New plan: a temporary tattoo that reads, “CLOSE IS NOT DONE.”
That was Commissioner of Reclamation Brenda Burman’s talking point during a press call this morning explaining what happens next now that we all turned into DCP-less pumpkins last night at midnight.
The Arizona legislature gave its last-minute approval late yesterday (hilariously, as I was in the middle of lecturing to UNM Water Resources Program students about DCP – went into the lecture – no DCP vote – logged in to the Arizona Republic to check during a class break – DCP vote approved screaming headlines and excited #azwater tweetage). But with final signatures still needed from Arizona and the Imperial Irrigation District’s last-gasp effort to get the state of California to live up to its promises to protect the Salton Sea mean CLOSER IS STILL NOT DONER. Or something. My tattoo gets complicated. But it’s only gonna be a temporary one.
DCP, the Drought Contingency Plan, is a voluntary effort by Nevada, California, Arizona, and sorta kinda Mexico to slow the decline of Lake Mead by reducing water use among the three U.S. states and two Mexican states as Lake Mead declines. Mead, the big reservoir that stores water for farms and cities in those five downstream states (NV, CA, AZ, Sonora, and Baja), currently is two feet lower than it was last year at this time, despite receiving surplus inflows over the past year. This is because USERS ARE TAKING TOO MUCH WATER OUT OF THE LAKE. A more empirical and value-free way of phrasing it might be USERS ARE TAKING MORE WATER OUT OF THE LAKE THAN FLOWS IN, but I’m comfortable the normative “too much” here.
DCP, at its heart, is pretty simple. It’s an agreement among the users to take less water out of the lake so it doesn’t get empty.
ah, but it is not actually that simple
Using less comes down to allocation rules, and there are two ways to set them. Down Path One, to borrow from Burman’s “fork in the path” metaphor from this morning’s press briefing, is that the users, represented by their respective state governments, agree on the terms of the deal. Path Two involves the the federal government stepping in and imposing some sort of new allocation schemed.
Path One is preferable (my normative judgment) because when everyone agrees on the steps to be taken, we have institutional stability in river management. Path Two depends on the authority granted to the Secretary of Interior under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 1963 resolving Arizona’s big lawsuit against California. What exactly is that authority? It is not entirely clear, because lawyers and participants from the various states and interests don’t agree on whether the federal government has the authority to intervene early to reduce the lake’s decline, or whether the it has to wait until it’s physically impossible to get the water through Hoover Dam because Lake Mead is functionally kinda empty.
“Not entirely clear” is a terrible way to manage a river. Down Path Two there be dragons.
Hence a widespread preference for Path One.
what happens now that we’re all DCP-less pumpkins
Interior today announced that, despite Arizona’s big step forward, we don’t have a DCP by the agency’s Jan. 31 deadline. So we’re preparing the steps that might be needed to start heading down Path Two. In particular, Burman and Interior are asking the governors of the seven U.S. basin states what they think Interior should down if it needs to head down Path Two. Importantly, Burman left Interior with an escape route to keep things on Path One. She asked for the states’ input by March 4, but said that if the final DCP signoffs are in hand by that time, she’ll rescind the request for comments and we can all think no more about Path Two.
so really we’re not all pumpkins after all
So really, the deadline is March. But close is not done, I’m still getting the temporary tattoo.
what’s the deal with the pumpkin thing?