Our Turn: How Arizona should handle future water cuts
Arizona, Nevada and California march ever closer to an agreement to prevent the severe water usage cuts that come with a federal declaration of water shortage triggered by dropping water levels at Lake Mead, a reservoir of the Colorado River supplying water to each state. But we need to carefully consider how any water cuts are distributed.
There’s no doubt our three states are overdrawing our Colorado River water account, and the persistent drought in the Southwest and climate change are only exacerbating the problem. Unfortunately, Arizona is in the most vulnerable position because any shortages in the river will hit our state with major cutbacks before any other state has to address its water usage.
We have a significant incentive to take action now — so that the states can decide how we make cuts, and Arizona can ensure we are not shouldering the entire burden or suffering a major blow to our economy, our drinking water and our livelihoods.
Our prosperity depends on water
Water is a pillar of Arizona’s economy, and the way we manage our water today will be a major factor in whether and how we prosper in the future. Our state depends on the Colorado River for 40 percent of our water, and the Colorado River alone drives more than half of our state’s gross economic product and supports more than 2 million Arizona jobs.
Reliable water supplies are an essential foundation for economic development, and as businesses and leaders in this community, we have to engage in this issue now, to make sure we are part of the solution.
And we’re not alone.
Why sharing cuts is important
California has even more to lose with more than 7 million jobs and $185 billion hanging in the balance. But working together with California, Nevada, Mexico and the federal government will help us share the cuts because there’s a shared understanding we’re all in this together and all have a role to play if we’re going to avoid dramatic cuts imposed from Washington on the water we depend on.
We have an important opportunity to get out in front of this problem and pave our own path forward to address our water problems through efficient water management and increased flexibility before the situation becomes so dire that we’re forced to make drastic changes that could severely damage our economy and communities.
We will need to build upon our past successes in innovative water management, unmatched conservation, and collaborative water sharing to create more innovative solutions so that Arizona has the water we need for our future. Failure to address reductions in the deliveries of this water would impact our economic vitality and quality of life throughout the region.
What we can do today
Our state must focus on what we can do today and in the near term in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Water conservation, efficiency, reuse and innovative management are the most fiscally responsible and quickest way for Arizona to do its part to reduce the structural deficit and meet our need for safe, dependable and cost-effective water supplies.
We also need to increase flexibility for water-sharing agreements to incentivize those who hold the rights to the water to keep more of their water in the river. Through this kind of adaptive management, we can reduce water level declines in Lake Mead, help mitigate the potential impacts of shortage on our agricultural economies by supporting agriculture’s capacity to adapt and thrive in changing conditions.
And we need to do all of this without compromising our smart groundwater management system. The visionary management provisions of Arizona’s Groundwater Management Act have demonstrated our commitment to protecting our vital water supplies for continued economic development and preserving our quality of life.
Polls: Use our water equitably
While these cuts will hurt, we need to take action now and make smart decisions about our water use if we’re going to remain autonomous, address the overuse of the Colorado River water in our state, avoid an approaching truly desperate situation, and maintain a strong economy in the process.
And there’s popular support in the state for doing just that. Several polls in recent years demonstrate that Arizona voters are very concerned about the state’s water supply and will support solutio
ns that use our current supplies in equitable, economically viable and efficient ways.
Everyone has a stake in addressing this problem, and everyone has a role to play as we work to manage this new reality and set us on a path to thrive.
Kevin Moran is senior director of Western Water at Environmental Defense Fund.
Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Noah Mundt is senior program manager for Siemens Industry Inc. with a focus on smart city and water and wastewater technologies. Email him at email@example.com, follow on Twitter, @makeitrain66.