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Arizona’s voice in national water policy discussions

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The drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is a stark reminder of how we need to be vigilant when it comes to managing our water supply and planning for its future. Just recently, I had the privilege of testifying on this very topic on Capitol Hill in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

I stressed to the chairman, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, and the rest of the committee, the importance of advancing sustainable solutions to meet the nation’s current water infrastructure needs and to ensure the delivery of the most basic need for millions of Americans. Aging and deteriorating public water systems threaten economic vitality and public health.

Joe Gysel

Joe Gysel

Estimates for maintaining the nation’s water infrastructure are staggering – the EPA and the Government Accountability Office estimate the current funding gap to be as high as $1 trillion. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the nation’s water infrastructure a D grade. Communities around the country are faced with massive fiscal challenges to replace critical infrastructure, as we saw in Flint.

I testified to the committee in my role as president of the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) Board of Directors, a Washington, D.C.-based group that works with its state and regional chapters and with legislators at every level to support policies that increase public and private investment in water infrastructure.

NAWC has member utilities that range from large companies serving millions of customers in multiple states to utilities that serve just a few hundred connections. No matter the size, our goals are clear: Supply safe and reliable, high-quality water that we need every day to survive and thrive.

It is fortunate that at this moment in time, the leadership role on the NAWC board is coming from the Southwest. We know that water is an especially valuable commodity in our region and requires strong, sustainable management to preserve current resources and plan for our future.

As Governor Doug Ducey mentioned in this year’s State of the State address, “We sit in the Capitol city in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation in the middle of a desert.” In that speech, the governor directed a team of water experts to look at new, long-term sources for water here, to explore additional conservation opportunities and to identify future infrastructure needs.

He is making it a policy priority that clean and reliable water is foundational to Arizona’s economic engine and its quality of life. This will require investment to maintain and improve current systems as well as looking for new resources and programs to augment our current supply. Here at EPCOR, we take Governor Ducey’s charge to heart.

We are investing $500 million over the next 10 years in infrastructure. Along with other private water utilities in Arizona, this is a top priority. These are needs we can’t afford to ignore. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ most recent report card estimates that Arizona’s water and wastewater systems will need nearly $13 billion in infrastructure improvements, upgrades and repairs over the next 20 years.

In Arizona, private water companies provide service to 1-in-5 people. Private water companies in the U.S. serve more than 73 million people and their water systems produce 4.6 billion gallons of water a day that are used by our children, our businesses and our communities. They understand the challenges and the responsibilities that come with providing clean, safe and reliable water.

EPCOR and private water utilities across the country share a deep commitment to responsible stewardship of our resources as we face crucial challenges such as lingering drought and aging infrastructure. We continue to work with the federal government on funding programs that, when combined with the private sector, can deliver much-needed resources for water sustainability now and in the future.

Drinking water needs to be protected from source to tap to wise re-use. EPCOR recently participated in the Arizona Capitol Times’ “Morning Scoop” panel on this very topic and other water-related issues. I’m honored to also serve on the advisory board of Arizona State University’s Kyl Center for Water Policy and on the Water Resources Research Council External Advisory Committee at the University of Arizona.

Organizations like these provide a vital Southwestern point-of-view to the national water policy conversation. At EPCOR, we look forward to making sure these discussions lead to the sustainable future that Arizona deserves.

Joe Gysel is president of EPCOR Water USA.

One comment

  1. The Saudis have made themselves very wealthy by selling us oil. They have all the money in the world but what they don’t have is water because they drained their aquafers. Now they are in Arizona and are draining our aquafers. The people who have lived in rural Arizona for years, decades or, some, for generations, are having their wells go dry because of the excessive farming being done by these foreign invaders. This started almost three years ago and expands daily. Even with the billions in oil money these foreign predators have they do not offer to pay for the damage they are causing by paying for residents to have deeper wells drilled. The residents of rural Arizona do not have the kind of money it takes to drill a deep water well. What about the permanent damage when all the water is gone?
    This over pumping of the groundwater needs to be stopped now before it is too late. Governor Ducey and the members of the Arizona legislature are the ones who need to stop this and protect Arizona’s groundwater. Below is a letter and a solution sent to Governor Ducey and each member of the Legislature.

