
thriving community hidden inside seemingly derelict properties.
Arizona’s top water official says a lawsuit filed Tuesday by
California’s Imperial Irrigation District could pose a threat
to the newly approved multistate drought contingency plan. But
Tom Buschatzke, director of the Department of Water Resources,
said he’s not worried the plan will fall apart — at least not
The Colorado River Sustainability Campaign has been an
important behind-the-scenes player for environmentalists
working on the waterway, which provides water to 40 million
people. … When asked who funds his project, Sam Tucker listed
five foundations. Those foundations’ grant databases showed
that his campaign has received at least $8.6 million since
2016. … Almost half — $4 million — of the campaign’s money
came from one source: the Walton Family Foundation. (Second of
There are at least six high-profile projects in Utah, Colorado,
and Wyoming that combined could divert more than 300,000
acre-feet of water from the beleaguered Colorado River. That’s
the equivalent of Nevada’s entire allocation from the river.
These projects are in different stages of permitting and
funding, but are moving ahead even as headlines about the
river’s dwindling supply dominate the news.
An unlikely advocate seems to be around every bend of the
Colorado River these days: the Walton Family Foundation. The
$3.65 billion organization launched by Walmart founder Sam
Walton has become ubiquitous in the seven-state basin that
provides water to 40 million people, dishing out $100 million
in grants in the last five years alone. … The foundation’s
reach is dizzying and, outside the basin, has received scant
attention. (First of two parts.)
The petition, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court,
alleges violations of the California Environmental Quality
Act by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California,
and names the Coachella Valley, Palo Verde and
Needles water districts as well. It asks the court to
suspend the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan until a
thorough environmental analysis has been completed.
President Donald Trump signed a bill Tuesday authorizing a plan
for Western states to take less water from the overburdened
Colorado River. The president’s signing capped a years-long
process of sometimes difficult negotiations among the seven
states that rely on the river. … Next, representatives from
Arizona and the other Colorado River basin states who had a
hand in crafting the deal are expected to meet for a formal
A new study released by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicts
a release of up to 9 million acre-feet of water from Lake
Powell to Lake Mead this year, which means a possible shortage
declaration looming in 2020 might be averted. The snowpack in
the Colorado River Basin is about 130 percent of average, with
flows into Lake Powell predicted to be 128 percent of average
during the runoff season.
Here’s something worth celebrating: In a rare bipartisan
resolve to prevent a water crisis in the Southwest, Congress
has authorized a plan to reduce consumption from the Colorado
River – a major conservation milestone. It shows that when we
work together as Americans, we can address some of the biggest
challenges facing our nation today.
Daryl Vigil, water administrator at Jicarilla Apache Nation,
who worked on the study, said it’s relatively new for local and
federal lawmakers to include tribes in national water policy
conversations. “That conversation and that opportunity wasn’t
available before,” Vigil said. “But now with the conclusion of
this DCP and the inclusion of tribes in that dialogue, I think
that sets the stage for that to happen.”
Massive fish-die offs. Dead birds. A toxic stench. Bryan Mendez
and Olivia Rodriguez are dissatisfied that those sad facts are
the only things most Californians ever hear about the Salton
Sea, one of the largest inland seas in the world.
Congress passed an historic Colorado River drought deal on
Monday, which is now on its way to President Trump’s desk for
his signature. That leaves Arizona back to wrestling with water
issues that it mostly set aside during the two years it fixated
on the negotiations for the Colorado River deal.
Zig-zagging around us, among the trees, is a sprawling network
of irrigation ditches. It’s almost laid out like a farm.
Instead of the food crops grown all around this site,
Schlatter’s team grows trees and willows, prime habitat for
birds, coyotes, frogs and other wildlife. The whole site only
receives water a couple times a year.
At its core, the ill-advised attempt to “restore” the Salton
Sea is nothing short of environmental malpractice. It will
inevitably fail at a very high cost to both wildlife and
taxpayers, succeeding only in perpetuating a hazardous
Bruce Babbitt, the former Arizona
governor and secretary of the Interior, has been a thoughtful,
provocative and sometimes forceful voice in some of the most
high-profile water conflicts over the last 40 years, including
groundwater management in Arizona and the reduction of
California’s take of the Colorado River. In 2016, former
California Gov. Jerry Brown named Babbitt as a special adviser to
work on matters relating to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and
the Delta tunnels plan.
In Medieval Europe, all roads led to Rome. In Arizona, all
rivers lead to the Colorado. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to
say the state of Arizona lies almost entirely within the
Colorado River drainage basin, which also sprawls across
southwestern Wyoming and down through parts of Utah, Colorado,
Nevada, California and New Mexico.
An international team of researchers has carried out the first
systematic global review of water reallocation from rural to
urban regions—the practice of transferring water from rural
areas to cities to meet demand from growing urban populations.
… The study, published in Environmental Research Letters,
found North America and Asia are hotspots for rural-to-urban
All this reliance on an overallocated river has left its final
hundred miles as the ultimate collateral damage. Since the
early 1960s, when Glen Canyon Dam impounded the river near
Page, Arizona, it has rarely reached the Pacific Ocean. The
thread is frayed beyond recognition, leaving no water for the
Responding to congressional approval of a Southwestern drought
pact, officials from the Imperial Irrigation District said
Tuesday the Salton Sea is the untested plan’s “first casualty.”
… IID had refused to sign the plan because it wanted a “firm
commitment” of more than $400 million in state and federal
funds to resolve environmental issues at the Salton Sea.
“Postcards from Mecca,” the current La Quinta Museum exhibit,
is a display of photos from the eastern end of the Coachella
Valley, taken between 1916 and 1936 by Susie Keef Smith and
Lula Mae Graves, two adventurous women who called the desert
home. … Included are photos of a tunnel and workers building
the 242-mile Colorado River Aqueduct … delivering Colorado
River water to Southern California.
An increasing number of solutions to California and Arizona’s
long-term water problems now involve Mexico. Some of the ideas
are seemingly far-fetched, like a pipeline to bring water from
the Gulf of California to the Salton Sea in Imperial County.
Some are already happening, like Mexico agreeing to reduce its
water use in the event of a Colorado River shortage. … That
stands in contrast not only to recent threats by President
Donald Trump to shut down the border, but some existing water
A bill that would authorize the federal government to enact a
drought plan for Colorado River basin states in times of
shortage has passed Congress and is on its way to the White
House for the president’s signature. … Its aim is to
protect water users from deep losses and keep the
reservoirs and river healthy.
It might be tempting to sit back and enjoy the fruits of our
labors, especially given all the rain and snow this winter. But
our work is not done. In fact, the San Diego County Water
Authority’s board leadership will ask the board of directors to
consider options to leverage the investments we have made in
decades past to meet the challenges and opportunities of
decades to come.
