Securing Arizona’s water future: The next 4 important steps
Arizona, the other six Colorado River Basin states, and the federal Bureau of Reclamation secured a major victory for the health of the Colorado River this spring by completing the Drought Contingency Plan (“DCP”) agreements and getting Congress to approve the legislation. DCP represents a landmark step forward to prepare for a drier future in the region.
But passing the DCP, by itself, is not enough to solve Arizona’s water problems. Those structural challenges will require years of patient compromise and collaboration. As we begin the work of implementing the plan, there are a handful of critical next steps Arizona can take.
1. Protecting groundwater in urban, rural areas
Groundwater supplies about 40% of Arizona’s annual water use. In urban areas, we need to update groundwater management plans to make sure we’re balancing and safely replenishing what’s being taken out of our aquifers. That will be critical for long-term sustainability and ensuing prosperity, given those same urban areas would receive less water from the Colorado River in the event of a shortage declaration on Lake Mead.
In rural communities, many of which rely solely on groundwater, there are few tools to support locally-driven water planning. We need to support the communities that are seeking to plan for sustainable water use, and the Legislature has begun that process by enacting HB 2467 to study groundwater in two counties that wish to do so. Working with them will be essential for rural communities and for protecting Arizona’s few remaining flowing rivers and streams.
2. Expanding innovative conservation programs
It is essential for Arizona to move beyond the mindset of getting ‘the next big bucket of water’ from new and expensive water development projects, and reaffirm our focus on conserving the water we have.
Arizona must ramp up collaborative conservation, water re-use and stewardship programs that leverage funding from multiple sources. Those programs can engage diverse corporate, community and philanthropic partners, and help water users conserve and manage the resource in ways that benefit both people and nature.
3. Funding the Department of Water Resources
Water is the lifeblood of our economy, our communities, and our environment. The Arizona Department of Water Resources is a critical agency responsible for managing water resources and facilitating scientific research and data gathering. Their work allows stakeholders to make informed, science-based management decisions that protect all of us. Yet, agency staffing has declined in recent years.
All those efforts cost money and require top-tier water professionals. It’s imperative that ADWR is funded at levels that reflect its critical importance. The Legislature for 2020 raised the authorized employee count to 145. Arizona needs to restore funding to support its 2008 level of 231 employees.
4. Balancing supply and demand
As early as 2020, Arizona, the other states that rely on the Colorado River and the federal government will begin negotiating new rules for managing the river that will replace existing guidelines.
How can this historic process authentically engage and incorporate diverse perspectives, both at the regional level and within the state? The DCP was a giant step toward balancing our demand for water with what the Colorado River can supply. The next set of negotiations will provide the opportunity to permanently resolve water use imbalances and other longstanding water management issues.
The passage of the drought contingency plan was a great step forward for this state. We can’t afford to lose momentum now.
The Water for Arizona Coalition is a community of Arizonans who support innovative practices and smart policies to ensure a reliable water supply to meet the state’s needs. Organizational support is provided by solution-oriented groups like American Rivers, Audubon Arizona, Business for Water Stewardship, Environmental Defense Action Fund, and Western Resource Advocates that collectively have over 60,000 Arizona members, as well as hundreds of hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreation enthusiasts across the state. Kevin Moran, a longtime Arizonan and former government relations consultant and Cox Communications executive, is the Chairman of the Coalition.