Colorado River Basin Study

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We’ll take a look at what a new report new says about the Colorado River’s ability to meet Arizona’s growing need for water with Sandra A. Fabritz-Whitney, the Director of Arizona’s Department of Water Resources. The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study is being released this week at the Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas.

Ted Simons: The Colorado river provides water to 40 million people in seven western states, including Arizona. But supply is not keeping up with demand, and it will only get worse due to population growth and the effects of Global warming. That, according to a report released today by the U.S. department of interior at a conference of Colorado river water users in Las Vegas. The "Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Survey" defines current and future water needs, and it identifies a wide array of strategies for dealing with projected shortages. For more on the report, I spoke with Sandy Faybritz-Whitney, director of the Arizona Department of Water resources.

Ted Simons: Thank you for joining us tonight on "Arizona Horizon."

Sandy Fabritz-Whitney: Thank you very much for having me tonight.

Ted Simons: This basin study, what exactly was looked at and what exactly was studied?

Sandy Fabritz-Whitney: The study is a collaborative effort between the U.S. bureau of reclamation and the southern basin states, and what we looked at was water supplies and demands on the Colorado river for the next 60 years. We're looking for balances.

Ted Simons: How much of an imbalance is there that you can see and how much of an imbalance do you foresee?

Sandy Fabritz-Whitney: Several scenarios were looked at. We looked at several different options for population growth, demand, how demands were going to be expressed in the future. On average, the imbalance that we found in the future, in 2060, was about 3.2 million acre feet.

Ted Simons: What does that mean in real water?

Sandy Fabritz-Whitney: Acre foot is enough to supply a family of four two or three families of four for a year. One-acre foot could cover that.

Ted Simons: We have the study looking at those sorts of things and focuses on what, utilities, agriculture, urban, the whole nine yards?

Sandy Fabritz-Whitney: Everything. We are looking at municipal and industrial demands, agricultural demands, healthy river, environmental demands, power, recreation, everything that you can imagine we looked at it.

Ted Simons: What about climate change?

Sandy Fabritz-Whitney: Climate change - this is one of the first studies this we included climate change into and it is a factor in the outcome of it. The 3.2 is a result of climate change.

Ted Simons: For the most part do you think or --

Sandy Fabritz-Whitney: No, not entirely. I think it is obviously a combination of efforts. The river -- we knew the river was over-allocated several years ago. Climate change is obviously going to have an impact on that.

Ted Simons: What does this mean as far as water in Arizona is a concerned? Allocation for water in Arizona, and, again, what we are seeing down the line in the future, if nothing much changes?

Sandy Fabritz-Whitney: Well, that is the important thing about this study. If we do nothing, we are looking at significant -- a significant imbalance in the state between what the river can supply to us and what we will have available. The Colorado river is not our only source of water in this state. We have water, depending on where you are in the state, in the Phoenix area, you also get water from Salt and Verde rivers, we have groundwater development throughout the state and other rivers in state that supply water. The Colorado river supplies approximately 40% of our total water use in the state. A lot of that is to agricultural water users. That has been shifting over time historically it was predominantly serving agriculture. But that is slowly shifting over time. So, the impact is again, we would have to rely on other sources. We would have to go to groundwater, which has its own problems and we have addressed that in the past.

Ted Simons: In the past as well, I was reading up on some of these studies, you looked at water banking and coordination of operating Lake Mead and Lake Powell and these sorts of things. How did that work in the past and how do you see it working in the future?

Sandy Fabritz-Whitney: Those are a couple of good examples of things that we have done already. In Arizona, we have a history of finding -- we have problems, we are an arid state, limited resources and supplies. And what we have done, going all the back to salt river project in the early 1900s, you had farmers who put their land up as collateral to build a dam and a whole reclamation system and then you go into the development of the central Arizona project which took over 50 years to get that in place and funded and built. And then you have things like the groundwater, code, 1980 groundwater management act which addressed ground water depletion in the center parts of this state. All of these are similar efforts where we had an extensive planning process that went into it and then that was the solution that came out of it. Now we are on the precipice of another -- we have something in front of us and it is time to do something.

Ted Simons: Do something like what?

Sandy Fabritz-Whitney: Well, an example, there is no single solution. And that is I think important. You are looking at seven different, very different states. You have the country of Mexico involved in this. You have all sorts of different types of water users, from agriculture, municipal, environment. And so we have to look at solutions across the region. We have to look at local solutions and we have to look at regional solutions. Water conservation is one example of something that we can do. But you can't rely solely on water conservation to address this imbalance. We will have to do augmentation projects, whether it be something like the desalination plants - working with New Mexico on doing desal in the Sea of Cortez. And providing -- basically developing new water sources. We have reuse is an option for us. Arizona is one of the very states that leads the nation in the reuse of water. Reclaimed water using it for, you know, non-potable purposes or even some day looking at potable purposes.

Ted Simons: Yeah, perhaps.

Sandy Fabritz-Whitney: Yeah.

Ted Simons: I notice as well water banking in the upper basin is considered something to look at. Is that something that folks in the upper basin are considering?

Sandy Fabritz-Whitney: Well, I think it is an option that has been put on the table. And right now what we have in the report are several very, very diverse options for us to look at. The upper basin hasn't bought into it yet. These are things that we are going to have to look at. We do water banking in Arizona where we store water for the future, and basically what we are storing water for specifically is to protect ourselves against future shortages. I think the big thing for Arizonans to look at out of the study is, you know, what have we already done to protect ourselves against these imbalances? We have done quite a lot -- we have done extensive projects and management in this state to protect Arizonans?

Ted Simons: So with that in mind, last question, as far as a call to action for some of the ideas to be implemented, are these state ideas, federal ideas, combination of both, regional, cooperative? If they are state ideas, are you looking at preemption problems here somewhere down the line?

Sandy Fabritz-Whitney: Well, they are a combination of all of those things. We have to look for local solutions, regional solutions and basin-wide solutions. The call to action really is going back to our roots, and we need to plan, which we have done this, and now we need to invest. Because some of these larger-scale projects, like the CAP, Salt River Project, very large projects. The financing and funding for those things takes a long time. We have an opportunity to maybe look at alternative ways to do funding. Does it have to be all federal funding? No. I think working with the nongovernmental organizations might be another way to help fund some of those things if you can find a benefit, mutual benefit for the environment and water users.

Ted Simons: All right. Very good. Good information. Thank you for joining us.

Sandy Fabritz-Whitney: Thank you so much.

Sandra Fabritz-Whitney:Director, Arizona Department of Water Resources;

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