With the current drought in its 22nd year, concerns over water access grow every day. With a fast-approaching deadline in a few weeks, officials are enacting their various plans to keep a water shortage from becoming so severe that it damages the state’s economy and way of life. The mid-August deadline, set by federal officials, requires Arizona and the six other Colorado River Basin states to again cut their usage of river water. As surrounding states figure out how to allocate cuts in the available supply of Colorado River water, Arizona lawmakers are moving forward with their own efforts to solve the crisis.
One of the last bills to pass through this year’s state legislature, SB 1740, allocates $1.2 billion over three years to find new sources of water and further lower water usage in the state. “I’m very excited that the state has made a financial commitment to water,” said Sharon Megdal, director of The University of Arizona Water Resource Research Center, “Over the years, they haven’t really committed large dollars or many dollars at all to working on water projects [or] water conservation.” After a new board had been established in order to manage the new fund for water, Megdal recommended their first step should be figuring out what is doable and what is not. “Number one, you have to do some studies,” she said, “Somebody will say, ‘Well here’s Sharon Megdal at the University, and of course she’s going to talk about studies because that’s what university people like to do.’ I don’t care who does the study or the analysis, but we need to know what we’re talking about.”
Noting studies at conceptual levels, such as the large-scale project ideas like the building of a desalination plant in the Gulf of California, Megdal quickly noticed certain problems.
“It talked about opportunities rather than options,” she said of that study. Another idea that has been passed around often this year has been the delivering of water from major rivers in the east such as the Missouri or Mississippi. Megdal mentions that her mind was changed about these ideas after hearing that the plan was to only take water when those rivers were at flooding stages.
The bill will take the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA), currently part of the Arizona Finance Authority which helps local governments use federal money and loans to enact water projects, and makes it a stand-alone entity. WIFA will be run by an appointed board that will decide how the money will be spent, and that money will be divided into four pots. There’s also a water supply development fund that was established last year as part of the Drought Mitigation Board, which comes with another $200 million that was allocated last year for rural projects.