PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE WATER NEEDS
February 27, 2018
Director, Arizona Department of Water Resources
It is no secret that Arizona has planned well for the challenges of long-term drought in our region. For decades, Arizona has carefully conserved its most precious resource and planned for its efficient use. The state has worked, hand-in- hand with its business partners and other stakeholders in the water community to ensure that our water supplies are adequate to meet the needs of a burgeoning Arizona economy – even in the throes of a lengthy drought.
The primary goal is to assure that all of Arizona’s economic priorities are in order in anticipation of the kind of growth we are observing.
When Governor Ducey and his team meet with business leaders looking to make investments in Arizona, water invariably is among the topic of discussion. Arizona is an arid, Western state. We are in a lingering drought. However, largely as a result of our careful planning over the years, water is rarely at the top of the priority list.
Doug Ducey has stated to a group of CEOS last fall that we’re making sure that we have everything in order, that we don’t have anything impeding our ability to create new jobs.
We saw evidence of that careful water planning in January 2018 when the Nikola Motor Co. announced plans to bring its operations and headquarters to Buckeye, a $1 billion capital investment that will bring 2,000 direct jobs to the state. Rest assured that the manufacturer of zero-emissions commercial trucks would not have committed such a huge investment to a state that did not have its infrastructure priorities straight, including well-demonstrated confidence in its available water supplies.
Water planning is a constant process. Making sure water stability is a top priority among many — as opposed to a “concern” or a “crisis” to be resolved – has prompted the Administration to focus over the past year on potential reforms to state water law. As ever, the goal has been to make sound choices that benefit the stability of Arizona’s long-term water supplies.
To that end, early in 2017 Governor Ducey asked me and others, including Chief of Staff Adams, to organize a months-long series of talks with a broad assortment of stakeholders in the water community. These stakeholders included business, development, agricultural, environmental and tribal leaders, among many others. Legislative leadership also was invited to the discussions.
That lengthy process became known as the Governor’s Water Solutions Conversation and ultimately produced a package of proposals that is vital to Arizona’s long-term water future. The Legislature now is evaluating many of them. Details of those issues, as well as proposals offered up by lawmakers are available on my department’s website at www.azwater.gov.
One of the proposals arising from the Water Solutions Conversation is particularly important to the long-term stability of Arizona’s water supplies – that of the issue of “forbearance” as defined in what we have dubbed the “Arizona Colorado River Conservation Program.”
In brief, the Conservation Program is intended to facilitate the conservation of water in Lake Mead to protect Arizona’s Colorado River supplies, which constitute over 40 percent of our annual water usage.
The Conservation Program would give the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) Director authority to forbear Colorado River water that was otherwise being used but would be offered up instead under various conservation projects for storage in Lake Mead. This “forbearance” tool is absolutely necessary for creating conserved water that helps stabilize water levels in Lake Mead, which is in jeopardy of descending to levels that threaten to reduce Arizona’s annual 2.8- million-acre-foot allocation.
Arizona and its partner states in the Lower Basin of the Colorado River system, as well as Mexico, can take pride in our efforts to date to stabilize water levels in Lake Mead. Forbearance authority allows us to do even more.
Further, a key tenet of Governor Ducey’s water policy has been his commitment to maintaining the consumer protections created by Arizona’s Assured and Adequate water supply statutes.
Developed over the decades following the landmark Groundwater Management Act of 1980, the statutes are anchored in the principle of a 100-year assured water supply for new development – the most demanding set of assured-water supply laws in the country. The Governor has repeatedly expressed his commitment to those consumer protections, going so far as to veto legislation in 2016 that he felt may weaken them.
Arizona’s economy, including its real-estate sector, is on an upswing now for many reasons. Arizona’s financial house in the wake of the 2009-2010 economic devastation is in order. So, too, is the Administration’s commitment to Arizona’s water supply.
In real-estate terms, sound water policy is one element of many for making Arizona an appealing place to live and do business. It’s simply a part of the deal.