Securing water future is Gov. Ducey’s top priority

Securing water for Arizona’s future is the top priority for his second term, Gov. Doug Ducey said in his State of the State Address Monday. State lawmakers must ratify Arizona’s part of a seven-state water shortage plan by the end of the month or face daunting consequences.   

“Here’s the bottom line. We’re in a 19-year-drought. It’s going to get worse before it gets better,” Ducey told the state Legislature on its first day of session. “Arizona and its neighboring states draw more water from the Colorado River than Mother Nature puts back in.”

“It’s time to protect Lake Mead and, Arizona, it’s time to ratify the Drought Contingency Plan and we have 17 days to do it.”   

Today, water leaders from both parties came together for a press conference to show they are standing together as a united front to get a deal done.

Gov. Ducey was joined by Senate President Karen Fann, House Speaker Rusty Bowers, House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez and Senate Minority Leader David Bradley.

Also joining legislative leadership was Governor Bruce Babbitt, Senator Jon Kyl, Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) Director Tom Buschatzke and Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) Executive Director Ted Cooke.

“Today, Arizona is committing to securing our water future – by passing the Drought Contingency Plan this month,” Governor Ducey said. “If ever there was a time that we needed everyone to come together and act boldly and swiftly, it’s now. Inaction will bring real and painful consequences and the clock is ticking. I’m grateful to Speaker Bowers, President Fann, Leaders Bradley and Fernandez, along with Governor Babbitt and Senator Kyl for joining me to pledge to get this done. There’s no time to lose.”

Arizona and the Southwest are bracing for the first water shortfall on record, likely next year.

In response to declining water levels in Lake Mead, seven Colorado Basin states including Arizona were tasked with developing a Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) meant to protect the lake from reaching critically low levels, which could trigger potentially catastrophic reductions in Arizona’s Colorado River water supply.

When a shortage occurs, the seven-state DCP kicks into action and forcibly enacts reductions to water supplies. If Lake Mead, the river’s largest reservoir, reaches certain critically low levels, Arizona could lose access to up to 17 percent of its water allocation, equivalent to a year’s worth of water for one million households.

A number of legislators, including Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers and President of the Senate Karen Fann, have vowed to do everything possible to move the plan to completion in time.

Cities, tribes, water districts, and others on the committee have grappled for months to negotiate how to share the pain of coming water shortages.

To assist Pinal County farmers who have low priority rights to Colorado River water, a number of users have agreed to help with funding and supplies. Gov. Ducey’s fiscal year 2020 Executive Budget includes an additional $30 million for conservation efforts dedicated to protecting water levels in Lake Mead and $5 million to support well infrastructure projects for agriculture in Pinal County.

Now, the state Legislature has mere days to create accompanying legislation and ratify the plan by Jan. 31. If it fails, the federal Bureau of Reclamation has threatened to take over the process.

To emphasize the urgency, Ducey invited two of the state’s most distinguished water leaders, former Gov. Bruce Babbitt and Sen. Jon Kyl, to attend his address.

“It’s been said, whiskey’s for drinking; water’s for fighting,” Ducey said. “We have two leaders here today who’ve got the scars to prove it. They are giants who deserve the credit for getting Arizona to this point.

“Now it’s our turn to do the heavy lifting. This issue is important and it’s urgent. Our economy. Our environment. Our future. Let’s prove we can work together in a bipartisan fashion and get this done.”

Victoria Harker

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