Colorado River Water Supply

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A report has been released on Colorado River water supplies that shows Arizona will not face shortages next year. Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke will tell us more.

TED SIMONS: The latest report on the supply of Colorado River water into Lake Mead shows levels are sufficient to keep Arizona from facing shortages next year. Central Arizona Project general manager Ted Cooke is here to tell us more. Welcome to Arizona Horizon.

TED COOKE: Thank you for having me.

TED SIMONS: Thank you for being here. Lake Mead now seven feet above the trigger point, explain what we're talking about.

TED COOKE: That's correct. The seven feet about the trigger point is a projection of where Lake Mead will be at the end of this year.

TED SIMONS: And this was done -- They do this in August?

TED COOKE: The Bureau of Reclamation does a study every month based on a projection model, they run it every month. The August run is so important because that's the one used to make a determination of whether or not there will be a shortage. We watch it closely all year. It's as exciting as any sport to watch the month to month to month, great news, there won't be a water shortage next year.

TED SIMONS: So no water shortage. Agriculture probably very happy to hear that.

TED COOKE: Agriculture would have been the customer class impacted if there was a shortage in 2016.

TED SIMONS: No shortage in 2016, it sounds optimistic for 2017, as well?

TED COOKE: It is optimistic for 2017, as well. The percentage is - of course we have to wait a year to find out for sure but the projection for the end of 2016 in Lake Mead has a relatively low percentage, probably less than 20% chance of a shortage in 2017. That's very encouraging because some of the things we have done to help the outcome in 2016, we may be able to repeat that in 2017 if the weather cooperates a little bit.

TED SIMONS: We just did this story about a month ago. We're below the trigger point, people are running around with hair on fire. There was a lot of concern about what was going to happen. Did just one wet spring make that much difference?

TED COOKE: It did. It was about a wet month and a half in May and June. Not enough to break the drought or to even be a particularly good year, but January through April were very depressing. That's when people's hair was on fire. In the April time frame the projections were about a 50% shortage for 2016 and 75% in 2017. It was pretty nasty. An extremely wet May where we had over 200% of normal in most of the upper basin really helped us out.

TED SIMONS: Now regarding measures that could be taken possibly, these upper basin states, they used Lake Powell for the measurements, correct?

TED COOKE: That's the biggest storage reservoir in the upper basin. And my understanding is that the primary use of that storage reservoir in the upper basin is for regulating the flow of water into the lower basin. They have several other smaller reservoirs, as well.

TED SIMONS: Sounds like they have not been using their allotment here of late, and that has helped the lower basin.

TED COOKE: The higher Lake Powell is, the better off the lower basin is. The elevation of Lake Powell determines how much water is released into Lake Mead which is where the lower basin is.

TED SIMONS: Because they haven't used their allotment for years, obviously that helps us. Can we continue to see that?

TED COOKE: It will continue. We do not take all of our long term water under long term contracts here in Arizona, either. We do take all the water but use it for other purposes, store it underground and things like that. Both Arizona and the upper basin will eventually grow into their full allotment. Eventually that will change.

TED SIMONS: The word eventually is kind of key here, sound like the lower basin states, that's us, we consume more than the river provides.

TED COOKE: That's correct.

TED SIMONS: Something's got to give, doesn't it?

TED COOKE: The river is over-allocated. We have to solve this problem ourselves in the lower basin. It's going to take hard work. The good news, some of the things we're doing to save water in Lake Mead in the short term may have more permanent types of attributes to them. There may be things we can do long term, rather than once or twice.

TED SIMONS: What are those things?

TED COOKE: Conservation, fallowing.

TED SIMONS: What's fallowing?

TED COOKE: Fallowing would be to take agricultural land out of production, whether temporarily or permanently. More efficient use of water all the way from homes and businesses to farms to any use at all. Reuse of water, which we're already doing. I don't think one drop of Arizona water leaves Arizona.

TED SIMONS: You mentioned reuse projects. We've heard about those. We've heard about desalination ideas. How far along are those?

TED COOKE: There are plenty of discussions that have been going on for some time, of course. In a situation like this the intensity of those discussions increases quite a bit. Desalination is very expensive. There are in fact, even though that seems to be a silver bullet, let's go desalinate the ocean, there are far less expensive alternatives available that we need to explore first. Those discussions need to take place. It would take a long time and a lot of money to do that, but that is one of the alternatives being explored.

TED SIMONS: I would imagine just moving desalinated water is major.

TED COOKE: We've heard about the Keystone Pipeline, the ocean is either in California or Mexico. You have to cross state boundaries and perhaps international considerations.

TED SIMONS: What about the evaporation of water, Colorado River water that move has to CAP? How much of an issue is that? We've got to be losing a lot of water to that.

TED COOKE: The CAP canal, we don't lose a lot of water to evaporation and seepage. Some, a few percent, but not a lot. Most of what we lose through evaporation is in Lake Pleasant because it's big and sits there all year. The canal water moves pretty fast. We don't lose a lot. Lake Mead, the large reservoirs, those are really where a lot of evaporation occurs. There's not a whole lot we can do about that. But evaporation does contribute a lot to the overdraft. Where they are not counted when the lower basin water was allocated.

TED SIMONS: So, with this report and the optimism for 2016, and the hopeful nature for 2017, we can keep storing water and those things we keep hearing about?

TED COOKE: We expect to have our full supply available in 2016 and 2017. However, some of the things we are doing to preserve the level in Lake Mead, we will voluntarily take less in 2016 and 2017, probably on the order of 350,000 acre feet. We'll get that once it starts every year.

TED SIMONS: Last question, there's a vigorous El Nino forecast for this winter. Could that make - If a couple of wet months in the spring made this much of a difference in El Nino I would imagine would be considerably helpful.

TED COOKE: It might and I'm glad you asked that question. There are two things to consider there. First of all, the existence of an El Nino in the Pacific Ocean doesn't necessarily mean wet, dry or normal. The science says the history is about even between those three cases. So just having an El Nino doesn't really mean anything. The second thing to consider is, if it's a wet El Nino, where is it wet? It is likely to be wet not where we need it in the upper basin, but down here in Arizona and California. It would be great for the farms and things and there may be indirect reduction of consumption that will help, but it won't fill up any reservoirs.

TED SIMONS: It really is that snowpack that makes the difference.

TED COOKE: The snowpack.

TED SIMONS: Great conversation, thanks for joining us. Good to have you here.

TED COOKE: Thank you very much.

Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke

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