18 May 2011

What's the Matter with Arizona? Part 4

With my apologies for the long hiatus since parts 3.1 and 3.2 of this series, our story continues...

In part 2 of this series, when I discussed the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) and its origins in the state Groundwater Management Act of 1980 (GMA), I introduced state water luminary John Mawhinney into this discussion with an excerpt from his op-ed column on 19 April 2010 that was published in the Arizona Daily Star.  Mr. Mawhinney had served previously as majority leader in the Arizona Senate, was one of the architects of the GMA legislation, was a member of the Arizona Water Banking Authority (AWBA) that I discussed in part 3.2 of this series, and went on (and continues) to chair the Groundwater Users Advisory Council (GUAC) as part of the ADWR's administration of the Tucson Active Management Area (AMA).  While I was at the UA, I had the pleasure to attend several GUAC meetings at the AMA offices in Tucson, where Mr. Mawhinney's general levity and his political sensitivity to stakeholders were exceeded only by his seriousness on, and knowledge of, the detail and scope of water issues in Arizona.  That seriousness and knowledge were carried well in his op-ed:
"When children and their parents are losing their medical coverage, when we can't keep the bathrooms open on our interstate rest stops, when we can't afford to keep criminals in prison and are laying off police officers - when all of this and more is part of the state budget crisis you read about every day, it's hard to complain about cuts to an obscure state water agency that most of us have never heard of.
"Still, cutting an agency from more than 200 people to fewer than 90 or so ought to give pause to even the most zealous budget cutters. Reducing the agency's budget from more than $20 million to less than $9 isn't cost-cutting, it's more like destruction."
I have already quoted the three pursuant paragraphs on the history of the GMA and ADWR.  Mr. Mawhinney then goes on to state:
"But budget cuts threaten the very heart of this progress. They are closing the regional offices where the real work is done and transferring it to a smaller and overworked staff in Phoenix. I'm sure the remaining folks in the department, although dispirited and uncertain about their future, will try their best. But without the support so obviously lacking from the governor's office, the Legislature and, most important, the communities and people they really work for, I wonder how effective they can possibly be. That march to progress, the goal of achieving safe yield, has been slowed, if not stopped entirely.
"Clearly, the water issue has become less visible because of our progress. That success may be the reason for its failure. Today's crop of legislators and bureaucratic budget cutters clearly don't appreciate the critical linkage of a sustainable water system to our economic future."
Mr. Mawhinney's criticisms of the Arizona Legislature were printed just about one month after the Arizona Republic reported on 12 March 2010 the passage of a spending bill that cut more than $1.1B from the state budget, including a reduction of the ADWR budget from approximately $16M to only about $7M for the coming fiscal year.  As summarized later in the Arizona Republic on 4 May 2010 and in the Arizona Daily Star on 12 May 2010, this massive funding cut meant the overall reduction of ADWR's personnel from approximately 225 employees to fewer than 100, as well as the closing of all AMA satellite offices.  Their activities would be consolidated at the main ADWR office in Phoenix, albeit with fewer employees to administer these management functions.  And all of this was to happen by 1 July 2010, the turn of the fiscal year.  ADWR Director Herb Guenther, in his typically concise way, summarized for the Arizona Republic his outlook on the changes:
"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."
But Director Guenther, among others, knew of the coming changes long in advance, as I described in reference to a more obscure blog post by Arizona Republic reporter Shaun McKinnon.  For the rest of us, working primarily with the mainstream media feed, the issues weren't so subtle.

