A statewide steering committee is back in action 10 months after it helped pass a monumental seven-state deal to protect the most valuable water resource in the Southwest, the Colorado River.
Because of that agreement, called the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), Arizona’s water supplies are less likely to dip dangerously low over the next several years.
But the DCP was just a temporary fix. The longest drought in Arizona’s recorded history continues to place stress on “America’s Nile.”
Now, the committee has reconvened for the next step: protecting Arizona’s share of the river beyond 2026.
“This job that we all share of managing Arizona’s critical water supply is the gift that keeps on giving. Our work is never, ever done,” Ted Cooke, co-chair of the committee and the general manager of the Central Arizona Project (CAP), said at the kick-off meeting Thursday. “The DCP, as important as it was, was for a very brief period of time, only several months to put it in place, and it will only be a few years that it will be operational, and already we’re having to start working on the next thing.”
Same committee members, longer commitment
The 38 member task force is almost an exact replica of last year’s. The heads of city water departments, governing bodies and tribes are represented, like Kathryn Sorensen for the city of Phoenix, Lisa Atkins, board president for the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, and Chairman Dennis Patch of the Colorado River Indian Tribes.
Representatives from industry and development, farming and ranching, and non profit organizations also are back.
Arizona legislative leaders and representatives from the Governor’s office will help smooth the process if water measures and funding need support at the state Capitol.
This new effort will be more complex and time consuming this time around with climate change on the forefront, said co-chair, Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
“Millions of people in the state of Arizona rely on the Colorado River for their water use in their homes, for their jobs that they have within the state, and for the food that farmers grow using Colorado River water,” he said. “That is what this is really about. It is incumbent on us to make sure that water supply is there now and in the future for those people, for those purposes.”
Arizona heralded as national model
Last year’s success came about largely because the committee was made up of an array of water interests, often competing, from the public, private and nonprofit sectors, Buschatzke said. All had to agree on how everyone would take cuts to water supplies and other measures to conserve water to keep the river sustainable.
Now, Arizona is being touted as a model for other states. Bringing everyone to the table to reach consensus is the lynchpin, he said.
Before the end of 2026, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior will develop new guidelines for the long-term management of the Colorado River system. The seven Colorado River Basin States will play a leading role in the process to develop those new guidelines.
Arizona, California and Nevada make up the lower basin states. The upper basin states are Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
Arizona’s to-do list to take years
The committee, called the Arizona Reconsultation Committee (ARC), saw unanimous attendance at the first meeting last week.
Its main task will be to negotiate how to continue to shore up levels at the river’s two storage lakes, Lake Mead and Lake Powell. Currently, they are 41 percent and 53 percent full, respectively.
Committee members can expect at least three years work ahead of them, co-chairs Buschatzke and Cooke said. When it completes Arizona’s piece of the new DCP, it must go to the state Legislature for approval, then to the federal Bureau of Reclamation, and finally the U.S. Congress and the president.
Guiding principles to stay focused
At the kick-off meeting last week, Buschatzke and Cooke laid out the guiding principles. All were developed from input from committee members and other water interests.
The initial draft of guiding principles include:
• Respect existing “Law of the River” framework including existing rights, contracts and priorities
• Seek Basin-wide solutions with burdens shared across the Basin, not just by Arizona
• Focus on long-term sustainability including addressing the structural deficit, recognizing that conservation and supply augmentation are part of the long-term solution
• Arizona tribes are a vital component within the Arizona discussion
• Continue to collaborate with Mexico as part of the process
• No marketing of unused water
• No marketing of Arizona water out of state
• Arizona legislative leaders need to continue to be part of the discussion
Arizona’s new Reconsultation Committee
Tom Buschatzke, Arizona Department of Water Resources
Ted Cooke, Central Arizona Project
Municpal water providers
Kathryn Sorensen, Phoenix Water
Timothy Thomure, Tucson Water
Brian Biesemeyer, Scottsdale Water
Gretchen Erwin, Goodyear Public Works
Joe Gysel, EPCOR Water US
Fred Schneider, Arizona Water Company
Joe Olsen, Metropolitan Domestic Water Improvement District
Gary Watson, member, Mohave County Board of Supervisors
Attorney Paul Orme, Pinal County
Attorney Wade Noble, Yuma
Shane Leonard, general manager, Roosevelt Water Conservation District
Billy Elkins, president, Arizona Cattlemen’s Association
Stefanie Smallhouse, president, Arizona Farm Bureau
Brian Wong, Pima County agriculture/ Southern Arizona Water Users Association
Spencer Kamps, Home Builders Association of Central Arizona
David Godlewski, Southern Arizona Home Builders Association
Cheryl Lombard, Valley Partnership
Ted Maxwell, Southern Arizona Leadership Council
Courtney Coolidge, Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry
Chairman Dennis Patch, Colorado River Indian Tribes
Chairman Ned Norris, Jr., Tohono O’odham Nation
Attorney Jason Hauter, Gila River Indian Community
Sandra Fabritz, Freeport-McMoRan
David Roberts, Salt River Project
Virginia O’Connell, Arizona Water Banking Authority
Laura Grignano, Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District
Kevin Moran, Walton Family Foundation
Central Arizona Water Conservation District
Lisa Atkins, board president
Karen Cesare, member
Rep. Rusty Bowers
Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon
Rep. Gail Griffin
Sen. Sine Kerr
Sen. Lisa Otondo
United States Bureau of Reclamation