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Stabilizing Lake Mead Water Levels a Priority Amongst Stakeholders
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14 July 2017   Stephanie Bracken
L-R: Barry Gold, Councilwoman Thelda Williams, Councilman Sal DiCiccio, Councilwoman Debra Stark, Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis, Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke, Councilman Jim Waring

Historic Water-Conservation Agreement a “Down Payment” on Arizona’s Effort to Protect Water Levels at Lake Mead

The five participants in a historic effort to help stabilize Lake Mead water levels made their agreement formal at a signing ceremony hosted by the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

As part of the $6 million partnership agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation, the State of Arizona, the City of Phoenix and the Walton Family Foundation, Inc., The Gila River Indian Community will forego delivery of 40,000 acre-feet of its 2017 Colorado River allocation. 

The tribe will leave that water in Lake Mead. It will be saved in the Colorado River system rather than be tied to any defined use.

"Today's agreement and the Community's ongoing effort to protect the Colorado River carry immense importance for our people and our neighbors across the Southwest. Being good stewards of this most sacred resource is a part of who we are as a people and what the Gila River Indian Community has stood for across time," said Gila River Indian Community Governor Stephen Roe Lewis. 

"The first positive is that this agreement allows the Community to generate income today from water we otherwise would have stored off-reservation to create long-term credits for future marketing. This revenue will help our economy right now, in the present, without sacrificing our future or our water.

"Second, this agreement helps conserve water in Lake Mead. That conservation effort benefits our people and every resident of Arizona by helping to protect the Colorado River and our water future."

Added Governor Lewis: "Given the central role of water in our economy and our culture, today's agreement is truly a cause for celebration."

The five partners effectively view the agreement as a "down payment" on an Arizona-based plan for protecting the great Colorado River-system reservoir, where water levels have been dropping rapidly in recent years as a result of long-running drought and over-allocation.

The Arizona plan – known as the "Drought Contingency Plan Plus" – represents an effort on the part of leaders in the Arizona water community to keep Lake Mead above the first shortage trigger for as long as possible. 

"This partnership lays the groundwork for a compensated system-conservation program in the state of Arizona for the benefit of all Colorado River water users," said Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke.

The State of Arizona contributed $2 million to the conservation effort – part of a three-year financial commitment totaling $6 million approved this year by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Doug Ducey.

The City of Phoenix, whose mayor and council approved this agreement on June 13, provided $2 million.

"Smart water policy is essential to our economy and to every Arizonan," Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton said.  

Added Mayor Stanton: "This historic agreement shows how by thinking creatively and working together we can protect our future Colorado River water supply and safeguard against the continued drought and climate change that are directly impacting Lake Mead."

"Phoenix continues to plan for conditions on the Colorado River to ensure it is well positioned to contend with shortages," said Councilwoman Thelda Williams who chairs the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association.  "We must protect and preserve the rivers and lakes that our city and state rely upon; this agreement is a prime example of working together with regional partners to create a smart approach for system conservation of the Colorado River and Lake Mead." 

"Phoenix, a leader in smart water supply planning, is proud to partner with other forward-thinking state and local interests on this forward-thinking agreement," said Councilwoman Debra Stark. "Today's signing seals a creative partnership that has led to an innovative water conservation system."

 "I was part of the original water settlements for the City," said Councilman Sal DiCiccio, "And it's critical we continue to move forward with our conservation efforts. I am proud to support this innovative agreement that helps protect Phoenix's precious Colorado River water supply."

"The combined metropolitan areas in Arizona, Southern California, Colorado and Nevada served by the Colorado River represent the world's 12th largest economy, and no matter how well Phoenix has planned to avoid a water shortage, the regional economy may suffer if reliable water supplies are threatened," said Councilman Daniel Valenzuela. "This agreement shows the City of Phoenix is taking proactive steps to be sure we have enough water under any future circumstances."

"Economic development in the state of Arizona depends on a secure water supply," said Councilman Jim Waring. "This agreement helps create resiliency on the Colorado River, economic security, and most importantly, certainty for the future of Phoenix."

"With this action we will continue to plan responsibly for the future of our city, through partnership and collaboration, said Councilwoman Kate Gallego. "Sustainable solutions to our water supply needs require collaboration. This agreement not only supports the overall health of the Colorado River; it also establishes a long-term partnership that helps conserve precious water resources in Lake Mead. I particularly want to recognize the visionary leadership of Governor Stephen Roe Lewis and the Gila River Indian Community as we move forward with this partnership. The Gila River Indian Community has been an excellent partner for the City of Phoenix in this process, and I look forward to both our communities working together in the future. As a desert city, Phoenix knows the value of water and its importance for our future, and I'm extremely proud to take part in this innovative water resource partnership."

The Walton Family Foundation, which believes conservation solutions that make economic sense stand the test of time, contributed $1 million. 

"Today's agreement is about coming together to forge solutions for a sustainable Colorado River that benefit people and the environment," said Barry Gold, director of the environment program at the Walton Family Foundation.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation also contributed $1 million to this Lake Mead stabilization effort. On January 17 of this year, Reclamation provided $6 million to the Gila River Community for system conservation that resulted in the Community's first 40,000 acre-feet stored in Lake Mead.  

"We are pleased to continue to help our partners in Arizona in their efforts to conserve water in Lake Mead and to implement a Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan with California and Nevada," said Terry Fulp, Lower Colorado Regional Director.

An acre-foot is generally considered enough water to cover an acre of land in a foot of water.

For more information, visit the Arizona Department of Water Resources news blog: https://azwater.wordpress.com/.

For further information, contact Michelle Moreno, Water Resources Public Information Officer, at mamoreno@azwater.gov or Doug MacEachern, Water Resources Communications Administrator at dmaceachern@azwater.gov