You may recall from part 1 of this series my mention of the Arizona Investment Council (AIC), which sponsored the conference in Tucson on "Meeting Arizona's Water Needs Today and Tomorrow" in August 2009.  Gary Yaquinto, President of the AIC, writes the organization's blog and posted on 4 May 2010 his response to that morning's story in the Arizona Republic using materials from the AIC's own recent Infrastructure Needs and Funding Alternatives for Arizona: 2008-2032 Report.  Specifically, Mr. Yaquinto pointed out the lack of sustainable water management in both the central Arizona counties as well as the more rural parts of the state.  Mr. Yaquinto asks:
"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.'
"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)."
Well said, and with obvious support.  But before we can get to the actual management of actual water in the state, we must wade through the politics of enabling such a position and activity.  Mr. Yaquinto continues:
"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...
"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... 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."
But there's a catch, you see: the Director of the ADWR is not the person authorized or empowered to "manage water" in Arizona.  To explain, my support is listed in the comments there, and follows here in part:
"While I fully agree with your commentary on the governor's and legislature's myopic and self-defeating decimation of ADWR, it is in fact not 'the one department responsible for managing Arizona's water supplies.' ADWR administers the state's part in groundwater planning and monitoring, while the Central Arizona Project manages and delivers approximately half of Arizona's share of the Colorado River to the state's most populous areas. For that matter, ADWR doesn't actually manage any water, at least not proactively -- its charge is (was) to develop groundwater management plans and then gather reports on actual use, but one didn't necessarily have anything to do with the other. From the time of the Groundwater Management Act (GMA), the ADWR had 45 years to move the principal withdrawal areas in the state (the four, then five Active Management Areas or AMAs) to sustainable yield. Some of the AMAs had just developed, or had in draft, the 4th 10-year management plan for their area when ADWR budget cuts really took hold, such that all of the AMA offices are now expected to close in June. After 30 years of planning, most of the AMAs were still nowhere near the conditions and administrative structure for sustainable yield -- not one had made the initial determination of overall groundwater availability in their Area as required by the GMA -- but at least they still had 15 years to continue the effort. Now, can we expect those management plans to be issued and administered from the central structure of ADWR, or is the whole GMA a wash (no pun intended) at this point? No-one really knows, and Director Guenther's comments give no indication that plans (or leadership, for that matter) will be forthcoming...
"For true progress toward sustainability, the legal system for well permitting would actually have to operate behind the water agency's science analyses and engineering actions and not ahead of those. For the lack of this realization we can thank two water doctrines in which Arizona still somehow believes: the general doctrine of prior appropriation, and the mistaken idea that groundwater is not connected to surface water and that the rights to each should be adjudicated separately. If all "exempt" wells had to be permitted, and all permitting was subject to ADWR review and approval, and assuming ADWR did its homework (measurement, modeling, analysis, and collaborating completely with CAP), and only then was a permit for a new groundwater well issued with strict usage limits and reporting requirements, then we'd have a workable system. As it is, with tens of thousands of "exempt" wells across the state withdrawing unknown quantities and without the AMAs and their management plans, ADWR is in direct violation of the GMA, and the GMA itself is gutted without the ADWR able to fulfill its statutory responsibilities. They could very well simply repeal the GMA and merge what is left of ADWR with CAP -- one agency with one purpose, the regulatory oversight of both groundwater and surface water resources and use throughout the state. They're already hooked up with ADEQ and ACC, so the water quality and water-energy connections won't change at all.
"It was a sad commentary on the interests of the legislature and governor in university contributions to the state's water issues when the Arizona Water Institute was defunded and disbanded last summer. AWI was a line item in the state budget by then, and served to connect water-related research and results across all three state universities to ADWR and ADEQ. When students and faculty get to work alongside the people that administer water policy and quality across the state, you should know that there's something good happening..."
The problems in Arizona, with respect to water at least, are legislative empowerment and executive function.  Included in those two high-level descriptors of a water manager for the state are myriad smaller considerations, including state and citizen-fee funding sources, regulatory empowerment to levy those fees and fines as well as make decisions on water rights and usage, the elimination of exempt wells throughout the state, the education of consumers and the public, the total management of the state's water resources, and a top-notch staff of engineers and scientists distributed throughout the state (not just in Phoenix or the AMAs) and working for the assurance of water supplies for Arizona's citizens, businesses and productivity.

And yet, in a way, the Arizona Legislature's decimation of ADWR funding just might push the state in a direction akin to that description, except that the decision-making power would then be out of their own hands.  Instead of seizing power over water issues in Arizona, the Governor and Legislature have essentially been pushing that responsibility and authority onto someone else.  In few places was this more evident than the outcomes, after 16 months of deliberations, of the Governor's Blue Ribbon Panel on Water Sustainability...

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