In Arizona – especially when it comes to the Colorado River – water managers seem to have a language all their own. Here are five key terms you’ve likely heard – and perhaps used – related to efforts to conserve water in Lake Mead.

Colorado River

Check your knowledge – are you using these terms correctly?

Colorado River Contract – In the Lower Colorado River Basin (Arizona, California and Nevada), to qualify for delivery of Colorado River Water, there must be a water delivery contract between the water user and the Secretary of the Interior. Often, these are referred to as Section 5 Contracts (referring to Section 5 of the 1928 Boulder Canyon Project Act).

Forbearance – Forbearance is when a Colorado River contractor willfully decides to forego its right to divert available Colorado River water. The Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD), because it has a Contract that entitles it to all of Arizona’s 2.8 million acre-feet of Colorado River water not used by a senior water user, is a required party to any forbearance in Arizona.

Intentionally Created Surplus – A program established in 2007 so that a Colorado River Contractor can intentionally conserve (reduce existing water use) Colorado River water, through investments in new activities. The conserved water, characterized as “unused” water, may then be stored in Lake Mead for the Contractor’s future use, with the consent of impacted Contractors. In Arizona, CAWCD is a required party to any ICS efforts because of its contract rights to all the unused Colorado River water in Arizona.

System Conservation – A Colorado River Contractor uses less water, and with the consent of impacted Contractors, contributes the conserved water to Lake Mead. The conserved water is not available for future delivery. In Arizona, CAWCD is a required party to all System Conservation activities.

Excess Water – Water available to CAWCD after all long-term CAP contract commitments have been met. The CAWCD Board has established a policy that guides how Excess Water is distributed. The policy established supplies for CAP Agriculture, underground storage and to replenish aquifers in central Arizona. 

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