Mar 25 2019Share

DCP Is Done and the Snowpack’s Great, but We Continue To Prepare

By Warren Tenney

On March 19th, representatives from the seven states that rely on the Colorado River met to celebrate their collective agreement on the Drought Contingency Plans (DCP). In a letter to Congress, the Colorado River Basin States asked for federal legislation that would direct the Secretary of the Interior to execute DCP as the States have agreed to. With the long process of interstate negotiation settled, DCP is now in the hands of Congress and the President.

DCP is the plan to take less water from Lake Mead over the next seven years. The goal is to protect the Colorado River system by having Arizona, California, Nevada, and Mexico agree to voluntarily use less water to ensure Lake Mead does not plummet to dangerously low levels. Under DCP, Arizona will continue to take the largest share of cuts to its Colorado River water supplies as the junior priority of the Central Arizona Project (CAP), that moves a portion of the State's Colorado River water to Central Arizona. California, for the first time ever, has agreed to take reductions when Lake Mead reaches lower levels, something it is not required to do given its water-use seniority. 

For five years, Arizona debated and conferred with the other Colorado River Basin States to develop the Lower Basin DCP. Since Arizona would be taking larger cuts of its Colorado River supply under DCP they had to develop a plan for how it would be implemented. After months of difficult negotiations, a carefully crafted Implementation Plan, that addresses the major requirements of Arizona’s various water using stakeholders, was put together. On January 31, 2019, legislation authorizing the Implementation Plan and DCP documents was signed by the Governor, securing Arizona’s participation in DCP under tight deadlines.

Throughout this entire process, the AMWUA cities actively supported Arizona’s participation in DCP. They were engaged in the creation of the Implementation Plan, and have also agreed to contribute water resources and finances to the Implementation Plan.

After all the work it took to complete DCP, it appears very likely that Mother Nature will give us a break by forestalling a shortage from occurring in 2020. This winter’s above-average snowpack is projected to provide enough runoff into the reservoirs so that Lake Mead’s elevation will stay above 1,075 feet, the level that triggers a shortage. A good winter is cause for celebration, but it will take many more to pull the Colorado River system out of drought. A reprieve in 2020 is an opportunity to continue, not let up, preparations for when shortages do occur on the Colorado River.

So regardless of when a Colorado River shortage is declared, the AMWUA cities will continue to plan, prepare and take steps to ensure we are being efficient with our water. We have invested and will continue to invest in our infrastructure, water supplies, underground water storage, and conservation programs. Each city is prepared with their own unique plan to address when deeper shortages impact their supplies.

We all play a role in improving how we use water. For four decades, the AMWUA cities have met and exceeded the State’s conservation requirements. We encourage you to take advantage of your cities’ conservation programs and resources. By doing this, you help to increase our water resiliency as we continue to plan and prepare for a drier future.

Even if we dodge a shortage in 2020, having DCP done is important. DCP does put in place steps to manage the Colorado River reservoirs and reduce the risk of severe shortages in the future. It also allows Arizona, California and Nevada to intentionally leave a portion of their water in Lake Mead to maintain higher levels. Having this agreement amongst the seven Colorado River States bridges the gap to 2026 when the State and Reclamation are to revise how best to manage the Colorado River.

The hard work to get DCP done was vital to protecting the Colorado River for years to come, even if our immediate prayers are answered with more snow in the Rockies, and we avoid a shortage in 2020. As water providers, the AMWUA cities are prepared and will continue to prepare for shortages and other long-term challenges to protect your water supplies.

Please join us in continuing the hard work of using water wisely, celebrating the milestone of interstate DCP consensus, and asking your U.S. Representatives and Senators to take action on federal legislation necessary for the future of the Colorado River.

For 50 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit

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