As water news goes, all 2022 water-related stories bend the knee before those about the Colorado River and its dangerously unstable reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
The June 14 statement by Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton at a congressional hearing rocked the entire Southwest: “In the Colorado River Basin more conservation and demand management are needed in addition to the actions already underway. Between two and four million acre-feet of additional conservation is needed just to protect critical elevations in 2023.”
As long-time Colorado River analyst John Fleck observed the day of the hearing, “that is a stunning number.” Six months later, the seven Colorado River states and the Department of the Interior, which operates the river system, are still struggling to come up with at least an additional two million acre-feet of conserved water to leave in Lake Powell and Lake Mead each year.
Within weeks of the Commissioner’s announcement, ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke and Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke would issue a joint statement in which they committed to working on a system-wide agreement to protect the river.
ADWR and CAP “came to the table prepared to take significant additional reductions beyond those required under the 2007 Guidelines and the Drought Contingency Plan with the expectation that others would need to do likewise, as no one state can do it alone,” the two water leaders wrote on August 16.
The Commissioner’s announcement in June did not come as a surprise to the Arizona water leaders.
On May 6, Director Tom Buschatzke and CAP GM Cooke had led a public presentation on the unstable conditions in the river system, especially at Lake Powell.
Still earlier in 2022, Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland and Assistant Secretary for Water & Science Tanya Trujillo visited ADWR’s offices for a roundtable discussion of Arizona water issues, including those involving the river.
During her visit, Secretary Haaland highlighted Interior’s plan to allocate $1.7 billion from the recently passed Infrastructure Law to fulfill settlements of Indian water rights.
The state’s water-related news also focused on groundwater issues.
Voters in two regions of southeastern Arizona weighed whether to create “Active Management Areas” that would serve to limit new groundwater pumping. Voters in the Willcox Basin voted against its AMA proposal while voters in the Douglas AMA region supported creating an AMA.
In the Hualapai Valley near Kingman in the northwestern part of the state, meanwhile, local leaders asked the ADWR Director to consider creating an Irrigation Non-expansion Area, or INA, that may restrict new groundwater mining.
On Dec. 19, Director Buschatzke signed the order creating the Hualapai Valley INA.
ADWR in 2022 also continued its long-running effort to make its enormous store of water-related data more readily accessible to the public.
In August, the ADWR Adjudications division created an interactive dashboard that illustrates the nature, extent and relative priority of water rights in Arizona. The adjudications division also created a new “subflow zone” map that gives viewers a better “view” of underground water flow, which is important for understanding how underground flows and surface water sources interact.
In December, the Department’s Active Management Area division created a new interactive dashboard that provides up-to-date information on funding that is available for its Water Management Assistance Program.