Protect legacy of water conservation – reject SB1660

Guest Opinion//February 24, 2023

Protect legacy of water conservation – reject SB1660

Guest Opinion//February 24, 2023

Lake Powell, Lake Mead, Colorado River, drought, water crisis, Arizona Department of Water Resources, groundwater
A boat floats past bathtub rings showing how low Lake Powell levels have dropped on June 7, 2022, in Page. Water supplies in Arizona are approaching crisis levels. (AP Photo/Brittany Peterson)

There is no sugar-coating it: Water supplies in Arizona are approaching crisis levels. We are at an inflection point in our history, where we must confront that the West’s reservoirs are sharply declining – and may never return to historic levels.

Lake Powell and the nation’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, are both sitting at less than one-third capacity. Put simply, we are using more water than the mighty Colorado River can deliver to us.

This situation underscores why now is not the time to make controversial changes to Arizona’s long-established water laws. Senate Bill 1660 would do just that. The bill would make exemptions that allow water-intensive companies to opt out of Arizona’s existing groundwater management framework.

Instead of preserving the aquifer, this bill would allow special interests to pump groundwater with no responsibility for replenishing the aquifer. Put another way, this legislation would negatively impact the water supplies of existing businesses and residents who have invested in Arizona.

water, drought, Lake Powell, Lake Mead, Colorado River, groundwater
Joe Gysel

It would show that our tough water laws protecting Arizona can be changed on a whim. And once one group has received this special treatment, you can bet on more lining up to obtain their own exemption from our groundwater rules.

Make no mistake, Arizona is a renowned leader in water conservation, thanks to more than a century of sound planning that has allowed us to thrive in one of the hottest and driest places on Earth. Our state has the well-earned reputation in the U.S. as a water innovator. This bill would begin the process of unwinding that legacy.

As a utility, we focus on supporting the communities we are in, including both existing and potential customers. We are equally focused on Arizona’s long-term water sustainability. Sustainability means protecting the aquifer for everyone by working within the state’s existing groundwater management framework. This framework has served Arizona well. Now – when Arizonans’ foremost concern is whether water will be there in the future – is not the time to make exceptions for specific industries.

Collectively, Arizona has some of the brightest minds working to address our current water challenges. From Governor Katie Hobbs to our Legislature and to Arizona Department of Water Resources’ Tom Buschatzke, to leaders at Central Arizona Project and Salt River Project and even the water resources team at EPCOR USA. We are all working together to help solve one of the most complex challenges of our time.

This is an opportunity to shape an incredible future for Arizona – to position our state to enjoy the same quality of life that we’ve come to expect.

This water challenge must be met head-on as a unified effort at every level of the public and private sector. SB1660 puts at risk our ability to meet the water needs of all residents and businesses solely for the benefit of one industry.

It is our hope that this legislation be rejected so that Arizona’s water future is sustainable for generations to come.

Joe Gysel is president of EPCOR USA.