Last week, several of Arizona’s leading Democrats at the State Legislature: Assistant House Leader Jennifer Longdon, Representative (and Senate Candidate) Mitzi Epstein, Representative Judy Schwiebert, Representative Marcelino Quiñonez, and Legislative House Candidate and Geologist Stacey Travers held a presser calling attention to the existing water crisis plaguing Arizona, even after the passage of a landmark Water Authority Bill at the end of the last session.

All five chastised Republicans for failing to lead on this issue and their inability to grasp the hard truths about the crisis and to support immediate solutions.

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Two of the panelists called Republican plans, especially for augmentation proposals like desalination, cost-prohibitive, and “pipe dreams.”

State Representative Jennifer Longdon.

Starting the conference, Democratic Leader Jennifer Longdon pulled no punches, saying:

“Arizona’s at a crossroads. We all know that climate changed fuel, drought, and with aridification (the changing of a region from a wetter one to a drier one,) we’ve gone beyond a drought. We’re now facing, aridification, a word that I can’t say but scares me to death.  This has greatly reduced our water supply, as we all know over these past couple of decades. And even though our population continues to grow, our Republican state leadership is avoiding the hard work and the tough choices needed to properly manage this crisis. Although we did work in this past legislative session (on the Water Authority Bill;) it’s a great start, but we still have a long way to go. This moment is going to require serious leadership, and it’s the Democrats of the Arizona Legislature that are going to be able to bring the courage and the creative thinking to address this existential threat.”

State Representative Marcelino Quiñonez

Representative Quinonez offered his views next, stating:

“…The Colorado River is drying up and that’s unavoidable since 2000. So over the last twenty years, we’ve seen a 20 percent cut in the Colorado River. There’s also a 34% chance that Lake Powell won’t be able to generate electricity by next year. Imagine that next year, Lake Powell is not producing electricity. Lake Mead is not far behind. This August, as many of you, are aware that federal agents declared a Tier Two A Water shortage, mandating large water usage cuts with a 21 percent cut to the current usage, which disproportionately impacts Arizona. And this is on top of other cuts that Arizona has had to endure over the last previous years.

Phoenix,  our capital receives 40 percent of its water from the Colorado River. These cuts will place,  large burdens on other (Arizona) Rivers like the Salt and Verde rivers and groundwater. Approximately 70 percent of the water in Arizona is used for agriculture in much of the state. Unmanaged groundwater is the principal source. As our allocation of the Colorado River is cut, more and more farms are likely to turn to over drafting groundwater… The Republican’s approach to solving the solution is to buy more water. Here’s the issue, you can’t buy water. Water is generated and it’s important that we allocate it in a useful manner and that we conserve.

I’m really proud of the work that we did as a caucus this past session to ensure the passage of the new Water Authority bill, which allocates $200 million to conservation efforts. These conservation efforts could lead to such things as rainwater harvesting, efficiency upgrades, and drought-resisting landscape. What’s clear is that Democrats have an approach to dealing with the situation as it is and managing that towards the future, and Republicans are simply interested in buying something that cannot be bought.”

State Representative and State Senate Candidate Mitzi Epstein.

Representative Epstein spoke next, conveying:

“…The first and foremost step that we must take is to look at the allocations of water between all the stakeholders of Arizona farmers, industry, municipalities, and the tribes. We need a clear, fair and approach a clear, fair approach to sharing water resources based on fact, not fantasy.

The rights to the Colorado River, both in our state and other states, were set at a time when there was a water surplus. And we just don’t have those conditions anymore. So that’s the fantasy part. We need to get back to basing our allocations on facts. The current legal system itself is unsettled. There are 11 of Arizona’s 22 tribes have paper rights that aren’t instituted.
Despite those rights being senior. Water rights are still unsettled, and every stakeholder in our state has a legitimate interest and deserves a seat at the table. Long-term success requires buy-in from everyone. Arizona has a long tradition of literally bringing everybody to the table. 60 people in a room and nobody gets told they have to leave. We need to get back to that tradition. Arizonans need to put everything on the table as we reevaluate our water diet.  We should consider incentives for conserving and reusing water. An obvious place is that we need to look at water waste and either cite it and fine it or redefine it so it can be sustainable.

Also, future development and growth need to treat water as the precious commodity that it is. So, third, we need to act now to reevaluate the industries that receive subsidies and also wastewater. So we should tie future corporate subsidies in Arizona to the amount of water use. That means that we have to start with urgent water usage per employee, among other benchmarks. We need to create those benchmarks in a collaborative way to create some guardrails for future tax subsidies.

