Tucson will leave CAP water in Lake Mead for a price

KOLD News 6-6:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Sep. 20, 2022 at 7:48 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -The city of Tucson has announced it will leave 30,000-acre feet of its Central Arizona Project water allotment in Lake Mead to help shore up the ailing water body.

The city has an allotment of 144,000-acre feet annually but uses only about 100,000. In the past, Tucson would bank the excess for future use and has five to six years’ worth of water stored in the aquifer.

Tucson will be paid about $7.8 million to leave the water rather than pump it hundreds of miles to Tucson. Other communities, such as Phoenix, also get paid to leave water in the lake.

In the past, in 2017 and 2018, Tucson left water in the lake but did not get compensated for it. The money comes from the Bureau of Reclamation under a conservation plan.

“The city of Tucson has always been interested in protecting Lake Mead,” said John Kmiec, the Tucson Water Director. “We’ve done it in the past and we’re doing it today.”

The Tucson city staff recommended the city take its full allocation for 2022 and 2023 but city leaders decided it was in the best interest of its water future to leave some this year and may do the same next year.

And the $8 million, while small in terms of the water department, is still money it can use.

“Well, that money will be returned to Tucson water enterprise fund to be used for projects in the future or purchasing additional rights or credits,” Kmiec said.

But not everyone on the city council is on board with leaving the 30,000-acre feet in the lake.

“If we leave 30,000-acre feet, that’s wonderful,” said Ward 6 council member Steve Kozachik. “That’s a few drops on the river.”

Kozachik would like to see the allocation contracts for the seven states that depend on the Colorado River torn up and new agreements reached that are more equitable and more realistic.

“Everybody whose got an entitlement to the river can’t say federal government pay us for what we’re leaving on there or the federal government is going to get sucked dry from a financial standpoint,” Kozachik said.

Kozachik thinks the city should be commended for leading the way but it’s still not enough.

“It’s in our best interest to lead by example and to invite everyone else to the table or the bureau of reclamation is going to say here’s what you’re taking,” he said. “And we may not like that. In fact, I’m sure we’re not going to like that.”

The bureau gave the seven states which use the river water a deadline last June to come up with a plan to redistribute the water to protect the lake but the states missed the deadline. In fact, there was no negotiations at all. The bureau wanted the states to cut the consumption by two-to-four-million-acre feet annually.

Because of the way the contracts are written, Arizona gets hit first.

That’s why Tucson is hoping that its conservation measures and playing nice with the feds will pay off in the end.

“Because of our voluntary efforts in the past, we hope the federal government will look upon Arizona communities like Tucson favorably and make sure that whatever reductions occur are done equitably,” Kmeic said.