Our Views: Why should state water users sacrifice for latecomer CAP?

November 24, 2018

Agreements and court decisions regarding the use of Colorado River water are voluminous and the material complex.

The subject is pretty simple, though: There has never been enough water in the river to meet the amount allocated to all users. Now there’s even less and the shortage is threatening the economic future of the Southwest.

The affected upper and lower basin states are individually and collectively working on drought contingency plans. It’s a relatively late development considering the drought began in 2000.

Arizona is lagging behind, but isn’t the only state hindered by internal struggles among user groups. The largest, of course, are municipalities and agriculture. The question isn’t one of just how much water must be given up but who has to lose it.

The drought plan is designed to keep water levels in lakes Mead and Powell above minimally usable levels. Some approaches are very real and substantial, such as the Colorado River Indian Tribes’ offer to give up 50,000 acre-feet of water rights for three years. Some are smoke and mirrors, including the current method of rebalancing the two lakes’ levels to assure they don’t drop below rationing levels.

Just as the Colorado River Compact of 1922 required cooperation between the mountain states, each states’ drought plan requires cooperation with other in-state users. That’s proving a tall order in Arizona and it’s not helped by the Central Arizona Projects’ bullying its way into the statewide planning.

CAP has offered a complex and costly plan to reduce its water share — which is really a very junior share — and to pay agricultural users to fallow their fields.

One catch is it wants to initially take 400,000 acre-feet of water from Lake Mead.

CAP, in our view, should accept that its water rights are less senior than others. Those users from outside the vast urban sprawl of the Phoenix area have no obligation to give up water to serve those who chose where to live based on overpromises by CAP.

CAP can negotiate with other users to buy water, just as it already does. Some go along, such as Quartzsite. Some, such as Mohave Valley, do not. That’s as it should be. Central Arizona’s growth and overdevelopment are strongly tied to the CAP’s water delivery. The growth has led to more growth and a stronger economy than in many other parts of the state.

We applaud the economic success of the Phoenix area, but it shouldn’t come on the backs of the rest of Arizona. It should rightfully lose more water than those with more senior water rights. Settle that big issue and the rest of the state drought plan gets much easier.

— Today’s News-Herald

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