Finally, augmentation which means bringing water from out of state into Arizona. It is an option, but it has been the principal strategy pursued by Republican leadership so far, and it has some very serious drawbacks. None the least of which are the environmental effects and problems it creates in the ocean. My goal, again, is always being an accountability hawk, is to keep an eye on the cost. Republicans have been focused on literal pipe dreams, but California is already doing desalination and they’re paying, get ready, $2,500 per acre-foot while the Central Arizona Project water recipients pay about $200, so this is 10 times the cost. Imagine if your water bill went from $40 a month to $400 a month. We have to watch the cost of the Desalination project. It would take a dozen Deslaiantaion plants to make a real dent, and they’re all decades away from coming online. If we want to save. Arizona. Augmentation is a long-term approach. It’s certainly not a silver bullet.”

State House Candidate and Geologist Stacey Travers

State House Candidate and Geologist Stacey Travers spoke next and echoed many of the points made by the first three panelists and more. She commented:

“…We really need to look at how to handle this crisis. One of the things that we need to do is stop giving our way our water and our water rights to international corporations without any kind of management so that they can just go ahead and pump our wells. And so we need to address how we manage what we have already.

The water bill that we’ve just passed is amazing, but there are no policy changes to protect over-pumping in rural Arizona so that we have better ways of managing our resources in this state. We need to take back the rights that we’ve given to the Saudi Arabians. I know everybody’s heard about it. They didn’t hear about it when it first happened, but they’re sure hearing about it now. We’re using flood irrigation as a method to source alfalfa crops that are being sold under market rates just so Saudi Arabia can feed their livestock. We need that water here. We need to keep that water here in the state, and we need to make sure that we find the guardrails and guidelines, as Mitzi said, in place, that we can go ahead and, and manage these resources or else, they’re not going to need to get anything from Arizona, because there won’t be anything in Arizona to take.

So, you know, it’s, it’s absolutely critical. Like I said, we’re moving and making steps forward. The 1980s Water Act was fantastic. The one that we’ve just done with my esteemed colleagues is even better. We still need to do the work. The management areas that we allocated and are supposed to achieve safe yield, which hasn’t happened yet. The water department lacks the authority that it needs. …we need to manage our, groundwater resources, and our pumping. We need to give water management departments more authority. We don’t even really have any kind of sense of how much water we have left. We need to do something. And the Democratic caucus is the caucus that is going to lead the way because Republicans, I think, don’t understand or they just don’t have what it takes, the strength of will to create what we need to create in order to do the best for Arizonans and their families. So, we just have to invest. We understand we have to invest in long-term sustainability. We need to create a better infrastructure…  an additional 60 feet of the Bartlett Dam on the Verde River, $25 billion needed to finish the Salt River Project so that we can connect our canals.”

State Representative Judy Schwiebert

Representative Schwiebert was the last panelist to speak and she stated:

“…If we don’t act now, costs are only gonna rise. Economic growth in the meantime in Arizona will slow. It’s smart as well as environmentally friendly to make sure that we are conserving our water. Because if we do act now, Arizona will continue to thrive. We just can’t afford the Republican strategy of very literally pipe dreams and wishful thinking. Reasonable people can take different positions on all sorts of issues, you know, but no serious person or political party can claim that Arizona is not facing a crisis with the drying rivers. We’re seeing dying farms, high energy bills, and an economic catastrophe waiting for us if we don’t step up now. Arizona Democrats, I’ve seen time and time again on issue after issue will bring a serious approach to this most serious, truly existential problem. And we need a majority in the legislature to do so. Without that majority, we can’t move the legislation that needs to happen. This is our pitch to Arizona voters. The economic and environmental viability of our state is at stake. There is a clear choice. This November, really only the Democrats have a serious plan to address water, but we need your votes to enact it.”

Representative Longdon picked up on Representative Schwiebert’s comments in her closing remarks when she relayed:

“If we don’t address this, crisis costs will continue to rise and our economic growth in Arizona will slow and perhaps even stop. But if we act now, Arizona will continue to thrive. We cannot afford this strategy of pipe dreams and wishful thinking that our, uh, Republican colleagues have offered. We need to value water In its current form as the finite and precious resource that it is. And with these steps, Democrats will bring a serious approach to this very serious problem, and it’ll be fact-based and based on science…

As representatives, most of us are hearing from the public, what are you going to do? They ask us, Representative Longdon, what are you going to and I want to turn that question back to Arizona’s voters. What are you going to do? Because as we all know, elections have consequences. And who you choose to elect will set the course for how these issues are addressed. And we bring to the table data-driven solutions that bring together the whole of Arizona stakeholders, not just the voices that come with the most clout.”

Representative Longdon is right. It is time for voters to make a choice. Do they vote for the candidates that believe in reality, science-based data, and feasible solutions or do they fall for the fringe charlatan-hucksters who are forever selling the snake oil of easy answers that do not exist?

Vote for the candidates this November that will work to ensure Arizona is still a place people can live in the next twenty years…or sooner.

Please click here to view more articles on the water crisis, including interviews with four candidates for the Central Arizona Water Conservation Project.

 

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