86°F
weather icon Clear

War of words flares in Arizona over Lake Mead water

Updated May 4, 2017 - 7:38 am

Officials in Arizona have reached an impasse on a multistate agreement aimed at storing more Colorado River water in Lake Mead, but Southern Nevada Water Authority chief John Entsminger said he is confident the deal will still get done.

Since 2015, Nevada, California and Arizona have been negotiating a drought contingency plan to keep Lake Mead from shrinking enough to trigger a first-ever federal shortage declaration and force Nevada and Arizona to cut their use of river water.

Despite recent signs of discord, Entsminger said the states are still “holding firm” to an agreement in principle under which Nevada, Arizona and, eventually, California would voluntarily reduce use and leave water in Lake Mead when the surface of the reservoir falls to certain trigger points.

He said he expects the plan to be finalized late this year or early next year, once the “diverse constituencies” of water users in Arizona and California figure out how the voluntary cuts will be made in each state.

Apparently, Arizona has more work to do.

Over the past two weeks, three of the state’s top water managers have staked out opposing positions on the contingency plan in dueling opinion pieces published in the Arizona Republic.

Board members Alexandra Arboleda and Mark Taylor from the Central Arizona Water Conservation District got things started on April 21, when they floated an alternate plan in the state’s largest newspaper to artificially keep Lake Mead just above the trigger point for a shortage, a move they said would force the release of more water from Lake Powell upstream while lessening the need for water reductions in Arizona.

‘It doesn’t hold water’

Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, responded Sunday with an op-ed of his own dismissing Arboleda and Taylor’s idea as a “risky gambit” that seeks to game the system.

“It doesn’t hold water. I won’t support it. It’s that simple,” he wrote.

The unusual public exchange hints at a long-simmering power struggle between Buschatzke’s agency and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which operates and maintains the canals that deliver Colorado River water to Phoenix and Tucson.

Buschatzke downplayed the dispute in a follow-up statement Wednesday, noting that progress is being made on “an intra-Arizona plan.”

“It is conceivable an agreement among Arizona water users could occur later this year,” he said. “However, it is likely the Arizona Legislature will not be in session then. Thus, the most likely time frame for (contingency plan) approval will be early next year.”

Lake Mead levels

Luckily, Entsminger said, an unusually wet winter in the mountains that feed the Colorado has bought everyone more time. The additional snowmelt is expected to boost Lake Mead and delay a shortage declaration for at least another year.

Entsminger just hopes the temporary respite doesn’t cause water officials to lose the sense of urgency that has carried the talks this far. “It’s human nature to take your foot off the gas when it seems like you have more time,” he said.

The Colorado supplies water and power to 30 million people in seven Western states and irrigates $1.5 billion of crops a year. The Las Vegas Valley draws 90 percent of its drinking water from the Colorado by way of Lake Mead, which has seen its surface drop by roughly 130 feet since drought descended on the river in 2000.

Contact Henry Brean at hbrean@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0350. Follow @refriedbrean on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Former Nevada Senate leader Kelvin Atkinson sentenced to prison
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
THE LATEST
Nevada girl dies after bounce house blown into power lines

A 9-year-old Reno girl has died from injuries she suffered when strong winds blew an inflatable bounce house with three children inside into power lines last weekend.

Trump plan to slow Western wildfires would clear strips of land

The Trump administration is proposing an ambitious plan to slow Western wildfires by bulldozing, mowing or revegetating large swaths of land along 11,000 miles of terrain in the West.

Kamala Harris’ campaign opens Nevada HQ in Las Vegas

Two senior officials with Sen. Kamala Harris’ presidential campaign discussed the importance of Nevada as a diverse early state and shared some insights on the candidate’s preparations for the second national debate.