Arizona officials look to reach landmark Colorado River deal before drought forces cutbacks


The Colorado River provides water for seven western states and Mexico. Heavily overallocated and ravaged by years of drought, the river is also under growing strains due to climate change./Desert Sun

 

By Ian James | Arizona Republic

With reservoir levels falling along the Colorado River, Arizona’s top water officials say they are making progress in talks toward a set of agreements for cities, farmers and tribes to share in water cutbacks and join in a larger proposed deal to prevent Lake Mead from dropping even further.

Since July, state water managers have been leading a series of biweekly meetings to work out details of the proposed drought-contingency plan. After their latest three-hour session Thursday, the two officials leading the talks said they are optimistic about finalizing agreements within Arizona in November so that the Legislature can sign off in January.

The proposed three-state plan would involve California, Arizona and Nevada jointly taking less water out of Lake Mead to give the reservoir a boost.

Based on Arizona’s priority system of water rights, complying with the plan without an additional adjustment would cut off water for farmers who depend on deliveries from the Central Arizona Project.

The idea is to reach an agreement that “more equitably spreads around the pain and the benefits” of the drought-contingency plan in Arizona, said Tom Buschatzke, director of the state Department of Water Resources.

“People are getting their real issues out on the table,” Buschatzke told The Arizona Republic. “People are really looking for solutions. They really are. There are some who are still holding their cards close to their vests, but I think the vast majority of people are trying to find ways to make this happen.”

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