Gov. Doug Ducey should broaden the mix of interests represented on his new water advisory panel, the Tucson City Council says.
In a recent letter to Ducey, the council wrote that the governor’s 29-member Water Augmentation Council lacks adequate representation of conservation groups or of Southern Arizona water interests in general. The state’s top water official, however, says he thinks the group is well-balanced already and needs no major change.
“As a leader in Arizona water management policy, Tucson Water has learned that the key to strong growth in our state is an assured water supply. Without water there is no business development.
“Adding representatives of these groups will help assure that the proper knowledge and wide-ranging experience is at the table to properly manage our water supplies going forward,” said the letter from the council written in February.
Arizona water chief Tom Buschatzke countered, “We think that the membership of the council is diverse and represents a good cross section of the state of Arizona as a whole.”
“We’re trying to keep the council to a manageable number,” said Buschatzke, Arizona Department of Water Resources director. “We have had many, many requests to expand the membership. But from my perspective, we are going to stand pat with the number that we had.”
The council is supposed to carry out the governor’s recent water initiative: an effort to bolster the state’s water-supply demand picture in the face of drought and continued growth. A 2014 state report warned Arizona faces water-supply shortfalls of up to 900,000 acre-feet a year by 2050 and 2 million to 3 million acre-feet — enough to serve 4 million to 9 million people — by the early 2100s.
The council’s 29 members include 14 representatives of business groups and 13 from government. The Nature Conservancy is the only conservation group represented. The only southern Arizona representatives come from the Southern Arizona Water Users Association and the Arizona Wine Growers Association.
The measures the council will look at include projects such as wastewater reuse, cloud-seeding and desalination plants that would add to the region’s supplies. Water conservation is also part of the council’s mission.
The push for the Tucson council letter came from Councilman Steve Kozachik. He wanted the council to also represent groups such as the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity and Community Water Coalition, the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter, the Latino-based Nuestro Rio, and the Flagstaff-based Black Mesa Water Coalition.
“Ducey is building on the work of Mo Udall and Jim Kolbe and Bruce Babbitt, people who took a bipartisan, long-term approach to our water future,” said Kozachik, referring to two former U.S. representatives and a former Arizona governor. “It’s irresponsible that this narrow set of interests is writing our water policy for this region.”
Other interests represented on the council have Southern Arizona ties, Buschatzke said. They include the Central Arizona Project, a very important piece of Southern Arizona’s water supply puzzle, he said. The Agribusiness Council represents agriculture statewide, including Southern Arizona, he added.
“We tried to do the best we could to balance all the sectors. We think we have achieved that balance. We understand maybe that is in the eye of the beholder,” Buschatzke said.
But the Agribusiness Council is not intent on protecting long-term water concerns, said Kozachik, adding, “They’ll suck water out of the ground — not preserve it for the long haul.”