ARIZONA NEWS

Arizona still has work to do for drought contingency plan, feds say

Feb 1, 2019, 1:30 PM | Updated: 1:43 pm

PHOENIX – A day after Arizona lawmakers approved a seven-state drought contingency plan, the federal government said it’s not a done deal.

However, legislation signed by Gov. Doug Ducey on Thursday delayed the looming threat of strict federal restrictions on Colorado River Basin water usage.

Thursday was the deadline U.S. Bureau of Reclamation director Brenda Burman had set for all parties to agree to voluntary cutbacks to conserve water in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, crucial Colorado River reservoirs.

On Friday, Burman announced that complex agreements among water users in California and Arizona still needed to be signed.

But instead of immediately implementing the federal restriction process, the bureau gave the states another month to complete their agreements.

The process would commence March 4, when the agency would start gathering input from the governors of the involved states, if the deals aren’t finished, according to a Federal Register notice.

The notice said Arizona’s legislation “may indicate that finalization of the DCPs [drought contingency plans] is imminent” and that the agency was “cautiously optimistic that the Basin States will successfully complete their efforts promptly.”

The Bureau of Reclamation operates under the Interior Department, which is considered the water master of the Colorado River. It has broad authority to step in and manage the river, but Burman says she prefers the states reach consensus.

Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming rely on the river.

Arizona was the only one of the states that required legislation to join the agreement to protect the water that serves 40 million people.

Ducey held a signing ceremony Thursday for the two bills that ratified the plan, calling it “the most significant water legislation passed in nearly 40 years” in a press release.

The nightmare scenario for Arizona, California, Nevada and Mexico — which draw from Lake Mead — is a phenomenon called “dead pool,” in which the level of the lake’s surface falls below the gates that let water out. To avoid it, the agreement calls for an escalating array of cutbacks as the lake level drops.

Arizona has junior rights to river water and would be hit first and hardest if Lake Mead drops to shortage levels. Most residents would not see an impact from the plan’s cutbacks, which will primarily hit farmers in Pinal County — between Phoenix and Tucson — who have the lowest-priority access and stand to lose the most.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Arizona still has work to do for drought contingency plan, feds say