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Opinion: One More Warm, Dry Winter Could Spell Shortage for Lake Mead (and Trouble for Arizona)

This warm, dry weather we’ve been having may be good for moving activities outside.

But it’s bad news for our water supply.

The chances are growing – and quickly – that a warm, dry winter could push Lake Powell to a trigger point about a year from now that could result in significantly less water for Lake Mead, which supplies about 40% of Arizona’s water supply.

Another Agency Wrestles With a Weighted Voting Structure

How should power over water decisions in San Diego be divided?

Should the city of San Diego, which represents almost 40 percent of the region’s water consumers, have the most sway?

Or should smaller cities be on equal footing when the outcome of a decision could harm towns with less people and money?

That is the question facing San Diego County Water Authority once again, after the latest vote over a $5 billion duplicate pipeline to the Colorado River. Directors voted down spending $1.7 million more to study the project further, in raw numbers. Twenty of the agency’s 36 directors said no to the pipeline, and 14 said yes.

Environment Report: Pipeline Plan Takes a Small Step Forward (With Some Drama)

Things got a little wild at the San Diego County Water Authority meeting last week when its 36 directors argued over whether they should spend more money studying a controversial $5 billion pipeline to the Colorado River.

Outrage after leaders apparently skipped over female directors waiting to add comments during a discussion period sparked some to change their vote on the matter.

Milestone Colorado River Management Plan Mostly Worked Amid Epic Drought, Review Finds

Twenty years ago, the Colorado River Basin’s hydrology turned persistently dry, reservoir levels plummeted and a river system relied upon by nearly 40 million people, farms and ecosystems across the West was in trouble. So key players across the Basin attacked the problem. The result was a set of Interim Guidelines adopted in 2007 that, according to a just-released assessment, mostly worked to prevent forced water supply cuts. With the guidelines expiring in 2026, that assessment is expected to aid discussions as key players begin writing a new set of river operating rules.

Colorado River Users Expect Biden to Put Focus on Climate Change

The incoming Biden administration will lead efforts to craft a new water-management regime for the seven-state Colorado River Basin, and people involved in the process expect any changes to reflect the impact of climate change in the basin.

The Bureau of Reclamation, under the Interior Department, will lead negotiations to replace 13-year-old interim guidelines used to operate the basin’s two major reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead. The Interior secretary also manages the lower basin, containing all the water below Hoover Dam.

Revisions should reflect ecological values, water rights of American Indian tribes, and the need for more conservation measures by users in the seven states—Arizona, California and Nevada in the lower basin and Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming in the upper basin, those involved in the process said.

Regional Conveyance System Study-Phase B-November 2020

Board Approves Next Phase of Regional Water Conveyance System Study

The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today authorized staff to launch the next phase of a study assessing options for long-term water deliveries to sustain the region’s economy and quality of life.

The decision follows months of community dialogue about Phase A of the Regional Conveyance System Study, which was released in August. The study demonstrated the technical viability and economic competitiveness of two routes for an aqueduct to transport the Water Authority’s independent, high-priority Colorado River water to San Diego County.

Over the next 15 to 18 months, Water Authority staff will undertake Phase B, focusing on economic analysis of the two conveyance route alternatives and exploring partnerships that could provide significant benefits to an array of stakeholders and potentially reduce the cost of project development. At the end of Phase B, the 36-member Board will again decide whether to continue with regional conveyance project planning – and if so, how to proceed.

Long-term planning

“These issues are complex and the decisions never easy, but the Board chose today to keep all water supply and delivery options on the table in light of future uncertainties,” said Gary Croucher, chair of the Water Authority’s Board of Directors. “I look forward to learning from Phase B and working with the Board to decide on next steps when that study phase is done. We also look forward to working with MWD in coming months to explore long-term options for continued use of its Colorado River Aqueduct.”

The Water Authority is the long-term water planning agency for metropolitan San Diego County and the region’s wholesale water provider, serving 3.3 million people and a $245 billion economy in partnership with its 24 retail member agencies.

Half of the Water Authority’s supplies are from two landmark 2003 water conservation agreements – one that boosted water-use efficiency in collaboration with the Imperial Irrigation District and another to line sections of the All-American and Coachella canals with concrete to reduce seepage. Both agreements are part of the 2003 Quantification Settlement Agreement, the largest ag-to-urban water transfer in U.S. history.