Two of the four plants are scheduled to close by 2025. The fate
of the third rests upon a longshot bid to keep it open beyond
2022. … Navajo Generating Station was built as part of a
federal effort to bring water to Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.
Power from the plant was used to pump water up and out of the
Colorado River and across the desert. The federal government
still owns a stake in NGS through the Interior Department.
Tohono O’odham Chairman Edward D. Manuel testified Thursday
that lack of water has been killing crops and livestock – and,
essentially, the tribe’s economy – and things will only get
worse if federal funding is allowed to lapse. That’s why Manuel
joined officials from other tribes, utilities and advocacy
groups to urge passage of a bill by Rep. Raul Grijalva,
D-Tucson, that would make permanent a federal fund used to help
the government meet its obligations under legal settlements
over water-rights issues.
On the first morning of a water conference in downtown Phoenix
on Friday, an academic expert spoke of aridification in the
Colorado River basin due to the ill effects of humans burning
fossil fuels. After dinner, a writer of vivid predictive
fiction spoke about his book “The Water Knife,” which describes
Phoenix in a dusty and water-starved river basin, in the
It started with a question: How big can Las Vegas grow before
the water runs out? The answer from the Las Vegas
Review-Journal is The Water Question, a 10-part series online
and in print that brought together different parts of the
newsroom. Together, staff took The Water Question from a
planned Sunday package to both a series and online resource
that asks and answers critical questions for Las Vegas.
Two members of Arizona’s congressional delegation introduced
legislation Tuesday on a plan to address a shrinking supply of
water from a river that serves 40 million people in the U.S.
West. Republican Sen. Martha McSally and Democratic Rep. Raul
Grijalva vowed to move identical bills quickly through the
chambers. Bipartisan lawmakers from Colorado River basin states
signed on as co-sponsors.
The use of public art to bring about social change created the
interactive art event called the “Bombay Beach Biennale” on the
shores of the Salton Sea. Organizers hope to bring attention to
the long-ignored environmental issue facing the region, once
one of the premier tourist destinations in Southern California.
Excluded from a Southwestern drought pact, the Imperial
Irrigation District won a small victory on Tuesday when federal
legislators included protections for the Salton Sea that were
left out of previous drafts of the agreement.
Precious water is vanishing into thin air at the Colorado
River’s two largest reservoirs, and scientists are only now
learning the true scale of the problem. Building on ongoing
research at Lake Mead, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and
Nevada’s Desert Research Institute have teamed up on a new
study using remote sensors on floating platforms at Lake Powell
to pinpoint how much water is lost to evaporation.
The March 26 opinion piece by Tom Buschatzke and 13 other
Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan proponents to persuade
the public that the DCP is good for the Salton Sea would have
been better served – and made more believable – by a show of
good faith rather than a show of force.
Decay festers all around at the Salton Sea, the vast inland
lake in Southern California that once hosted beauty pageants
and boat races in its tourist heyday. … But new life is
moving into the breach. At Bombay Beach, artists drawn by the
cheap prices and surreal setting have been snapping up lots and
crumbling buildings as gallery spaces.
A plan to divvy up cutbacks to Colorado River water in times of
shortage has passed its first two tests in Congress. On
Thursday, a House subcommittee endorsed the Drought Contingency
Plan after questioning the state and federal officials who
crafted it. Thursday’s approval came a day after a Senate
subcommittee endorsed the plan. Next, lawmakers in both
chambers will have to negotiate and vote on bills that would
allow the federal government to carry out the plan.
U.S. Sen. Martha McSally vowed Wednesday to take quick action
on a plan to preserve the drought-stricken Colorado River,
which serves about 40 million people in the U.S. West and
Mexico. … The plans that have been in the works for years got
a first congressional hearing Wednesday before a subcommittee
that McSally chairs. The Arizona Republican said she’ll
introduce a bill soon and expects strong support.
The agreement represents the first multistate effort in
more than a decade to readjust the collective rules for
dealing with potential shortages. … But even as the drought
agreement has earned widespread praise as a historic step
toward propping up the river’s reservoirs, Arizona’s plan for
implementing the deal has also drawn criticism for relying on a
strategy that some argue has significant drawbacks.
In recent days, there have been contentions that the DCP has
left a major factor out of the equation: the Salton Sea,
California’s largest inland lake. But this simply is not the
case. … The Imperial Irrigation District has yet to sign on
to the DCP. The DCP has an on-ramp for IID’s participation if
they change their minds. But with or without IID’s
participation, the DCP will not adversely impact the Salton
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman commended
Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and
Wyoming for reaching a consensus on the Colorado River drought
contingency plan. Now the states are seeking approval from
Congress to implement it.
The state of California declared the drought is over – but
don’t touch your sprinkler programming. Los Angeles Mayor Eric
Garcetti says the city is not easing watering restrictions
because the next “drought is right around the corner,” and
conservation is “the new normal.”
On this edition of Your Call’s One Planet Series, veteran
environmental journalist Jim Robbins joins us to talk about his
in-depth series headlined, “The West’s Great River Hits Its
Limits: Will the Colorado Run Dry?”
I introduced AB 854 because the board of directors of IID, one
of California’s most powerful municipal utilities, operates
without representation from Riverside County ratepayers who
make up 60 percent of their service territory. Moreover,
according to The Desert Sun, Riverside County ratepayers
provide IID with the majority of its revenue yet have no voice
on how their municipal utility is managed.
The directors of the Colorado Water Conservation Board voted
Thursday to start exploring the feasibility of a
demand-management program as part of a larger effort to manage
falling water levels in Lake Powell and Lake Mead and avoid
violating the Colorado River Compact.
Because the Green is the biggest tributary of the Colorado
River system, the amount of water available for the divvying is
decided by the Colorado River Compact, a 1922 agreement that
delineated how much water was in the Colorado River Basin and
how it should be split up. … It’s a rigid framework for a
system that’s inherently variable…
Four hours east of Los Angeles, in a drought-stricken area of a
drought-afflicted state, is a small town called Blythe where
alfalfa is king. … Massive industrial storehouses line the
southern end of town, packed with thousands upon thousands of
stacks of alfalfa bales ready to be fed to dairy cows – but not
cows in California’s Central Valley or Montana’s rangelands.
Instead, the alfalfa will be fed to cows in Saudi Arabia.
What image comes to mind when you think of Lake Mead? For most,
it’s likely the infamous “bathtub ring,” a troubling sign of
the depleted water supply in this life-sustaining reservoir.
