Lake Mead Water Shortage Affects Seven States

 

by Sheryl Hamlin

For the first time since its completion in 1935, the federal government has declared a water shortage disaster at Lake Mead. Read about this here at Reuters.

Lake Mead was formed with the water from the Hoover Dam hydro plant and feeds the Colorado River. The image below shows the seven states affected by the Colorado River.


Seven States, source AZ Water

The interactive Colorado River Dashboard is a resource to be bookmarked.

History of Agreements: Law of the River

The Colorado River Compact of 1922 was a negotiated agreement between the seven states as shown in the map plus Mexico. This is important history which is almost a century old. Read the history here.

In anticipation of the Federal declaration, the Arizona Corporation Commission (AZCC) established a Water Preparedness initiative and two proposals were approved by the commission and the utilities.

The first proposal institutes an annual Water Preparedness Meeting, which will keep the Commission informed of immediate water scarcity issues and infrastructure needs. The second proposal establishes a Water Task Force, composed of key stakeholders, which will evaluate an array of policy options and best practices and report back to the Commission with recommendations tailored for Arizona and its needs.Source and Details here.

Water Preparedness Workshop September 21, 2021

AZCC invited 28 large water utilities to speak on their water preparedness plans at the September 21, 2021 workshop. The meeting started at 9:00 am but by noon only the first nine had presented. The staff suggested and the Commission agreed that the others would docket their presentations for future questions and review. The list of the presenters is given in the Agenda. The link to the e-Docket is here. The video recording will be posted soon.

Commissioners Opening Remarks

Commissioner Kennedy stated that she would like to understand how Arizona water companies are approaching preparedness. There are 242 water companies regulated by the AZCC, but not all take water from Lake Mead, she said. Commissioner Olson said he was interested in agriculture and other activities. Commissioner Tovar wanted to know how compaies will be dealing with water shortages. Commissioner O’Conner thanked everyone. Chair Márquez said this was an important conversation for the current drought and wanted to understand what utilities are doing and specifically what water conservation efforts have been deployed.

Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR)

Leading off the presentations was Clint Chandler, Deputy Director of ADWR. He said that the State had anticipated this day and in 2004 under Governor Janet Napolitano a Drought Preparedness Plan was created. Read that plan here. Mr. Chandler stated that the plan includes a water supply plan, drought preparedness plan and a water conservation plan. He reminded the viewers of the Law of the River (mentioned above). The Colorado hydro-electric plant serves 40 million people in the Basin and produces 4200 megawatts of power. The 30 year average of snowpack was 2.67 million acre feet per year compared to the projected 2021 number of .810 million af/y. As the chart below shows, the Lake Powell and Mead storage has been in rapid decline since 1999 with an acute shortage projected by the end of the decade.


Source: ADWR Chandler presentation

Commission Questions

There were questions about water history and how long had this serious condition been known. Mr. Chandler referred them to the above graph. He will docket historical information. A question was asked about the effect of the drought on the hydro-electric power generation. Mr. Chandler said they hoped to convert this power, but did not elaborate. This article mentions new pumps that can operate as low as 950 feet (level now is approaching 1030), so perhaps this is what was meant by conversion. (to be clarified)

Central Arizona Project CAP

Mr. Patrick Dent, Director of Water Policy, stated that the hydrology of the past winter was the third lowest on record. The CAP has been preparing since it started in the late 1960’s. The CAP has a priority system of what classes will be reduced. Agriculture will be reduced first, he said. In the near term, an expected shortage by 2023 of 720,000 af/y decrease from the CAP. He said the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District (CAGRD) was formed in the 1990’s to provide “assured” water. The CAP rights to water are junior to other larger state entities in the lower basin. Read about the priorities here. The 2022 CAP cuts are shown in this article.

Arizona Water Banking Authority

Virginia O’Connell, manager of the AWBA, said this agency had been storing water for 24 years and that this was the first time in the history of the AWBA that withdrawals were to be made from the storage. In answer to commission questions she said that there are 3.25 million af/y in long term storage and that shortages were expected as early as 2027. She said their modeling was annual with a ten year rolling forecast.

