When it comes to water shortages in Arizona, there continues to be a lot of talk but little bold action.
--In Coconino County, as we report today, supervisors complain of their inability under state law to use water availability when acting on development applications. Yet the county could adopt an ordinance today requiring new subdivisions to get state certification of an adequate water supply, just as Cochise and Yuma counties have done.
--In Flagstaff, where officials like to tout the city’s water conservation ethic, a proposed water rate increase contains no conservation incentives via tiered rates for nonresidential customers, even though most other cities in Arizona do exactly that. And when it comes to pricing reclaimed wastewater, golf courses actually pay less to use more, rather than the other way around.
--And in southern Arizona, when Saudi corporate farms and others facing water shortages in California began buying up land to grow alfalfa to ship back to cattle feedlots in the Middle East, Arizona water officials declined to intervene, saying it was the free market at work. This after Gov. Ducey talked tough against California raiding Arizona’s share of Colorado River water – even though no such raid has ever been mentioned.
--And at a three-day Arizona Town Hall devoted to water earlier this month, the experts were told of an annual water shortage within as little as 25 years of up to 1 million acre-feet compared with the 7 million acre-feet the state now consumes. Yet their recommendations stuck to generalities: more funding for rural infrastructure and state water resource planning, more conservation and education, and legal reform concerning water rights. It was left to Colorado and its new state water plan to get specific, setting consumption and conservation targets for cities as well as households, along with innovative water leasing strategies for ranchers and farmers to avoid the “buy and dry” tactics used by water utilities in California to permanently take farmland out of production.
Those are just four examples around a common theme: If water security for our children and grandchildren is the goal, Arizona and its localities need to start asking the tough questions about water supplies, allocation, conservation and pricing before shortages, whether caused by growth or drought, force their hand. The example is right next door in California, where a prolonged drought has led to draconian cutbacks that have caused severe economic and social disruptions.
On the other hand, California has been forced to confront the competing water needs of agriculture, business and households on a speeded up timetable that, in the end, may prove an advantage in the regional battle for water that is sure to heat up along with the planet. Here are some of those tough questions, as taken from “Keeping Arizona’s Water Glass Full,” the background report presented at the Arizona Town Hall:
-- Is it important to preserve some agriculture?
--Should groundwater management be implemented statewide?
--Should we limit the proliferation of new wells that are impacting existing wells, our surface water supplies and our riparian habitats?
--Should all new subdivisions in the state be required to have a 100-year water supply?
--Should we build where water and the infrastructure to deliver it are located?
--How do we ensure that basic human needs for safe drinking water are met in all Arizona communities? What is the role of technology?
--Will Arizonans become comfortable with reclaimed water as a potable supply?
--What about our urban lifestyles? Do we want our environment to be stark, hot and unfriendly, or are we concerned about heat islands, places to recreate and trees that protect us from the sun? What are we willing to invest?
SHARED VISION LACKING
There is no shortage of concerns when it comes to Arizona’s looming water shortage, even as El Nino looms this winter. But it’s tough to come up with a concrete action plan, as Colorado has done, when there isn’t even a process for reaching a shared vision.
We’d urge citizens to take the time to get up to speed on the issue, then insist that local and state elected officials put water near the top of their campaign platforms during the next election cycle.