When discussing Arizona’s economic future, add water

Guest Opinion//April 9, 2015

When discussing Arizona’s economic future, add water

Guest Opinion//April 9, 2015

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If you want to glimpse the future of a city or state, all you need to do is look at how it’s managing its water supply.

The future of water in Arizona and elsewhere is tied to how we understand its value. Custodians of water – those who regulate it, legislate it and operate the systems that provide it – will help their cities and states thrive by asking questions, seeking answers and coming together to forge solutions. Those who do not engage – whether out of ignorance, neglect or the failure to reach compromise – severely damage their communities’ future.

To secure the future we want, the conversations we need to have about Arizona’s water supply must take place today. The water solutions we design and actions we take now will have a huge impact on Arizona’s quality of life in 25 years and beyond.

I was pleased to be invited as a panelist last month to the Arizona Capitol Times’ Morning Scoop policy discussion on “the future of water in Arizona.” But it’s important to keep this conversation going. Why?

Signs of a growing water crisis are all around us. California faces a fourth year of drought, and some of its cities are rationing water. A recent story in The New Yorker illustrates a more troubling example in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where they are bracing for riots due to water shortage. As the magazine points out: “People rarely act until the crisis is directly affecting them, and at that point it will be too late.”

It takes years, even decades, to improve water resources and infrastructure systems. You can’t do it in a few months. With a growing population and a multi-layered issue like water management, Arizona and the West cannot afford to ignore this monumental challenge until it is right upon us.

It’s with this backdrop that we examine the future of Arizona’s water policy. It’s as much a discussion about economic growth and quality of life as it is about avoiding crisis. We have to look at every factor – climate change, a severe and lasting drought, surface water, the quality and quantity of ground water aquifers, infrastructure conditions and cost. Those are exactly the factors our state’s most conscientious leaders are looking at as they discuss Arizona and water policies that will ensure our state’s robust and sustainable future.

Water will be a significant factor to Arizona’s growth. Investors take water supply into consideration when making decisions about location. Building or expanding a company in a city with restricted water use can be an obstacle to job creation.

Fortunately, we have a solid foundation. Arizona is focused on a world-class water management system and is a leader in water reclamation, conservation and long-term planning strategies. As the state’s largest private, regulated water company, EPCOR provides water and wastewater service to approximately half a million people through more than 200,000 customer connections across 22 communities,  which adds up to more than 59 million gallons in daily water deliveries. We are proud to call Arizona home.

Through significant investments in conservation, reuse and infrastructure, Arizona’s water use is virtually the same as it was more than 50 years ago, despite robust population growth. From aerospace to agriculture to advanced manufacturing, water is critical to Arizona’s economy. As stewards of our water supply, we all must do more because there are challenges afoot. We only have to look to the declining water available in the Colorado River Basin, which lost nearly 53 million acre feet – the equivalent of two Lake Meads – from 2004 to 2013.

The future of water in Arizona is bright, but with some caveats. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, Arizona’s water and wastewater infrastructure requires nearly $13 billion of investment over the next 20 years. We need to waste less, reuse more and become more efficient, as individuals and as industries. We need to consistently plan for and invest in the wells, pipes and plants that comprise our infrastructure.

When we talk about the economic future of Arizona, water must have a prominent, permanent seat at the table.

Joe Gysel is President of EPCOR Water USA.