Here in Arizona, the most recent drought of the past decade has surpassed the worst drought in the last 110 years of record-keeping. Arizona's finite, limited supply of water is being stretched between new, fast-accumulating demands and Arizona's population is projected to double by 2030.
Much of this growth is occurring in rural areas of the state where there are minimal protections or regulations on water and its use. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Arizona could face a potential water supply crisis by 2025, meaning that existing water supplies may not be adequate to meet demands for people, farms, or the environment.
At the heart of Arizona's water-quantity problem are weak state laws that fuel development but offer little help to deal with its consequences. Those laws are allowing thousands of homes to be built in rural communities with no guarantee of water.
For example, in Mohave County 160,000 homes are being planned as bedroom communities to Las Vegas. The Arizona Department of Water Resources has said that there likely will not to be enough water for these homes, but under current law, they may be built anyway. Similar stories exist in places around the state that were formally rural.
In contrast, guarantees are required in urban areas to make sure that new homes will have enough water for 100 years, based on surrounding current and projected needs, as well as water availability. However, growing demand in the Verde Valley and Prescott Valley could severely reduce the flow of the Verde River. In this case, the Phoenix area stands to lose water if unlimited pumping along this river, and the groundwater that supports the river, continues. The Phoenix metropolitan area also stands to foot the bill for expensive water transfers that will be proposed when hundreds of thousands of homes that are built on inadequate supplies go dry, since it is the major economic driver for the state.
Weak laws are also leaving the state's unique river environments unprotected. Rivers like the San Pedro, which provides a critical stopover for up to four million migrating birds each year, are suffering from over-pumping due to encroaching development. The San Pedro River could dry up in 10 to 15 years and stretches of it have already been running dry.
Living in a desert means needing to grow responsibly since the next drought is always around the corner. Development should only occur where there is enough water to support it. Our water should be conserved, used efficiently, and restored wherever it is taken out of our water supply. We urge state leaders to pass legislation that ensures all Arizonans have a clean, lasting supply of water derived from a local source.
Lela Prashad is the Public Interest Advocate for the Arizona Public Interest Research Group (Arizona PIRG). Arizona PIRG is a statewide public interest advocacy organization. More information can be found at www.arizonapirg.org
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