EPCOR/Rio Verde

Doug Dunham, Manager of Water Resources, stated that his agency is actively participating in all programs including drought preparedness. He anticipates no direct impact to Epcor’s customers due to the recent announcement of cuts. The send 95% of treated effluent back to use. But, he said, growth will cause supply stress and he questioned how agencies would pay for new projects.

In response to commission questions, he said that the water conservation measures were multi-progrned including home leak detection, retrofit of home fixtures, advance meters, demo gardens to manage landscaping. The low hanging fruit in Arizona is agriculture, he said. He noted that Arizona is the only state with mandatory conservation measures and uses less water today than in 1957. Note no calcs given. He said that EPCOR submits the mandatory conservation plans to ABWR and said he would docket the most recent plan submitted.

Arizona Water Company

Terry Sue Rossi, Water Resources Manager, stated that Arizona Water Company was the second largest in Arizona with 24 water systems, 250,000 people and 100,000 connections. The shortage will start in 2024 and extend to 2031. They are planning to develop effluent to offset impacts with a goal of 100% reuse. Note the AZ Potable Reuse Framework is not yet complete and only permits for pilot projects are being issued.</pP

Liberty Utiities

Mathew Gorelick, President, said they practice natural disasters and the SCADA is updated weekly. All customers are metered, he said, and per ADWR regulations, public education is part of the program. There is a conservation kit, toilet voucher program and a commercial audit and retrofit for high end users, such as high schools and HOAs. In a partnership program, the A+ treated effluent is used for parks, golf courses and other irrigation. Note, he did not define A+. Liberty is 100% groundwater based. See chart on water sources in Arizona.

In response to commission questions, Mr. Gorelick said that 600 had requested the conservation kits and they needed to increase outreach. He said he would docket the actual number of participants in each program.

Global Water

Jake Lenderking, SVP Water Resources, said they manage sixteen utilities across three counties. The founding statement was “Water is scarce” and practice Total Water Management. He said that in the early 2000’s they were accused of fear mongering, One billion gallons of recycled water is delivered to the City of Maricopa through purple pipes, he said. Smart meters alert customers to leaks. They have an innovative rate design including conservation rates. The GPCD (Gallons per capita per day) is the second lowest in the State. He stressed that due to overallocation and stress of aquifers across the state, ADWR will not approve new groundwater applications for “assured water”. And, he said that with reduced Colorado River water and growth, groundwater pumping will increase. The long term plan is indirect IPR) and direct potable reuse (DPR). Read about IPR and DPR here. AZ is following the CA model.

Robson Communities

Brian Smith, Vice President, stated they manage five water and four wastewater systems including: (Logo Del Oro Water Company, Pima Utility Company, Quail Creek Water Company, and Picacho Water Company) Their website links to conservation material. Golf courses will NOT be overseeded this year. Golf courses are watered with effluent.

Adjournment Noon

To see the rest of the speakers please click on the Agenda and look for their material in the e-docket.

The Elephant in the Room: Unfettered Growth

While some of the speakers hinted at the issue, no one spoke of the unfettered growth which Arizona leaders have been preaching for the last four decades. Arizona leaders are very proud that Maricopa County is the fasted growing county in the country. Read news announcement.

Arizona Grows Where Water Flows

Anyone around Arizona in the 1960’s remembers billboards with this slogan. A water historian talks about the mixed bag of results from this thinking. Several of the speakers mentioned more severe shortages in the future and hinted at growth issues.

Yuma Desal Plant

Not mentioned by the speakers is the Yuma Desal Plant. This plant was built by the federal government to fulfill the contractual agreement with Mexico for clean water from the Colorado. Its use was up and down and was finally mothballed until Los Angeles wanted to pilot water delivery from such a system. Recently, the plant has been given a permit to recommence operation. It would have been notable if the water to be supplied from this system and its effect on water deliveries to Mexico had been discussed.

