The Arizona Republic

How Central Arizona Project helps Colorado River


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

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States