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“Arizona budget cuts hurting water and air agencies.” Who cares?

I'm going to warn you at the outset: I'm feeling a bit edgy today.  It's Tuesday, but it feels like Monday.  And I've just about had it with our elected leaders.  I don't think it's too much to ask that they think about the long-term effects of their decision making (or lack thereof).  Yet their behavior, at least, leads me to believe that all they care about is the next two years and their reelection prospects.

Even the best leadership in the world probably wouldn't have prevented a fiscal deficit, spurred by the economic recession.  It wouldn't have erased the "Arizona budget cuts hurting [fill in the blank]" headlines.  But the lack of solid leadership has created a fiscal crisis of unprecedented proportions, far deeper than can be explained by the economic recession alone, and has made Arizona the "meth lab" of democracy, as Jon Stewart has labeled us.

Amid all that, when I read a headline like this morning's in the Arizona Republic, "Arizona budget cuts hurting water and air agencies" I think, Tell me something new.

For those of you who have a similar reaction to that kind of headline, I will tell you something new.

Consider the following charts:

Water Demand/Supply Gap in Central Arizona

Source: Infrastructure Needs and Funding Alternatives for Arizona: 2008-2032 Report, p. 436

 Water Shortages in Arizona's Counties

Source: Infrastructure Needs and Funding Alternatives for Arizona: 2008-2032 Report, p. 438

We need water management

Those two charts tell us one thing: Arizona has a water problem.  Four of the state's fifteen counties already need more water than they can sustainably supply.  In the state's most populous three-county area, demand for water will exceed supply well before we reach the half-century mark.

Isn't there someone looking out for the state's water supplies?  Who will help us bridge the gap between demand and supply?

The Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR), that's who. 

The ADWR was created by the 1980 Groundwater Management Code (hailed as one of the most admirable pieces of comprehensive water management legislation in the country) to "ensure an adequate quantity and quality of water for Arizona's future." 

Sounds like a pretty important job to me.  Because as much as I talk about the importance of high-quality education, and fit-for-purpose telecommunication infrastructure, and 21st-century energy technology, none of it matters a whit if we don't have enough water.

And it's not just me.  In the recent Gallup Arizona Poll, which was co-sponsored by the Arizona Investment Council, of 6 different infrastructure ideas the one that Arizonans overwhelmingly rated as the "best use of your tax dollars and/or private sector funding" was adopting a water management plan that "protects water supplies for the entire state."

 The Arizona We Want Water Management

Source: The Arizona We Want

Clearly, we need a water manager in Arizona.  We need someone who's actively on the job working with counties, municipalities, and water providers to bring demand and supply back into balance where it's out of whack and to ensure that in Central Arizona (where 85% of the state's citizens live) demand does not outstrip supply in the coming decades (it will if we do nothing).

The worst myopia

So how have policymakers responded to the very clear need for comprehensive statewide management of our precious water resources?  To the clear demand by the people of Arizona for a water management plan?

By gutting the one department responsible for managing Arizona's water supplies, of course.

The state's cuts have axed 60% of the ADWR's staff and 67% of its budget.  ADWR's statewide planning division, responsible for helping secure future water supplies, now has just two employees.  The Republic quoted ADWR director Herb Guenther as saying, "To me, resource planning is one of our most important functions.  That's our future. We don't have sustainable water supplies even here in Phoenix. We're going to burden our great-grandchildren with a (water) deficit if we don't do something."

As if the state's cuts weren't bad enough (and they're plenty bad), they are scarcely a drop out of the bucket that is the state's budget deficit.  Consider the numbers:

  • Former ADWR general fund allocation: $21.4 million
  • New ADWR general fund allocation: $7.1 million
  • Cut as % of original ADWR budget: 67%
  • Savings as a % of budget deficit: 0.48%

So the Legislature has cut the heart out of this arid state's ability to manage its scare water resources.  In return for savings that amount to less than one-half of one percent of the budget deficit.

It's the kind of myopia that has become endemic at the state capitol.  It's as if our leaders think that the world really will end in 2012.  In reality, Arizona will (somehow) march on; economic growth will resume, businesses will look to locate here.  But if we've destroyed the infrastructure that underpins our state, future growth will be unsustainable.  Businesses will decide that Arizona isn't the place for them.  And the long term outlook will begin to look as bleak as the short-run outlook has.

There's a saying about squeezing blood from a stone.  I hope the folks at the state's universities are working on that one, because soon that will be all we have to drink here in the Grand Canyon State. 

"Arizona budget cuts hurting water and air agencies."  Who cares?  We all should.

You'll notice below that you no longer have to register to write a comment.  Please share your thoughts below - it's really important to me that this be a dialogue, not a monologue. 

Written on Tuesday, 04 May 2010 15:47 by Gary Yaquinto

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