Where the CAP and related municipal distribution systems do not reach, it was recognized that methods were needed for groundwater replenishment separated from the point of extraction. For these, the CAWCD developed State Demonstration Recharge Project (SDRP) facilities in several locations within the CAGRD service area. To provide funding for these SDRP facilities, the state authorized creation of a State Water Storage Fund in 1991 and levied property taxes on member properties for the development of those projects. The SDRP facilities were established specifically for the storage of CAP-delivered water in a manner like that depicted in an Arizona Republic infographic in part 3.1 of this series. When the CAGRD was established in 1993, these facilities became the sites at which the organization designated "groundwater replenishment" using substitute surface water supplies.
Like the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) Active Management Areas (AMAs) discussed in part 2 of this series, the CAGRD is required to revise and submit a management plan for its entire service area (covering the Phoenix, Pinal, and Tucson AMAs) every ten years. The difference is that, while the AMAs have been required to submit a 10-year plan of operations, the CAGRD plans must look 100 years ahead with the assumption of constant membership. Is that reasonable at all, given projected population and urban area growth rates based on historical trends in the Phoenix and Tucson areas? Is it reasonable given the complete disappearance of forecasting ability on the Colorado River and the ability for Arizona to take its full allocation every year? It may not even be reasonable to rely on the central purpose of the CAGRD which, according to their executive summary, is:
"...to provide a mechanism for landowners and water providers to demonstrate an assured water supply under the State's Assured Water Supply Rules ('AWS Rules') that became effective in 1995... The AWS Rules are designed to protect groundwater supplies within each Active Management Area ('AMA') and to ensure that people purchasing or leasing subdivided land within an AMA have a water supply of adequate quality and quantity. Thus, in each AMA, new subdivisions must demonstrate to the Arizona Department of Water Resources ('ADWR') that a 100-year assured water supply is available to serve the subdivision before sales can begin."The methods by which the AWS Rules can be met are listed by the CAGRD, and all are basically regulatory (on paper) rather than scientific (using observations and forecasts of wet-water supply). How any building or engineering company or the ADWR, now at reduced personnel levels, can be expected to demonstrate an assured water supply over a 100-year term is beyond me. On the positive side, declaration of AWS for a new development must also meet the planning objectives of the AMA in which it is built, limiting the dependence of an AWS certification on groundwater mining. However, the AMA process has just been reduced considerably in scope and regulatory authority by the contraction of the ADWR itself, and was not designed to persist beyond 2025, at least in legislative terms. In addition, the concept of AWS with a 100-year planning horizon and principal dependence on surface water supply seems to defy all recognition of precipitation and stream flow variability, the semi-arid climate already present in the service region, and a secular trend toward more arid conditions in the southwestern US according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 4th Assessment Report (AR4), Contribution of Working Group II (WG2) regarding the impacts of anticipated climate change on freshwater runoff.
The SDRP facilities were, for a time, operated as part of the CAGRD. But the program grew, and in 1996 the State Water Storage Fund and its associated SDRP facilities were morphed into the Arizona Water Banking Authority (AWBA). In addition to Arizona's own water that is designated for "replenishment" through the CAGRD process and the exchange fees designated for that purpose, as well as the property taxes that funded the development of the facilities, the AWBA also accepts CAWCD's excess water after CAP deliveries to customers. In this way, both payments ("replenishment" using CAP water for replacement of groundwater pumped elsewhere in the CAGRD) as well as credits ("storage" using excess water delivered to SDRP facilities via CAP) are handled by the AWBA. Credits are accrued both financially and in terms of water: money collected from CAGRD and CAWCD for the costs of aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) operations, and those volumes of CAP water designated by the CAWCD for storage and eventual recovery when needed. The idea is that, when supplies are otherwise low, as in the event of a shortage declaration on the Colorado River or a particularly dry year for surface water (or someday that groundwater pumps run dry), these credits would be used by pumping the groundwater at the designated facilities back out of the ground and into the CAP aqueduct for delivery to the customer.
As their website indicates, the AWBA also serves to "assist Nevada and California through interstate water banking." These are basically trade agreements where the other state forgoes a portion of their allocation from the Colorado River and asks Arizona to store that water in its aquifers; the state still accepts its allocated water under the Compact agreement, just at a different location on the River and by proxy of another state's infrastructure mechanism. Arizona takes that amount of water via the CAP aqueduct and stores it by the ASR mechanism already in use. Later, when the state wishes to claim its credited water, Arizona would forgo that amount of withdrawal from the Colorado River at the CAP diversion point (Lake Havasu) while the original "lending" state takes the water on Arizona's behalf at their own diversion point. In lieu of that diversion from Lake Havasu, Arizona then simply recovers the foregone amount from its own facilities to complete the transaction.
