"Terrible" and "chaos" are among the findings that water experts predict for Arizona if the legislature does not approve a Colorado River drought plan.
Concerns of experts in science and government regarding the possible failure to approve a drought plan:
• Farmers in Pinal County, the focus of which was on concern over the drought plague, would be hardest hit.
• California, which had agreed for the first time in half a century to curtail its deliveries on the Colorado River as part of a drought plan, would be exempted from this obligation and would probably not cut back.
• If the federal government took over Colorado River management to protect Lakes Mead and Powell, as might have been expected, Arizona could lose more water than would be expected under the current drought emergency plan.
• Disputes by parties opposing various cuts could sweep the watershed and plunge water management into chaos.
The water experts responded last week to Star's questions about the likely consequences of a drought plan. It takes scarcely a week until the federal deadline occurs in the seven river basin states.
Commissioner for Reclamation Commission Brenda Burman has warned that if all seven states do not pass drought plans by Thursday, January 31, they will initiate a process that will lead to a decision in August, such as the river's best protection the river can be used reservoirs of catastrophic declines.
This is the purpose of the proposed drought plans for the Upper and Lower Basin of the river. Arizona is one of three states in the Lower Basin. So far, all Upper Basin states and Nevada have approved drought plans in the Lower Basin. In the southern California Metropolitan Water District, a drought plan was approved, but not two large irrigated districts in the southern California desert region.
The prospects for Arizona legislation to pass a drought plan by Thursday are unclear.
The Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project Board have endorsed the language of a resolution that is more than $ 100 million in approval of the $ 1 billion bill, leaving Arizona with nearly half of Lake Mead's CAP water supply.
However, the legislature still has many unresolved questions about this plan.
A bill by the Senate that introduced the legislation was not introduced until late Thursday. No hearings were scheduled until the end of Friday.
Experts say that this could happen without a drought plan:
California would be free to do whatever it wants
No DCP will be "terrible" for Arizona, said Robert Glennon, law professor at the University of Arizona and author of two books on water.
The seven states of the Colorado River Basin have agreed on a plan to reduce their water use, but "if the whole deal breaks down," states will be free to do what they want, Glennon said.
This is particularly the case for California, which has agreed to reduce Lake Mead's intake by 350,000 acres – equivalent to about three years of Tucson CAP water supply – after Mead has dropped below 1,030 feet and less at higher altitudes.
It has made that commitment, even though California is unable to restrict its flow inventories under federal legislation until all CAP supplies are cut. Without a plan, California would almost certainly not have any cuts, Glennon said.
For the farmers in Pinal County, Arizona, no DCP could be particularly bad, he said. Under the current contract system for CAP water, farmers only have access to "the water that others do not want, and I do not think there is too much water," Glennon said.
Without DCP, farmers would also "absolutely" have no chance to receive the $ 25 million in government subsidies they want to drill and put into other infrastructure to pump groundwater when CAP supplies disappear, he said he. Without the state subsidies that would be part of a drought plan, Burman alone can not raise $ 30 million or more, "he said.
Agency in Los Angeles is already taking more water
In Southern California, the inability to approve the drought plan has already claimed royalties at the Colorado River, said Metropolitan Water District General Director Jeffrey Kightlinger.
The district sells water wholesalers to agencies in six Southern California counties. It began this month with full pumps along the 250-mile California Aqueduct that ran from the river to Los Angeles to remove much of the water it had previously stored in Lake Mead.
The district is taking far more water this year than usual to protect it from a drought plan failure, Kightlinger told the Star.
Under previous guidelines approved by the seven basin states for river management, California has left 600,000 hectares in Lake Mead in recent years, which can later be removed as needed, unless the river is scarce. With a drought plan California could remove the water even with bottlenecks. Without one it could not.
The removal of 600,000 hectares could reduce Mead in addition to the already predicted decreases by about 8 feet. MWD would take out 300,000 this year if there is no drought plan. But if the plan is passed, this could slow down the district's withdrawal pace later in the year, leaving all 600,000 untouched.