For more information about the author, click sherylhamlin dot com


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Sheryl Hamlin

Southern California water officials are paying farmers to not grow crops. Brad Robinson, an alfalfa farmer in Blythe, said he was receiving $909 this year for each acre of farmland left dry and unplanted. The water instead stays in Lake Mead, which has sunk to its lowest level since it was filled in the 1930s. “Honestly, I think I could make more money farming,” Robinson said. “But for the sake of the Colorado River, I think it’s the right thing to do.” L.A. Times

Sheryl Hamlin
Sheryl Hamlin

Here is my followup letter to the AZCC….important issues…

https://docket.images.azcc.gov/E000015829.pdf?i=1632520063877

George Pattone

But the Buyedin Administration wants to import the entire third world to the US, and thousands are currently camping out in Del Rio, Texas…

Meanwhile, CA issues usage restrictions, dumps millions of acre-feet out to the ocean to protect bait-fish, and doesn’t build reservoirs to capture Pineapple Express floodwaters using the billions in bonds that voters approved years ago….

But Newsom passed the recall campaign….

We are led by corrupt idiots….

Edo

Long ago I was the Water Quality Planner for Ventura County, and Chief of Staff to the Ag Committee. My main function, however, was updating the county’s Section 208 Plan, the Regional Water Quality Control Plan under the Clean Water Act, PL 2-500.

The seawater intrusion at that time (1985) had impacted 26 square miles of the onshore groundwater basin underlying the Oxnard Plain. Irrigation wells were drawing salt water. Seawater had been noted landward of the coastline by 1951.

The basin was controlled by a joint authority, part private enterprise and part public entity. This was essentially a “distributive” agency saddled with a regulatory function, a function that put tremendous political pressure on it and its staff. What’s worse, the role of allocating groundwater is “redistributive”, or reallocating water. If you know anything about politics and regulatory capture, especially in dealing with a redistributive system, you will understand where things were going and why for half a century or more the basin was out of control.

The County entered the 208 Program, for among other reasons, to keep the State from wresting control over this resource and also avail itself to the federal moneys attached to a 208 Plan. .  

Before the turn of the 20th Century, artesian wells allowed piped water to be distributed on the second story and ships anchored offshore could refill their water caskets from upwelling fresh water. Dryland farming gave way to irrigated crops with the impetus from petroleum and deep boreholes Ventura County flushed with irrigated green crops.

Although impacts on the groundwater basin became apparent and warnings were noted in the 1940s, little was accomplished. It is not that mankind cannot see into the future and the Colorado is little different, Regulatory Capture often inhibits rational man and political man predominates.

Dr Edo McGowan 

Gayle Washburn

Thank you! Well written article. The entire southwest needs a building/growth moratorium NOW! We’ve been squeezing the conservation for decades now. While I’m inclined to conserve even more, it is barely a drop in the bucket compared to all of the new growth in Ventura County and in Arizona. And for agriculture to be the first to go is absurd. Shall we import all of our produce from China when we can’t grow our own? (Just reading an article that we are at brink of war with them now over Taiwan) Mexico is now probably providing a majority of our current food but they have water issues too.

Michael

There are lots of places to grow food in the U.S. that’s nott desert. The entire midwest, for example. Why do the stupid DEMS who run this state continue to subsidize water for farmers trying to grow food in the DESERT?

Talk about dumb as the dry dirt they spend billions irrigating.

Edo

Ah—-Sheryl, true and sad, but this is all politics. The planning commissions create conflicts between the urbanite and the farmer by bad zoning decisions. A condo project is placed next (right next) to farmland. A diesel irrigation pump is run, which in farm land did not bother anyone. But now that rattling diesel engine keeps a condo resident awake and on the third night he slips over the fence with a sledge hammer and extinguishes the noise.

The attorney for the condo association writes the local crop duster indicating that they will have words as there might be drift. The insurance company for the duster also sends a letter. The duster informs the farmer. Heavy rains arrive and wheeled equipment can’t get in, but based on discussions with the condo attorney, neither will the duster. The crop is damaged. Why——urban ag conflict.

Is it any wonder with all the other impediments, that ag land is going for housing?

This could be slowed by more adequate zoning, but the quick fix is growth, building fees and permits initially bring in a lot of quick money to local governments, all encouraged by banks and developers. A crafty friend once noted, the soil is always there, when we need it, just bulldoze off the houses, but will the water be there?

Edo McGowan

Gayle Washburn

All soils are graded. You can find maps at the state or federal level. Yes, Ventura County has what’s known as “Soils of Prime Importance”. As Sheryl points out, they bulldoze it for housing. That should never happen. Those “other places to grow food” do not have the soil required for productive agriculture.