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Public Information Officer

Collaborative, Innovative Water Management Benefits Arizonans


Michelle Moreno, Arizona Department of Water Resources: 602-771-8530

Crystal Thompson, Central Arizona Project: 602-321-9349



December 4, 2014


Today the Arizona Department of Water Resources and Central Arizona Project (CAP) agreed to execute a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), California, Nevada and municipal water agencies as a first step to protect Colorado River water supplies in the face of continuing drought conditions by storing additional water in Lake Mead.


The Colorado River system has experienced extensive drought conditions for more than fourteen years, and this year Lake Mead reached its lowest level since it was first filled more than 75 years ago. If Lake Mead’s elevation continues to decline at the current pace, the water supply for more than 40 million people and 4 million of acres of farmland, and all other uses such as hydropower production and recreational use, face increased jeopardy.


In response to the increasing near-term shortage risks facing the Colorado River Lower Basin States of Arizona, California and Nevada, representatives from Reclamation, Arizona and other Lower Colorado River Basin Sates, Central Arizona Project, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, and the Southern Nevada Water Authority are taking important initial steps to respond to drought conditions and reduce the potential of Lake Mead dropping to critically low reservoir elevations.


Arizona, the other Lower Colorado River Basin states, and Reclamation, recognize that in order to improve the reliability of the Colorado River system, proactive and voluntary actions are needed to develop between 1.5 to 3 million acre-feet of new water (referred to as the “protection volume”) for Lake Mead by the end of 2019. The MOU identifies this goal and provides the first steps towards implementing pilot programs to achieve a portion of this volume by the end of 2017.


CAP's goal under the MOU is to store 345,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead between 2014-2017, approximately 4 feet of elevation in Lake Mead. The combined benefit of the water left in Lake Mead by the interstate partners involved in the MOU may result in a 10 foot elevation boost to the Lake.


These voluntary actions are in addition to the existing commitments of Arizona and Nevada to reduce their apportionment of Colorado River water during shortages and Mexico’s commitment to reduce water deliveries during low reservoir conditions. These steps are also intended to complement potential steps under consideration by the Upper Colorado River Basin States of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.


The parties also commit to address the current imbalance between Colorado River supplies and demands that contribute to the continuing decline in Lake Mead and to improve conservation programs to reduce losses in the Colorado River system. The MOU will continue going through the necessary review and approval processes for each of the participants this week and is anticipated to be signed by Reclamation at the Colorado River Water Users Association conference on December 10-12, 2014.


“The drought response actions identified in the MOU provide initial steps in establishing proactive, voluntary measures to reduce our near-term risk of Lake Mead reaching critical reservoir levels and will help ensure the reliability of the Colorado River System. ADWR will continue working to protect Arizona’s Colorado River Supply and is committed to working collaboratively with the other Basin State parties to identify long-term options to meet the future water supply needs of the Colorado River Basin” said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Michael Lacey.


"While perhaps modest, this step may help us avoid or delay shortages and is the beginning of a broader effort to address the larger risks facing the Colorado River system. In order to implement the MOU, CAP is developing strategic and innovative partnerships with our municipal customers like the City of Phoenix and our agricultural customers to save Colorado River water." said Central Arizona Project's Board President Pam Pickard.


The plan for CAP, developed collaboratively by the Arizona Department of Water Resources and Central Arizona Project, includes new and innovative partnerships with CAP customers and others to store water in Lake Mead and temporarily reduce Colorado River uses by CAP.


CAP and the City of Phoenix are developing a way for CAP to replace a portion of Phoenix's CAP water delivery with local supplies held by CAP. This will reduce the use of Colorado River water by CAP and the city, and the conserved water will be saved in Lake Mead. CAP and Phoenix are also investigating additional ways to conserve Colorado River water supplies to protect cities from the impacts of shortages and avoid critically low levels in Lake Mead.


CAP is also entering into agreements with nine irrigation districts in central Arizona to reduce the use of CAP water in 2015–2016. CAP is providing incentives to the agricultural users to reduce their use which allows CAP to conserve that water in Lake Mead.


While Reclamation, Central Arizona Project, MWD, and SNWA have agreed to take first steps achieve a portion of the overall protection volume by the end of 2017, additional cooperative actions with other Lower Basin stakeholders will be needed to achieve the remaining protection volume by 2019.