Wa­ter in the bank

IID push­ing for­ward on plan to place ad­di­tional wa­ter in Lake Mead

Imperial Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris MCDaniel Staff Writer

EL CEN­TRO — The Im­pe­rial Ir­ri­ga­tion Dis­trict is mov­ing for­ward with plans to fi­nal­ize a drought con­tin­gency plan that would en­sure enough wa­ter re­mains in the Colorado River to sup­port area res­i­dents and agri­cul­tural op­er­a­tions if an on­go­ing drought wors­ens through 2020.

The U.S. Bureau of Recla­ma­tion has re­ported that by 2020 the chance of a short­fall in Lake Mead — the river’s big­gest reser­voir — are now 57 per­cent, up from 52 per­cent as pro­jected in May.

IID rep­re­sen­ta­tives, along with mem­bers of the var­i­ous Colorado River wa­ter con­trac­tors, on Sept. 17 and 18 par­tic­i­pated in a basin states meet­ing in Las Ve­gas hosted by the bureau to ex­plore the cre­ation of a basin-wide DCP.

“I at­tended the Colorado River meet­ing in Las Ve­gas to dis­cuss the drought con­tin­gency plan process with the two basins and seven states that are in this process and iden­tify crit­i­cal next steps,” IID Board Pres­i­dent James C. Hanks, Divi­sion 3, said dur­ing the reg­u­lar board meet­ing Tues­day af­ter­noon. “These meet­ings were led by Recla­ma­tion Com­mis­sioner Brenda W. Bur­man, and I can re­port that while there is still no DCP, there is con­sid­er­able in­ter­est on the part of the Bureau of Recla­ma­tion … in com­plet­ing one be­fore the year’s end.”

IID is ex­plor­ing the cre­ation of a DCP in con­cert with the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Wa­ter Dis­trict of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia that would ex­pand how much wa­ter it can store be­hind Hoover Dam in Lake Mead. The DCP would only be ap­proved by IID if it were to en­sure that such wa­ter can be with­drawn on de­mand, that the au­thor­ity to uni­lat­er­ally pre­side over lo­cal agri­cul­tural wa­ter con­ser­va­tion meth­ods are solely the purview of IID and that such an agree­ment would not put the Sal­ton Sea at fur­ther risk of dry­ing up due to lower wa­ter in­flow.

The river and its trib­u­taries serve about 40 mil­lion peo­ple and 6,300 square miles of farm­land in Mex­ico and the U.S. states of Ari­zona, Cal­i­for­nia, Colorado, Ne­vada, New Mex­ico, Wy­oming and Utah, ac­cord­ing to the As­so­ci­ated Press. A nearly two-decade drought, cou­pled with ris­ing de­mand from grow­ing cities, has re­duced the amount of wa­ter avail­able in Lake Mead and Lake Pow­ell, a sec­ond large reser­voir lo­cated far­ther up the river.

If the sur­face of Lake Mead drops be­low 1,075 feet above sea level, some de­liv­er­ies would be cut un­der agree­ments gov­ern­ing the sys­tem. Ari­zona, Ne­vada and Mex­ico would have their shares re­duced first in a short­age, which has never be­fore oc­curred on the river.

Progress made

“At these meet­ings [in Las Ve­gas], it was a full-court press by the BOR to get an agree­ment be­fore we left there,” Hanks said. “I par­tic­i­pated in meet­ings be­tween IID and Met­ro­pol­i­tan Wa­ter Dis­trict, meet­ings with the other Sec­tion 5 con­trac­tors in the lower basin and a com­bined meet­ing with both basins. I be­lieve that we made sub­stan­tial progress, and like our gen­eral man­ager, I can see a path for­ward. But there re­mains much work to do and not a lot of time in which to do it.”

The Bureau of Recla­ma­tion is plan­ning to re­lease draft agree­ments made dur­ing the Las Ve­gas con­fer­ence to the pub­lic on Oct. 10.

“That was an item that was dis­cussed back and forth — a lot of dis­cus­sion be­tween the in­di­vid­ual states whether they can meet that dead­line, but that’s the goal,” Hanks said.

Draft doc­u­ments

“There are two up­per-basin doc­u­ments and two lower-basin doc­u­ments, and then one doc­u­ment that is an over­ar­ch­ing doc­u­ment for all the up­per- and lower-basin states to­gether,” Joanna SmithHoff, IID as­sis­tant coun­sel, said dur­ing the meet­ing. “The lower-basin is an agree­ment with an at­tach­ment of the op­er­a­tional me­chan­ics of how the lower-basin DCP will work. The up­per-basin has a drought-re­sponse agree­ment and a com­pan­ion stor­age-re­lated agree­ment.”

IID will host a series of three pub­lic work­shops to dis­cuss the draft doc­u­ments.

