Powering Strong Communities

Weather Will Matter to Public Power

By Ed Gerak, Executive Director, Irrigation and Electrical Districts Association of Arizona

With speakers from the Bureau of Reclamation, Central Arizona Project, the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority of Arizona, the Western Area Power Administration and Arizona Farm Bureau, as well as federal lawmakers, the Irrigation and Electrical Districts Association of Arizona’s annual meeting on January 5 covered a wide range of issues relevant to the West.

This year’s meeting theme was “Weather, It Will Matter.”

The meeting came on the heels of several significant developments in 2023 related to hydropower production from the Colorado River.

Faced with the potential to fall below minimum power pool at Glen Canyon Dam, in 2023 the Bureau of Reclamation issued a draft environmental impact statement predicting the need to conserve Colorado River water in the Lower Basin (Arizona, California, and Nevada) by two to four million acre feet. The dam is located on the Colorado River in Northern Arizona.

Mother Nature and a Lower Basin compromise helped avoid the drastic measures proposed in the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, with the Bureau of Reclamation retracting its proposal and then reissuing it.  

Arizona, California, and Nevada agreed to reduce their consumptive use by 3 million acre feet over the next few years, impacting the future of hydropower in the region.

Hopeful that the El Niño pattern would duplicate the snowpack from the 2023 Water Year, Arizona had reasons to be hopeful about the Colorado River. Sadly, the snow water equivalent is not getting off to as good a start as we hoped.

With a few snowstorms in the forecast, IEDA will be tracking the hydrology in the Colorado River Basin and continue to engage in both the near-term and post-2026 Operating Criteria discussions.

Notable Names Weighing In

Rep. Greg Stanton (D-AZ) kicked off the meeting by discussing his work related to the Colorado River, the Water Resource Development Act, and H.R. 1607, legislation he co-sponsored to help the Salt River Project pursue pumped storage.  

Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) also spoke at the meeting. Announcing her retirement in October, she provided an overview of her time in D.C. Lesko has been a longtime friend of IEDA and has focused on Colorado River issues during her time in Congress. Serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, she has been committed to reminding her fellow lawmakers about the importance of electric grid reliability.  

We were also fortunate to hear from Desmarie Waterhouse, APPA’s Senior Vice President for Advocacy and Communications and General Counsel. Waterhouse provided an overview of key developments in D.C. over the last year, especially the recent hydropower legislation and Supreme Court cases that could affect the Chevron Doctrine.

The Chevron Doctrine is a long-standing legal precedent set in Chevron USA, Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. where the courts defer to a federal agency’s interpretation of a statute it administers when that statute is ambiguous or leaves a gap for the agency to fill. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on Jan. 17 in cases that could lead the court to issue a decision impacting the Chevron Doctrine. The decision could impact how federal agencies conduct rulemakings and the types of issues addressed in those rulemakings.