Water supply reliability

Conserved water from the QSA is transferred to San Diego County through an Exchange Agreement with the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. MWD owns the only facilities available to transport Colorado River water to San Diego County. The cost of using MWD facilities to deliver the Water Authority’s QSA water has increased 30% over the past five years alone.

The Water Authority’s Exchange Agreement with MWD ends in 2047, and the Water Authority is working to develop conveyance alternatives in order to manage future cost and risks.

“While 2047 may seem distant, major water infrastructure projects take decades to develop, plan and build,” said Croucher. “By advancing to Phase B of the conveyance study, the Water Authority is taking prudent steps to ensure long-term water supply reliability for the region.”

In order to address the cost and risk uncertainties associated with the use of MWD facilities, the Water Authority’s Board in June 2019 approved a study of the viability of a new regional conveyance system that would deliver water from the Colorado River to San Diego County and also might provide multiple benefits across the Southwest. Three potential pipeline routes were studied in Phase A, which concluded in August 2020 that two alternatives (3A and 5A) are cost-competitive with other options, such as continued use of MWD facilities.

Water Authority staff and consultants began in August an extensive series of briefings and outreach on Phase A results and consultant reports. The Board’s goal was to ensure a full exchange of information and viewpoints in a transparent process. Outreach across numerous platforms engaged member agencies, other local stakeholders, the Imperial Valley, and Borrego Springs.

Partnership opportunities

With today’s Board vote to approve Phase B, Water Authority staff will focus for the next several months on economics, partnerships, legal analysis, and stakeholder outreach. Phase B will help address questions about mitigating short-term rate impacts of a project, the benefits of  potential partnerships and funding opportunities, developing a plan of finance and the requirements of existing agreements, as well as explore with MWD options for long-term water deliveries to the San Diego region using MWD facilities.

 MWD issues to be addressed will include analysis of:

  • Historic and projected future increases in MWD’s water rates and charges
  • MWD’s current planning assumptions
  • Costs and water yield of MWD’s current and planned projects
  • Future demand for MWD water
  • Other MWD rate drivers

Phase B will apply the same rigorous analysis to Water Authority rate and cost projections. Water Authority staff will also begin the process of engaging more formally with stakeholders on potential partnership projects identified in Phase A, including public-private-partnerships, bi-national projects, renewable energy projects, regional operational storage projects, Salton Sea-related projects, and partnerships with tribes, federal and state governments, and member agencies.

For more details, go to sdcwa.org/colorado-river-supplies-management.

Board Approves Next Phase of Regional Water Conveyance System Study

November 19, 2020 – The San Diego County Water Authority’s Board of Directors today authorized staff to launch the next phase of a study assessing options for long-term water deliveries to sustain the region’s economy and quality of life.

The decision follows months of community dialogue about Phase A of the Regional Conveyance System Study, which was released in August. The study demonstrated the technical viability and economic competitiveness of two routes for an aqueduct to transport the Water Authority’s independent, high-priority Colorado River water to San Diego County.

USGS Report: Climate Change Will Reduce Groundwater in Lower Colorado River Basin

A new report from the U.S. Geological Survey says climate change will affect groundwater resources in both the Upper and Lower Colorado River Basin, but in different ways.

2020 Delivers Setbacks For Some Long-Planned Western Water Projects

2020 has been a tough year for some of the Colorado River basin’s long-planned, most controversial water projects.

Proposals to divert water in New Mexico, Nevada and Utah have run up against significant legal, financial and political roadblocks this year. But while environmental groups have cheered the setbacks, it’s still unclear whether these projects have truly hit dead ends or are simply waiting in the wings.

A Colorado River Leader Who Brokered Key Pacts to Aid West’s Vital Water Artery Assesses His Legacy and the River’s Future

For more than 30 years, Terry Fulp, director of the Bureau of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Basin Region, has been in the thick of river management, applying his knowledge, expertise and calm demeanor to inform and broker key decisions that have helped stabilize the Southwest’s major water artery. Fulp is retiring after 31 years with the agency’s Boulder City, Nevada, office, which oversees the last 688 miles of the river’s path in the United States.

In an interview with Western Water, Fulp talked about his accomplishments in a leadership role and the challenges that await the many Colorado River water users as they begin the arduous task of negotiating a new operating agreement for the Colorado River to replace the current one that expires in 2026.