But while this is one of the most frequently deployed images
associated with the decades long “drought” in the West, do we
really see it? Does it make an impact that’s strong enough to
shift our perceptions and motivate us to alter our personal
The Colorado River Basin was already running near empty before
the Trump administration approved a new deal allowing
additional extractions from one of its main tributaries. While
the administration found the deal would not have a significant
impact on the environment surrounding the river, a collection
of environmental groups say in a new federal lawsuit that it
will further deplete the river basin’s supply…
In the coming days, Congress will begin committee hearings on
unusually concise, 139-word legislation that would allow the
secretary of the interior to implement the Colorado River
Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP. … This agreement marks a
watershed moment in building our country’s resilience to
There can be no more excuses for federal inaction. Yet
shockingly I have learned from recent investigative reporting
that the Trump administration is now pushing federal
legislation that would eliminate public health and
environmental protections for the Salton Sea and beyond as part
of a federal drought plan for the Colorado River.
The Desert Research Institute, Averyt said, is engaged in
research looking at long-term and short-term climate change,
where the impact of human-caused warming is clear. Researchers
with DRI have looked at ice cores from Greenland to map out
long-term climate trends. At the same time, other researchers
are looking at more immediate trends through the Western
Regional Climate Center, which provides contemporary climate
data for the 11 contiguous western states.
The stations monitor meteorological conditions over the water
and estimate evaporation using four primary methods: eddy
covariance, energy balance, aerodynamic bulk mass transfer, and
the combination of energy balance and aerodynamic. Data from
the stations are transmitted back to the research team via a
web portal for real-time monitoring.
Another group of top state officials visited the Salton Sea
this week to promise that this time, things will be different
and progress will be made to restore the fast-drying water
body. … Newly appointed water board chairman E. Joaquin
Esquivel, who grew up in nearby La Quinta and fished in the
lake as a boy, said he shares residents’ and longtime
experts’ frustrations, and feels personally accountable to
family members who still live in the area, as well as the
communities around the lake.
Residents and officials who packed a yacht club on the north
shore of the Salton Sea on Tuesday vented their anger about
what they perceive as unnecessary delays and obfuscations about
the environmental and public health disaster unfolding here.
The California Water Resources Control Board held the workshop
at the North Shore Yacht and Beach Club to both inform the
public and garner opinions of residents living in proximity to
the sea, which is rapidly vanishing into the desert.
Representatives of seven states finished a landmark agreement
to shore up the dwindling Colorado River and signed a letter to
Congress on Tuesday calling for legislation to enact the deal.
The set of agreements would prop up water-starved reservoirs
that supply cities and farms across the Southwest and would lay
the groundwork for larger negotiations to address the river’s
It’s done. The Colorado River Board of California voted 8-1-1
Monday to sign on to a multi-state drought contingency plan,
which, somewhat ironically, might not be needed for two years
because of an exceptionally wet winter. The Imperial Irrigation
District, a sprawling rural water district in the southeastern
corner of California, refused to sign on until the federal
government pledged to provide $200 million to clean up the
Salton Sea, which has not occurred.
On Tuesday, March 19, the California Water Resources Control
Board will hold a session on the North Shore to hear from state
officials about their progress addressing the many issues
related to the Salton Sea. This is a good opportunity for these
officials to break through the remaining obstacles to progress
at the Salton Sea and find a productive way forward.
For the moment, Mother Nature is smiling on the Colorado River.
Enough snow has piled up in the mountains that feed the river
to stave off a dreaded shortage declaration for one more year,
according to federal projections released Friday afternoon.
The chances for passage this year of legislation to jump-start
serious water planning in New Mexico, including by pumping
millions of dollars into the effort, evaporated last week when
a Senate committee tabled a key bill.
For the bulk of her career, Jayne Harkins has devoted her
energy to issues associated with management of the Colorado
River, both with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the
Colorado River Commission of Nevada. Now her career is taking a
different direction. Harkins was appointed last August to take
the helm of the United States section of the International
Boundary and Water Commission, the U.S.-Mexico agency that
oversees myriad water matters between the two countries…
As the Trump administration moves toward a drought contingency
plan for the Colorado River, the Bureau of Reclamation is
pushing legislation that would exempt its work from
environmental reviews. That includes potential impacts on what
has emerged as a major sticking point in the drought
negotiations: Southern California’s Salton Sea, a public health
and ecological disaster.
If, as being widely reported, the Colorado River basin states
… ultimately decide to proceed with a Lower Colorado River
Basin Drought Contingency Plan that cuts out the Imperial
Irrigation District (IID), no one should be surprised. It’s
simply continuing a long, and perhaps successful, tradition of
basin governance by running over the “miscreant(s)”.
Rebuffed by an Arizona House panel, a Globe lawmaker convinced
a Senate committee Tuesday that Pinal County farmers should get
$20 million more to help drill new wells to replace Colorado
River water they will give up. The 6-3 vote by the Senate
Appropriations Committee came after Republican Rep. David Cook
argued the farmers were promised the cash as part of the
drought contingency plan enacted by in January.
The Imperial Irrigation District is being written out of a
massive, multi-state Colorado River drought plan at the
eleventh hour. IID could sue to try to stop the revised plan
from proceeding, and its board president called the latest
development a violation of California environmental law.
But Metropolitan Water District of Southern
California general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said
attorneys for his agency, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and
others in a working group are finalizing new documents to
remove IID from the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan.
Imperial Valley officials are reportedly close to finishing an
important habitat restoration project at the Salton Sea. The
remake of Red Hill Bay was supposed to be a model for a
management plan around the shrinking lake, but the effort is
two years overdue and still months away from completion. The
Salton Sea needs a management plan because water is evaporating
faster than it’s being replaced…
For the bulk of her career, Jayne
Harkins has devoted her energy to issues associated with the
management of the Colorado River, both with the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation and with the Colorado River Commission of Nevada.
Now her career is taking a different direction. Harkins, 58, was
appointed by President Trump last August to take the helm of the
United States section of the U.S.-Mexico agency that oversees
myriad water matters between the two countries as they seek to
sustainably manage the supply and water quality of the Colorado
River, including its once-thriving Delta in Mexico, and other
rivers the two countries share. She is the first woman to be
named the U.S. Commissioner of the International Boundary and
Water Commission for either the United States or Mexico in the
commission’s 129-year history.
The sandy playa that used to be underwater is now being baked
by the sun and blown around by the winds that frequently scour
the desert floor here. The dust is tiny and can easily get
airborne. That is a public health crisis for a region already
suffering from some of California’s highest asthma rates.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California on
Tuesday sealed California’s participation in a landmark
Colorado River drought management plan, agreeing to shoulder
more of the state’s future delivery cuts to prevent Lake Mead
from falling to dangerously low levels. With California signed
on, the plan can move to Congress, which must approve the
multi-state agreement before it takes effect. The MWD board
took the step over the objections of the Imperial
Irrigation District, which holds senior rights to the biggest
allocation of river water on the entire length of the Colorado.
