The following are my most recent columns in the Arizona Hydrological Society Newsletter.  Most of my columns of late revolve around Colorado River issues.  They explain my concerns and viewpoints clearly.  I hope you gain understanding as you read.  I will post more as time goes on.



-Alan Dulaney

The August modeling runs are now out from the Bureau of Reclamation, along with revisions to the probabilities of declared shortage on the Colorado River.  No surprises—things look worse than they did in April.  The probability of Lake Mead water level elevations dropping below 1075 ft on January 1, 2020, which is the trigger for a Tier 1 shortage, is now pegged at 57%.  There just isn’t much time left to complete the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (LBDCP), and stabilize the lake before much deeper cuts are triggered. 

The LBDCP Steering Committee chaired by ADWR and CAWCD is facing four major issues in order to achieve a consensus that will pave the way for the Legislature to grant authority to the ADWR Director to sign on to the LBDCP.  Recall that under LBDCP, Arizona will feel harsher cuts more quickly, and agriculture will be hit first and hardest.  The first issue then is how to provide water sufficient to allow Pinal County agriculture to avoid an abrupt and devastating loss of all irrigation under LBDCP guidelines.  Pinal County irrigation farmers would like all of the water loss to be mitigated, resulting in no change in demand.  Many interests have supported this idea of full mitigation.

Solutions have been identified.  CAWCD has about 200,000 acre-feet of storage space in Lake Pleasant, and will send 50,000 acre-feet of water to Pinal County to mitigate the impacts of shortage.  Another method would be voluntary reductions in high priority water use (by cities and tribes) with a genuine history of use.  This latter term may be defined as excluding recharge activities, which the cities will not accept.  Additional methods include forbearance activities for compensation, imported groundwater, short-term leasing of high priority water, and well development.  All of this will cost someone money and water.  The use of existing CAWCD Intentionally Created Surplus on Lake Mead has been suggested—but how is moving water off Lake Mead supposed to leave water on Lake Mead in order to stabilize water levels?  

And with Arizona eyes fixed firmly on Colorado River supplies, New Mexico picks now as the time to pick up the pace on their plan to divert water from the Upper Gila River.  In 2004, New Mexico was granted 14,000 acre-feet of Gila River water as part of the Arizona Water Settlement Act.  They elected to build a series of diversion structures in order to irrigate farmlands.   New Mexico dithered, and now only has until 2019 to complete the Environmental Impact Statement and receive a favorable Record of Decision from Interior, or lose funding.  A scoping document with public comments was to be completed in August, followed by a draft EIS in January 2019.  It is hoped that the final EIS will be delivered in the summer of 2019, with the ROD slightly later.  To me, this schedule seems overly optimistic, but that is the plan.

The 14,000 acre-feet of Gila River water would normally flow into Arizona.  In recognition of the loss of this water, downstream parties in Arizona could take 14,000 acre-feet off the CAP canal as compensation.  This seemed distant in 2004, but looks fairly imminent now.  It is a demand seemingly not planned for in the LBDCP.  Mostly these paper water deals do not address demand. 

The insistent request for full mitigation by Pinal County agriculture is symptomatic of the way several interests on the Steering Committee feel about the LBDCP.  The concept, not articulated but apparently underlying positions of many interests, appears to be that LBDCP will solve all problems, and life will go on as before with no change in demand and no real shortages for anyone.  But where is the water going to come from for all these deals?  There is only so much, and that volume will be reduced under LBDCP. 

The truth is that LBDCP will result in less water coming down the CAP canal, in order to stabilize Lake Mead water level elevations and prevent ever more damaging cuts.   ADWR and CAWCD totally understand this, as seen here:  http://www.cap-az.com/public/blog/843-is-the-dcp-designed-to-avert-a-declaration-of-shortage.  Moving paper water around does not change the fact that demands will not be satisfied and life will not be the same.  Stabilization is not the same as stasis.  Demand must be reduced somewhere, substantially, soon.

The Federal government can print money to address a deficit situation, but not so for the structural deficit on the Colorado River.  You can’t print water.  And you can’t spend what you don’t have.  The Steering Committee must face that unpleasant fact, or fail.





