Audubon: Pass the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan

Audubon Arizona's Letter to the House Natural Resources, Energy, and Water Committee

The following is a letter sent to Arizona House Leadership and members of the Natural Resources, Energy, and Water Committee from Sonia Perillo, executive director of Audubon Arizona. Audubon testified at today's hearing urging for the passage of a Drought Contingency Plan.

January 28, 2019

My name is Sonia Perillo and I am the Executive Director for Audubon Arizona, the state office of National Audubon Society, one of the nation’s oldest conservation organizations.

Simply put: We must pass the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP).

We at Audubon know that birds need water, and DCP is an insurance policy against catastrophic shortages at Lake Mead. DCP does not solve all our water issues, but it reduces the risk to Lake Mead and increases the likelihood of maintaining a flowing Colorado River. The Colorado River is important bird and wildlife habitat. Along the Colorado River in Arizona alone, there are nine Important Birds Areas—these are places that birds rely on for migration, foraging, and rest. These Important Bird Areas along the Colorado River are threatened if we do not pass the DCP now.

DCP is a critical stop-gap measure. It allows Arizona to take the next step in its water management and policy process, while we all continue to work on what comes after. Granted, it is not perfect. There are compromises within the Arizona implementation plan. All the stakeholders involved in this inclusive process have given and taken—and it is time we pass this legislation that enables the Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources to engage with fellow basin state neighbors to implement the DCP, as well as the corresponding legislation which permits the intra-Arizona deals.

Although Pinal County agriculture will go back to groundwater (a right they have under the Groundwater Management Act), the DCP would provide surface water for Pinal County agriculture for three years, preventing groundwater pumping that would otherwise occur without DCP.

We’ve already seen the benefits when we collaborate on the Colorado River—just look at the environmental water flows, habitat restoration, and related increase in bird abundance from Minute 319, an international treaty with Mexico that dealt with collaborative Colorado River water agreements. Under Minute 323, the newest U.S. - Mexico Colorado River agreement adopted in 2017, Mexico has committed to more water conservation in Lake Mead, but only if Arizona, California, and Nevada agree to the DCP. Minute 323 is the same agreement that commits the two countries to habitat restoration in the Colorado River Delta.

Audubon Arizona’s objective is to make sure that the solutions to our water challenges serve both people and wildlife. Water management policies that provide more certainty and reliability for all users is of critical importance. We think that DCP passage helps us make progress on water policy in Arizona. We know there is much work to do to protect water resources for people, our economy, and the birds, fish and other wildlife that depend on water to survive.

To achieve our objectives we team up with a diverse array of partners throughout the state—Audubon leads the Western Rivers Action Network, a group of more than 10,000 Arizonans, hunters, anglers, outdoor recreationists, businesses, and brewers, to protect and enhance water policy for the places we care about. We are also a member of the Water for Arizona Coalition, which supports policies and innovative practices to ensure a reliable water supply to meet the state’s needs, and has been a major driver and advocate for DCP passage over the last few years.

Shortage on the river is imminent, but a catastrophic one is not. We know the shortages are coming—however, by passing the DCP and the corresponding legislation that makes the deals within Arizona work, we are greatly reducing the risks that Lake Mead crashes to levels where no water can be released from the lake.

Overall, the DCP will leave more water in Lake Mead than we take out. It is time we move on DCP legislation—it is critical for people, the economy, and the environment.

Thank you for your time.


Sonia Perillo

Executive Director, Audubon Arizona