Apart from this threat, the worst case, if a drought plan is not approved, is that federal officials would agree to a plan more Draconian than those considering the states, Kightlinger said. It would probably cancel out much of the flexibility offered by the current plan, and he expects the office to make larger cuts than agreed by the states.
"You get a lot of comments from other stakeholders, nongovernmental groups, and people who want to use some of that water for recovery," he said.
There could also be a number of legal disputes. People say we do not believe the government's plans are legal. We could probably spend years in court with people trying to get injunctions or not trying to do it, "he said.
Arizona farms, developers, tribes would be injured
Farmers will not be the only water users in Arizona to suffer without a drought plan, said Kathy Ferris, a former director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. She is chief adviser to the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association.
If the government takes over the management of Colorado, any cuts made in Arizona will likely follow the system of priorities set out in the 2007 guidelines, she said.
These cuts would be cut at the Arizona Water Bank, which is now salting unused CAP water underground for later use.
The developers would also be injured because the cuts would remove water that is now being recharged to make up for the groundwater being pumped out for new subdivision. For example, the absence of a plan would kill a GAP deal with the Gila River Indian Community of $ 97 million to use rootwater for 25 years for future growth in the suburbs of Tucson and Phoenix.
The future chopping block would also have a class of CAP water sold to tribes such as the Tohono O & # 39; odham near Tucson and to cities around Phoenix. Tucson himself would be one of the last to be seriously hit by cuts with or without a drought plan, as he receives only the water of the highest priority CAP.
"Water planners want safety. If you do not know how your water supply is because there is no formal agreement, you have uncertainty. This creates problems for people trying to ensure the reliability of our water supply, "said Ferris, who is also a senior officer at Arizona State University's Kyl Center on Water Policy.
"It also creates problems of public perception. We live in a desert. We already get criticism – "Why are we there?" If we do not take action to manage our supply on the Colorado River, we will look worse, "Ferris said, adding that poor perception of Arizona by investors outside the state would affect future economic development.
"Arizona needs less water"
In 2016, the author of Albuquerque, John Fleck, received numerous positive reviews when he published a book in which he said that the problems of the Colorado River could be remedied if all the water's belligerent water groups worked together instead. The book "Water is over for the fight" was his endeavor to counteract what he saw as the media gloom and sinking approached towards the water.
However, Fleck himself is a bit gloomy now and says that if Arizona does not approve a drought plan, it will mean "chaos" on the river.
He expects the Interior Department, which oversees the Bureau of Reclamation, to draw up a plan that is not very different from what Arizona and the other western states have discussed.
Without having a plan and voluntarily agreeing to Arizona's cuts, "Arizona is forced to make cuts that seem to be against the will of Arizona," said Fleck, now director of the University of New Mexico's Water Resources Research Program. "It creates an element of chaos, it has to be a collaborative process to figure out how to use less Colorado River."
In addition, his own optimism would be mitigated. The state's failure to pass a drought plan indicated "that I have misunderstood Arizona's willingness and ability to cope with the reality that Arizona needs less water."
The Feds could further restrict Arizona's water supply
If Arizona does not agree to a drought plan, "we're back on track," said Dave White, a longtime water researcher at Arizona State University.
Arizona will lose 320,000 acres of water under current 2007 River Conservation Management Guidelines if Mead drops below 1,075 at the end of a calendar year and the first deficiency is declared.
In a federal takeover, Burman could easily take 500,000 acres off Arizona to try to get Mead whole, "or it could be worse – 600,000 or 700,000," said White, director of ASU's decision-making center for a desert town.
"Surely we've seen the Trump administration act in a way that does not seem so rational," White said, referring to the president's threat to withdraw emergency relief money from California because he did not like the state's forest fire policy very much liked.
"I do not think it goes beyond all reasons," White said, "that this government works in a way that transcends the river."