By Richard Smith, Independent Newsmedia
While Lake Mead is far from overflowing, the worst-case scenario for the driving force in the Lower Colorado River Basin appears to have been averted, for now at least.
That was part of the message Central Arizona Project board president Lisa Atkins provided to Surprise during the April 4 City Council meeting.
A water shortage can be declared by the Secretary of the Interior in August based on projected January levels and enforced in January of the next year.
Right now the lake’s elevation is 1,084 feet, or 40 percent of capacity. A dip to 1,075 feet would trigger the declaration of a shortage.
“Given the weather conditions, we do not believe there will be a shortage in 2018,” Ms. Atkins said during the meeting.
She said that would mean no cut in the water allotment for Arizona, at least not yet.
While plenty of negative trends remain at the Nevada lake created by Hoover Dam, current trends are a bit of a relief after the bottom looked like it was dropping out last year.
“This is good news. It means the city does not have to adjust its budget to address the anticipated increases in CAP delivery costs,” Surprise Water Resources Management Director Terry Lowe stated in an email interview.
Given the news in recent years and based on information received from CAP and their projected rate schedules, Surprise anticipated and has budgeted for the 50 percent increase in fixed Capital charges, Mr. Lowe said.
Surprise has also planned for more modest increases in the variable delivery rates.
“Should drought conditions occur in future years, the city will need to evaluate the impact to the budget and determine where to allocate funds,” Mr. Lowe stated.
In the long term, entities that rely on the Colorado River water need to continue to be creative and frugal with their usage. Otherwise, a water shortage becomes a matter of if, not when.
Aside from sixteen years of drought, Lake Mead is operating at a structural deficit, Ms. Atkins said.
Entities in the Lower Basin of Lake Mead are entitled to 9.6 million acre feet and the lake’s evaporation averages 0.6 million yearly.
Average inflow for the lake is about 9 million acre feet, for an average annual deficit of 1.2 million acre feet.
Lake Mead has shown a decline of 12 feet annually when releases from Lake Powell are “normal,” and 4 feet in years where more water is released from Lake Powell to balance things.
“Everybody has planned for the absolute worst. That’s what you have to do when you’re the junior water user on the river,” Ms. Atkins said.
And that’s the problem for CAP — really for Arizona. It got to the party late, after others with water interests along the Colorado had already staked their claims.
Arizona was in dispute over its share of the river and was the last state to approve the Colorado River Compact in 1944. Today in the Lower Basin, Arizona has rights to 2.8 million acre feet of Colorado River water per year, California is entitled to 4.4 million acre feet per year and Nevada has annual allocation of 300,000 acre feet.
CAP was created in 1946 and construction on the CAP canal did not begin until 1968. It runs from Lake Havasu to Tucson and serves about 80 percent of Arizona’s population, providing its service area with 1.6 million acre feet of water per year.
Yet CAP does not rank atop the Arizona priority list, let alone the prime position among the other states in the Colorado River basin. Yuma is first in line among Arizona entities.
California, Nevada and Mexico also have priority for their water allotment.
“This state has fought very long and very hard to protect these interests,” Ms. Atkins said.
But Arizona (the majority of which is served by CAP) will suffer mightily if the federal government declares a shortage.
Arizona, Nevada and Mexico have agreed to a reduction if the shortage is declared. Arizona’s amount of cutback more than quadruples the other entities.
California is not required to cut back in a shortage, but is meeting with other partners. Mrs. Atkins said this an effort to show that state is being responsible, lest the federal government come down hard on California if it used all its resources.
“I see nothing wrong with the Central Arizona Project and the way they’re doing things. I’ve read their stuff over and over. They’re a victim, they’re not a culprit. They are trapped with their allocation,” Surprise resident Ken Wright said after the presentation.
Another complication is on the horizon for CAP. The Navajo Generating Station near Page is scheduled to shut down in 2019. The coal-fired plant is a major source of power for the CAP system.
Surprise participates in the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District. When CAP allocations were originally divvied up in the 1980s, Surprise was barely a dot on the map.
Mr. Lowe stated that CAP represents approximately 60 percent of the city’s renewable supplies. CAP water is recharged into the ground to offset water mined from the ground for treatment and delivery.
While in the short term there is calm, and Ms. Atkins presented figures that show a 30 percent or less chance of a shortage declaration in 2019 or 2020, Mr. Wright said now is the time to get some additional muscle behind Arizona’s cause.
He also thanked councilman Skip Hall for being willing to speak to state officials on the city’s
“A number of things that (Ms. Atkins) didn’t come right out and say were a problem, but any casual observer should see them as a problem,” Mr. Wright said. “These problems should be presented to the state. It’s time to move on it,”
For more information on the subject, visit www.ProtectLakeMead.com.