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New state panel to advise on key water issues

Roosevelt Dam creates Roosevelt Lake along the Salt River, helping provide water to the Phoenix area. Officials have announced a blue-ribbon commission that will advise the state on water sustainability issues. (Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

Roosevelt Dam creates Roosevelt Lake along the Salt River, helping provide water to the Phoenix area. Officials have announced a blue-ribbon commission that will advise the state on water sustainability issues. (Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation)

Increasing collaboration among offices responsible for Arizona’s water supply will better prepare the state to conserve and reuse its most precious natural resource, an agency head said Aug. 31.

“There are real and current challenges on the amount of clean and safe water in Arizona, and our goal is to prevent a crisis,” said Ben Grumbles, director of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

Officials from ADEQ, the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Arizona Corporation Commission will lead a new commission dedicated to boosting water sustainability.

“This panel will be a great opportunity to bring people and agencies together to transcend geographic and political and bureaucratic boundaries and focus on sustainability,” Grumbles said.

A key priority, he said, is conserving supplies and doing more to recycle water.

“Arizona is one of the nation’s leading states in water reuse,” Grumbles said. “But I know we need to do more.”
Kris Mayes, chairwoman of the Corporation Commission, called the partnership “an excellent opportunity to increase recycling and water efficiency.”

She said the commission, which oversees more than 350 private water companies statewide, will focus on engaging utility providers and the public to promote the panel’s efforts. That could include adjusting water rates based on the panel’s recommendations.

Jack Lavelle, spokesman for the Department of Water Resources, said working together will help the three offices accomplish their respective goals.

“Any kind of sustainability effort needs to have participation at some point by the three agencies,” he said. “We won’t find a new source of water, but we might develop a new, improved water recycling program.”

Robert Glennon, professor of law and public policy at the University of Arizona, called the panel “a terrific development.”

“In the past, all three agencies have been working at cross-purposes,” said Glennon, author of “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to Do About It.”

Grumbles and other officials announced the panel last Friday at a conference on the state’s water needs.

He said the group will focus heavily on finding ways to both discourage inefficient or wasteful water use and develop more ways to reuse wastewater.

“And not just wastewater, but also gray water _ water from the shower or the bathroom sink. The recycling of storm water as well,” Grumbles said.

He and Mayes said some of the changes that may come from the partnership would require infrastructure, regulatory or legislative changes. However, both said it’s too early to say what those could be.

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