Arizona Gov Doug Ducey signs the drought emergency plan at a ceremony in the Arizona Capitol on January 31, 2019.
Thomas Hawthorne, The Republic

A top federal water officer announced on Friday that, because California and Arizona have not completed the Colorado River droughts, the Domestic Department is calling on the governors of all seven states relying on the river to prevent reservoirs from falling.

Federal advertising commissioner Brenda Burman said that huge progress has been made towards a deal, including the rapid transit through the Arizona Legislature of drought legislation before a Thursday night deadline.

But she said that this does not change the fact that the states have not completed the Drought Depletion Plan for the River Basin, with the aim of reducing the risks of falling from Lake Mead to dangerously low levels.

"Neither California nor Arizona have completed all the necessary work," Burman told reporters during a conference call. "Closing is not done."

Officials in Arizona insisted that they would meet Burman's deadline, but the federal government's decision to issue a call for input seemed to send a message that Washington would only wait a bit longer until the states have signed the other details.

Burman made the announcement one day after Arizona's political leaders greeted the legislature's approval of the state's plan to tackle a shortage of the river. The federal government's step towards intervention calls these efforts questioned and brings with it the possibility that Washington would become the referee that compensates for the water savings in the southwest.

MORE: The Arizona legislature passes the historic drought plan of the Colorado River

Although the federal government intervenes, the states can only handle the situation – if they occur within the next month. Burman said that while the government asks the states for recommendations, the entire process can be called off and the notification can be withdrawn if California and Arizona sign the plan.

"If all seven states are able to complete the drought emergency plan by 4 March, we will withdraw and end that request," said Burman.

Burman had set the January 31 deadline in December, insisting on the states to finalize the deal. With the agreements that have not yet been completed, the Ministry of the Interior submitted a notification to the federal register requesting the recommendations of the seven governors "for protective measures that the interior must take in the midst of persistent severe and prolonged drought."

The federal government intends to receive input from the states from March 4 for a period of 15 days. The announcement says the Interior Ministry is considering "possible federal actions to review Colorado River operations in an effort to improve and safeguard the sustainability of the water supplies in Colorado River for the southwestern United States."

MORE: Follow the latest news about water and the environment at

The Central Arizona Project Channel runs the water of the Colorado River through a neighborhood in Phoenix. (Photo: David Wallace / The Republic)

Arizona: time for California to act

The three-state drought-emergency plan is aimed at preventing Lake Mead, which is now only 40 percent full, crashing. Nineteen years of drought, rising temperatures and chronic overuse have pushed the levels of the reservoir down and down.

If the deal is signed, Arizona, California and Nevada will share water savings for the next seven years. The plan would be a temporary solution on top of the existing rules for managing shortages and would be in force until 2026.

The agreement has been debated in recent years. The four states in the Upper Colorado – Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming Basin – have approved their emergency plan for drought in December. The Bureau of Reclamation said that "the efforts under the Lower Basin states in California and Arizona have delayed DCP completion" after January 31, determined by Burman.

Patrick Ptak, a spokesperson for the Ducey office, said that the deliberations in Arizona are finished. He said the state took the necessary action before Burman's deadline on 31 January.

"We met the deadline yesterday with the passing of the legislation," Ptak said The Republic of Arizona. "And now it's time for California, the only state DCP has not yet passed, to do that."

In California, water agencies such as the Imperial Irrigation District and Coachella Valley Water District did not meet the deadline to sign up.

The board of IID, which has the greatest right to the water of the Colorado River, conditions to participate. They said they want to be the last to review and sign the deal, and they want $ 200 million in federal funds for projects to control dust and build wetlands around the shrinking Salton Sea.

& # 39; We are not finished yet & # 39;

Burman said after the "giant step" of Arizona to approve the drought schedule in the legislature, there are still several agreements within the state that need to be completed.

"Arizona has taken a very important step yesterday and I applaud their efforts," she said. "But we are not ready yet."

Arizona is the only Western state that needs the approval of its legislature to participate. Burman said in a prepared statement that "this important step could mean that the completion of the DCP's is imminent."

The legislation signed by Ducey on Thursday includes a resolution authorizing the Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke to sign the plan on behalf of the state.

The resolution also contains provisions stipulating that Buschatzke must take other steps to put a pen on paper: the Congress must give the Minister of the Interior permission to enter into the agreement and all parties in other states must have permission to to sign.

