How Cen­tral Ari­zona Project helps Colorado River

The Arizona Republic - - OPINIONS -

The U.S. Bureau of Recla­ma­tion re­cently an­nounced there will not be a short­age on the Colorado River in 2017.

This pos­i­tive dec­la­ra­tion can be at­trib­uted to wa­ter left be­hind in Lake Mead by Cen­tral Ari­zona Project and its part­ners.

How­ever, Recla­ma­tion’s pro­jec­tion shows that, with­out ad­di­tional con­ser­va­tion ac­tions, 2018 could be the first year of short­age on the Colorado River. CAP and its lo­cal and in­ter­state part­ners are work­ing to ex­tend ex­ist­ing con­ser­va­tion tools to avoid short­age in 2018, and to de­velop longer-term solutions to ad­dress the risks of crit­i­cal short­ages on the Colorado River.

For the past few years, CAP has been work­ing with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, part­ner states in the Colorado River basin, and Mexico to ad­dress the de­clin­ing level of Lake Mead, the coun­try’s largest reser­voir.

The de­cline is not just be­cause of ex­tended drought, but also a struc­tural deficit, which is the im­bal­ance be­tween sup­ply and de­mand on the Colorado River. This re­sults in more wa­ter be­ing taken out of Lake Mead than is flow­ing in, caus­ing the lake level to fall ap­prox­i­mately 12 feet per year, rapidly in­creas­ing the risk of short­age to Ari­zona and CAP.

CAP and its part­ners have been ad­dress­ing the struc­tural deficit on three lev­els — re­duc­ing de­mand (con­ser­va­tion), in­creas­ing sup­ply (aug­men­ta­tion) and im­ple­ment­ing sys­tem ef­fi­cien­cies. Two ef­forts — a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing and a pi­lot con­ser­va­tion pro­gram — have made the dif­fer­ence.

In late 2014, CAP and the Ari­zona Depart­ment of Wa­ter Re­sources ex­e­cuted a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing with the U.S. Bureau of Recla­ma­tion and mu­nic­i­pal wa­ter agen­cies in Cal­i­for­nia and Ne­vada. The agree­ment iden­ti­fied the need for proac­tive and vol­un­tary ac­tions to de­velop be­tween 1.5 to 3 mil­lion acrefeet of new wa­ter for Lake Mead by the end of 2019.

CAP is mak­ing sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions by storing 345,000 acre-feet in Lake Mead, com­plet­ing its con­tri­bu­tion this year. To make this con­tri­bu­tion pos­si­ble, CAP has en­tered into agree­ments with eleven ir­ri­ga­tion dis­tricts in cen­tral Ari­zona to re­duce their use of CAP wa­ter.

CAP is also work­ing with Phoenix, Scotts­dale, Glen­dale, and Peo­ria to re­place a por­tion of their CAP wa­ter de­liv­ery with lo­cal sup­plies held by CAP, thus re­duc­ing the use of Colorado River wa­ter and con­serv­ing wa­ter in Lake Mead.

The other ef­fort is the land­mark Pi­lot Sys­tem Con­ser­va­tion Pro­gram, aimed at fund­ing wa­ter-ef­fi­ciency projects ca­pa­ble of re­duc­ing de­mands on the Colorado River and bol­ster­ing wa­ter lev­els in Lake Mead and Lake Pow­ell.

The pro­gram was rec­og­nized by the White House ear­lier this year as an ex­am­ple of a col­lab­o­ra­tion that can ad­dress long-term wa­ter sup­ply risks in the Colorado River sys­tem.

Ex­am­ples of projects al­ready un­der­way in­clude en­hanc­ing agri­cul­tural ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tems, re­mov­ing turf grass, for­go­ing un­der­ground stor­age and ex­pand­ing wa­ter re­use.

Through con­ser­va­tion and co­op­er­a­tion, CAP and its Ari­zona stake­hold­ers will have left more than 380,000 acrefeet of Colorado River wa­ter in Lake Mead by the end of the year, an ef­fort that proved to be suc­cess­ful in avoid­ing short­ages in 2016 and 2017.

How­ever, cur­rent pro­jec­tions in­di­cate a short­age is likely in 2018 un­less ex­ist­ing con­ser­va­tion ac­tions are ex­tended, so CAP is com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ing ex­ist­ing con­ser­va­tion pro­grams. In ad­di­tion, CAP, fol­low­ing the lead­er­ship of the Ari­zona Depart­ment of Wa­ter Re­sources, is work­ing to de­velop new pro­grams, in co­op­er­a­tion with Recla­ma­tion, Cal­i­for­nia, Ne­vada, and Mexico.

To­gether, we are ad­dress­ing the longterm risks to the Colorado River and im­prov­ing the health of the en­tire sys­tem, united in our com­mit­ment to en­sure an ad­e­quate wa­ter sup­ply for the com­mu­ni­ties we serve.

Ted Cooke is gen­eral man­ager for the Cen­tral Ari­zona Project. Email him at

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