In with the new: Arizona water community takes on new Colorado River challenges

In with the new: Arizona water community takes on new Colorado River challenges
Published
July 2, 2020

In a way, it was a meshing of the new and the old.

The “new” Arizona Reconsultation Committee – a group formed to prepare for the development of new guidelines governing the operation of the Colorado River – is, in fact, a (modestly) old concept. The new “ARC” includes virtually the same group of Arizona water community leaders that formed the Arizona Drought Contingency Plan Committee.

That “old” Arizona DCP group successfully completed the set of intra-Arizona agreements that paved the way for Arizona’s participation in the system-wide Colorado River DCP agreements in May 2019. The results of the historic shortage-sharing agreement will govern river operations through the end of 2026.

The “new” ARC met for the first time on June 25 with a primary goal of preparing Arizona for the tough negotiations to come on how best to manage the Southwest’s most important surface-water resource.

Before the end of 2026, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior will develop new guidelines for the long-term management of the Colorado River system. The seven Colorado River Basin States are expected to play a leading role in the process to develop those new guidelines.

The process will take many years and require multiple levels of discussion, negotiation and coordination within Arizona and among the Basin states.

In all, the group set out four primary goals for itself:

  • Establish a process for continued engagement within Arizona throughout the Reconsultation process
  • Provide a venue for developing and sharing stakeholder perspectives and values to guide Arizona’s perspectives in the Reconsultation process
  • Identify risks and benefits to inform Arizona’s input to the Reconsultation process
  • Continue the transparency that was established during the successful DCP Steering Committee effort

The kick-off ARC event was held at the Central Arizona Water Conservation Board hearing room, where most of the Arizona DCP meetings had taken place.

Instead of a packed room including dozens of DCP Steering Committee members and 100 or more audience members, the initial ARC meeting was held remotely, a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The two ARC co-chairs – Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke and Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke – were the only ARC participants in the room.

A comprehensive presentation included an update of current river conditions from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which directs Colorado River operations, as well as projections for future river conditions. It also summarized the impact that the Arizona DCP implementation had on conditions at Lake Mead, the system’s most threatened reservoir.

As noted by Director Buschatzke, Arizona’s contributions to helping stabilize Lake Mead amounted to 308,293 acre-feet in 2019, and 345,273 acre-feet in 2020.

“So certainly a very aggressive, continued conservation program,” he said.

The kick-off ARC meeting actually represented the culmination of months of preparation.

The co-chairs conducted  32 individual meetings with the former DCP Delegates who would become ARC Delegates. In addition to laying the groundwork for the ARC itself, the participants discussed the key issues that would need to be raised, as well as the creation of ARC work groups, including technical and legal/policy/strategic work groups.