In theory, that should not be a major obstacle if all seven states are on board. Burman said while the states formulated the plans, "they decided they would like to see federal legislation."

It is not clear how long it would take for Congress to act.

Senator Martha McSally said Friday that she will work on passing federal law once the Lower Basins states are finished. She said that Ducey and state legislators have a historical agreement & # 39; reached.

"Our work is not finished yet," McSally said in a statement. "We are waiting for DCP approval by water users in the state of California, and then Congress must approve a law allowing the Acting Department of Interior Minister (David) Bernhardt to implement the DCP agreements."

The Central Arizona Project Channel carries water from the Colorado River to Phoenix and other areas in the South. (Photo: David Wallace / The Republic)

Dropping reservoirs bring urgency

The proposed Drought Contingency Plan would not prevent an initial declaration of a shortfall on Lake Mead from being filed, which is likely to be started next year according to federal officials. (Terry Fulp, regional director of Lower Colorado, said: "We are now staggering on the edge.")

But the deal would reduce the amount of water extracted from the reservoir in an effort to prevent continual falls and a spiral towards the worst-case scenario of "dead pool" – at which point water would no longer flow past the Hoover Dam.

"No one doubts the growing risk and the urgent need for action along the Colorado River," Burman said. "Completion of drought contingency plans is a long time ago, and action is needed now: in the absence of consensus plans from the Basin states, the federal government must take action to protect the river and all who depend on it – farmers and cities in seven states . & # 39;

The river supplies water to around 40 million people in cities from Denver to Tucson and irrigates more than 5 million hectares of agricultural land that produces crops, including hay, cotton and many of the country's vegetables.

The catchment area dries out during what scientists say is one of the driest periods of 19 years in the past 1,200 years, and climate change has increased tensions on the river.

Since 2000, the amount of water that flows into the river has fallen by 19 percent below the average of the past century. Scientific research has found that about half of the trend of declining precipitation of 2000-2014 in the upper Colorado basin was the result of unprecedented warming.

The higher temperatures have reduced the average snowpack in the mountains, reduced the flow of streams and the amount of water evaporating from the landscape has increased.

MORE: A bigger problem is looming for the short-term Colorado River plan: climate change

Lake Mead and Lake Powell are the largest reservoirs in the country. According to the Bureau of Reclamation, the risk that the reservoirs have dropped to a critically low level has almost quadrupled in the past decade.

"Any further delay increases the existing risks in the catchment area to unacceptable levels," said Burman. "Going past and watching Lake Powell and Lake Mead fall to dangerously low levels is not an option."

& # 39; Only done will this basin protect & # 39;

If federal officials decide in August that Lake Mead will be projected below 1075 feet at the beginning of the year, a deficit would be declared in 2020 and water cuts would start in January.

Arizona is entitled to 2.8 million acre-foot water from the Colorado River every year. Under the terms of the three-state agreement, Arizona would face cutbacks of 512,000 acre-foot or 18 percent of the state's total.

MORE: How does Ariz deal with cuts in the Colorado River? The state plan would & # 39; hurt & # 39; to spread

Nevada and California would make a contribution by accepting larger water reductions than would otherwise be the case according to the current guidelines for shortages. And as the three states sign, Mexico has signed a separate deal to contribute by temporarily leaving more water in Lake Mead.

Burman said she hopes the states will finalize the agreements, at which point "we anticipate the end of our request for input" from the seven states governors.

But she also made it clear that the federal government is willing to act if necessary. She pointed out that when the Supreme Court declared its milestone in 1963 and a related 1964 decree resolving a dispute over the water of the Colorado River in the Arizona versus California case, the court found that the Interior Minister had "broad authority" "had in the management of the river.

"We are looking for representatives from the governor to come to us with their solutions, and it is better to have a consensus," Burman said. "We are at a point where two roads in the forest diverge and we have to decide which path we will follow."

She said that the states have shown enormous efforts to make progress on the deal within a limited time.

"While we are getting closer, we are still not ready," Burman said. "Only done will protect this basin."

She repeated her message to emphasize the bottom line: "It's time to get the job done."

Desert Sun Reporter Janet Wilson in Palm Springs, California, contributed to this story.

Environmental protection at and in the Republic of Arizona is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow the environmental reporting team of the republic at and at OurGrandAZ on Facebook, twitter and Instagram.


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