Straight Talk from CAP on Colorado River Water Shortages

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Government transparency was on full display when Central Arizona Project (CAP) hosted its Annual Meeting for East Valley cities and towns on Wednesday, May 22, 2024 at the Scottsdale Airport. Cave Creek Mayor Bob Morris, Council Member Tom McGuire and I were in attendance to learn how impacts of a 24-year drought on the Colorado River will be shared among users in 7 states and Mexico after a current shortage-sharing agreement expires at the end of 2026. According to CAP’s Board President Terry Goddard, reaching a new agreement is perhaps “the greatest challenge we’ve ever faced.”

President Goddard and General Manager Brenda Burman described the intense scenario of strategic multi-state negotiations followed by communication breakdowns between the impenetrable and unwavering positions of the Upper Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah, and Lower Basin states of California, Nevada and Arizona. Simply put, the Upper Basin is refusing to share in any allocation reductions. They believe the Lower Basin should take 2 to 4 million acre-feet of cuts without cooperation or collaboration on their part.

Burman said the Lower Basin has presented innovative ideas on how to live with a smaller river. Alternative suggestions have been put on the table to look at the whole system, not just Lake Mead. Arizona has taken the biggest loss of water and California has stepped up significant volumes. Now it’s time for the Upper Basin to partner up. Burman, an attorney, cited the Colorado River Compact, which calls for unified actions.

“The CAP organization needs rules, certainty, and the ability to make investments in its infrastructure to move water more efficiently,” said Burman. Water rates will undoubtedly rise but time is running short and the stakes are very high.

Central Arizona Project, where I served as communications director for 20 years, is the lifeline for our state’s economy. 80% of the state’s population rely in whole or in part on Colorado River water deliveries from CAP. It has been transporting water for 35 years and over 336 miles into central and southern Arizona. Board President Goddard closed, “We need a unified Arizona position. We must find a way to persuade the Upper Basin to work with us. Nobody can stand aside from taking reductions.”

— Kathryn Royer
Vice Mayor, Town of Cave Creek