The Metropolitan Water District is positioning itself to
shoulder California’s entire water contribution, with its board
voting Tuesday on a proposal to essentially write out of the
drought plan another agency that gets more Colorado River water
than anyone else. That agency, the Imperial Irrigation
District, has said it won’t approve the plan unless the federal
government agrees to commit $200 million to address the Salton
Much of the United States could be gripped by significant water
shortages in just five decades’ time, according to predictions
made in a new study. … In the researchers’ projections, water
supply is likely to be under threat in watersheds in the
central and southern Great Plains, the Southwest and central
Rocky Mountain States, California, and areas in the South
(especially Florida) and the Midwest.
The Colorado River’s federal managers have projected that if
dry conditions continue, they could be unable to deliver any
water at all to downstream users (including Phoenix, Tucson,
Los Angeles, and San Diego) within five years. That’s the
doomsday scenario that has led the Colorado River’s water
managers and users to the cusp of adopting the Drought
Contingency Plan, a temporary yet broad agreement to reduce
water use and ensure that the reservoirs continue to provide a
reliable water supply.
Political disputes, interstate suspicion and funding concerns
have long been a fact of life when it comes to the Colorado
River. Those same factors now are delaying a final agreement on
how to handle drought in the river basin. But, at least none of
the states involved has called out its navy. Arizona did that
85 years ago to prevent completion of Parker Dam, the concrete
structure on the Colorado River that backs up Lake Havasu on
the border between California and Arizona.
It seems like a simple question: How many people can Southern
Nevada support with the water it has now? But the answer is far
from easy. The number can swing wildly depending on a host of
variables, including the community’s rates of growth and
conservation and the severity of drought on the Colorado River.
(Last in the paper’s Water
California is now the lone holdout on an emergency drought plan
for the Colorado River, and the other river states are turning
up the heat to get the deal done. Representatives from Nevada
and five other Western states sent a letter to California on
Saturday urging water officials there to set aside their
concerns and “and immediately and unconditionally approve” the
so-called Drought Contingency Plan.
The question comes up with every dire media report or bleak new
forecast about the Colorado River: How much longer can Nevada’s
largest community continue to rely on a single source of water
to power its prosperity? It’s an important question, maybe the
most important. No Southwestern state gets less water from the
river than Nevada. No major city depends on that water more
than Las Vegas. But the Colorado is in trouble. (Part 1 of 8 in
Lawmakers in Colorado want the U.S. state to study the
potential of blockchain technology in water rights management.
Republican senator Jack Tate, along with representatives Jeni
James Arndt (Democratic) and Marc Catlin (Republican), filed
senate bill 184 on Tuesday, proposing that the Colorado Water
Institute should be granted authority to study how blockchain
technology can help improve its operations.
California’s largest lake has long attracted visitors. Many go
there year-round to see thousands of birds congregating around
the lake and its nearby habitats, but the lake is changing and
that’s changing bird populations.
With another deadline missed Monday, the head of the Bureau of
Reclamation is now looking for the governors in the states in
the Colorado River basin to tell her what they think she should
do to keep water levels from dropping even lower. But there’s
just two weeks for them to do that.
About half the Sycuan Indian tribe relies heavily on a single
groundwater well for water. The whole tribe now wants access to
the same water most San Diegans enjoy – Colorado River water,
Northern California water and desalinated Pacific Ocean water.
Most of San Diego’s state legislative delegation is pushing a
bill that could make it happen.
Days after Imperial Irrigation District officials said there
had been a breakthrough in negotiations with federal
officials to commit to the restoration of the Salton Sea
in a mammoth Colorado River drought plan, a top federal
official offered a different assessment. … The
Reclamation statement said it’s up to IID to decide when they
want to join the drought plan, indicating a possible avenue for
them to join later that would not stymie the entire agreement.
The problem started on Feb. 17, when Paonia’s water operators
noted a loss of water in a 2 million gallon storage tank. A
team went out looking for a leak, but could not locate it. As
the leak continued, the town’s water system lost enough
pressure that the state of Colorado imposed a boil order. In
response, town officials declared a state of emergency.
California’s Salton Sea, the state’s largest inland body of
water, formed when a dam broke. It stayed alive fed by
agricultural water runoff. Today, it’s water supply is slowing,
and the sea is drying up and losing its place as a fishing and
recreation hotspot. But … the Salton Sea is finding new life
as haven for artists.
Imperial Irrigation District officials announced at a special
board meeting late Friday that the federal Bureau of
Reclamation has agreed to their condition that the drought
contingency plan package include restoration of the Salton Sea.
They said federal officials will write a strong letter of
support backing IID’s requests for $200 million in Farm Bill
funding for wetlands projects around the shrinking sea, which
is California’s largest inland water body.
This tour explored the lower Colorado River where virtually every drop of the river is allocated, yet demand is growing from myriad sources — increasing population, declining habitat, drought and climate change.
The 1,450-mile river is a lifeline to 40 million people in the Southwest across seven states and Mexico. How the Lower Basin states – Arizona, California and Nevada – use and manage this water to meet agricultural, urban, environmental and industrial needs is the focus of this tour.
3333 Blue Diamond Road
Las Vegas, NV 89139
Arizona state water regulators have confirmed that here may not
be enough water underground for dozens of planned developments
in Pinal County, new subdivisions that, if built, would bring
more than 139,000 homes. That finding is based on data the
Arizona Department of Water Resources has compiled that shows a
long-term groundwater shortage in the area is possible. The
data … raises red flags about growthand the water supply in
one of the fastest growing parts of the state.
Betting on water is a risky endeavor. Experts on water in
Arizona say that while it’s easy to start speculating on water,
cashing out is not. Would-be profiteers have to buy water or
land with rights to it. They have to work within the thicket of
laws and regulations governing water in Arizona and contend
with the fraught politics of Western water. The ability to
store water underground has also given rise to a market-like
system in Arizona in which people talk about diverse portfolios
and asset acquisitions.
We hope the move by MWD — which in 2016 had played
hardball of its own by linking its support of the Colorado
River drought plan to federal and state support of a Delta
water project — doesn’t again sidetrack true federal
involvement at the Salton Sea.
With a Monday deadline looming, the Metropolitan Water District
of Southern California has offered to break an impasse on a
seven-state Colorado River drought contingency package by
contributing necessary water from its own reserves on behalf of
the Imperial Irrigation District. It’s not help that IID is
seeking, but Metropolitan general manager Jeffrey Kightlinger
said he had no choice.
Winter storms have blanketed the mountains on the upper
Colorado River with snow. But even this year’s above-average
snowpack won’t be nearly enough to make up for the river’s
chronic overallocation, compounded by 19 years of drought and
the worsening effects of climate change.
Imported water from the Sierra
Nevada and the Colorado River built Southern California. Yet as
drought, climate change and environmental concerns render those
supplies increasingly at risk, the Southland’s cities have ramped
up their efforts to rely more on local sources and less on
Far and away the most ambitious goal has been set by the city of
Santa Monica, which in 2014 embarked on a course to be virtually
water independent through local sources by 2023. In the 1990s,
Santa Monica was completely dependent on imported water. Now, it
derives more than 70 percent of its water locally.
