Arizonans need to support, join together with and become “water buffaloes.” Among the things I learned at the Arizona Town Hall a few weeks back on “Keeping Arizona’s Water Glass Half Full” is that experts, professionals and advocates in this field of water are called “water buffaloes.” They are the front line of economic development for all of our state (including Baja Arizona) and demonstrate, through planning and action, that smart, effective policy trumps ideology. Water does not run red or blue. To keep it “running” at all, we need everyone to get with the program for long-term and short-term, smart planning.
In front of the diverse group of Arizonans gathered for the 107th Arizona Town Hall on water, former Sen. Jon Kyl reflected on the successful efforts decades ago of Carl Hayden, John Rhodes, Mo Udall, Paul Fannin, Bruce Babbitt and our state legislators. In tandem, they worked together to ensure Arizonans benefited from the Salt River Project, the Central Arizona Project, the passage of the 1980 Arizona Groundwater Management Act and the passage of the Arizona Water Banking Act in 1996. The 1980 legislation created the Arizona Department of Water Resources, a department that has been key to our successes to date in planning, implementation and management of this limited resource.
These projects, legislation and the creation of the water department have helped make Arizona a leader in smart water planning. Arizona has not experienced the same drought that has been a disaster for California, thanks to wise, bipartisan leadership and action.
Consider this remarkable fact: demand for water in Arizona has decreased since 1980, when the water department was formed, and today we are using the same amount of water as we did in 1957. This is even more remarkable when faced with the fact that since 1957, our population is almost six times greater and our economy has increased 20-fold.
Are we safe? Not by a long shot. It is most likely that our state’s population will double in the next half-century. Our current strategies and supplies are not sufficient for this growth. Kathy Jacobs, in her excellent Dec. 6 guest column, “Our Water Laws are Inadequate for a Hotter, Drier World,” states the challenges we are facing short term and long term in rural and urban settings. Her call for “long-term, strategic policy” to protect our unique communities and natural resources is reflective of recommendations found in the Town Hall’s final report.
Just consider what the final report has to say.As to the factors that are likely to have the greatest influence in shaping Arizona’s future use of water, they are: land use and ownership, expected population growth, climate change, droughts, potential shortage declarations on the Colorado River, water pricing, lacking or deteriorating infrastructure, declining groundwater levels in some areas, legal and political challenges, tribal water settlements, economic and agricultural vitality and sustainability.
All these factors may influence demands on Arizona’s water supply.
The top six priorities include: move forward with Arizona’s strategic vision for water supply and sustainability; create and fund mechanisms to finance water supply and new infrastructure; appropriately fund and staff the water department; education, conservation and augmentation and legal reform.
Water in the desert is not simple. We are used to turning on the tap and thinking nothing of it except for the monthly bill. But if you are a true water buffalo, as we all need to be, you will roll up your sleeves and ask tough questions of elected officials, those aspiring to office and those leading and planning. You will hold them all accountable, as well as doing your part to conserve, teaching the younger generation on the importance of water and planning, and turning off your own faucet! Your first step — read the Arizona Town Hall recommendations at aztownhall.org.