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2019 CRWUA Annual Conference Coverage

Photo: Near the headwaters of the Colorado River in Rocky Mountain National parkm

Thanks to everyone that attended the 2019 Colorado River Users Association Annual Conference. What a great time learning from each other and the movers and shakers on the Colorado River! Here’s a look back at the events through the eyes of the great journalists and others who covered the conference. (Click on the links to read the articles):

“’Southern Nevada is on the cutting edge, you are at the forefront of conservation. What this town, what the water users of this town, have been able to do in the last ten years is really remarkable,’ said Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman” — (3 News, Las Vegas, Kyndell Kim: https://news3lv.com/news/local/colorado-river-water-users-association-talks-conservation-at-annual-conference)

“Yet despite Burman’s more relaxed approach, some at CRWUA want to see more “fierce urgency of now”. While the [Upper and Lower basins drought contingency plans] successfully fended off the threat of federal water rations, and while Upper Colorado River Basin snowpack is currently running 15% above average, ongoing legal concerns and the ever escalating threat of climate change may yet upend the delicate peace that the DCP has ushered in for now” — (Nevada Today, Andrew Davey: https://nevada-today.com/colorado-river-crwua-2019/)

“Arizona, Nevada and Mexico will start taking less water from the river Jan. 1 under a drought contingency agreement signed in May. It followed lengthy negotiations and multiple warnings from Burman that if the seven states didn’t reach a deal, the federal government, which controls the levers on the river, could impose severe water restrictions.

“California would voluntarily cut water deliveries if reservoir levels keep falling at the river’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead.

“Officials in Arizona and Nevada say conservation measures ranging from replacing lawns with desert landscaping to treating and reusing water that runs down drains mean the cutbacks may not be widely felt.

“In Las Vegas, which uses almost all Nevada’s annual share of river water, existing policies mean 2.2 million residents and an additional 40 million visitors a year won’t be pinched by the drought contingency plan, said Bronson Mack, Southern Nevada Water Authority spokesman” — (Associated Press, Ken Ritter: https://apnews.com/99f639bba3034526d2611b9f0970b1a6)

“Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said he asked the Bureau of Reclamation to start the review at the beginning of 2020, rather than by the end of 2020, which is the deadline under the existing agreement.

“The bureau’s officials will examine how the 2007 guidelines have worked as the agency prepares for negotiations among the seven states on a new set of rules that will take effect after 2026.

“‘It makes sense to review how well something worked before determining its replacement,’ Bernhardt said Friday during a speech at a Colorado River conference in Las Vegas. ‘We think that starting now and not waiting until the deadline a year from now makes sense.’” — (Arizona Republic, Ian James: https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-environment/2019/12/14/federal-government-review-colorado-river-rules-2020/2641339001/)

“But the history of the Colorado River is a history of ongoing deliberation within a legal framework that has traditionally overestimated how much water the river could deliver to farms, cities and businesses from Wyoming to Mexico. Agreements tend to be complex. Although five years might seem like enough time to hammer out a deal, water users expect reaching a deal to be a difficult task.

“‘It’s going to be a much more complex set of agreements that we’ve done on the river,’ said Bill Hasencamp, who oversees Colorado River resources for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California” — (The Nevada Independent, Daniel Rothberg: https://thenevadaindependent.com/article/equity-climate-on-the-table-as-colorado-river-as-new-negotiations-loom-for-southwest-water-managers)

“The Colorado River Water Users Association annual conference brings together nearly every municipal water agency, irrigation district, Native American tribe and environmental group that relies on the Colorado River.

“In a room the size of an airplane hangar, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation commissioner Brenda Burman took the stage to give attendees a congratulatory pat on the back for the recent completion of Drought Contingency Plans, which dominated discussion at these meetings for five years.

“‘To all of you in this room, to those of you in the negotiating parties, for those of you who covered for them at home while they had disappeared for months on end, to negotiate, to work, to analyze,’ Burman said. ‘Well done, everyone’” — (KUNC, Luke Runyon: https://www.kunc.org/post/drought-plans-finished-water-managers-pause-colorado-river-negotiations#stream/0)

Photo: Central Arizona Project Canal

“Arizona’s next steps in this process are already underway. Central Arizona Project (CAP) General Manager Ted Cooke and Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke began meeting with Arizona’s DCP Steering Committee delegates two months ago to initiate post-DCP discussions. The announcements from the Department of the Interior are consistent with the expectations and approach underway by CAP and ADWR” — (Central Arizona Project: https://www.cap-az.com/public/blog/1150-crwua-conference-provides-clarity-on-next-steps-after-this-year-s-historic-dcp-implementation)

“Under rules set in 1922, the upper-basin states must deliver a fixed 7.5 million acre feet of water annually, but it’s those states that bear most of the risk of climate change and dropping river flow, said Colorado River expert and author John Fleck, who teaches water policy at University of New Mexico.

“Politicians over-appropriated the water in the river in the 20th-century boom to create dams and canals in the Southwest. These water diversions helped develop the booming cities of Los Angeles, San Diego and San Bernardino in southern California, Tucson and Phoenix in Arizona and Las Vegas, Fleck said.

“But as years get drier, those bad calculations threaten the water supplies of millions of people” — (UPI, Jean Lotus: https://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2019/12/20/Plans-advance-for-Colorado-River-water-conservation/6951576642505/)

“Water wonks, state and tribal officials, attorneys and irrigation district representatives hit the floor at Bally’s Las Vegas Hotel last week. Not to shake loose the slots. But to gamble on the future of the Colorado River…

“But even as the impacts of the Earth’s warming are increasingly clear, there’s still a political and practical disconnect between the cause of climate change—the burning of fossil fuels—and the challenges warming poses to water supplies in the western United States.

“That decoupling was hammered home by US Department of the Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who spoke at the CRWUA meeting. During his keynote speech, Bernhardt avoided mentioning climate change.

“When pressed by reporters afterwards, he said he ‘certainly believe[s] the climate is changing.’ But he cautioned that forecasting is speculative” — (Laura Paskus, The Sante Fe Reporter: https://www.sfreporter.com/news/2019/12/19/interior-sec-skips-climate-change-in-colorado-river-users-speech/)

“In an interview with the Review-Journal, Burman said that ‘desalination is going to be part of the answer’ to reducing draws on the river, noting that California has already made major investments on that front and talks between Mexico and lower basin states have questioned whether desalination is possible in that country.

“‘We all really need to be looking at an all-of-the-above approach,’ she said about viable long-term solutions to river sustainability” — (Shea Johnson, Las Vegas Review-Journal: https://www.reviewjournal.com/local/local-nevada/conservation-key-as-decades-long-drought-continues-1912184/)

Photo: 2014 “Pulse Flow” reaching the Sea of Cortez