    Governor Ducey,
    The foreign farmers that have invaded the West Basins Planning Area and much of Rural Arizona continue to expand and expand and expand. They keep drilling more and more high volume wells. These wells pump anywhere from 1000 to 4000 gallons per minute. In 2 ½ to 5 hours a single irrigation well pumps as much water as what a family of four uses in a year. These predators know exactly what they are doing because they have done this to other communities in this country and in other parts of the world. Since they have already drained their own aquifer they search the world for areas with inadequate groundwater control and take over. As long as naïve or “influenced” government officials do nothing to stop this these predators will continue to drain the aquifers until the water is gone or too deep to access or until government officials do something to stop them.
    As you know domestic wells are going dry. Families that have lived here for years or decades and, for some, generations are suffering because nothing has been done to stop these predators that have taken over the groundwater. Some residents have been threatened because they have complained about the over pumping of the groundwater and domestic wells going dry and lives being destroyed.
    The longer you continue to wait to do something to stop the depletion of the groundwater the worse everything will get for local residents. Why do the local residents have to pay the price, a very high price – more than most can afford, so these foreign farmers can profit from Arizona’s inadequate groundwater control because you will do nothing to stop it?
    Arizona’s share of the Colorado River water will soon be reduced. The ground in Rural Arizona is subsiding as the groundwater is being depleted. This subsidence will eventually damage the CAP cannel so the water going to the cities will be in jeopardy. If Arizona’s groundwater is allowed to be depleted than the cities will have no backup water.
    Attached is a possible solution to Arizona’s Water Crisis. Something needs to be done now. The longer you wait the more irreversible damage will be done. We, the residents of Rural Arizona, should not have to lose everything so foreigners can profit.

    Arizona Groundwater Crisis possible solution
    There are many calculated guesses about the facts of Arizona’s Groundwater Crisis but there is only one actual fact that is verifiable and that is the depth to water.
    The primary and most important issue in this crisis is that Domestic Wells must not be allowed to go dry. If Domestic Wells do not go dry then we will not run out of accessible, affordable groundwater. Anything and everything must be done to make sure Domestic Wells do not go dry.
    Possible Solution:
    1 – Immediately stop issuing irrigation farm and dairy farm well permits.
    2 – Set a standard Domestic Well depth by basin. The depth to water in the monitoring well within each basin with deepest depth to water shall not go below 100 feet above the standard Domestic Well depth in that basin. If the depth to water in the monitoring well with the deepest depth to water in that basin (this may not always be the same monitoring well) goes down to 100 feet above the standard Domestic Well depth then all groundwater pumping by irrigation and dairy farms will stop. When or if the depth to water in the monitoring well with the deepest depth to water goes back up to 125, 150 or 175 feet (this number must be determined) above the standard Domestic Well depth then the farms can resume pumping groundwater. This pumping will again stop when it goes back down to 100 feet above the standard Domestic Well depth.
    Example: If in a particular basin the standard Domestic Well depth is 500 feet then farm wells can pump groundwater until the depth to water in the any of the monitoring wells in that basin goes down to 400 feet. At that time all farm groundwater pumping will stop until the depth to water goes back up to 375, 350 or 325 feet based on which measurement has been determined in that basin.
    3 – All irrigation farm and dairy farm wells will be metered and monitored with telemetry units. This equipment, the telemetry fees, billing and maintenance costs shall be paid by the owners of the farm wells on a quarterly basis. Tampering with this equipment and/or not paying the quarterly bills will result in the well being shut down and further fees will be added. (Possibly criminal charges?)
    4 – Many or possibly most of the Domestic Wells will not be as deep as the standard Domestic Well depth that is set for the basin they are in. This is a compromise to allow the farms to continue pumping groundwater.
    5 – In the past three years the farming in Arizona has drastically expanded way beyond sustainable levels. These expanded farms have caused the groundwater crisis and are the ones that are profiting from it and the Domestic Well owners are suffering. To keep the Domestic Well owners from losing everything there is to be a fund set up. This fund will pay all the costs for Domestic Well owners to have their wells drilled down to the standard Domestic Well depth when the depth to water in their wells go down to 50 feet (another measurement to be determined) above their current well depth. This fund will also pay for temporary housing if necessary. It will also pay all damage or loses due to the well going dry, such as replacing lost vegetation with plants of the same type and size, etc.
    6 – This fund will be paid for by the irrigation farms and the dairy farms since they are the ones profiting by the over pumping of the groundwater. The initial fee to each owner of a farm well will be based on the pumping capacity of the well. Every quarter after that, if necessary to bring the fund back up to the reserve amount, a billing will be sent to each farm well owner based on the amount of water metered through each farm well since the last billing. The reserve amount in the fund may vary based on the projected need as will the amounts billed to the farms, i.e. there will be no set fee amount per gallon or per acre feet of water used. The fee amounts will be based on fund needs. If the fund is depleted prior to the regular quarterly billing then a special billing will be sent to the farm well owners. There may be quarters where nothing is billed if there is no need. If these billings are not paid within a month the well will be shut down and penalties will be assessed.

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