Western Rivers Action Network

Arizona’s Water Future Doesn’t Have to be a Scary One for Birds

Arizona WRAN News: October 2018

Arizona’s Water Future Doesn’t Have to be a Scary One for Birds
Arizona WRAN News: October 2018

With atmospheric warming creating hot droughts throughout the West, it is easy to see a scary future for Arizona’s rivers, birds, and other wildlife.

For instance, during the 2017-2018 water year, Colorado River flows into Lake Powell at the Arizona-Utah border were just 43 percent of normal, leaving Lakes Mead and Powell at their lowest point in 40 years.  Without action, the risk of catastrophic shortage is unacceptably high. Therefore, we must adapt to living with less Colorado River water. Right now, the best option for living with less is the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP).

At the same time, we must stay vigilant and protect precious groundwater resources. In recent legislative sessions, there have been attempts to weaken the state's groundwater management laws, and in an era of less Colorado River water, there may be even more pressure to loosen existing groundwater protections.  We know how important groundwater-dependent rivers, like the San Pedro and the Verde, are to the birds, fish, wildlife, and communities that depend on them. 

Fortunately, with the seven Colorado River Basin States’ release of the legal documents that outline the terms of the much-discussed DCP, we are one step closer to having a deal that leaves more water in Lake Mead. However, as Audubon’s Jennifer Pitt suggests, it is not time to celebrate yet.

Arizona is still negotiating among its Colorado River water users about how to allocate all the water reductions that will accompany the DCP. At the latest Arizona DCP Steering Committee meeting on October 10, discussion swirled around:

  • How much water should be committed to Pinal County agriculture until 2026 (when the terms of the current deal expire)?
  • Would cities and tribes currently using non-Indian agriculture (NIA) water be mitigated if that water was cut?
  • Ways for cities to deliver water to Pinal County agriculture.

The rapidly declining hydrology (start at minute 11 of the DCP Steering Committee meeting recording for the latest update from the Bureau of Reclamation) and the imposition of reductions brought by the DCP are proving contentious among Arizona water users because we are facing, much sooner than many anticipated, a water reality of less Colorado River water coming into the central part of the state. Figuring out how to best deal with this is no easy task.

As progress inches forward, we will be counting on you, our Western Rivers Action Network, to engage. The Legislature must be the body that authorizes Arizona’s participation in the DCP, and your voice will be important. Stay tuned - we will keep you informed and updated as opportunities arise to weigh in on legislation that engages Arizona in the DCP. With your help, Arizona’s water future won’t be a scary one.

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