AUGUST 7, 2018

—Alan Dulaney

And it begins.

On July 26, ADWR and CAWCD co-hosted a meeting on the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan or LBDCP (new acronym, same concept). Tom Buschatzke (ADWR Director) and Ted Cooke (CAWCD General Manager) are co-chairs of a 40 member steering committee charged with coming up with a way to implement LBDCP in Arizona. The opening meeting was relatively benign and calm, with Ted and Tom outlining the process and the ultimate goal: achieving consensus on a plan for Arizona that the Legislature could approve in the upcoming session, allowing Tom to sign on to the LBDCP agreement for Arizona. That’s a lot for a very short time period; this needs to be wrapped up by December 2018. You can see their slides here.

Forty members make an unwieldy steering committee. Each represents its own organization, and the hope of the co-chairs is that they represent their respective sectors as well. Accordingly, the various sectors laid out their opening positions. The tribes want the existing priorities for CAP deliveries to stay in place. Agriculture — meaning mostly Pinal County — wants water to mitigate the immediate impacts of the LBDCP, which right now looks like a huge cut to irrigation. The cities want the LBDCP to be approved but are wary of being asked to give up major volumes of water and money. Developers want CAGRD to survive the disappearance of excess water. Environmentalists are disappointed to have little representation on the Committee. Ted and Tom will have their hands full herding this collection of large cats, none of which has yet bared their teeth.

The important participants are legislators, both Democrat and Republican, but especially Representative Rusty Bowers and Senator Gail Griffin. They are the two committee chairs that must move any legislation. The Legislature proved in the last session that nothing water-related will see the light of day without the support of these two leaders. This time, no leader will be left in the dark.

The big issues that the Steering Committee must face right away are three-fold. Tribal Intentionally Created Surplus is necessary for stabilizing water levels on Lake Mead, but how is this to be administered — and paid for? Pinal County agriculture is truly facing disaster under shortage conditions, and needs “mitigation” water — but where is that water to come from? And excess water on the CAP system will be a vital tool to any plan — but who controls it, and what does that mean for CAGRD? These are not easy questions, but everyone on the Steering Committee knows that acceptable answers must be found.

The August modeling report is due out from the Bureau of Reclamation shortly. Probabilities of water level elevations on Lake Mead falling below trigger levels for a declared shortage on the Colorado River may rise above the current 52% for 2020. There really isn’t much time left. This new beginning may be Arizona’s last best hope.


JULY 1, 2018

—Alan Dulaney

On June 28, the Bureau of Reclamation, ADWR, and CAWCD cohosted a meeting on the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan. While other Basin states have been getting their act together, Arizona has not made substantive progress on its internal plan, DCP Plus (a term that was barely mentioned during the presentations). That is about to change. Apparently ADWR and CAWCD have concluded a truce, because Tom Buschatzke (Director) and Ted Cooke (General Manager) did a tag-team style hosting of the presenters. They touted the meeting as a seminal event in Arizona water history, equivalent to the signing of the 2007 Shortage Sharing Guidelines. But I am not going into what they said; I will cover only the strong message I heard from the Bureau of Reclamation.

Recall the basics of the 2007 agreement. Tiered shortage levels are tied to falling water level elevations in Lake Mead. Shortage is declared at 1075 feet, Tier 2 starts at 1050 feet, and Tier 3 at 1025 feet. Of the Lower Basin states, Arizona is cut the most — all from the CAP canal. California never takes a cut under these criteria. And no one knows what happens below 1000 feet.