Follow along on our water tour of the Lower Colorado
River – and keep up with any of our
tours and events –
through our social media channels. We’ll post updates on our
Twitter account @WaterEdFdn about
people, issues and places as we travel along the Lower Colorado
River from Hoover Dam to the Coachella Valley Feb. 27 through
The Imperial Irrigation District wants $200 million for the
Salton Sea, a massive, briny lake in the desert southeast of
Los Angeles created when the Colorado River breached a dike in
1905 and flooded a dry lake bed. The district says if the
federal government doesn’t commit to giving California the
money, it won’t sign off on a multistate plan to preserve the
river’s two largest reservoirs amid a prolonged drought.
All eyes have been on the Colorado River recently with
headlines across the west announcing the progress – or lack
thereof – of the efforts of the seven basin states to reach
agreement on the Drought Contingency Plan. So is the Colorado
River in crisis? At the 2019 California Irrigation Institute
conference, Dr. Brad Udall’s keynote presentation focused on
answering that question.
Arizona’s efforts to finish a Colorado River drought plan are
moving forward after leaders of the Gila River Indian
Community announced that they will proceed with their
piece of the deal. … The Gila River Indian Community’s
involvement is key because the community is entitled to about a
fourth of the water that passes through the Central Arizona
Project Canal, and it has offered to kick in some water to make
the drought agreement work.
In 2014 Santa Monica embarked on a course to be virtually
water independent through local sources by 2023. … The
switch has been accomplished through an extensive plan that
encompasses small measures like toilet replacements, household
rain harvest barrels and aggressive conservation to large
measures like cleaning up contaminated groundwater, capturing
street runoff and recycling water.
The furrows in a 60-acre patch of dirt on Rodney and Tiffany
Shedd’s Arizona farm still hold cotton scraps from last year’s
crop. This year, that patch will stay barren for the first time
in recent memory, thanks to the decline in Colorado River water
for farms across Pinal County, one of America’s cotton-growing
The odds are looking increasingly poor that Arizona and other
Western states will meet a March 4 federal deadline for
wrapping up Colorado River drought plans. That’s not just
because of the ongoing conflict over a now-shelved water rights
bill for Eastern Arizona that prompted a threat from the Gila
River Indian Community to bolt this state’s drought plan. It’s
also not just because of a Southern California irrigation
district’s efforts to secure $200 million in U.S. funds to
shore up the dying Salton Sea.
Rising temperatures can lower flow by increasing the amount of
water lost to evaporation from soil and surface water, boosting
the amount of water used by plants, lengthening the growing
season, and shrinking snowpacks that contribute to flow via
meltwater. … The researchers found that rising
temperatures are responsible for 53% of the long-term decline
in the river’s flow, with changing precipitation patterns and
other factors accounting for the rest.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers on Tuesday withdrew his bill that
would repeal state laws on when farmers forfeit their water
rights — legislation that the Gila River Indian Community said
would cause it to withdraw from the multi-state drought
contingency plan. But Bowers’ move did not get the tribe to
sign the papers agreeing to provide Arizona with the 500,000
acre-feet of water it needs to make the drought plan a reality.
When people need more water, they often build dams to increase
supply. But can dams increase water use in an unsustainable
way, leading communities to live beyond their water means? That
appears to often be the case, according to the authors of a
recent paper in Nature Sustainability. Las Vegas is a textbook
Colorado will launch a far-reaching $20 million conservation
planning effort this spring designed to ensure the state can
reduce water use enough to stave off a crisis in the
drought-choked Colorado River Basin.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey steered away from the term “climate
change” in order to garner political support for the
state’s Colorado River drought plan, he indicated Friday in an
interview with a Pima Community College newspaper. In that
interview, he also avoided making any connection between
climate change and the “drier future” (his preferred phrase)
that Arizona faces. His omission bordered on a denial of the
established links between the two.
When growth skyrocketed in Phoenix and the East Valley
during the 1990s and 2000s, housing developments started
replacing decades-old farms. Now, it’s the west side’s turn. In
2000, Maricopa County had 510 square miles of agricultural land
and 180 square miles of residential land west of Interstate 17.
By 2017, farmland had dropped to 350 square miles while
agricultural residential land grew to cover 280 square miles,
according to the Maricopa Association of Governments.
This failure is twofold. First, the DCP has limited provisions
for actually conserving water — only $2 million for groundwater
conservation programs in active management areas. … Second,
the DCP fails to address conservation for Arizona’s rivers,
streams and springs, even in the face of warming and drying
The Colorado River has been dammed, diverted, and slowed by
reservoirs, strangling the life out of a once-thriving
ecosystem. But in the U.S. and Mexico, efforts are underway to
revive sections of the river and restore vital riparian habitat
for native plants, fish, and wildlife. Last in a series.
The strategy of turning to groundwater pumping will
test the limits of Arizona’s regulatory system for its desert
aquifers, which targets some areas for pumping
restrictions and leaves others with looser rules or no
regulation at all. In Pinal County, which falls under
these groundwater rules, the return to a total reliance on
wells reflects a major turning point and raises the possibility
that this part of Arizona could again sink into a pattern
of falling groundwater levels — just as it did decades
ago, before the arrival of Colorado River water.
Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community said
in a statement Thursday that a decision by House Speaker Rusty
Bowers to move forward with a contentious water bill threatens
the community’s plan to support the drought agreement. The
Gila River Indian Community’s involvement is key because it’s
entitled to about a fourth of the Colorado River water that
passes through the Central Arizona Project’s canal.
It’s all up to the Imperial Irrigation District. The fate of a
seven-state plan to address dwindling Colorado River water
supply now appears to rest squarely with the sprawling
southeastern California water district. Its neighbor to the
north, the Coachella Valley Water District, voted unanimously
on Tuesday to approve interstate agreements that would conserve
water for use by 40 million people and vast swaths of
The Imperial Irrigation District holds among the oldest and
largest rights to water from the Colorado River and is using
that as leverage to get what it sees as a better deal in
current drought contingency plan negotiations involving states
that draw from the river. Among the hardball tactics IID
is putting in play: A demand that the federal government
provide $200 million for efforts to bolster the beleaguered
Arizona and California aren’t done finishing a plan that would
establish how states in the Colorado River Basin will ensure
water for millions of people in the Southwest, said the head of
the agency running the negotiations. … One challenge
comes from the Imperial Irrigation District, a water utility
that serves the Imperial Valley in southeastern California. It
hasn’t signed California’s plan because it wants $200 million
to restore the vanishing Salton Sea, the state’s largest lake.
A year after Colorado River imports were diverted to urban
areas from farms draining into the lake, dire predictions about
what would occur are coming to pass. A long-predicted, enormous
ecological transition is occurring this winter.
