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ADEQ director: Recycled water, renewable energy key to Arizona’s future

Capturing rainwater for drinking. Reusing what goes down the shower drain to water the lawn. Irrigating trees with used water from a air-conditioning system.

Recycling water in these and other ways is key to meeting Arizona’s long-term water needs, the head of the state Department of Environmental Quality said Tuesday (Sept. 29).

“Reclaiming wastewater is absolutely the future,” Benjamin Grumbles said in an interview with Cronkite News Service.

Arizona currently recycles about 4 percent of its water. Grumbles, who served as assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said he wants to see that number increase significantly.

“In my view, there is no such thing as wastewater, just wasted water,” he said.

Grumbles, appointed to the post earlier this year by Gov. Jan Brewer, said one of his chief goals is increasing collaboration among agencies responsible for water, energy and the environment. That commitment helped bring about a blue-ribbon panel overseen by his department, the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Corporation Commission.

“Collaboration is at the heart of environmental sustainability,” Grumbles said.

He also said collaboration will help the agencies maximize resources as they grapple with state budget cuts.

“Accepting the status quo is not an option,” he said.

Grumbles said he supports Arizona staying in the Western Climate Initiative, a group of states in the U.S. and Mexico and Canadian provinces that have agreed to take action against climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Some members of the Legislature have said they want Arizona out of the compact.

“We can represent Arizona’s unique interests, and with our Western partners we believe we get better opportunities to make significant comments and provide input to Congress,” he said.

Grumbles said another key to providing Arizona with a sustainable water supply is prices that better recognize the true value of water. Since water is both a commodity and a necessity, however, he said Arizona needs “lifeline rates” for people with low incomes.

Looking toward next year’s legislative session, Grumbles said he expects to spend time pushing lawmakers to consider renewable energy as a way to reduce greenhouse gases and boost the state’s economy.

“This is the era of clean energy and climate change,” he said.

Arizona’s abundance of land, sun and heat mean energy from solar, wind and even algae can lead to green jobs here, Grumbles said.

“I think Arizona may someday become the leading state in algae biofuels,” he said.

Grumbles said that while he is committed to helping reduce the state’s budget deficit he will advocate for the resources ADEQ needs to carry out its mission.

“There is no free lunch when it comes to environmental sustainability,” he said.

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