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Local Opinion: Who will be the next water hero for Arizona?
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Local Opinion: Who will be the next water hero for Arizona?

Arizona is a state ripe with water heroes, according to our latest contributor

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The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

As Arizonans contemplate how to cast their votes on Nov. 3, the issue of water should be part of the decision. In Arizona we are in a climate-driven, 20-year drought with no relief in sight. The aridification of the West coupled with record temperatures and lack of monsoon this summer should make all of us aware of the importance of water.

Historically, Arizona has benefited from legislative heroes of both parties that have worked for and protected the existing water supply of the state. W. S. Norviel led Arizona in negotiations on the 1922 Colorado River Compact; Carl Hayden, Morris Udall, Stewart Udall and Barry Goldwater guided congressional passage and funding of the Central Arizona Project; Gov. Bruce Babbitt led the effort for the 1980 Groundwater Management Act; Jim Kolbe and Jon Kyl supported the Salt River Project and completion of CAP to Tucson; and John McCain worked with the tribes and guided the passage of the Grand Canyon Protection Act. Recently, the heroes list includes Governor Stephen Roe Lewis from the Gila River Indian Community and Chairman Dennis Patch from the Colorado River Indian Tribe who, without their support, the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan would have had a more difficult time getting implemented.

The legislative leaders we choose will have many challenges ahead in protecting the water of Arizona.

The continuing drought is resulting in less Colorado River water being available for Arizona. Understanding the changing dynamics of water supply requires commitment to the people first, politics second. Our water supplies require the wise management of both surface and ground water. Managing these two sources of water requires collaboration and using science to guide decisions.

Of importance are the several tribal water settlements that remain to be negotiated and approved by Congress. Collectively, over 20% of the water in the Colorado River Basin is already allocated through federally approved settlements. Distributing water requires pipelines and pumps that require maintenance and when the time comes, replacement. Lastly, providing funding for the federal agencies to manage and operate the mainstem dams, water diversions and canals is necessary.

These needs require legislative leadership to ensure the public’s money is spent wisely and that Arizona water is protected.

The biggest challenge ahead are the negotiations starting in January 2021 on formulating the 2026 Guidelines for the future management of the Colorado River. Have no doubt, California and the other Colorado River Basin states will be doing all they can to ensure that their allocations of water do not diminish. Utah and Colorado are currently proposing to move water out of the Colorado River Basin and away from Arizona users. Having a strong presence, commitment to Arizona water and the capacity to work across the aisle with other elected officials is critical to protecting the water future of Arizona.

Arizona has a long history of being able to balance the agricultural and mining heritage with our expanding urban and economic centers.

Today that capacity also requires protecting the rights and needs of tribes, border communities, natural resources, and the less economically fortunate people.

Everyone deserves to have access to affordable clean and dependable water supplies.

Elections do matter. Your vote matters. Vote for someone who will commit to working with the stakeholders of Arizona and will use the science and available expertise on water and climate to guide discussions and make decisions for the citizens of Arizona. Elect candidates who will rise above political party and have the potential to be the next water hero for Arizona.

David Wagner is a member of the Water Science Technology Board of the National Academy of Sciences, former staff director of the U.S. House of Representatives Water and Power Subcommittee and has spent 20-plus years working for the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation.

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