As one of the driest states in the Union, water is the very lifeblood of Arizona. Wise people starting with John Wesley Powell saw the need for water policies that made sure future generations would have sufficient supplies to sustain growth and the future. Our system of water collection and diversion systems starting with Lake Roosevelt (1911) behind Theodore Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River, to Lake Mead (1935) and Lake Powell (1963) on the Colorado have enabled the dramatic growth of Arizona and other southwestern states. In 1980, Arizona enacted the Groundwater Management Act to ensure sufficient supplies of groundwater. It was enacted as a compromise between farmers, mines, industry and cities to prevent the depletion and wanton use of this finite resource.
Today, Arizona faces stark choices over water policy. It is increasingly clear that climate change is making the ongoing drought – now in its 21st year, though some say 50 years – more severe than any in recorded history. We are on the verge of imposed limitations on withdrawals from the Colorado River Storage System that will significantly impact our state’s ability to grow. It’s time to do something and yet, the Governor’s commission on water has been unable to move forward and the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Waters Conservation Board are fighting over how to best manage this at-risk resource.
Arizona has enough water, but it appears to be wasted and worse. In places like Mohave County unrestricted groundwater-depleting pumping and unrestricted development along the San Pedro River in southern Arizona are putting our future at risk.
In Mohave County foreign owned firms are pumping water and using it to grow alfalfa – a very thirsty crop – for export to horse stables in Saudi Arabia. Along the San Pedro River, developers are seeking to pump the river dry to make way for new houses – with no certainty that the water supply will last 100 years as required by law.
The legislature has the power to act and save our water. Extending the 1980 Groundwater Management Act to all counties, working with farmers to utilize efficient drip irrigation systems to replace lateral and ditch systems, and stopping business from exporting our precious water to out of state buyers are all things the legislature can do as first steps.
Additionally, we need to look at promoting xeriscaping in our cities, water efficient appliances and fixtures, and promoting the use of pool covers to reduce evaporation when pools are not in use. Finally, we need to support research for more water efficient crops so as to increase farm yields while simultaneously reducing agricultural water use.
Water is our greatest and most important resource. We need to move immediately to protect our future.