On November 9th, the Colorado River Indian Tribes (“CRIT”) Tribal Council submitted a letter to the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District offering to contribute system conservation water to increase the elevation in Lake Mead.
Under the proposal, CRIT would fallow land to create 50,000 AF/year of system conservation water for three years beginning in 2020. They are asking for compensation of $250/AF, increased annually by 3%. In order to provide CAWCD with increased certainty about water supply availability, CRIT will also commit to avoid increasing consumptive use beyond an established baseline.
CRIT noted that the $250/AF price does not reflect the economic value of the water for farming or the senior priority of the water. CRIT holds the largest first-priority Colorado River water rights in Arizona. They are offering the water below market value to try help the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (“DCP”) move forward.
The DCP is an agreement among the Lower Basin states designed to ease and share the impact of a shortage declaration. (For more on the DCP, see “Commissioner Burman Issues Call to Action on DCP,” JOW Winter 2018 “CRWUA Keynote Panel Provides Update on Status of the Lower Basin DCP,” JOW Winter 2018, and “Failure is Not an Option: CRWUA Keynote Panel Discusses the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan and Minute 32x,” JOW Winter 2017).
CRIT Chairman Dennis Patch said, “We have been working with the state for the past two years to help protect the River and to help the State of Arizona to deal with the drought and shortages. The proposal we delivered today puts real numbers to that offer that are significant to getting the necessary approvals for DCP (Drought Contingency Plan).”
CRIT Vice Chairman Keith Moses said, “We know our water is worth more than $250 an acre-foot. We are making this proposal at this price for the benefit of the River and to move the process forward in Arizona for approval of the Drought Contingency Plan.”
In addition to the compensated system conservation, CRIT anticipates that fallowing will also allow them to create small amounts of Intentionally Created Surplus (“ICS”) “to be used as a buffer for the tribes’ on-reservation water use when the Overrun and Payback Policy is suspended.”
While CRIT is making this offer to address the immediate need of getting the DCP approved, the tribes believe the water would be of even greater value to the State of Arizona if a portion could be used for off-reservation purposes, while still preserving their first priority rights, which would require Congressional approval.
Written by Marta L. Weismann