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Water and business as usual at the Legislature

(Photo by Ellen O'Brien)

(Photo by Ellen O’Brien)

In June, the Arizona Legislature passed SB1740 water infrastructure financing, supply, and augmentation with overwhelming support in both houses. It was quickly signed by the governor and lauded as a new page in our water book. But is it?

This bill establishes a Long-Term Water Augmentation Committee and Fund and appropriates $1 billion for the fund over three years. The fund is for water supply development projects that import water from outside of Arizona, including the desalination project the governor is pursuing with Mexico, for the infrastructure to deliver that water in Arizona, and to guarantee debt for financing water supply development projects in Arizona.

Sandy Bahr

The goal of the bill is to continue status quo agriculture and development, as though costly and environmentally destructive projects that would take decades to come to fruition could really make this possible.

Climate change is affecting precipitation and the amount and timing of river flows and pretty much every aspect of our daily lives in Arizona. Groundwater and surface water resources are already over-pumped and over-allocated, and daily we read about the shortages on the Colorado River and that house of cards system. Climate change is exacerbating all of that. The drought we hear about so often is sadly more likely aridification. A drought will come to an end at some point, but aridification means we have a hotter, drier future ahead of us and we will have to come to terms with that and live with less water.

That is why Sierra Club and others have repeatedly asked the Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey to focus on more sustainable water policies; ones that limit groundwater pumping throughout Arizona and especially outside active management areas (the most populous areas of the state where there is at least some regulation of groundwater pumping) and in areas where it is affecting the flows in our rivers.

Rather than merely pursuing importing water from outside Arizona, we asked them to consider that the current growth and development patterns and the current agricultural practices are just not sustainable, and to instead look at the opportunities for deeper conservation such as reclamation and treatment of wastewater flows, as well as changing how and what we grow.

SB1740 established a Water Conservation Grant Committee and Fund and appropriated $200 million for projects that will result in long-term sustainable reductions in water use and improvements in water use efficiency and reliability. This is a positive provision, but without any additional requirements, these water savings will merely serve to fuel more development and delay, but not address, the next water crisis.

Without some real changes in the law to better limit ground and surface water pumping and diversions and to sustain ecological flows in our waters, we cannot establish a sustainable water framework. None of this was addressed in the bill or elsewhere during the legislative session. This water bill is not a new page, but a page in a book we have read many times and written by those who have given us unsustainable policies, a page that will keep Arizona on track to confront another water crisis sooner rather than later.

Sandy Bahr is director of Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter.





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