In-Depth: Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, introduced this bill to ensure the wide-reaching Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) forged between the seven Colorado River Basin states and Indian tribes can be implemented while fully respecting important environmental protections in the process:
“States worked together, and now it’s time for Congress to work together and finish this process while we still have time. The House will move this bill quickly and the Senate should follow suit. Any foot-dragging or needless delay is going to worsen an already risky situation for the millions of people who rely on Colorado River water every day.”
Rep. Grijalva has vowed to move this bill quickly through the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency responsible for implementing certain provisions of the DCP.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM), who is cosponsoring the Senate version of this bill with Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM), says:
“In New Mexico, we live by the saying ‘agua es vida’ -- water is life -- because we know how vital this precious resource is to preserving our economy, our environment, and our way of life in the West, especially as climate change threatens our water supplies. Drought is the new normal, and this legislation is an important step in securing sustainable water supplies throughout the Southwest, and minimizing future conflicts and litigation. The Drought Contingency plan is the product of close collaboration between Colorado River Basin states, the federal government, and Indian Tribes at a time when climate change is making New Mexico and the Southwest hotter and drier, and putting a strain on our already scarce resources. For New Mexico, the plan will protect future flows from the San Juan-Chama project, which brings water from the Colorado River Basin into New Mexico. By working together – rather than against each other – we were able to devise a plan that will benefit everyone, from Indian Tribes and farmers to the growing communities of Santa Fe and Albuquerque.”
American Rivers, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Trout Unlimited, and Western Resource Advocates support this bill. In a joint letter to Congress, these organizations wrote:
“We write... in strong support of the seven Colorado River Basin States Drought Contingency Plans (DCP). We support the ongoing work of the states as well as the federal ‘Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act’ required to execute and implement those plans, which we understand will be introduced soon. The DCPs are intended to incentivize water conservation while protecting existing water rights, recognizing the values of the Basin’s agricultural communities and respecting the need to protect its environmental resources. We appreciate that the DCPs establish processes that build on existing federal NEPA and ESA decisions. From the headwaters to the Salton Sea and the delta, our groups have worked over the past two decades with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the seven Colorado River Basin states, and water providers and users throughout the Basin to find solutions that work for both people and nature. We believe the states are close to a final agreement and we steadfastly support their actions. Once the states finalize the DCPs, we will continue our efforts during DCP implementation, as we also work with all parties to improve conditions at the Salton Sea and across the basin. The Colorado River provides water to approximately 40 million people and 5.5 million acres of irrigated agriculture in the Upper Basin (Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming) and the Lower Basin (Arizona, California and Nevada), as well as in Mexico. Since 2000, the Basin has experienced historically dry conditions and combined storage in Lakes Powell and Mead has reached its lowest level since Lake Powell initially began filling in the 1960s. Lakes Powell and Mead could reach critically low levels as early as 2021 if conditions do not significantly improve. Declining reservoirs threaten water supplies that are essential to the economy, environment, and health of the Southwestern United States. Now is the time we all must work together for the sake of the future of the Basin. Therefore, it is critical that we support the goals of the DCP agreements in both basins and urge your support for these agreements through the ‘Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan Authorization Act.’”
Arizona Republican Governor Doug Ducey, who was instrumental in bringing competing Arizona water interests together to finalize the DCP, emphasizes the important of passing the DCP in Congress:
“Securing our water future is one of the most important issues we face. Earlier this year, Arizona showed we know how to get big things done by coming together to pass the historic Drought Contingency Plan – allowing Arizona to join the other basin states on a comprehensive plan to conserve more water. Now, it’s Congress’ turn to move DCP forward. My thanks to Senator Martha McSally and Representative Raúl Grijalva for their leadership and urgency and to all members of Arizona’s delegation for making this issue a priority. Let’s show the country we can still work together to do the things that matter. Let’s get this done.”
Jeff Silvertooth, director of the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, notes that the DCP’s water cutbacks will impact agricultural communities, beginning with dairy producers:
“If we like milk and cheese and ice cream that is gonna affect that supply, because we grow the crops, like alfalfa and corn, to feed the cattle to produce the milk. And of course, the cattle need water, too.”
Silvertooth notes that water cutbacks in Central Arizona could lead farmers to fallow 40-60 percent of their fields, potentially affecting prices:
“Depends on how the farmers manage it, too. Their going to have to prioritize what crops they grow, what land they fallow, what they keep in place. We'll probably see some changes in prices.”
This bill has 32 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 19 Democrats and 13 Republicans. The Senate version of this bill is sponsored by all 14 Senators from the Colorado River Basin, including Sens. Martha McSally (R-AZ), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Mike Lee (R-UT), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and John Barrasso (R-WY).
This bill has the support of American Rivers, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Trout Unlimited, Western Resource Advocates, the Gila River Indian Community, Colorado River Indian Tribes, and Arizona Republican Governor Doug Ducey.
Of Note: The Colorado River Basin drains over 246,000 square miles across seven states and Mexico. Over 40 million people in New Mexico, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming depend on the river for drinking water, farming irrigation, and hydropower. Since 2000, the Colorado River has been experiencing the most severe drought in over 100 years of record keeping and what paleo-records suggest may be one of the driest periods in the last 1,200 periods.
The DCP was the subject of a March 28 hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee’s Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee. In that hearing, each of the seven states’ respective Colorado River management officials, plus Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman, expressed support for the plan.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Skyhobo)