Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said in order to find solutions to the state’s water crisis, there needs to be political will. Praying might also do the trick, he said.
Bowers is leading water discussions at the state Capitol. Along with Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, and members of the House and Senate natural resources committees, Bowers has embarked on a statewide tour to discuss water policy and gauge the state’s interest in tackling what he described as one of the most important issues facing the state.
He said while the governor vetoed sweeping water legislation that was proposed this past session, the water tour has helped the committee learn more about what changes the governor, Legislature and other stakeholders might be amenable to.
What went wrong this year in terms of water legislation?
I think that the year was dedicated to finding out what people really want and what the needs of the state of Arizona are. The idea that success or failure is based just on what you get passed, I don’t think is a complete look at the big picture. The governor sent very obvious signals letting us know what he wanted, but what we wanted was to do things in a way that’s conducive to the backing of the state. I mean, outside of air, water is going to be very, very important in a desert environment. So we spent the year trying to understand as best as humanly possible the nuances of policy and their impacts beyond the county of Maricopa, and I think that was the best part of the year’s water work for me. You’d have to ask Gail, but I would suspect that likewise for her it was learning so much more about how people react and what their visceral feelings are about water and water policy.
Water policy is a complicated subject. Was it mostly the agricultural community who attended your water meetings?
If the area is agriculturally based, Yuma, Eastern Arizona, then you’ll get a disproportionately high group of people that are interested in the impacts on their family business or on their charge of life. But in Verde Valley, we had a much bigger and broader context of discussion. There the big thing is there’s so many wells and there’s so many houses dependent on individual exempt wells that have a small capability by law of recovering water. I’m on one of those wells. In Kingman, likewise, a lot of folks concerned about that. When we went to Tucson, there was a large municipal response, and our response here locally when we’ve had hearings at the Capitol has been the same. It’s not the agricultural community or people on wells but city staff, the people who turn on your tap.
How would you gauge your colleagues’ understanding of the issue?
I think the nature of the Legislature forces legislators who have an affinity for one particular subject or another to learn more about that one. And if they have a level of confidence in the other person who has some other interest, they look to them kind of as a lead and they’ll try to get as much information as their time allows. There are hundreds of subjects that we need to be proficient in… so I think it’s natural that people would look at others to lead people on this issue and I would be one and Gail is one. In the minority party we have Rosanna Gabaldon and Lisa Otondo.
How do you get more of your colleagues to participate in the discussion?
Just turn off the water. We’ll see what happens. Tell them if you ever want to wash your face again in the bathroom then you need to show up on Friday when we have these water meetings. That might be a way to do it. I’m not actually going to do that, but I think the issue is heightened for everyone by the drought and it is of absolute importance in our area so I think people will start paying more attention.
How do you teach or encourage the conscientious use of water?
We should employ the teaching of water ethics from grade schools. Not just teach kids to wash your hands and brush your teeth, but that every drop of water should be guarded and taken care of. That’s the mentality we need to have about water. And I don’t want them to have to learn it the hard way. We would be well-served to think about water more in that way.
What legislative proposals can we expect next session?
I don’t want to do water policy by you know, charge. It has to be measured and thoughtful. So I want to address some little things.
Do you think the Legislature, the Ninth Floor and the water groups will be able to come to a consensus?
I think it’s totally doable.
Like education this year, do you think water will be the big issue next session?
No, I don’t, though I think it should be. If the Drought Contingency Plan is handled next session, it will be the most important thing. But they may want to do it before next session. That has not been well received by some because people want to make sure we get it right.
What are some small things people can do to help?
My pitch is for prayer. And I mean real prayer that will get water in the watershed. But for those who are inclined towards secularity, the solutions are driven by political force. And everybody should just turn the water off while you’re brushing your teeth, you know, be smart. Small things multiplied, turn into big, big things. The backyard grass growers and all of us who want to plant a shade tree rather than a mesquite tree to sit under, we all need to consider our situation every day and make good choices with water.