Arizona is under pressure to complete the Colorado River Drought deal


Doug Ducey, Legislature of the Legislature, at a press conference on January 15, 2019, discusses the importance of Arizona joining an emergency plan for drought.
Tom Tingle, the Republic |

Only 16 days to a federal deadline, the Arizona Legislature is under pressure to impose a Colorado River drought plan that would prevent Lake Mead from sinking to an extremely low level.

Governor Doug Ducey appealed to the legislature on Tuesday to settle the deal quickly, saying it was his top priority.

"This is by far the most urgent problem facing us as a state," said Ducey at a press conference. "And the clock is ticking."

Some potential sticking points still need to be resolved.

Firstly, farmers in Pinal County, who are faced with water savings, are charging $ 10 million from lawmakers to drill new wells and build other infrastructure as they start pumping more groundwater. That's five million more dollars than Ducey suggested. Farmers are also calling for additional "backstop" measures to ensure that they receive the water and funding they depend on.

Ducey said when civil servants, in consultation with farmers, towns, tribes and water districts, specified the details: "Everyone has to give".

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The governor, flanked by lawmakers from both parties, expressed his confidence in passing a law that allowed Arizona to participate in the planned three-state plan for drought crises.

"We commit to do this for the future of Arizona," said Ducey. "We will complete the emergency plan for drought."

However, the differences remain as the negotiators work for a deal on the final language. Apart from the concerns of breeders in Pinal County, home builders are seeking separate assurances of water for new developments, and tribal leaders have set conditions for participation in the agreement.

And there is no guarantee that the legislature will act immediately once an agreement arrives at its desk. Some legislators have already said that they do not want to be pushed to make a deal.

Missed deadline means federal action


Farmers and state legislators from Pinal County talk about the drought emergency plan, as the deadline for the Federal Republic is approaching.
Tom Tingle, the Republic |

It's about a lot. Lake Mead is now 39 percent full, while Lake Powell is 40 percent full. Federal Water managers say that they are likely to declare deficiencies for the first time based on the Lake Mead level as from next year, and without significant changes, water levels are expected to continue to decline.

If Arizona does not pass laws and signed the drought emergency plan with California and Nevada until January 31, Complainant Commissioner Brenda Burman has warned that the federal government will take action to prevent the reservoirs from falling to a critically low level.

Arizona water managers say a federal government plan would not take into account the delicate compromise that was worked out in the months-long negotiations.

Speaking to the state legislator on Monday, Ducey told lawmakers, "It's time to protect Lake Mead and Arizona."

He reiterated this call on Tuesday, alongside former US Senator Jon Kyl and former Governor Bruce Babbitt, both of whom have been playing a central role in shaping water policy for decades. Babbitt, Secretary of the Interior under President Bill Clinton, said that when the drought plan is passed, much remains to be done to cope with the growing effort in the Colorado River.

"This is not the end," said Babbitt. "This is the beginning of the next step in a long and continuous discussion."

CONTINUE READING: Arizona faces unanswered questions as lawmakers prepare for the Colorado River drought plan

The role of climate change

A line along a cliff shows where the surface of Lake Mead was on August 1, 2018, near South Cove in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. The lake is at or near historic lows. (Photo: David Wallace / The Republic)

The Colorado River was overshadowed for a long time and the demands of farms and towns surpassed the available water supply. The river basin, which extends from Wyoming to Mexico, dried up. Scientists say it's one of the driest 19 years of the last 1,200 years.

Man-made climate change has contributed to drought throughout the region over the past 19 years. Due to the higher temperatures, the average snowpack in the mountains has shrunk in many areas, the river is reduced and the amount of water that evaporates from the landscape increases.

Since 2000, the amount of water flowing in the Colorado River has fallen 19 percent below the average of the previous century. Scientific research has shown that about half of the trend to reduce the 2000-2014 runoff in the Upper Colorado River Basin was the result of unprecedented warming.

"This issue is important and urgent," said Ducey during his speech to the legislature. "We want to prove that we can work both parties together to achieve this."

MORE: Bigger problems are facing the Colorado River's short-term plan: climate change

Ducey did not mention climate change. But Babbitt emphasized that Arizona is starting to get involved. He said that if a deal is made and short-term concerns relaxed, the next major debate will be over the imbalance between demand and supply and tackling a hotter and drier climate.

"If you look at climate change-modified and climate-enhanced projections, it's clear that this DCP is a transitional solution," said Babbitt. "In a sense, this is more a preview of a more complex discussion that will follow."

Water managers in Arizona, California and Nevada have been discussing the planned drought plan in recent years. Under the terms of a separate agreement, if the three states sign all and agree to participate in the water savings, Mexico has pledged to contribute by temporarily leaving more water in Lake Mead.

