Speeches Archive

Colorado River

Remarks Delivered By:
Estevan López, Commissioner

Colorado River Water Users Association Conference
Las Vegas, Nevada

December 18, 2015

Commissioner Estevan López Speech Video

Good morning every one.

It's an honor and a pleasure to be here with you today.

This CRWUA, I haven't been keeping very close and tabs of this but I think this is about like 12th CRWUA and on this is my second since the becoming Commissioner of Reclamation.

Last year however, I was recused from dealing with a lot of the Colorado River issues. There is a one on year recusal if I had dealt with them previously and I had.

I didn't have much to do with Colorado River issues except some on the lower basin during that one year recusal period.

Since then though, my recusal period is done. I can engage in the Colorado River issues, I believe of this point. I'm happy to do so.

I want to just acknowledge that theme of this conference, seventy years of communications and collaboration and I haven't been able to sit in on all of the presentations here. But, I sat in yesterday, on number of them and on certainly collaboration and communication is the key to everything we do here that's that's what makes the Colorado River functional.

My talk is going to be very short, there's a number of panelists here and then we're going to have a keynote address by our Deputy Secretary of Interior, Mike Connor, but it's truly is an honor to be up here with Commissioner Drusina from the IBWC, Commissioner Salmon from CILA, the Mexican counterpart and Deputy Director Alcocer from CONAGUA National Commission of water for Mexico.

We've done an awful lot of work with a Mexican counterparts and we will continue.

Today by one talk about just very briefly, in virtually every panel there was the was talk about the drought and the severity of the drought, and how it continues. But I want to continue that context today so i'm going to repeat a little about what we heard yesterday.

Lakes Powell and Mead; we started in 1999 with both of those reservoirs essentially full. By 2003 after four years of drought do about half full.

So for that drought has lasted about 16 years and today we find Lake Powell about 50% full with just over 12 million acre feet of storage. Lake Mead at about 38% full, with just under 10 million acre feet of storage.

We heard yesterday about how we've taken so many actions to try and assure ourselves that will be able to continue to count on that supply, but we needed more.

Certainly we don't know when this drought is going to end and there's certainly a lot of concern about the changing climate and were that is exactly going to lead us.

Even without consideration of drought or climate change of we heard yesterday about the structural deficit the fact that we've got to really rearranged how we're using water if we want to be able to count on the supply over the long haul.

Our Deputy Secretary, Connor, is going to address much of what's being done on this and I've tried limit my remarks where we won't overlap too much on on the information we give you. I'm going to talk just briefly about our system conservation pilot program efforts and since we have commissioners Salmon and Drusina here to talk about the ongoing Mexico U.S. collaboration for a new treaty minute.

They will cover most of that iI do just want to touch on the importance of it, before I move on. So, system conservation project pilot project,it's one of the areas of a significant progress in terms of learning how to better manage the river.

In July of 2014 Reclamation signed an innovative funding of program with four municipal entities in the Colorado River basin, those are Southern Nevada Water Authority, Central Arizona Water Conservation District, the Metropolitan Water District and Denver Water.

Together we agreed to jointly fund an 11 million dollar pilot program over three years to encourage voluntary conservation projects to retain system water, that is water that's not allocated or in anybody's name, it's simply additional water that will remain in the river for everybody's benefit In both of lakes Powell and Mead and to help mitigate the effects of drought.

But perhaps more importantly to learn about new tools and new ways of better managing demand.

That 11 million dollars was split by between the upper basin and lower basin 8.25 million were reserved for the lower basin and 2.75 million were allocated for use in the upper basin.

Reclamation is implementing the pilot program in the lower basin and of we began by soliciting proposals for conservation projects from about 50 water users in the lower basin.

After going through an extensive screening process three projects were approved for funding and we estimate that those will conserve approximately 30,000 acre feet.

Three additional project agreements are being negotiated now and are expected to be executed by the end of the year, and these three projects will conserve an additional 33,000 acre feet. In the upper basin the pilot program is being implemented by Upper Colorado River Commission.

I came from the upper basin and I was not at all certain about how this might be received or whether there would be any proposals if we tried but from the last year there were 15 proposals received nine were awarded and those are expected to reduce used by about 3300 acre feet to 3000-300 feet in 2015.

Were starting up the next round and to date 30 proposals have been received for 2016. The funding partners met of just earlier this month to review those and they will continue to move forward on that.

So this program is unique and that, for first time perhaps we've got entities in the upper basin and the lower basin contributing to this and we're using across both basins and it's for the benefit of the system it's not for the benefit of individual users.

Again I'll highlight it is for all of our benefits in terms of learning how to better manage the system and also for water users to learn what to expect if they choose to voluntarily enter in to a conservation program. How is that going to affect them and can they count on that water coming back to them when they're done. Things of that nature.

So incredibly important information I've already heard from of both basins that they want continue this this project and want to find additional funds and we're certainly going to be looking that.

Before moving on, to close this piece out I want to acknowledge the hard work of the of the Upper Colorado River division and particularly of its Executive Director Don Osler, I think the upper Colorado has been, it was not at all clear how that will be administered but the commission the under Don's leadership stepped up and figured out a way to do this. So I think it's being successful, we're learning a lot we want to learn a lot more.

So, again I want to talk just very briefly about U.S. and Mexico collaboration, my colleagues will really give you a lot more detail. The one thing that one of emphasize from Reclamation perspective is the importance of completing this next minute negotiation in this upcoming year. We have a very clear indications on both sides of the U.S. and Mexico side that there is a political will to get this done.

We have the relationships, these relationships have been built up over the last 5-6-7 years at least. Where we know one another, we know that our colleagues sitting across the table from us are trustworthy and they're telling us what they need not simply playing us and they hopefully know the same of us. We've established strong friendships.

The Obama administration is dedicated to this, we have a year to get this done.

If it's not done in this year I think the next administration is certainly in its own time, find out that this is worthwhile doing but it'll take a long time we can't afford to lose that time we've got to get something in place now to continue, so that's my pitch. I just want to follow-up with one; yesterday former Secretary Salazar, he asked for members from the various states the tribes, the NGOs to stand up at various times; I think he purposely left for me to ask our Mexican friends to identify themselves and that all of you see how many of them there are. I'd ask our Mexican friends to stand.

Please stand our Mexican friends, for a moment.

Thank you and obviously we got the leadership here at the table that's the face of collaboration as we move forward. It is all one basin, we've got to make it work across the board.

So I'm just going to conclude with talking a little bit about some of the various things were involved in from Reclamation perspective and I know because I've worked with so many of you around the room that many of you are involved in one or more or all of these issues.

Perhaps different from previous years where there was one strong initiative, this year we've got a lot of things going on and all of them are equally important and all of them feed into this. Learning to better operate and adaptively; to find flexible adaptations to manage this river.

We've got the Glen Canyon Dam long-term experimental and management for a plan, LTEMP, we've got ongoing drought contingency planning, that's going on in both basins, we're negotiating for new minute, Minute 32X, that will be described here and more and more detail.

We've got the System Conservation Pilot Program implementation those initiatives on top of all of the other things are just going on from day to day, so there's a huge amount of work.

We're committed in Reclamation to get all of this done.

To find the next increments of flexibility to keep moving forward and adapting and better managing this river so that we can be assured that we can always would rely on the supply that makes this basin such a unique and beautiful place.

Thank You.