Arizonans from across the state gathered for the 107th Arizona Town Hall, with the theme "Keeping Arizona's Water Glass Full," focused on water and what we need to do to plan for our future. About 170 people with a variety of backgrounds — from water experts to tribal members, business leaders and elected officials to citizens with no ties to the issue other than consumption — spent three days participating in a dynamic process of reaching consensus on meaningful solutions to the water challenges facing our state.
Water is a serious problem for many western states. Arizona continues to have a significant focus on water management, including getting Congress to approve the Central Arizona Project in 1968, the State Legislature adopting the Groundwater Management Act in 1980 and creating the Arizona Department of Water Resources, the agency that plans for and regulates statewide water use.
However, consensus among many experts shared in the robust background report we all receive as participants is that, without continued, significant action, Arizona may face a gap between water demand and supply as early as in the next 25 years.
Arizona Town Hall participants come ready with the background report, prepared by Arizona’s three universities, and meet as a full group for a number of panels or speakers. One included a presentation by former U.S. Sen. John Kyl, who also is involved in ASU’s Kyl Center for Water Policy.
Participants spend most of their time, however, divided into panels of about 25 people that include a facilitator and recorder. Each panel addresses the same set of questions with a goal of reaching consensus about meaningful actions. Panel inputs are consolidated into a draft document. On the final day of Town Hall, all participants participate in a dynamic plenary session to reach consensus on the recommendations.
The final document is sent to the governor, Legislature, cities, counties and others around the state that are involved in water use, planning, management, processing and other stewardship efforts.
It is a challenging process to digest the extensive background document, to actively participate in the panel deliberations and to come to consensus on meaningful solutions and actions. It is also shared with communities across the state through community outreach programs over the next several months.
The final recommendation report can be found at www.Aztownhall.org. You will find the Top 6 recommended priorities: 1) moving forward with Arizona’s strategic vision for water supply sustainability; 2) creating and funding financing mechanisms for water supply and infrastructure; 3) appropriately funding and staffing the Arizona Department of Water Resources; 4) educating the public and political leaders on water issues; 5) increasing water conservation and augmentation measures; and 6) implementing various legal reforms. While the final report provides details about each of these priorities, some specific actions noted include:
•Conservation steps that involve the following ideas:
–Water pricing strategies, including tiered and seasonal rate structures
–Building codes that encourage low-impact development, installation of low-use appliances and xeriscape landscaping
–Exploring opportunities to make better use of gray water in homes and other settings, reduce evaporation, and pursue technological innovations that prevent unnecessary overuse of water
–Opportunities for agriculture to further conserve water through better flood irrigation techniques, drip irrigation, the installation of concrete ditches and other strategies
•Promotion of local water planning, funding the Water Resources Development Fund, and addressing the structural deficit of the Colorado River in collaboration with other basin states;
•Educating consumers about water as a valuable commodity, water usage habits, and strategies for conservation. A few specifics involve:
–Personal accountability for water use and conservation taught in the private sector, universities, K-12 education system and to state and local officials
–Utilizing social media, i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, to provide instant access to information regarding water issues, use, up-and-coming technologies, conservation and augmentation
–Arizona’s leaders, educators and innovators elevating water issue awareness through the media by providing the media with information and success stories regarding the efficient and effective use of water
•Developing more effective methods for financing investment in conservation technologies and modernize building codes and other policy initiatives;
• Increasing reclaimed water and water reuse, invest in additional State water storage capacity, and increase capture and utilization of storm water runoff;
• Maintaining and improving the quality of watersheds and other natural resources that impact water supplies such as increasing implementation of sustainable forest management programs that incentivize private industry to thin forests and remove non-native vegetation and invasive species from watersheds;
• Streamlining and simplifying the general stream adjudication process, revise some cumbersome and restrictive standards implemented by environmental regulatory agencies, and, whenever possible, expedite the tribal water rights claims process.
Everyone in our communities can and must play a role. The Arizona Town Hall always includes actions individuals can take to make their own impact on the issue being discussed. When it comes to personal actions for water, the ideas included everything from “getting educated” to advocating for federal and State funding of programs and policies to ensure Arizona’s water security.
That means making sure elected officials know and care about the issue and will appropriately represent the future of Arizona. We can educate our families on conservation efforts and use water more responsibly in daily life. The 107th Town Hall participants strongly urge serious consideration and action on consensus recommendations to “Keep Arizona’s Water Glass Full.”
Nick Lund is president of TRACKS Inc. in the White Mountains and served as a panel facilitator in the 107th Arizona Town Hall on Water.