CRWUA Keynote Panel Provides Update on Status of the Lower Basin DCP

The 2017 Colorado River Water Users’ Association Annual Conference, Many Instruments, One Orchestra: The Music of the Basin, referenced the coming together of diverse tools and perspectives to meet the singular objective of sustainably managing the Colorado River System. Each of the colloquia, panels, and presentations highlighted a tool or provided information related to meeting that objective.

The keynote panel was called on to explain what remains to get the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan (“DCP”) executed. In 2016, the panel announced that they had reached an agreeable set of terms for the plan, and the fanfare of that discussion may have set up an expectation for imminent execution. In sum, the discussants comments indicated that there is a process, and reaching a mutually-agreeable set of terms is not the end of that process.

John Entsminger, General Manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, indicated that his agency was ready to execute the DCP. Kevin Kelley, General Manager of the Imperial Irrigation District, and Jeff Kightlinger, General Manager of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, were now ready to go to their boards for approval. In 2016, they each indicated that their districts were reserving approval of the DCP pending resolutions at the Salton Sea and the Bay-Delta, respectively. Acceptable resolutions were announced shortly before the 2017 conference. Tom Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, emphasized that the DCP is critical to the state because shortages will fall on Arizona. Because the impacts vary among sectors and individual water users, however, his department is still working to get nearly unanimous support from stakeholders in order to get the legislative approval needed to execute the DCP. (For background on the DCP and the stated reasons that IID and MWD gave for withholding approval, see “ Failure is Not an Option: CRWUA Keynote Panel Discusses the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan and Minute 32x,” JOW, Winter 2017).

The discussants also shared that federal legislation may be needed to implement the Lower Basin DCP. Currently, they are working out what would need to be in that legislation, and they agree that it needs to be simple and that they need to have it well set, so that Congress would just be providing a blessing.

Don Ostler, Executive Director of the Upper Colorado River Commission, noted that, because of how the basins affect each other, the Upper Basin is anxious to see the DCP advance. He also highlighted drought contingency planning efforts that are underway in the Upper Basin. The Upper Basin plan includes three components:

  • Weather modification, which is underway and is economic, but will not be the ultimate solution
  • Demand management, which is similar to the Intentionally Create Surplus (“ICS”) programs in the Lower Basin and would put water into Lake Powell to meet power production and compact compliance needs
  • Drought operations, which would involve transferring water from select Colorado River Storage Project (“CRSP”) reservoir, such as Flaming Gorge Reservoir, the Aspinall Unit, and Navajo Reservoir, to avoid critically low elevations at Lake Powell.

The panel also noted that they are beginning work on the next generation of interim guidelines, and they discuss the need to balance what will be a function of the DCP versus the next set of interim guidelines.


Written by Marta L. Weismann