The coring project is the initial phase of a multiyear analysis
in partnership with the Utah Department of Environmental
Quality, the National Park Service and the U.S. Bureau of
Reclamation. The agencies have set aside $1.3 million for the
study, about half going toward extracting the cores.
The Colorado river crisis ought to be upsetting markets. The
U.S. waterway supports some $4 trillion in GDP and at least
$1.3 trillion in stock value across seven U.S. states. The
river was already virtually tapped out last century, and
continuing troubles have now led the federal government to step
in to help manage its water use. Yet investors have barely
caused a ripple.
Once criticized for being a profligate user of water,
fast-growing Phoenix has taken some major steps — including
banking water in underground reservoirs, slashing per-capita
use, and recycling wastewater — in anticipation of the day when
the flow from the Colorado River ends.
In the event that water elevation decreases
below 1,050-feet, officials have developed a plan to
address operational needs. Due to the government shutdown,
the public wasn’t able to provide comment on the low water plan
for Lake Mead. So an extension has been provided through
A notice published recently in the Federal Register is not
sitting well with Imperial Irrigation District. That
notice, submitted by the Department of Interior through the
Bureau of Reclamation and published on Feb. 1, calls
recommendations from the governors of the seven Colorado River
Basin state for protective actions the Department of Interior
should take in the absence of a completed drought contingency
A major deadline just passed without unanimous agreement among
Western states over the future of the Colorado River, so the
federal government is one step closer to stepping in on the
dwindling river that provides water for 1-in-8 Americans. The
path forward has become murkier for the drought-stricken region
now in its 19th year of low water levels after a January 31
deadline failed to garner signed agreements from Arizona and
Did the goalposts just move on us? … Media reports suggest
that Reclamation is lumping Arizona with California, which
clearly did not meet the deadline, in its reasoning for taking
an action that we had all hoped to avoid. It’s easy to feel
betrayed by that, to conclude that Arizona was asked to move
mountains and then when we did, we were told it still wasn’t
All eyes were on Arizona this week as state lawmakers took a
last-minute vote on their part of the pact. They approved the
plan Thursday afternoon, just hours before the deadline, but
Arizona officials still haven’t finalized a variety of
documents. In addition, a California irrigation district with
massive river rights has yet to sign off on the
agreement. On Friday, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner
Brenda Burman … said the agency would start the
formal legal process of soliciting comments on how it should
The Bureau of Reclamation, the Interior Department’s Western
water bureaucracy that saw its dam-building heyday in the
1960s, has risen in stature once again in the Trump
administration. Reclamation has flexed its muscles on Colorado
River drought management plans… And it has been the
administration’s key player in trying to fulfill President
Trump’s campaign promise to deliver more water to California
farmers, squeezing the state and forging ahead on a dam project
California says it doesn’t want.
California’s Imperial Irrigation District will get the
last word on the seven-state Colorado River Drought Contingency
Plans. And IID could end up with $200 million to restore the
badly polluted and fast-drying Salton Sea. Thursday, as the
clock ticked toward a midnight deadline set by a top federal
official, all eyes had been on Arizona. But lawmakers there
approved the Colorado River drought deal with about seven hours
to spare. IID, an often-overlooked southeastern California
agricultural water district, appears to have thrown a
last-minute monkey wrench into the process.
Communities along the Colorado River are facing a new era of
drought and water shortages that is threatening their future.
With an official water emergency declaration now possible,
farmers, ranchers, and towns are searching for ways to use less
water and survive. Third in a series.
Gov. Doug Ducey signed a drought contingency plan Thursday
afternoon, six hours ahead of the deadline set by a key federal
official for the state to act or face having its Colorado River
water supply determined by her.That came despite objections
from some legislators who questioned why the state will allow
Pinal County farmers to once again pump groundwater for their
crops and will also provide cash to help them do it.
The Colorado River Indian Tribes, or CRIT, have lands that
stretch along 56 miles of the lower Colorado River. The tribe’s
right to divert nearly 720,000 acre-feet from the river is more
than twice the water that is allocated to the state of Nevada.
By law, that water is to be used on the reservation. But if
CRIT convinces Congress to allow off-reservation leasing, the
change would free up a large volume of water that would be
highly desirable for cities and industries.
Warnings of doomsday on the river are nothing new. Too many
people, farms and factories depend on too little water, which
is why the Colorado now rarely flows to its end point at the
Gulf of California. The sprawling Southwest has sucked the
river dry. Yet the region has thrived in spite of the
naysayers. Until now, it appears.
The 32-page Layperson’s Guide to the Colorado River covers the
history of the river’s development; negotiations over division
of its water; the items that comprise the Law of the River; and
a chronology of significant Colorado River events.
Arizona lawmakers appear on track to pass a Colorado River
drought plan, with less than 30 hours to go before a critical
federal deadline. A state Senate committee voted 6-1
Wednesday evening to pass a pair of measures that outline
how the state would share looming cutbacks on the
river’s water and work with other states to take less. The
bills now head to the full Senate and House. Both chambers are
expected to pass the bills Thursday, an effort that could
stretch into the night as they rush to meet a federal deadline.
Avoiding a long-expected crisis on the Colorado River, a water
source for 40 million people, is coming down to a final few
days of frenzied negotiations. A 19-year drought and decades of
overuse have put a water shortfall on the horizon. If
California and six other states, all with deeply entrenched
interests, can’t agree on a plan to cut their water consumption
by Jan. 31, the federal government says it will step in and
decide the river’s future.
Water conservation in the Las Vegas Valley is imperative as the
city continues to grow. The resources provided by the Colorado
River are stretched thin, as the river is responsible for
supplying the majority of the water to Southern Nevada, six
other states—California, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, Utah,
Colorado—and Mexico. Combine these existing allotments with
drought conditions that have reduced the river’s average flows
by 30 percent annually, and it’s clear that Las Vegas must be
proactive in its conservation efforts.
In Arizona, the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan now
hinges on the approval of tribal nations. The plan is meant to
levy water cuts to seven Western states in order to prevent the
river and its reservoirs from reaching critical levels — but
after a state lawmaker introduced legislation that undermines
parts of the Gila River Indian Community’s water settlement,
the tribe has threatened to exit the plan. Without tribal
buy-in, Arizona’s implementation design will collapse….
The Colorado River is not meeting its obligations.
Its Lake Powell bank account is in danger of running
dry. A 97-year-old agreement demands that the river
deliver 5.2 trillion gallons of water to seven states and
Mexico each year. That isn’t happening, and now — in the age of
climate change — the chance of ever meeting that demand is
fading. As a result, Utah’s plan to take more of its
Colorado River water — by building a pipeline from Lake Powell
to St. George — may be fading, too.
Arizona’s water leaders and lawmakers are running out of time
to complete the state’s Drought Contingency Plan, a
blueprint for how Arizona water users would share a likely
shortage on the Colorado River. … There are a lot of
moving parts to understand and a lot of concepts that may seem
overwhelming. Here are the things you need to know in advance
of the Jan. 31 deadline to finish the plan.