Pinal Farmers are looking for assurances

Dan Thelander, a farmer from the Maricopa / Stanfield area, speaks with other farmers and legislators from Pinal County at a Capitol Phoenix press conference to speak on Tuesday, January 15, 2019, about their overall support for the Drought Emergency Plan , (Photo: Tom Tingle / The Republic)

The talks in Arizona over the last seven months focused on spreading the impact of the water sections. Farmers in Pinal County have the lowest priority and are expected to face the largest water spills from the Central Arizona Project's channel.

Farmers held a press conference in front of the Capitol on Tuesday with several legislators.

They said they are looking for "backstop" measures to ensure they get water on the Colorado River for three years to help them make the transition. They call on lawmakers to approve $ 10 million to help pay for wells, pumps and other infrastructure, and they want the state to agree to pay an additional $ 20- $ 25 million – just in case the irrigation districts of Pinal County do not succeed in raising federal funds to settle the bill.

"We are for the emergency plan for drought. We believe that it is in the best interests of the state, and we are all in favor, said Dan Thelander, who grows alfalfa, cotton, corn and wheat. But he said they would have to have the water for those three years to support the deal.

"We need to know the funding that will help build new wells, drill new wells, and build pipelines to distribute water throughout our district," said Thelander. "We just want us to stay in business so that we can continue to produce."

CONTINUE READING: Water sessions begin with an unfinished AZ plan

Paul Orme, a lawyer representing agricultural irrigation districts in Pinal County, said that despite the water and farmers' resources, they still expect them to leave about 40 percent of their acreage dry and fallow.

"It's going to be extremely tough for the people," Orme said. "This is extremely painful, but we support it when these water numbers are a reality. It can not just be numbers written on a piece of paper. "

Study charts value the ag industry

Tiffany Shedd, a cotton producer from Eloy, speaks with other farmers and lawmakers from Pinal County at a Capitol Phoenix press conference to speak on Tuesday, January 15, 2019, about their overall support for the Droughts Emergency Plan. (Photo: Tom Tingle / The Republic)

Until recently, farmers in Pinal County had expected to receive Colorado River water by 2030 as part of a 2004 landmark water settlement. By 2030, they had a decreasing water supply schedule. As part of the drought plan, these savings will be much faster.

Farmers received about 300,000 hectares of Colorado River water each year. Each acre foot is enough to cover an area that is slightly smaller than a soccer field with one foot of water. After the drought plan, they would receive 105,000 hectares per year for three years, after which these water supplies would be discontinued.

Breeders said their funding applications and assurance of water are adequate for three years, as they need to move quickly to pumping more groundwater.

They cited a recent University of Arizona economic study that found that Pinal County ranks among the top 3 percent of all US counties in terms of total crop sales. The region's farms produce crops ranging from alfalfa to cotton, beef and more than a third of Arizona's milk.

Researchers said the region's farms and related businesses generated $ 2.3 billion in total revenue in 2016 for the county's economy. They also examined a hypothetical reduction in irrigation water and estimated that a brownfield would lead to economic impacts of $ 32 to $ 35 million the losses between 270 and 480 jobs.

"It's not just that a few farmers say we want to stay in Pinal County. This is about a district that needs to stay alive, "said Tiffany Shedd, a cotton farmer who had recently run around a convention seat unsuccessfully. "Everything, from schools to charities to our district taxes, will suffer if we suddenly lose agriculture."

Lawmakers are waiting for a plan

The peasants included legislators such as Republican David Cook, whose district includes part of Pinal County. He pointed out that it would be appropriate to speak in front of a bust of US Senator Carl Hayden, who had spent years building the GAP Canal.

"This is not just about agriculture," said Cook. "It's about preserving a vibrant, healthy economy, not just in Pinal County, but also in the state of Arizona."

As Ducey called for urgent action, some state legislators said they had not yet seen details of the legislation and were keen to receive a solid proposal in writing.

Senator David Bradley, a Tucson Democrat, said he wants climate change to be included as part of the "bedrock" in the plan's plan. He emphasized that the work does not stop after passing.

"The drought is not a single factor," said Bradley. "The use of water by more and more people is a matter of course, which brings from all users the responsibility for the conservation and conservation."

CONTINUE READING: Ducey talks hard about drought conference

State officials said the package would include a resolution approving Arizona's participation in the Drought Emergency Plan with California and Nevada, as well as other measures to fund the plan and some other changes needed to make it work.

One of the legislators planning to guard the package through the house is MP Kristen Engel, D-Tucson. Engel said that while she praises Ducey for the top issue of water, she hoped for more substance and clues as to what exactly the state is aiming for in these coming agreements.

One of Engel's concerns is the extent to which the state will push farmers in Pinal County to use the limited amount of groundwater.

"I think we need to support Pinal agriculture, but we also need to determine a direction we are looking for in the future," said Engel. "In this condition, we should not return to groundwater pumping."

Protecting the environment on and in the Arizona Republic is backed by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow the Republic Environmental Report Team on and OurGrandAZ on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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