Terry Fulp of the Bureau of Reclamation presented the results of recent modeling runs. Two sets of runs were made, the first based on known historical hydrologic conditions since 1906, with an average annual flow of 14.8 million acre-feet (MAF). The second covered only the period 1988–2015, with an average annual flow of 13.2 MAF. He described this set of runs as the “stress test” case, in which abnormally high flows from the early part of the 20th Century and the large flows of the 1980s were avoided to give a more accurate picture of conditions in the near future, through 2026. Some 3,850 runs or traces produce predictions of conditions in Lakes Mead and Powell over the following 5 years. These runs yield risk percentages for Lake Mead, falling within one of the three shortage tiers defined in 2007. You can see Terry Fulp’s presentation at http://www.cap-az.com/documents/departments/planning/colorado-river-programs/LBDCP-Master-Presentation.pdf. Take a good look at the graphs of predicted water level elevations, and remember that the dashed lines are median values — so half of the runs fall above these lines and half fall below. Then take a look at the graphs of risk of falling below a given trigger level elevation. The risk percentages of shortage are bad enough under the historical flow conditions, but spike significantly under stress test assumptions. His entire presentation emphasized the growing risk of shortage, and soon. Hydrology is driving his directness.

The risk is real. Variability is increasing. Time grows short to get an internal Arizona consensus that will allow participation in the DCP along with the other Lower Basin states. It is clear to me that CAWCD and ADWR both recognize this truth, presented forcefully by Reclamation, and that is why, on this issue, they are in collaboration rather than conflict mode.

Reclamation’s final comments came from the new Commissioner, Brenda Burman. The conservative approach is to take action now. Hope is not a plan. California is close to resolving its internal differences and concluding agreements, as are other Basin states. Promises made by California for the DCP (conservation, participating in shortage) could evaporate if Arizona cannot achieve consensus. And if we don’t participate in the Lower Basin DCP, extreme pressure will be forthcoming from all other Basin states on the Secretary of the Interior to curtail Arizona deliveries from the Colorado River and leave the state to its own devices. The Secretary will be unlikely to ignore such pressure. He will act under his broad powers as Water Master of the Lower Basin. That is the iron fist in the velvet glove. That is what CAWCD and ADWR are listening to. They get it.


JUNE 3, 2018

—Alan Dulaney

“Don’t do something—just stand there!” This call for inaction is often an appropriate dictum when faced with overly complex situations. Especially when passing law.

In the last month I have attended at least three meetings in which the last session of the Arizona Legislature was analyzed. Experienced lobbyists, powerful legislative leaders, and observant Capitol reporters all offered insights as to why absolutely nothing happened with respect to water legislation despite the expectations created by the Governor’s Water Discussions. Each had a different viewpoint into the process, but several commonalities emerged that are instructive.

Lesson #1: Don’t poke the bear. When the Governor’s Water Discussions convened in 2017, it was in the context of the feud that had erupted between ADWR and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD). Because the Governor’s staff was heading up the effort, it became clear that they intended to exercise considerable control over CAWCD and its claims to authority over Colorado River issues. And they were supported by many stakeholders at the table. Once they saw the direction being taken, CAWCD staff determined to protect what they saw as their prerogatives, and they quietly began a lobbying campaign with key legislators that eventually undercut the ADWR position. The Governor’s Water Discussions should have been a forum to diplomatically resolve the issues between CAWCD and ADWR, out of sight of all, but it wasn’t.

Lesson #2: Never leave key leaders alone in the dark. The two chairs of the House and Senate committees that hear water-related bills were never included in the Governor’s Water Discussions. CAWCD noted their absence, and convinced them that it was all a governance issue. It was no surprise, then, when they did not support the concepts that emerged, and instead came up with their own bills that did not address groundwater or Colorado River issues. Everyone commented on this lack of inclusion as a major failure. Now Representative Rusty Bowers and Senator Gail Griffin are traveling the state holding public meetings on water, a move that many legislators applaud for its outreach. Major stakeholders are missing it, but this inclusion effort is led by those who should have been included earlier, but were not.

Lesson #3: Don’t try to push complex subjects too quickly. No one in the Legislature is a water expert. When faced with complex issues with multiple implications that are often incomprehensible, most legislators would rather do nothing. And, in truth, this may be the right course at that moment. Legislators are often scared that they might be rushed into doing the wrong thing, which would haunt Arizona for decades to come. If you can’t understand what you are doing, prudence demands inaction. Water issues are not easily explained, and if cast in another light (such as governance, or rural vs. urban), comprehension may never dawn. In this session water issues were advancing early on and way too fast. Education is a slow process, but legislators are open to gaining understanding before they vote. One of the successes of the session was the number of bad bills killed.

