CAP Board Could Act On Drought Plan At Thursday Meeting

By Bret Jaspers
Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2018 - 5:02pm
Updated: Thursday, December 6, 2018 - 9:17am
Bret Jaspers/KJZZ
Ted Cooke, general manager of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which runs the Central Arizona Project canal system.

The board of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District meets Thursday in yet another high-stakes moment in the state’s effort to agree on a drought plan for the Colorado River.

The board could vote — or not — on a drought framework described last week in a meeting of the Arizona Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan Steering Committee.

The state’s plan has the backing of Gov. Ducey, Native American tribes and Valley cities, but was greeted with skepticism by Pinal County farmers and home builders.

A proposed “Friendly Amendment” to the plan, introduced to the Steering Committee last week by CAWCD board member Karen Cesare, asked for 21,000 acre-feet of water to mitigate developers, spread out over three years.

It would also re-apportion some of the water that the Colorado River Indian Tribes in Western Arizona would provide through a farm fallowing program. Instead of storing it all in Lake Mead to keep the level healthy, some would go towards the state’s required water cutbacks under the basin-wide DCP. That change could potentially make more water available for developers and Pinal County farmers who are at the end of the line for Colorado River water (and therefore, the first to be cut).

The idea, however, is unlikely to pass muster with on-river water users in Yuma and Mohave Counties. Those communities are against any on-river allocation being redirected to central Arizona, something Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke wrote in a letter to CAWCD Board President Lisa Atkins and Cesare.

At least one development group, Valley Partnership, thinks the amendment isn’t needed because a separate deal between the Gila River Indian Community and the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District will come through.

“We feel confident in Gov. Lewis’ word in moving forward with the proposed acquisition between CAGRD and the Gila River Indian Community,” said Valley Partnership President and CEO Cheryl Lombard.

The CAGRD is an arm of the CAWCD and replenishes groundwater in central Arizona. It’s a mechanism that allows for more development in that part of the state. Gila River Indian Community Gov. Stephen Lewis has said if the state’s framework moves forward, he will work to ink a deal with the CAGRD.

The GRIC Council approved the deal Wednesday pending approval of the DCP agreement supported by Gov. Ducey.

Lombard’s group is supportive of the state’s framework. In a letter to the CAWCD board, Lombard thanked them for committing up to $60 million for the Drought Contingency Plan, but also urged them to “withdraw its ‘friendly amendment’ and support” the state’s plan.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect the vote by the GRIC Council.

ADWR Response to Proposed Friendly Amendment 

VP CAP DCP Letter 12.4.2018