Negotiations Over Arizona Drought Plan Ongoing

Published: Monday, November 28, 2016 - 7:40am
Updated: Monday, November 28, 2016 - 11:46am
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Completed in 1993, the Central Arizona Project is the largest aqueduct system in the country, stretching 336 miles.

Arizona farmers, cities and tribes continue to work on a deal to avert major cutbacks in water deliveries from Lake Mead in the coming years.

State water managers are quietly making their pitch to those stakeholders who rely on the Colorado River to voluntarily give up some water now to avoid potentially losing even more later.

There’s about a 50 percent chance Southwest states will face a shortage declaration in 2018. The proposed "drought contingency plan" would result in almost 200,000 acre feet being left in Mead when the water level is between 1090 feet and 1075 feet.

Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources Tom Buschatzke said they are hoping to come up with even more than that.

“It’s imperative that we take actions to protect lake levels and we will take the time we need to do it right to build a consensus,” Buschatzke said.

Buschatzke can’t give details about the negotiations, but hopes to get legislative approval next year. Among those with a lot at stake are farmers in Pinal County.

“More needs to be done to reduce the probability of that initial shortage," said attorney Paul Orme, who represents four irrigation districts, which are low priority, meaning even an initial shortage would drain their entire share.

Orme said this proposed plan is ultimately an insurance policy to prevent the most severe cutbacks, which would affect cities.

“We are long out of the picture, by the time Lake Mead gets down to that level. So we don’t want to be the sacrificial lamb," Orme said.

That means his clients want all the users, even those with seniority, to chip in now. So far he’s encouraged by the talks.

Ultimately, Arizona will have to reach an agreement with its neighbors Nevada and California, as well.

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