Lesson #4: Once craziness descends, all bets are off. The Don Shooter expulsion roiled the Legislature, and normality vanished. Then masses of teachers in red shirts descended on the Capitol demanding immediate action, and a scramble to meet the urgency of the situation consumed everyone. Agendas were wrecked. Water was lost in the confusion. Sine die was a relief. Lobbyists, legislators, and reporters alike agreed that they had not ever seen a session this crazy.

So what does this mean for 2019? Inclusion and education must lead the list of goals for the Legislature, and all stakeholders must contribute time to the process. And that means the process cannot be pushed too fast, or be done in secrecy. Good water legislation takes time and preparation. Above all, the feud between CAWCD and ADWR must somehow be brought to an end.


 MAY 1, 2018

—Alan Dulaney

The Central Arizona Water Conservation District’s conflicts, once confined within Arizona, have now spilled across state boundaries into the Upper Colorado River Basin. The collaborative structure of the entire Colorado River Basin — the Law of the River, developed over a century of quiet agreements and respect for the concerns of all — is now in danger of collapse.

CAWCD has been aiming for a “sweet spot” in which 9 million acre-feet must be released to Lake Mead from Lake Powell, while Lake Mead water levels hover just above the trigger level for a declared shortage. CAWCD would get all of the Colorado River water it needs — at the expense of the Upper Basin. Lake Powell might drop as much as 30 feet in 2019. This would betray the efforts of the Upper Basin users who have been trying to maintain its water level elevations through a System Conservation Pilot Program. This program compensates users for forbearance of the use of their water in order to support water level elevations in Lake Powell, and the money comes from Denver and Pueblo, amongst others.

On April 13, the water representatives of the Upper Colorado River Basin states and the Upper Colorado River Commission penned a letter to ADWR accusing CAWCD of ignoring the Basin’s dire situation and manipulating water orders to gain more water for itself “at the expense of Lake Powell and all the other Basin states.” These are harsh words for the water world and indicate a depth of distrust for CAWCD never seen before.

On April 16, Denver Water followed up with a letter to CAWCD threatening to terminate its funding for the System Conservation Pilot Program. The letter said that CAWCD must “verifiably establish it has ceased all actions to manipulate demands and is fully participating in aggressive conservation measures along with other entities in Arizona.” That’s pretty blunt. A few days later, the City of Pueblo actually did pull all their funding from the System Conservation Pilot Program, washing their hands of any pretense of cooperation with CAWCD.

Finally, CAWCD sensed that it was burning bridges in all directions. Therefore, on April 30, the CAWCD met with the Upper Basin representatives and apologized for its rhetoric, promising to be more respectful and cooperative on Colorado River issues, and to work on the drought contingency plan for the Lower Basin. But the CAWCD press release did not say that it would cease manipulating water orders to maximize releases from Lake Powell. It is not yet clear how the other Basin states — and, indeed, the rest of Arizona — will view the CAWCD position, or more importantly, its future actions. Notably, some water managers are talking openly of the need for Federal intervention, a concept that, before now, has been anathema amongst Western states.

Good articles on the situation, with in-depth explanations of positions, can be found here:



 APRIL 4, 2018

—Alan Dulaney

Salvo and counter-salvo; battle is joined and every interest is defending its own water. The wheels have come off the Arizona wagon of cooperation on water issues. The Drought Contingency Plan looks dead.

The Governor’s water discussions in 2017 focused, in part, on the lack of State authority over programs that Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) had already initiated on the Colorado River. When the Governor says that Arizona must speak with one voice, it is the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) he has in mind, not CAWCD. ADWR was floating a legislative proposal to gain the authority to forbear the use of Colorado River water that is not consumptively used by a contractor — a power now held by the CAWCD. This is also related to the issue of sovereign immunity, which CAWCD has claimed.