That California might use the AWBA is wishful thinking; relations between Arizona and California have never been at the level of agreement and trust required for such transactions over water from the Colorado River. On the other hand, Nevada has already contracted with Arizona for storage of excess allocation water. Under the Colorado River Compact, Nevada was allocated 300K acre-feet of water per year, the smallest allotment of the three states in the Lower Colorado Basin (California was allocated 4.4M acre-feet per year, and has diverted at least that much every year since 1922). Somehow, the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA) has found surplus water at times, despite the Compact having been negotiated long prior to the urbanization and sprawl that started around the time Hoover Dam was built in the 1930s and exploded throughout the Las Vegas Valley for the remainder of the 20th Century. Given the SNWA's monumental efforts to meet the needs of a still-growing population, it is difficult to picture now the meadows for which the Valley and city were originally named. But again, those are stories told already elsewhere (in Rivers of Empire, Unquenchable, and particularly well in Cadillac Desert) and from perspectives that, given recent conflicts and developments, I may cover here in the near future...
However, Arizona's innovative Water Bank is in trouble, both on paper and on the ground. State budget issues are an obvious and more recent threat to the AWBA, and the banking facilities are administered by both the ADWR and CAP with different regulatory requirements and political pressures. A portion of the AWBA mission addresses the CAGRD and its requirements for Assured Water Supply (AWS), a subject discussed in detail by reporter Shaun McKinnon in the Arizona Republic and briefly in part 3.1 of this series. In addition, as the AWBA and its forerunning institutions were developed in a time when the goal was storage at the developed facilities, there is a lack of infrastructure and strategy for recovery of the stored quantities. There is the inherent issue of groundwater migration, albeit slow, and then there are also rules relating extraction location to recharge location. The physical aspects of such heavy reliance on groundwater resources are always present but rarely accounted; it is the political approach to water in Arizona that continues to evolve, and must bring its focus back to the physical capabilities and limitations of the natural system. This was the central point of the op-ed column in the Arizona Republic by Arizona Water Resources Research Center (WRRC) Director Sharon Megdal that I reprinted in part 1 of this series.
In terms of usage, considering both explicitly priced surface water and regulated groundwater pumping, water prices in Arizona remain low and thus do not encourage conservation. This is in addition to the exemption of low-capacity groundwater wells throughout the state from regulatory registration with the ADWR, let alone reporting of usage on any time basis. Both the recognition of water's value (a philosophical problem) and the valuation of water (an economic problem) are of perpetual concern to those looking into Arizona's future, including UA professor Robert Glennon. Mr. Glennon has written two books on the subject of groundwater exploitation (Water Follies and Unquenchable) and also voiced his concerns with an op-ed on 9 August 2009 in the Arizona Republic:
"As Arizona's population surges, what options do we have for securing water to support new residents and businesses?
"We've traditionally turned to engineering solutions to address water-scarcity problems. We divert more water from rivers, build more dams or drill more wells. But our surface-water supplies are already tapped out; no good dam sites remain; and groundwater pumping has drastically lowered the water table in many parts of the state. Business as usual just won't cut it.
"Some dreamers wistfully glance at icebergs in the Arctic or rivers in British Columbia and imagine a new CAP canal to tap into these distant sources. Others fantasize about seeding clouds in hopes of augmenting our existing supplies, even though the National Research Council has found that there is 'no convincing scientific evidence' that cloud seeding works.
"We in Arizona must face reality: Our water supply is limited. This should be obvious, given that we live in a desert, but we humans have an infinite capacity to deny reality."There remains as yet the barest hint in society that underpricing and undervaluation of natural resources, such as water, does not necessarily indicate an infinite and accessible supply. And then there's politics...
At the beginning of this series I indicated that the budget process in Arizona around 2009-10 entered a state of turmoil, and in part 2 of this series I quoted from an op-ed column by John Mawhinney in the Arizona Daily Star that, if you clicked through to it, gives a general idea of what came next. In October of 2009, several regulatory departments in Arizona including the ADWR were asked by the Governor to submit contingency plans of operation given overall budget cuts of 15% that were anticipated for the coming fiscal year (to begin in July 2010). As reporter Shaun McKinnon recounted in the Arizona Republic:
"Projected state budget cuts would all but end Arizona's efforts to secure long-term water supplies, water officials say, a loss that would devastate rural communities already struggling to meet demands.
"In a budget scenario requested by the governor, the Department of Water Resources says it would also eliminate its statewide drought and water-conservation programs, cutting off aid to towns and cities at a time when dry conditions have deepened again.
