By Ken Seasholes, Manager, Resource Planning and Analysis
12/13/2017

The theme of this year’s Colorado River Water Users Association Annual Conference—“Many Instruments, One Orchestra”—highlights the diverse activities and water management initiatives across the basin.

System Use Agreement Signing

Thursday’s presentation on Central Arizona Project’s System Use Agreement is a great variation on that theme.

The System Use Agreement, signed in February 2017 by CAP and the Bureau of Reclamation, allows the CAP system to be used in new and more flexible ways.  The agreement defines key provisions necessary to implement wheeling, firming and exchanges. Unfamiliar with those terms?

  • Wheeling – when the CAP system is used to transport new water supplies
  • Firming – when an alternate water supply is used to supplement a shortage-reduced CAP supply
  • Exchanges – when water available to a CAP contractor is traded with a party that has legal access to different supply


To put the significance of the System Use Agreement in perspective, since 1985 the CAP system has delivered almost 36 million acre-feet of Colorado River water. All of that has been “Project Water,” but there also has been long-standing interest in delivering “non-Project Water,” either directly or by exchange. In fact, the first request to wheel non-Project water came two years before CAP even made its first delivery. At that time, CAP’s elected Board adopted a supportive position, while recognizing that the request was premature.  But at that time, no one could have imagined that it would take three-and-a-half decades, and more than half a dozen public processes to reach a conclusion! 

Reaching agreement among diverse parties is always difficult, but it helps to remember that CAP is a federal project, so any new system flexibility requires consideration of both Arizona and Reclamation law, plus a number of key agreements. Those agreements include the Colorado River Basin Project Act (1968), the Master Repayment Contract (1988), the Operating Agreement (2000), the Repayment Stipulation (2007) and Tribal contracts and M&I subcontracts issued at varying times.  The System Use Agreement maintains fidelity with all of those agreements, while harmonizing the key provisions into a framework that looks at the CAP system as a whole. 

Today, the need for the tools in the System Use Agreement is clearer than ever, with a few projects in the works, and many more to come:

  • The City of Scottsdale has a groundwater wheeling project that is currently undergoing National Environmental Policy Act review
  • The City of Phoenix has exchange agreements with the cities of Avondale and Tucson and with Metro Water to increase the reliability of its supply
  • CAP has a recovery exchange agreement with Arizona Water Company in the Pinal Active Management Area in preparation for the recovery of water stored by the Arizona Water Banking Authority
  • The Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District’s lease with Quartzsite requires a wheeling agreement, as would the proposed implementation of a rotational fallowing program in Mohave Valley to create a replenishment water supply


Innovations like these are crucial to managing the risks from drought and shortages on the Colorado River and they are consistent with our state’s long-standing commitment to proactive water management. 


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