Negotiations Heating Up Over Drought Plan

By Bret Jaspers
Published: Wednesday, October 24, 2018 - 3:55pm
Luke Runyon/KUNC
Lake Mead has been dropping for years, and if it dips too low it could trigger a shortage in the Lower Colorado River Basin.

Negotiations in Arizona are heating up over an additional plan for when the Colorado River is deemed “in shortage.”

Stakeholders have been working on a deal in earnest since the summer, with biweekly meetings of what’s called the Drought Contingency Plan Steering Committee.

But Thursday’s planned committee meeting was canceled to “give time for additional discussions and analysis,” according to a statement from the Central Arizona Water Conservation District and the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

The next public meeting will be Nov. 8, and formal talks will now almost certainly last beyond Thanksgiving.

A sticking point is how much water to give to Pinal County farmers. They’re among the groups at the back of the line for Arizona’s Colorado River water. Irrigation districts in Pinal are asking for so-called “mitigation water” to help soften the blow from a new Drought Contingency Plan.

But the Gila River Indian Community recently sent a letter to the state water department and the agency that runs the Central Arizona Project. The GRIC is concerned the current DCP proposal for Arizona does more than soften the blow for customers of the Central Arizona Project’s “Ag Pool.”

As GRIC Gov. Stephen R. Lewis writes in the letter, “if adopted, the Ag Pool would have more water than otherwise projected under the current 2007 Interim Guidelines.”

The 2007 Guidelines currently govern how much water is cut back from Arizona users when Lake Mead enters various levels of shortage. The additional DCP cutbacks are deeper in an effort to keep the Lake from getting to dangerously low levels.

Water leaders are trying to finalize a plan before the start of the legislative session in January.