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The work ahead for Arizona’s water future


Thanks to a century of careful planning and effective management, Arizona’s stewardship of its water supply is internationally recognized as a model for cooperative governance. But, with droughts, declining water levels, and population growth, we must act again, and we can’t afford to wait.

Arizona’s diverse and consensus driven system for water management and governance is the bedrock on which the Salt River Valley Water Users Association, the Groundwater Management Act, the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the water banking authority, and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD), which enabled the construction of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal system, were created.

Rep. Rusty Bowers

Rep. Rusty Bowers

To put this in very simple terms, much of what we know today as Maricopa County would not have been developed without these policy achievements. Water in Arizona went from scarcity to abundance because of sound water management policies.

The successful construction and completion of the CAP now provides water to over 80 percent of Arizona’s citizens, and its governing body has provided a reliable system for the delivery of Colorado River water to Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties. It was purposely created to give the citizens it serves the responsibility to govern it through an elected board and to promote regional responsibility and ownership. Arizonans who live in those counties have paid out $1.7 billion in taxes to repay its cost and maintain its function. There are smaller water districts across the state that similarly serve their citizens – they are diverse, locally responsible, and successful.

Today, because of impending scarcity, challenges to these commonsense policies, which underwrite our past statutory achievements and permit Arizona to negotiate with our neighboring states, are being put to the test. Reaching a lasting accord on these challenges is not done by one group working the process alone, but by all of us working together to eliminate uncertainty and strengthen our state’s negotiating posture as we prepare to meet the demands of growth.

There is no doubt that the use and acquisition of CAP water has issues of statewide significance. It is for this very reason that I am hosting a series of meetings across the state to listen and learn to forge lasting agreements to meet the challenges of a potential drier natural environment and growing state population.

Raised in the strain of the depression-era Los Angeles, my dad would wake up his homegrown workforce for the day’s work saying, “Alright boys, let’s get movin’… a dollar’s waitin’ on a dime!” Likewise, all the parties need to realize the tough slog we have ahead to reach wise water policy developed locally and a firm position heading into the 2020 negotiations on the guidelines. Doing so will provide certainty for both the future of Arizona and the Colorado River. That “dollar” is waiting, and we are calling on all parties to move past the rancor, recognize how successful our combined efforts have been, and get to work.

Governing bodies and regulated groups should have been focused on promulgating and complying with a Fourth Management Plan, and the Fifth Management Plan is set to be promulgated by January 1, 2019.

My father was a leader. He understood that getting the “dimes” moving would enhance the value of his “dollar.” We have no further time to spare, and it is time we begin to meet the challenges by focusing our efforts on these five goals:

  1. Let’s take a deep breath and acknowledge successful efforts resulting in over 800,000 acre feet of water behind Hoover Dam on the Colorado that have, thus far, kept us from falling into shortage without missing a delivery.
  2. We must continue to communicate between authorized parties when negotiating interstate agreements which many times are necessary.
  3. Agreements and tools that recognize changes of water applications need to be implemented and conversions from agricultural to other uses can be facilitated. Many such conversions are now ready to be adopted by rule, but are languishing.
  4. Agricultural interests in central Arizona are the first ones to face water reductions if Colorado River supplies drop. We must find ways to mitigate those impacts.
  5. Let’s agree that rural county water concerns can be addressed using good scientific data to guide regulation when necessary. Challenges within rural basins and with Colorado River right holders will only be addressed through thoughtful discussions and decisions. Large, wealthier areas of our state are not entitled to mandate away the property rights and concerns of less populated areas.

By focusing on these commonsense objectives that we can all agree on, we can get to work for a stronger future for Arizona water.

– Rep. Rusty Bowers, who represents Legislative District 25, chairs the House Energy, Environment & Natural Resources Committee.


The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.


  1. bradley taylor hudson

    Individual water conservation is a key ingredient not mentioned here. The average person in Arizona uses 100 gallons a day. An education campaign is not that expensive. Of course, cost will be the key.
    When water is 10 cents per gallon, (it will come to that of course), people will start conserving.
    Conservation is not that hard: don’t let faucets run, turn the tap only as high as necessary to do a job. For instance, washing your hands doesn’t require full faucet force. You don’t have to flush your toilet for a few ounces of urine. You don’t have to wash your car so often. Never use water to wash the driveway. Report water waste. I think someone should develop a foot pedal, so that the shower doesn’t run the whole time you’re in there..

  2. Thank you Representative Bowers for bringing much-needed balance, integrity, maturity and wisdom to these important water issues in Arizona

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