Reclamation Commissioner To Arizona: Get A Deal Done This Year

Published: Friday, June 29, 2018 - 8:30am
Updated: Friday, June 29, 2018 - 12:53pm
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Bret Jaspers/KJZZ
Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman.

After a detailed — and dire — technical presentation from one of her experts, Commissioner of Reclamation Brenda Burman told an audience of water stakeholders in Tempe that they weren’t trying to scare people, only make plain the risks of significant shortage on Lake Mead.

Burman and other federal officials urged, cajoled, and pushed Arizona to finalize a so-called Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan. The LBDCP identifies earlier, steeper cuts to water users than those mandated by a 2007 agreement in order to decrease the risk of a rapid decline in lake level.

Burman said if Arizona doesn’t act, the Secretary of the Interior would have to step in.

“In the absence of a drought plan, I predict enormous pressure from the rest of the Basin on the Secretary to limit Arizona’s divergence from the river,” she said. “And to use only Arizona’s internal resources to fix Arizona’s problems.”

The current LBDCP includes an important carrot: California voluntarily agreed to some cutbacks, even though the 2007 guidelines do not require the state to do so. But first, Arizona needs an internal deal.

Talks on the Lower Basin DCP stalled in Arizona last year. Many of the audience members at Thursday’s briefing - water managers, tribal leaders, farmers, attorneys, and others - are waiting to see what the leaders of the state’s two major water agencies propose.

The Director of Arizona’s Department of Water Resources, Tom Buschatzke, and the General Manager of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, Ted Cooke, would not give specifics on solutions that are on the table. They will convene a steering committee in late July as part of a process that will play out over the next few months.

Eventually, any deal has to be approaved by Arizona lawmakers.

Buschatzke recalled the last time he needed the authority to sign a major water deal, he had huge support from the water community, leading to zero "no” votes in the state legislature.

“That is my goal” for LBDCP, he told the audience.

Any agreements or compromises would involve some combination of water users taking less in order to prop up Lake Mead and stave off more drastic, mandatory cuts.

Warren Tenney, the Executive Director of the Arizona  Municipal Water Users Association, said the DCP would lead to higher water rates for his members, the 10 largest cities in Maricopa County. “We have to look to see if that is worth the insurance that DCP provides," he said. "We just hope that everyone else won’t immediately think that the cities have deep pockets.”

Cooke said the negotiations will focus on four “central elements,” including shaping a program for Indian tribes to leave water on Lake Mead that could be recovered later, and a plan to mitigate cutbacks borne by Central Arizona farmers.

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