Arizona Water Director Urges Developers To Call State Lawmakers

Published: Friday, January 18, 2019 - 3:46pm
Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2019 - 8:49am
Bret Jaspers/KJZZ
Tom Buschatzke, director of Arizona's Department of Water Resources.

Officials who worked on Arizona’s drought plan are asking powerful stakeholders to push the state Legislature to pass it.

Arizona’s Director of Water Resources, Tom Buschatzke, spoke Friday at a breakfast sponsored by the development group Valley Partnership. After a presentation and discussion of the Drought Contingency Plan, he urged the audience to reach out to lawmakers.

“We need all of you to go to your favorite legislator and express your support for the Drought Contingency Plan,” he said.

The DCP has two levels: one is a deal with other Colorado River basin states and Mexico, designed to keep Lake Mead healthy and reduce the risk of the water level there dropping to even lower levels. The Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan sets the amounts of cuts to water deliveries for Arizona, Nevada, California and Mexico in times of "shortage." Arizona is facing a cut of 512,000 acre-feet in 2020 if (and likely, when) the Department of Interior declares a Tier One Shortage.

The second level of DCP is an internal Arizona plan that spells out whose water gets cut and how to ease the pain some parties will face. It’s a distribution of water and money whose various components are as intricately linked as a Jenga tower.

“The Arizona implementation plan was put together very, very carefully,” Buschatzke told the crowd. “There’s a very delicate balance.”

Ted Cooke, the general manager of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, said “there needs to be a good deal of trust” in order to pass the Joint Resolution allowing Buschatzke to sign the multi-state DCP. Cooke did not think other, related agreements between the parties would be finalized by a Jan. 31 deadline set by the federal government.

One such agreement is a deal between the Gila River Indian Community and the groundwater replenishment arm of the CAWCD, which provides a mechanism for developers to meet an assured 100-year water supply for building in central Arizona. The community will provide 900,000 acre-feet of water through over 25 years, and the groundwater agency will pay $95 million dollars. The Community has said it will execute the deal as long as Gov. Ducey signs a bill authorizing the state to enter into the DCP.

Valley Partnership's CEO Cheryl Lombard said, “we have been very supportive of this acquisition and we really do need it to go through.”

Buschatzke, Cooke and others are trying to prevent new demands getting added to the DCP legislation so as not to have the DCP approval held up by additional debates.

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a new multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.

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