It was common knowledge in the fall of 2018 that water levels running low at Lake Mead was a harbinger of impending water shortage. On Sept. 27, 2018, the formal introduction of the “Drought Contingency Plan” occurred. Many in the audience were hoping the “Contingency Plan” would produce a silver bullet solution.
The first speaker stated: “There is nothing in this Contingency Plan that will keep us from running out of water.” That comment had a very sobering effect on the audience.
The Drought Contingency Plan encourages Lower Basin stakeholders to leave some of their normal water allocation in Lake Mead to avoid tier shortage and provide some additional time to find solutions. If the elevation of Lake Mead falls below established tier levels, Arizona’s allocation of water is reduced. Dead pool occurs when the lake’s water level is reduced to a small pool too low to be pumped or create electricity. It could occur in 2026 to 2028 without a new source of water.
Former Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Herb Gunther was a water expert. I attended his Arizona water law class. He made a statement that has stuck with me. “Without a new source of water, safe yield replenishment will never work and if we pump the aquifers dry, we’ll have the Gobi Desert.” We desperately need to find that new source of water! Conservation is helpful but not the solution nor is desalination — that is too expensive and problematic.
The Colorado River volume is declining annually. All seven Colorado River Basin states need to obtain more water from the river. Climate change is creating new weather patterns. The more northerly climes are becoming colder and wetter with too much water. This year the Mississippi floodwater damage was $19 billion. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation must find a way to reduce floodwater levels and prevent billion-dollar damage.
The West is becoming hotter and drier. The Arizona Republic reports over 260,475 acres of fallowed or idle agricultural land exists across the state. Many developers are having trouble getting Assured Water Supply certificates so they can build. Farmers in Pinal County will likely have to fallow 40% of their farmland. Agriculture receipts in Pinal County alone are over $2 billion. If fallowing occurs, there will be a significant negative effect to Pinal’s economy!
Oil is piped from Canada to Houston. Water can be piped just as easily. A federal project pipeline in the Interstate 80 right of way could transport damaging floodwater from a Mississippi River diversion dam near Davenport, Iowa, to Rock Springs, Wyoming. I-80’s terrain is predominately level with some elevation in Wyoming. The floodwater quality is good, coming from snowmelt. The Green River could receive the water and flow it into the Colorado River. Lake Powell and Mead water levels would be raised, and renewed stream flow volume realized. The new water would benefit all seven Colorado Basin states and Mexico.
Mississippi floodwater must be significantly reduced. Removing floodwater will help mitigate extreme damage down river and keep the water within the riverbanks.
It is a win-win. Where too much water is the problem, it will be piped to where not enough water is the problem.
Dick Powell is a member of the Casa Grande City Council.