There is a widespread misunderstanding about today’s Colorado River “Drought Contingency Plan” deadline.
No, the federal government will not step in at midnight tonight and take over management of the Colorado River if the states of the Colorado River Basin have not approved the long-delayed, painfully negotiated DCP. That is not what Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman’s ultimatum at last months Colorado River Water Users Association meeting was about.
What Burman said was that if the states had not approved DCP by Jan. 31, the Department of the Interior would start a process that could over the course of the next seven months lead to Interior taking steps to protect Lake Mead next year. No actual steps to Lake Mead-protecting action can happen until August, when key decisions are made for 2020 allocation. What happens tonight at midnight, if we all turn into DCP-less pumpkins*, is Burman’s step one: issuance of a notice opening up a 30-day comment period for the states and others to recommend what we all think Interior should do.
This is important, because we clearly are going to turn into DCP-less pumpkins* tonight at midnight, even if the Arizona legislature acts by midnight. Arizona’s action will make some what I believe to be minor changes in the underlying DCP agreements, which will then need to be vetted and approved by others, most notably the board of the Imperial Irrigation District in California. This still leaves time for a final DCP to come together, that we might have a voluntary and collaborative framework for reducing the Lower Basin’s take on Lake Mead, rather than a federally imposed one.
* It occurs to me that it was Cinderella’s coach, not Cinderella herself, that turned into a pumpkin. But I have a lecture to finish preparing, and I already tracked down the art, so you’re stuck with this tortured metaphor, sorry.