City of Tucson considering pay plan for Colorado River water

City of Tucson considering pay plan for Colorado River water
City of Tucson considering pay plan for Colorado River water
Published: Aug. 22, 2022 at 8:03 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -The Colorado River is failing much faster than anticipated which is one reason Tucson is rethinking its verbal agreement to leave a large portion of water it doesn’t need in Lake Mead rather than pump it to Tucson.

Last May, the mayor and council were all but assured they would not take the full allotment of Central Arizona Project water, leaving about a third of its water in Lake Mead to bolster its sagging water line.

Now, not so much.

In a memo released to the council, city staff is advising the city to take its full allotment of CAP water of 144,191 acre feet. The council will decide whether to do that at is biweekly study session tomorrow.

It’s possible the council could at a later date, decide it will leave the water in the lake but things are changing so rapidly, it may not.

“We are negotiating about the condition of a river that’s failing and it’s not just failing Tucson, it’s failing everybody whose using it,” said Ward 6 Council member Steve Kozachik. “We are in an entirely new situation and none of those allocations or entitlements mean anything if there’s no water in the river.”

The US Government asked the seven states which rely on the river to come up with an agreement to cut two to four million acre feet of water usage but no agreement was reached. So it made the decision unilaterally, leaving California harmless and punishing Arizona the most.

So now, the decision to leave water in Lake Mead has become a bargaining position.

“If we can’t reach an agreement with the federal government, the Bureau of (Reclamation) for a compensated system conservation plan,” said John Kmiec, the Director of Tucson Water. “That water will end up in Avra Valley or South of Tucson and it will be stored in the aquifer for annual use.”

But if Tucson can reach an agreement for a compensation plan, it could be worth millions of dollars.

If Tucson could leave 30,000 of acre feet in the Lake to help bolster the waterline, it could add up to $8 million to Tucson’s bottom line.

Tucson has been banking CAP water for years and the community has been active in water conservation for decades. Any water coming to Tucson would be welcomed.

“I would always want to see the water in Southern Arizona,” Kmiec said. “You know, once it’s in hand that’s always a better position and a more comfortable position to be in.”

Whether the council agrees, will be the subject of conversation tomorrow.

“Everybody needs to say it’s a new day, its a new game and we’re not all going to say we’re going to take it all because we’re all going to fail if we keep doing that,” Kozachik said.