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Now is the time to prepare for the dry times ahead

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Here in Arizona, we don’t need the federal government to remind us that the Southwest is in an extreme drought. The signs are all around us, even up in Flagstaff where I live. We’ve seen parched Ponderosas turning brown, forest access being closed in May, and fireworks cancelled to reduce the risk of wildfire. While our reservoirs have enough water this year to see us through a summer with little snowmelt, it is past time for Arizona to prepare for drier times ahead.

Lisa Lamberson

Lisa Lamberson

For Mountain Sports Flagstaff’s outdoor-loving employees and customers, Arizona’s rivers are a place to revel in the wonder of nature. But on a practical level, we also know the Colorado River and its tributaries form a lifeline that supplies water to our communities, powers our economy, and support the agricultural industry that puts food on our tables. Taking care of this hardworking river is good for our souls as well as for our plates and pocketbooks.

That is why we took notice when the federal government warned Arizona that urgent action is needed to keep the Colorado out of an official shortage. The Bureau of Reclamation says we are in one of the worst drought cycles in the past 1200 years, and that levels in Lake Mead, the reservoir that supplies water to millions of people in Arizona, Nevada and California, could soon dip low enough to trigger cutbacks.

The Bureau’s commissioner is urging water managers in the Colorado Basin to adopt a drought contingency plan before the end of this year, rather than waiting for a crisis to strike. To keep Lake Mead’s water levels above the danger zone Arizona must cooperate with our neighbors in both California and Nevada. If we work together now to conserve, we can head off harmful cutbacks in the future.

With the Colorado River supplying nearly half of Arizona’s water, our future is inextricably linked to that of the river. That is doubly true in Northern Arizona where Grand Canyon tourism and recreation generates millions of dollars each year for hotels, restaurants, river guiding services and outdoor shops like mine.

While visitors glimpsing the mighty Colorado for the first time may not have any frame of reference, locals can see the evidence of our extended drought all over the landscape. We hope for substantial rain every monsoon season and we also know Arizona needs to take practical steps to secure our water future regardless of what the weather brings.

As a business owner, planning ahead is part of my job. We have busy seasons and slower seasons, and I need to staff and stock inventory accordingly.  I know the decisions I make will impact my customer experience, my business profitability and ultimately the livelihood of our employees. I would like to see water managers bring that same discipline to drought planning, recognizing the livelihoods of countless Arizona residents are at stake.

We have been deficit spending our water for years, pulling more out of the Colorado River than rains replenish. The Bureau of Reclamation’s warning is our wake-up call and Mother Nature’s reminders of drought are all around us in the parched Colorado Plateau landscape. It’s time to finalize a drought contingency plan that will keep the river healthy, protect our way of life in Northern Arizona and avoid catastrophic water shortages in the future.

– Lisa Lamberson is owner of Mountain Sports, an outdoor shop in the heart of downtown Flagstaff. Mountain Sports is a member of Business for Water Stewardship, a program working to advance water solutions that meet the needs of business, rivers, and communities.

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

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