The first meet­ing will be held on Oct. 9 fol­low­ing the reg­u­lar board meet­ing, which be­gins at 1 p.m. at the Wil­liam R. Con­dit Au­di­to­rium at 1285 Broad­way in El Cen­tro. The ex­act time when the pub­lic work­shop will be­gin has yet to be de­ter­mined. Ad­di­tional de­tails will be re­leased to the pub­lic when the meet­ing dates, times and lo­ca­tions are fi­nal­ized.

Dur­ing the pub­lic work­shops, IID of­fi­cials will re­view draft doc­u­ments for a basin-wide DCP and prospec­tive Cal­i­for­nia DCP ex­hibits that could be in­cor­po­rated into a larger frame­work to build el­e­va­tion at both Lakes Mead and Pow­ell.

Since the first work­shop is held the day prior to the re­lease of the doc­u­ments by the bureau, IID staffers cur­rently are work­ing on po­ten­tially ob­tain­ing a copy a day in ad­vance.


2018 marks the 19th year of his­toric drought with record-break­ing lev­els, ac­cord­ing to Tina Shields IID Wa­ter De­part­ment man­ager, said dur­ing the work­shop, with 2017 rep­re­sent­ing one of the worst years since hy­drol­ogy re­port­ing be­gan.

By 2020, wors­en­ing drought con­di­tions could trig­ger cuts in wa­ter de­liv­ered to Ari­zona, Ne­vada and Mex­ico. Ac­cord­ing to Shields, at 1,075 feet, Ari­zona would ex­pe­ri­ence a wa­ter re­duc­tion of 320,000 acre-feet; Ne­vada, 13,000 acre-feet, and Mex­ico, 50,000 acrefeet.

While IID en­joys very strong wa­ter rights, the board of di­rec­tors ex­pressed con­cern dur­ing the meet­ing that wa­ter rights would mean noth­ing if Lake Mead be­came so de­pleted that no wa­ter could be sent down river.

Ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of Recla­ma­tion, Lake Mead can hold a max­i­mum wa­ter el­e­va­tion of about 1,229 feet. Any­thing above that would spill over the top of Hoover Dam. The min­i­mum el­e­va­tion to gen­er­ate power at Hoover Dam is re­ported by BOR to be at 1,050 feet, be­low which the reser­voir is con­sid­ered an in­ac­tive pool. Wa­ter above 1,050 feet el­e­va­tion is con­sid­ered live stor­age, while a dead pool ex­ists at 895 feet in el­e­va­tion, which is the low­est wa­ter out­let at Hoover Dam.

As of Sept. 4, the most re­cent date that data is avail­able, the wa­ter el­e­va­tion at Lake Mead was 1,078.2 feet, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Park Ser­vice.

Re­gion-wide DCP ef­forts

In Jan­uary 2017, U.S. Sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior Sally Jewell is­sued a sec­re­tar­ial or­der di­rect­ing the De­part­ment of the In­te­rior and its bu­reaus to con­tinue col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­forts to fi­nal­ize im­por­tant drought con­tin­gency ac­tions de­signed to re­duce the risk of wa­ter short­ages in the Up­per and Lower Colorado River Basins.

Over the past 20 years, col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the De­part­ment of the In­te­rior and its bu­reaus, along with Na­tive Amer­i­can tribes, the seven Colorado River basin states — Ari­zona, Cal­i­for­nia, Colorado, Ne­vada, New Mex­ico, Utah and Wy­oming — and oth­ers has re­sulted in sig­nif­i­cant suc­cess in col­lab­o­ra­tively ad­dress­ing wa­ter re­source chal­lenges across the basin, ac­cord­ing to a press re­lease.

These suc­cesses in­clude the Minute agree­ments Nos. 316 through 319 with Mex­ico, a his­toric 12 In­dian wa­ter rights set­tle­ments to­tal­ing $3 bil­lion in fund­ing, his­toric wa­ter con­ser­va­tion agree­ments adopted in 2014 and a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing to strengthen co­or­di­na­tion of man­age­ment ac­tiv­i­ties to ben­e­fit the Sal­ton Sea.

Even if a DCP is ne­go­ti­ated suc­cess­fully in Cal­i­for­nia, ne­go­ti­a­tions with other states and en­ti­ties would then need to be com­pleted, some­thing the bureau is now hop­ing to fi­nal­ize by the end of 2018. How­ever, Ari­zona will need to first fi­nal­ize its DCP, which can­not be done un­til its state leg­is­la­ture re­turns from re­cess in Jan­uary.

light­ning strikes over lake Mead near hoover Dam at the lake Mead na­tional recre­ation area in ari­zona. Wa­ter lev­els at lake Mead and lake Pow­ell are drop­ping to dan­ger­ous lev­els due to on­go­ing drought that could be­gin au­to­matic cuts to wa­ter de­liv­er­ies in ari­zona, ne­vada and Mex­ico. iiD cur­rently is mov­ing to fi­nal­ize a drought con­tin­gency plan that would help keep more wa­ter be­hind the dam to en­sure enough wa­ter is avail­able if the drought con­tin­ues. AP PHOTO

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