Commentary: Seek Verde River solutions that are deliverable
At a recent Verde River Basin Partnership meeting, Director Sandra Fabritz-Whitney of the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) delivered a presentation on the status of Arizona's water resources. Her power point presentation indicated that "long-term, reliable water supplies are critical for attracting investment in Arizona cities, industry and economy. Investors increasingly aware of risks associated with uncertain water supplies." Fabritz-Whitney indicated that studies such as the Bureau of Reclamation's (BOR) Colorado River Water Supply and Demand Study and the final report of Arizona's Water Resources Development Commission highlighted the need for better management of our water resources.
The BOR report indicated that Arizona's water imbalance is approximately 242,900 to 1,269,700 acre-feet. An acre-foot is 325,851 gallons or enough water to cover an acre of land one foot deep. We should note that the potential imbalances do not include the water requirements of our rivers and streams that are over allocated and at risk.
The Director's presentation stated the "Basin Study is a call to action...The system is vulnerable if nothing is done." ADWR will soon be releasing a strategic plan that will guide Arizona to meet current and future demands and to provide a stable environment for our future. In the past Arizona has been able to adapt to our region's changing water needs. For the Verde River Basin communities this means that we must develop a unified regional approach to water management.
Recognition of the problem is only the first step in securing our future water supplies and protecting what remains in our state's rivers, streams and groundwater springs. The real challenge will come when funding is requested from the state Legislature for groundwater monitoring, needed scientific studies, changes in the groundwater code, protection of our surface waters and implementation of infrastructure projects. Time is of the essence. Will the challenge be met?
In 1980 ADWR had a staff of over 220 employees. Due to budget cuts the Department now has a staff of 114. Since 1980 Arizona's population has grown by several million, water resource issues have increased and competition for water in the Western United States has risen to its highest level. Our state will not be able to meet the challenges of securing our future water supplies without ADWR having the necessary financial resources available to conduct studies and analyze data.
The reality is that the surface waters and groundwaters in rural Arizona are at risk. Arizona's rivers and streams, mostly located in rural areas, are dependent on groundwater for their survival. Yet, Arizona statute does not recognize this basic scientific fact. Therefore, Arizona's remaining rivers and creeks are at risk due to excessive groundwater pumping.
ADWR and our state's leaders have a responsibility to all citizens of Arizona, both urban and rural dwellers. We need to resolve our water supply issues through an inclusionary and transparent process. Conceptual solutions should require anticipated infrastructure costs and financial impacts to consumers. We should seek solutions that are deliverable.
The competition for additional water supplies will be intense. Rural areas looking to augment water supplies from the Colorado River or other sources will need to acquire funding that is currently unavailable at the state and federal level. Even if funding were available we would have to prove that our region has a comprehensive management plan. The Director indicated that rural areas should start with short-term strategies to address near-term demand reduction opportunities and strategies that maximize access to local water supplies. How do our rural areas do this and still preserve our flowing rivers and streams?
We should start with a complete review by ADWR to identify the Department's needs that are required to meet the many water resource challenges our state is facing now and in the future. The Arizona Water Development Commission's report indicated there are many gaps in information. Funding to obtain this information should be acquired. The Commission's work should continue either as a Commission or as part of ADWR's strategic plan process.
The Legislature must begin to treat water for what it is. These fundamental facts cannot be ignored: 1) water is one of Arizona's great natural resources and needs to be preserved; 2) water is as valuable to our economic well being as investment capital; 3) at one time the West thought that water followed money - in the new West money will follow water; 4) a sustainable water supply that is cost effective is a requirement for people to invest in Arizona; and 5) surface water is vital to the tourism industry especially in rural areas of the state.
For additional information on water resources visit the Verde River Basin Partnership's website at vrbp.org and friend us at facebook.com/verderiverbasinpartnership.
Like America, Arizona and the communities within the Verde River Basin work best when we all work together.
Tom O'Halleran is the chairman of the Verde River Basin Partnership