The restoration site is one of three south of the
U.S.-Mexico border, in the riparian corridor along the last
miles of the Colorado River. There, in the delta, a small
amount of water has been reserved for nature, returned to
an overallocated river whose flow has otherwise been
claimed by cities and farms. Although water snakes through
an agricultural canal system to irrigate the restoration sites,
another source is increasingly important for restoring these
patches of nature in the delta’s riparian corridor:
Arizona lawmakers and the governor are under the gun to come up
with a Drought Contingency Plan to deal with possible Colorado
River water shortages. Get an update from Kathleen Ferris of
the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University’s
Morrison Institute for Public Policy. This Arizona Horizon
segment is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a
multimedia collaboration between public radio and public
television stations in Arizona, California and Colorado.
Coachella Valley Water District board members on Tuesday
debated issuing a $40 million bond to pay for an extension of
the Oasis pipeline to bring imported water to about 40 farmers
and others in the irrigation district, who would pay the costs
back over 30 years. A small rate increase could be imposed as
well. The 17-mile pipeline and three pump stations would
provide Colorado River water to mostly longtime farmers in the
valley who already obtain much of their water from the river
via the All-American Canal, but get some from wells.
With the Southwest locked in a 19-year drought and climate
change making the region increasingly drier, water managers and
users along the Colorado River are facing a troubling question:
Are we in a new, more arid era when there will never be enough
Without a change in how the Colorado River is managed, Lake
Powell is headed toward becoming a “dead pool,” essentially
useless as a reservoir while revealing a sandstone wonderland
once thought drowned forever by humanity’s insatiable desire to
bend nature to its will. … Absent cutbacks to deliveries
to the Lower Basin, a day could come when water managers may
have little choice but to lower the waters that have inundated
Utah’s Glen Canyon for the past half-century.
Longstanding urban-rural tensions over a proposed drought plan
have escalated after Pinal County farmers stepped up their
request for state money for well-drilling to replace Colorado
River water deliveries. “Enough is enough,” responded 10
Phoenix-area cities through a spokesman. They say the state has
already pledged millions to the farms for well drilling, and
plenty of water to boot.
A declining Colorado River in Arizona. Orcas and salmon stocks
in Washington state. Forest restoration in Idaho to protect
drinking water sources from wildfire. And renewable energy
seemingly everywhere. These are some of the water issues that
U.S. governors have mentioned in their 2019 State of the State
speeches. The speeches, usually given at the beginning of the
legislative session, outline budget or policy priorities for
the coming year.
The draft legislation compiled by the Department of Water
Resources looks similar to how water leaders described the
measures at a Drought Contingency Plan Steering Committee
meeting last week. … But the legislation as drafted
barely delves into the nitty-gritty details of a far more
complex intrastate agreement that Arizona water users have been
hashing out for months.
A proposed Colorado River drought plan that will cost well over
$100 million is just the beginning of what’s needed to protect
the over-allocated river, says Bruce Babbitt, the former
governor who rammed through Arizona’s last big water
legislation nearly four decades ago. After Gov. Doug Ducey
urged legislators to “do the heavy lifting” and pass the
proposed drought-contingency plan for the Colorado, Babbitt
said Monday that authorities will have to start discussing a
much longer-term plan immediately after it’s approved.
Following one of the hottest and driest years on record, the
Colorado River and its tributaries throughout the western U.S.
are likely headed for another year of low water. That’s
according to a new analysis by the Western Water Assessment at
the University of Colorado Boulder. Researcher Jeff Lukas, who
authored the briefing, says water managers throughout the
Colorado River watershed should brace themselves for diminished
streams and the decreasing likelihood of filling the reservoirs
left depleted at the end of 2018.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California …
began what is being referred to as “defensive withdrawals” from
Lake Mead. Remember, Lake Mead is severely low, and if L.A.
takes all of the water they’ve been allotted, it will trigger
emergency supply restrictions for everyone else. So, why are
they doing this with the agreement deadline so close? The Show
turned to Debra Kahn who covers California environmental policy
and broke the story for Politico Pro.
Arizona legislators and staff are attending closed-door primers
on water policy in advance of a critical January 31 federal
deadline for the state to approve the Drought Contingency Plan.
The first of three meetings occurred on Friday afternoon and
lasted two and a half hours. The session was led by Central
Arizona Project general manager Ted Cooke and Arizona
Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.
As the Southwest faces rapid growth and unrelenting drought,
the Colorado River is in crisis, with too many demands on its
diminishing flow. Now those who depend on the river must
confront the hard reality that their supply of Colorado water
may be cut off.
Everywhere you look new homes, hotels and master-planned
developments are appearing. It is wise to ask whether we
have enough water for these future desert residents and
visitors. Permits for new projects are under the
jurisdiction of cities or the county — not under the purview of
water agencies. Water agencies are tasked with supplying
the water. Balancing growth and water supplies is nothing new
to desert communities. It has always been a fact of life
in our desert and is one of Desert Water Agency’s most
The Colorado River may not look like it, but it’s one of the
world’s largest banks. The river is not only the source of
much of the American West’s economic productivity – San Diego,
Phoenix and Denver would hardly exist without it – but its
water is now the central commodity in a complex accounting
system used by major farmers and entire states. … This
month, the nation’s largest water agency, the Metropolitan
Water District, began what amounts to a run on the bank.
Up against a federal deadline to approve a Colorado River
drought plan — a “generational change” in Arizona water
management — four key legislators say they’re optimistic
they’ll meet it. Led by House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a Mesa
Republican, they see the Legislature as ready — finally — to
officially endorse the plan. That’s even though competing water
interest groups still have highly visible disagreements about
With a federal deadline to sign a Colorado River drought deal
three weeks away, Arizona water managers are still
grappling with several unresolved issues that could get in the
way of finishing an agreement. The outstanding issues,
some of which are proving contentious, range from developers’
concerns about securing future water supplies to lining up
funding for Pinal County farmers to drill wells and begin to
pump more groundwater.
In a 5-3 vote Wednesday that — intriguingly — fell along gender
lines, the Phoenix City Council approved an increase in water
rates, starting next month. “I thank the women to have the
leadership and courage to do the right thing. 5-3,”
Interim Mayor Thelda Williams said. … Wednesday’s
vote overturned the council’s previous rejection of
the proposed increase, on December 12, that was also 5-3.
First, the good news: The negotiators of Arizona’s Drought
Contingency Plan have crafted the most detailed, concrete
proposal to date laying out how Arizona will deal
with expected cutbacks to its supply of Colorado
River. Now, the bad: The partial shutdown of the federal
government is squeezing these negotiators.
