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Securing Arizona’s future prosperity — A strategic vision for water supply sustainability

Sandy Fabritz Whitney is the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources

Sandy Fabritz Whitney is the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources

Arizona has a long history of addressing our water supply challenges.  Before statehood, farmers and ranchers in Phoenix’s Salt River Valley put their own lands up as collateral to finance the construction of Roosevelt Dam, providing a more reliable water supply and reducing the impacts of flooding and drought as well as setting the stage for prosperity unimaginable in those early days.

Years later, as Arizona continued to grow and prosper, Sen. Carl Hayden led Arizona’s fight for its rights to use Colorado River water in central Arizona. After nearly 50 years of political and legal battles, the Central Arizona Project began delivering this important resource to Phoenix and Tucson, protecting Arizona’s groundwater resources for future generations.

Today, Arizona leads the nation in water conservation and water reuse as a direct result of: 1) the 1980 Groundwater Management Act, which requires mandatory water conservation for municipal, industrial and agricultural water users and is unmatched by any other state in water management successes, and 2) the conserving ethic that we each have naturally developed living in our arid state.

There is no doubt that over the past decade and a half this region has been in a significant drought, but we have continued to manage our way through this and have prepared our water communities to be ready to react should the need arise. Water will continue to flow to our taps because Arizona has taken the steps necessary to prepare for both drought and growth. With that growth, demands for water will increase. While we have planned, developed and tenaciously protected our water supplies, we are now at a crossroad of having to decide what our next chapter of successful water management and water supply development will be.

On Jan. 14, the Arizona Department of Water Resources answered that call with the release of “Arizona’s Next Century: A Strategic Vision for Water Supply Sustainability.” This document is the most comprehensive analysis of how to address the projected gap between currently developed water supplies and projected demands to date. Developed at the request of Gov. Jan Brewer, the Strategic Vision is envisioned as an approach to meet our challenges head on and provide Arizona policymakers and business leaders with strategies that can be pursued to develop and acquire water supplies to assist Arizona in realizing its potential for future economic prosperity Governor Brewer stated in the Strategic Vision that Arizona’s future is dependent on “a firm foundation of long-term secure water supplies and a sound water management strategy that attracts and sustains Arizona’s economic sectors and provides a stable and predictable environment in which we live.”

To address our future challenges, the Arizona Department of Water Resources has compiled various strategies ranging from the development of locally available water supplies, including the direct and indirect reuse of reclaimed water, to the importation of water supplies developed through ocean desalination.

No single strategy can address projected water supply imbalances across the state. Instead, a portfolio of strategies needs to be implemented dependent on the needs of each area of the state. It is very important to recognize the uniqueness of the various regions throughout Arizona and the varying challenges facing those regions. However, as we analyze the various strategies there are specific measures that have widespread potential benefit to all Arizonans. Strategic priorities are identified below, which the department believes will move Arizona forward through its next century.

1) Resolution of Indian and non-Indian water rights claims.

2) Continued commitment to water conservation and expanded reuse of reclaimed water.

3) Expanded monitoring and reporting of water use.

4) Identifying the role of in-state water transfers.

5) Supply importation — desalination.

6) Develop financing mechanism to support water supply resiliency Arizona can reach its economic potential. The caveat of course is that we must begin acting today — waiting will put us at a significant disadvantage in the region. The Strategic Vision illustrates that Arizona’s prior planning and action has positioned us well versus our neighboring states and that our challenges are solvable. Through a continued commitment to water conservation, the reuse of water and by following in the path of our predecessors’ aggressive planning and wise pursuit of water supplies, Arizona will secure itself as a global economic leader.

— Sandy Fabritz-Whitney is director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

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