"In all, the water agency would be forced to lay off nearly half of its workforce and cut most programs not required by state law."The article goes on to list many programs and activities of the ADWR that would cease, including "programs that support riparian protection, track river flows, measure groundwater levels and chart unsafe dams." Also listed were impacts to related groups and programs, including the AWBA. The ADWR's response to the Governor was indicated:
"'It eviscerates us,' said Herb Guenther, the department's director. 'We currently have a lot of things on our plate that are very critical to the well-being and prosperity of Arizona's future. There are places with water deficits now, where supplies are inadequate. It's very troubling.'
"'Rural Arizona, they're on a more critical path than the AMAs,' Guenther said. 'We've got whatever's left of 100 years to play with in the cities, but you've got a lot less than that in areas like Prescott, areas like Cochise and Yavapai counties. They're already short of water, and they're living on borrowed time.'
"'Our process is long-term,' he said. 'We've got some challenges that are just huge, and you're not going to resolve them overnight.'"Though some bold assumptions in the overall regulatory-minded philosophy at the ADWR are evident in the Director's statement, the tone of his response was certainly clear in the potential implications for the state of the suggested budget reductions. One of the impacts indicated in that article came to pass much earlier than expected: in early 2009, the Legislature had already completed the first of several funding "sweeps" in which outstanding, unspent balances from the previous budget cycle were drawn back to the state treasury. These funding sweeps were executed in an attempt to balance the budgets for the cycle in which the state was already operating, as well leftover deficits from previous spending cycles; this was not an attempt to balance the next year's budget. Once the funds were taken back by the state, they effectively disappeared in the ledger balancing process. Quite often this is a paper action, meaning that it doesn't (or shouldn't) affect the existing operation of a department or agency (or University, as the case may be). By June 2009, the Legislature tried to sweep funds again, and this time the AWBA's operational account might have been swept out of existence entirely.
While the AWBA's accounts had been exhausted previously, on an annual basis as indicated in the article linked above, that occurred in the course of operation, and in any case these particular swept funds were special. In a challenge that went directly to the Arizona Supreme Court, the CAWCD attempted to recover the swept funds for the continued operation of the AWBA. As reporter Howard Fischer recounted in the Arizona Daily Star, the Court refused to order the return of AWBA funds:
"Without comment, the justices rejected a plea by attorney Robert Lynch that the court rule the raids on funds of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, which administers CAP operations, were illegal. Lynch argued the cash was legally off-limits to lawmakers...
"Lawmakers took a total of $13.9 million from the district to balance both prior and current state budgets. Lynch, however, asked the high court only for the return of the most recent $5.4 million taken, as lawmakers had already spent the other cash.
"The money at issue actually was part of the money Arizona is getting from Nevada in exchange for being able to use some of Arizona's share of Colorado River water that this state does not need but Nevada needs now and will for years to come...
"Lynch said those dollars are being held in trust and, therefore, are off-limits to a legislative raid. Legal issues aside, he said lawmakers, in taking those funds, could leave the state short of the water it needs in the future."The AWBA was not necessarily out of options after the rejection, as the article indicated. The CAWCD still had the opportunity to file a claim in a lower court, and the option to attempt to recover all of the swept funds. I should note here that there is no indication the CAWCD has pursued those options, however. Nevada's financial deposits to the AWBA were counted as both rent (aquifer storage) and operational funding for the eventual recovery of the stored water.
Much more details about the original agreement and the transactions with the SNWA, and the funding sweeps in Arizona, were given in a blog post by Arizona Republic reporter Shaun McKinnon in mid-2009. I didn't see this information at the time it was posted, and did not even know that this "behind-the-news" information existed. However, I must point out that most of this information never made it into the mainstream news from the Arizona Republic itself! The sweep of AWBA funds in early 2009 was not mentioned in Mr. McKinnon's longer article in August 2009 on the general state of groundwater management in Arizona, and the impacts on the AWBA were only listed as "potential" in Mr. McKinnon's article in October 2009 on impending budget reductions signaled by the Governor's query to state departments and agencies. In those two major articles on water issues that were published by Mr. McKinnon in the Arizona Republic that I've used for this series, and in three shorter articles in between (on 3 August, 25 October, and 26 October 2009), very few of the relevant details from Mr. McKinnon's blog entry on 11 June 2009 were mentioned. Why?
For the general public, it would have taken some very timely digging to uncover this information when it would have counted most. It's still important information to have: the absence of some of this information from the larger and more regular news stories, the reactions of leaders included there, and an overall view of the state's Governor and Legislature as almost invisible hands in the manipulation of policies and responsibilities, all paint a clear picture. There was, essentially, a fatalistic and detached wait-and-see attitude that had been adopted by department and agency leaders in Arizona in the face of intense resource pressures and laughably ignorant Legislative actions. It was also a signal of a larger problem: the mainstream news media was not even attempting to convey to the public everything we needed to know about the leadership in Arizona.