Nothing was settled, but pledges were made to improve communication and collaboration between officials of the CAP and the four Upper Colorado River Basin states as they met to hash out differences over managing the Colorado River.
Central Arizona Project officials took several steps to try to patch things up at their meeting Monday with Upper Basin officials who have accused operators of the $4 billion Arizona water project of manipulating river operations to benefit themselves.
For one, they released a statement saying CAP officials regret past comments about their views on managing the over-allocated river that were “insensitive” to concerns of Upper Basin states. They pledged “a more respectful and transparent dialogue in the future” and to collaborate more effectively with the Upper Basin states, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico.
Their meeting was held Monday in Salt Lake City. The three-county Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which runs the Arizona water project, said Tuesday in a statement that the discussion was productive but that both sides agree there is still “a lot of work to do.”
Representatives of Upper Basin states agreed the proof of CAP’s intentions will be shown in how it acts.
“Words are fine, but action is necessary for us to right the ship, so to speak,” said James Eklund, Colorado’s representative on the Upper Basin commission.
The meeting came two weeks after the four commissioners wrote a pointed letter accusing the CAP of trying to manipulate operations of the Colorado River reservoirs at the expense of the Upper Basin states.
CAP officials have said they’re trying to keep water levels in Lake Mead high enough to avoid any reduction in CAP’s share, but low enough to require other users to send more water to Lake Mead from Lake Powell upstream.
The meeting came as an 18-year drought and increasing water demand from growing cities have put the river under more strain, although a formal cutback in deliveries of river water is unlikely until at least 2020. The river serves 40 million people in seven U.S. states and Mexico.
- Officials of CAP committed to starting a “fresh conversation” with the Arizona Department of Water Resources and other Arizona water-interest groups. The goal is to complete a Drought Contingency Plan involving Arizona, California and Nevada to keep Lake Mead from dropping to catastrophically low levels.
The two big water agencies in Arizona have been locked in conflict with each other since early 2017 over power and policies over the Colorado River.
- CAP expressed regret that its officials have used “language and representations that were insensitive to Upper Basin concerns.”
Three Upper Basin commissioners said they were troubled by past CAP statements that the Arizona district didn’t want to “overconserve” water. They’ve also taken exception to recent CAP statements that Lake Mead would be in a “sweet spot” if its level was high enough to avoid a shortage in water deliveries yet not so high as to trigger cutbacks in releases of water from Lake Powell to Mead.
CAP spokeswoman DeEtte Person said the project officials were only expressing regret over the “sweet spot” statement.
- Commissioners and CAP officials pledged to return to the collaborative processes “that have defined the successes for which the Colorado River Basin has been famous for two decades.”
To get the disputes resolved, above all, the Drought Contingency Plan “has gotta get done,” said Patrick Tyrrell, a commissioner for Wyoming.
“The state and CAP need to get off the dime,” said Tyrrell, who is also Wyoming’s state engineer, its top water official. “The disagreement within Arizona has got to get resolved.”
Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, said he’s grateful that the Upper Basin states took steps to assure that the multi-state partnership managing the river will stay strong and is pleased to see the commitment from CAP officials to work toward finalizing the drought plan. But tough issues remain, he added.