Fifteen days. That’s how long we have to adopt the Drought Contingency Plan.
Without the legislatively-approved framework in place by Jan. 31 to allow the director of the state Department of Water Resources to join with the other Colorado River Lower Basin states in the plan to manage future allocations from the river in an ongoing drought, Arizona will invite federal intervention to exert greater control over our water destiny.
As Gov. Doug Ducey quipped at the Arizona Chamber’s Legislative Forecast Luncheon last Friday, “What could go wrong?”
We all know the answer: A lot.
The governor understands the urgency and the gravity of the task before us. That’s why he’s wisely sought the counsel of Arizona water policy giants like former Sen. Jon Kyl and former Gov. Bruce Babbitt. You won’t find two better authorities on the intricacies of water law than two leaders who have forgotten more about the subject than most of us will ever know.
Water policy is tough stuff. It’s complicated. The stakeholders are numerous. Federal, state, and tribal law are all involved. The outcome of the DCP negotiations will mean that, as the governor said in his State of the State address, “Everyone is going to have to give.”
That needed spirit of cooperation has played out over the last several months within a Drought Contingency Plan Steering Committee, co-chaired by ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke and Central Arizona Project General Manager Ted Cooke. In the committee, municipal, tribal, agricultural, industrial and legislative leaders, including House Speaker Rusty Bowers, have worked together to determine how the DCP will be implemented in Arizona. Everyone in that room has been working earnestly and in good faith to arrive at a timely agreement.
But you do not need to be an expert on water policy to take heed of the lesson Sen. Kyl imparted on me when I was a young aide to him in the 1990s: Water is economic development.
If Arizona wants to preserve its hold on an economically bright vision of the future, our leaders will have to work quickly, diligently, and be prepared to compromise. Otherwise, without DCP, we hand over a large portion of our economic development strategy to a federal bureaucracy that will care little about whether Arizona has the water necessary to continue its growth and vibrancy for the decades to come.
The state’s business community wants to help. Job creators know that water insecurity means economic insecurity.
The Arizona Chamber Foundation, the policy research arm of the Chamber, has produced three essential research briefs for policymakers, water stakeholders, and anyone who wants to better understand why this issue is so vital to our future.
Our first water paper, released in November 2017 in conjunction with the Prosper Foundation, assesses Arizona’s history of strong water stewardship. A thriving economy doesn’t bloom in an arid desert without ingenuity and foresight, which the paper makes clear. The paper provides insight on where we’re headed, as well as where we’ve been.
In “Arizona’s Role in Preserving Colorado River Water,” our second paper outlines Arizona’s role in creating a sustainable drought contingency plan to ensure that a steady supply of Colorado River water is available for generations to come.
And the Foundation just released, “The Colorado River: The Seven-State Drought Contingency Plan and Pathway to Adoption,” which looks at the various facets of the DCP and the layers of approval necessary to make it a reality. The paper’s one recommendation is a simple one: Arizona must sign the Drought Contingency Plan.
The governor and lawmakers all have things they want to accomplish in the 2019 legislative session. Advocates will pursue their agenda items with the best of intentions.
But whether this session can be determined to be a success will be known in just a matter of days. Either we adopt the DCP and exert greater control over our economic destiny, or we put it all at risk.