Monday, December 17, 2007

A visit to Arizona

I just returned from four days visiting family in Scottsdale, the sprawling suburb of Phoenix. They'd recently been blessed with 5 inches of rain, coming down in unusually strong torrents, according to my relatives. This provided some reassuring relief from the growing apprehension in the Valley of the Sun that there was a major problem with their water supply. Some reservoirs had been replenished from this single storm. And adding to the sense of relief was the news that a "landmark agreement" had been signed by the seven states in the American Southwest that share water from the Colorado River.

Senator Harry Reid of Nevada put it into perspective:

""I want to applaud the negotiators from the seven Colorado River Basin states and the Secretary of the Interior for successfully completing this important agreement which will govern how the states share water shortages. Unfortunately, it appears that this nine year drought may be the new norm and this agreement will ensure future cooperation among the states that rely upon the river to meet all our water needs."
"Share water shortages," indeed. I wouldn't describe the mood in Scottsdale - after rain and resolution - as euphoric. After 8 years of below average rainfall and a record-setting summer of temperatures over 110 degrees, Arizonans have gotten the warning. And yet, you'd hardly know that any limits had been recognized if you judge just by the amount of construction still going on, the amount of water shooting out of decorative fountains, and the number of gas guzzlers crowding the roads.

Central Arizona still appears to be a classic case of human denial and hubris. The agreement among the seven states does not provide Arizona with a guarantee of more water; it's more an update of an old agreement that became obsolete in light of the current drought in the Colorado River basin and the extensive development that has taken place in Arizona, Las Vegas and Southern California. It removed some uncertainty, but did not create new water.

There are some signs of sanity in Tucson, where the local government declared that it would no longer extend its municipal water lines into new housing developments outside of city limits.
City Manager Mike Hein revealed at Tuesday's City Council meeting that he had ordered a stop to expansion of Tucson Water's delivery system beyond city limits to instead focus on areas where it is legally obligated to deliver water.
The potentially risky move already is bringing other local government officials to the table for what Hein called a pressing need for joint discussions of growth and water.
"It just seems to me that we have to be able to set the table and have some rational dialogues that aren't built on turf, aren't built on egos and aren't built on political control," he said Wednesday. "When I talk about regional growth, we should as a region understand each other's intentions. I find more typically than not (that) all of our goals are aligned. They're just not communicated real well."

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