On March 29, the Arizona Legislative Council sent a memo to Senator Gail Griffin and Representative Rusty Bowers concerning the constitutionality of granting forbearance authority to ADWR. The Legislative Council said that introducing a new party into the contract between the U.S. and CAWCD would change the contractual authority of CAWCD to manage excess water (now broadly defined), and thus would violate the Contracts Clause of the Arizona Constitution. Forbearance is a major tool to control water level elevations in Lake Mead by controlling demand. CAWCD has run forbearance programs over the last few years that have apparently been successful, along with other programs, in preventing a declared shortage on the Colorado River, triggered by a fall in Lake Mead water level elevations below 1,075 ft. The memo seems to be a clear victory for CAWCD, which has hands-down won every encounter this legislative session.

On April 4, ADWR responded with its own legal memo countering the position of the Arizona Legislative Council. The memo says that the State has the sovereign right under the 1944 Contract to forbear delivery of the State’s Colorado River water conserved by Arizona contractors, and that exercising that right would not infringe on any contractual rights held by CAWCD. Nor has the Legislature delegated CAWCD, a municipal corporation, authority over Colorado River water or given up its own powers to amend statutes defining CAWCD responsibilities. CAWCD is not immune to state law. CAWCD is not sovereign.

This issue has agricultural interests across Arizona upset, especially in Yuma. CAWCD appears to be laying claim to all water in the Colorado River not ordered by a contractor as excess water. On March 23, in a packed “learning tour” meeting chaired by Griffin and Bowers, the two water leaders of the Legislature got an earful of comment from farmers about how CAWCD was coming for their water. ADWR also spoke. Most comments were tied to CAWCD’s claim of sovereign immunity, which in turn underlies its claim to sole authority over forbearance programs. Another such meeting is planned for April 27 in Safford.


 MARCH 5, 2018

—Alan Dulaney

“Shade” is an old term signifying a ghostly suggestion of a former living presence. The shade of the Colorado River may wander the Lower Basin for decades, absent real action to shorten demand.

SB 1507 and the shadow House version, HB 2512, have moved out of committee. SB 1507 has passed the Committee of the Whole process and is approaching the Third Read in the Senate. HB 2512 passed out of the House a couple of weeks back. This grand legislative package does absolutely nothing to address the declining water level elevations on Lake Mead. And apparently some unseen presence wants it that way.

It is now increasingly obvious that there is no way to avoid a declared shortage on the Colorado River. Demand continues as it always has. Yet snowfall across the entire Colorado River Basin is much less than the historic annual mean, and warming temperatures produce less useful runoff. Salt River Project is calling this winter the third driest in recorded history — and that is just on the Salt-Verde watershed. Absent a significant reversal of meteorological trends of the last 18 years, streamflow and reservoir storage must inevitably decline. January’s modeling runs by the Bureau of Reclamation for the Lower Colorado River Basin show a 17% probability for declared shortage in 2019, and 49% by 2020. We are playing Russian roulette with half the chambers loaded.

If we look ahead at Arizona’s Colorado River supply for the next few years, and assume that a Tier 1 shortage occurs in 2020, a Tier 2 shortage could occur by 2023. A Tier 3 shortage might occur by 2025 or 2026. This is based on a 10–12 ft/yr drop in Lake Mead water level elevations. Such declines are a response to the constant demands for the water from the Lower Colorado River Basin states. Only a small fraction of this decline is caused by lake evaporation, and that percentage decreases as water levels drop and the lake’s surface area decreases. Demand is the key; if demand does not decline with the declining supply, there is no halting the depletion of Lake Mead.

This is what the Drought Contingency Plan and its Arizona sibling, the DCP Plus, were designed to address. Major reductions in demand shared by all would keep some water flowing to all during a declared shortage. The suffering would be shared amongst the Lower Basin states and Mexico. All the schemes of entities that want to control access to Colorado River water — forbearance, use of excess water, transfers from Mohave County, gaming the system of water levels — will not keep some water flowing to all. We need that water. Without DCP and DCP Plus, Arizona will face a brutally rough awakening when Lake Mead water levels drop to dead pool at elevation 895 feet. This is what the Legislature should have addressed.