Gov. Doug Ducey used his second inaugural speech Monday to
exhort lawmakers and others with a claim to Colorado River
water to approve a drought contingency plan before a solution
is imposed by the Bureau of Reclamation. “It’s simple: Arizona
and our neighboring states draw more water from the Colorado
River than Mother Nature puts back,” the governor told his
audience. “And with critical shortfall imminent, we cannot kick
the can any further.”
At Monday’s meeting of the Metropolitan Water District’s
Planning & Stewardship Committee, officials said that with no
Drought Contingency Plan in place (Arizona being the hold out),
they are beginning to draw down their storage in Lake
Mead. “If there is no Drought Contingency Plan, we don’t
want to leave potentially half a million acre-feet or more
locked up in Lake Mead if we go into shortage,”
said General Manager Jeff Kightlinger.
A team of researchers concludes that the ongoing drought across
the western U.S. rivals most past “megadroughts” dating as far
back as 800 A.D. — and that the region is currently in a
megadrought. Using tree ring data as a proxy for drought
conditions, the researchers say the current drought ranks
fourth worst among comparable 19-year periods of megadroughts
of the past 1,200 years.
Southern Nevadans will see few noticeable consequences from a
soon-to-be-finalized drought contingency plan for states
that get most of their water supply from the Colorado River,
according to a Southern Nevada water resources expert.
The growing leadership of women in water. The Colorado River’s persistent drought and efforts to sign off on a plan to avert worse shortfalls of water from the river. And in California’s Central Valley, promising solutions to vexing water resource challenges.
These were among the topics that Western Water news explored in 2018.
We’re already planning a full slate of stories for 2019. You can sign up here to be alerted when new stories are published. In the meantime, take a look at what we dove into in 2018:
The growing leadership of women in water. The Colorado River’s
persistent drought and efforts to sign off on a plan to avert
worse shortfalls of water from the river. And in California’s
Central Valley, promising solutions to vexing water resource
challenges. Catch up on these stories and more in Western
Water Year in Review.
It has been called speculative, foolhardy and overly expensive,
but Aaron Million’s plan to pump water from the Utah-Wyoming
border to Colorado’s Front Range just won’t dry
up. Now seeking water rights from the Green
River in Utah for a new version of his plan, Million thinks he
has fashioned a winning proposal to feed Colorado’s thirsty,
Colorado River water managers were supposed to finish drought
contingency plans by the end of the year. As it looks now,
they’ll miss that deadline. If the states fail to do their job,
the federal government could step in. Luke Runyon, a
reporter with KUNC who covers on the Colorado River Basin
recaps what’s been happening and why it’s so important.
A handful of environmental groups have filed a lawsuit to halt
construction on an expansion of Gross Dam in the Boulder County
foothills. Denver Water is proposing to increase the dam’s
height by more than 130 feet to store more water from the
Colorado River’s headwaters in the reservoir. The suit filed in
Denver’s U.S. District Court alleges the construction project
would negatively affect the Colorado River, harming native,
As stakeholders labor to nail down
effective and durable drought contingency plans for the Colorado
River Basin, they face a stark reality: Scientific research is
increasingly pointing to even drier, more challenging times
The latest sobering assessment landed the day after Thanksgiving,
when U.S. Global Change Research Program’s Fourth National Climate
Assessment concluded that Earth’s climate is changing rapidly
compared to the pace of natural variations that have occurred
throughout its history, with greenhouse gas emissions largely the
As stakeholders labor to nail down effective and durable
drought contingency plans for the Colorado River Basin, they
face a stark reality: Scientific research is increasingly
pointing to even drier, more challenging times ahead. That
reality could pose daunting challenges for Colorado River water
managers and others who are already confronting the likelihood
of near-term shortages, and looking ahead to longer-term
concerns about the river’s sustainability. By Gary Pitzer in
In a story Dec. 13 about the Colorado River, The Associated
Press erroneously reported the river’s mouth. The river empties
into the Gulf of California, not the Gulf of Mexico. A
corrected version of the story is below: Southwestern US states
get Jan. 31 deadline for drought deal
On stage in a conference room at Las Vegas’s Caesars Palace,
Keith Moses said coming to terms with the limits of the
Colorado River is like losing a loved one. “It reminds me of
the seven stages of grief,” Moses said. “Because I think we’ve
been in denial for a long time.” Moses is vice chairman of the
Colorado River Indian Tribes, a group of four tribes near
With the water level in Lake Mead hovering near a point that
would trigger a first-ever official shortage on the Colorado
River, representatives of California, Arizona and Nevada are
trying to wrap up a plan to prevent the water situation from
spiraling into a major crisis. The plan is formally called
the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan.
The head of the federal agency controlling the Colorado River
said Thursday the U.S. government will impose unprecedented
restrictions on water supplies to the seven Southwestern U.S.
states that depend on the river unless everyone agrees by Jan.
31 on a plan to deal with an expected shortage in 2020.
Water managers from seven Southwestern states that depend on
the Colorado River are close but haven’t finalized an
unprecedented drought contingency plan they may have to enact
in 2020. The federal government’s top water official, Brenda
Burman, is expected to urge action Thursday at a Colorado River
Water Users Association conference in Las Vegas where a pact
was supposed to be signed.
The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California on
Tuesday approved a plan for sharing Colorado River delivery
cuts if a shortage is declared on the drought-depleted river.
The vote by the district, which imports water to the Southland,
represents another step in a years-long attempt to forge a
shortage agreement among the seven states that depend on the
Colorado for drinking and irrigation supplies.
The Imperial Irrigation District, which holds some of the
oldest and largest rights to Colorado River water, on Monday
tentatively agreed to a one-time contribution of up to 250,000
acre-feet of surplus water if needed to stave off shortages in
Lake Mead. But they tacked on several last-minute conditions
aimed at easing farmers’ fears of permanently losing water, and
to force federal and state officials to guarantee funding for
clean-up of the Salton Sea.
A property tax hike could be coming to Washington County, with
water managers saying they need to increase revenues to cover
the costs of developing new water resources for the St. George
area, including the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline. … A public
hearing on the plan is slated for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the
Washington County Water Conservancy District office.
With drought entering a second decade and reservoirs continuing
to shrink, seven Southwestern U.S. states that depend on the
overtaxed Colorado River for crop irrigation and drinking water
had been expected to ink a crucial share-the-pain contingency
plan by the end of 2018. They’re not going to make it — at
least not in time for upcoming meetings in Las Vegas involving
representatives from Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New
Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and the U.S. government, officials say.
The agency that manages the Central Arizona Project canal
signaled its support for the latest outline of a Colorado River
drought plan on Thursday in a vote that could lay the
groundwork for a deal aimed at preventing Lake Mead from
reaching perilously low levels. … And with this vote
behind them, Arizona water officials will now have the
framework of a state plan in hand as they join other water
managers from across the West in Las Vegas next week for the
annual Colorado River Water Users Association conference, where
federal officials have said they hope to wrap up a Drought