Looking for flexibility within Arizona

Arizona’s current internal political struggles over allocation and management of shortage on the Colorado River illustrate a central dilemma in the basin’s transition from the era of managing development of the river’s water to the era of managing scarcity. While we generally have demonstrated the ability to use less water across a range of water use domains, and have developed the institutional frameworks for changing the overall “Law of the River” allocations among the states and Mexico (buy my book!), sorting out our response within each state continues to be a bottleneck.

In this regard, Tony Davis had a fascinating story last weekend about one effort within Arizona to provide added flexibility within Arizona to reshuffle the allocation deck:

Four Indian tribes owning the biggest and the most shortage-proof share of Colorado River water in the Lower Basin want to spread that booty around Arizona. They’re offering a “drought supply,” backstopping existing supplies now threatened by growth and climate change.

The Colorado River Indian Tribes, commonly called CRIT, want to lease more river water than is delivered each year to the city of Tucson to various water agencies, utilities and the feds. For that, they want more money than they now make from their alfalfa fields, where the water currently goes.

One of the challenges is finding a path forward through new challenges while we’re still constrained by old legal structures never meant to deal with stuff like this. The Colorado River Indian Tribes are looking for a way out of that, and exploring whether there’s a mutually beneficial deal to be had.