As report after report fills the news of California’s water crisis, we cannot help but wonder what actions Arizona leaders are taking to manage our state’s water resources.
U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake answered this question and provided an update on what he’s working on in Washington during the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce’s exclusive Political Insider Series event on Oct. 16.
Flake, a member of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, told the packed house that in general, Arizona is much better prepared to handle times of dwindling water supplies than other southwestern states and California.
Continuing and improving the state’s water management has been a top issue for him. He recently concluded a year’s worth of discussions with water stakeholders in Arizona and other states that depend on the Colorado River.
His goal was to establish actionable consensus items because we, as a state, “need to have an answer when California proposes drought legislation.” Conserving water as well as protecting Arizona’s water from our western neighbor’s insatiable thirst is of the utmost importance to Flake.
The first recommendation is to take the required steps to stave off an official water shortage declaration on Lake Mead. The importance of that cannot be stressed enough given that if a shortage is declared, Arizona is the first to lose water from its Colorado River allotment. The state gets approximately 40 percent of its water from the river.
The above-average rains in May certainly helped keep the reservoir above this level, but the water level has really been buoyed by Arizona volunteering to store water in the reservoir. Flake wants to ensure that all of the Arizona water stored there actually makes it here.
In addition to protecting the Colorado River allotment, Flake also stressed that the state needs to effectively manage the water falling from sky. “We need to make sure we are using every single drop dropped here,” he said.
In addition to our reservoirs and other water-saving and collection efforts, Flake identified proper forest management as vital to this effort.
“Healthy forest management enables us to save about 25 percent more runoff water,” he said. “And the quality of that runoff is much better.”
Flake is referring to the efforts of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative, which seeks cut-and-clear forest overgrowth in the Kaibab, Coconino, Apache-Sitgreaves and Tonto forests. The benefit here is actually two-fold, in that clearing underbrush actually reduces the chance for catastrophic forest fires. Jobs and economic benefits are created from the harvesting, processing and selling of the wood products that could otherwise be destroyed by fire.
Although a contract was awarded, rescinded and has been awarded again, these efforts are slow going so far, and Flake would like to see them kick into full gear soon. “We were supposed to treat about 300,000 acres over a 10-year period,” he said. “We’ve treated about 4,000 so far.”
In all, Arizona is very much vested in using any means to ensure that the state has enough water for the future.
“As Senator McCain likes to say, ‘in the next century in Arizona, the discussion will be dominated by fire and water,’” Flake said.
Aside from water issues, Flake also discussed other legislation and proposals he’s considering, including dealing with the debt ceiling, adjusting discretionary and structural spending, opposing the EPA’s Clean Power Rule and employing veterans.
He’s against breaching the debt ceiling, calling it “not responsible governing” because doing so would result in a downgrade in the United States’ credit rating, which will raise interest rates and increase the portion of the budget going to debt service, which denies that money being used for better purposes, such as defense spending, Flake said.
“We don’t want to have a high-wire act all the way to Christmas Eve because that rarely yields good policy.”
He’d like to see a tweak to the formulas that determine mandatory spending, such as those that decide Medicare and Social Security.
He also called the new EPA Clean Power Plan rules “extremely stringent” toward Arizona and is working to see if the federal agency has the legal authority to impose carbon-emissions regulations on Arizona.
He highlighted his Border Jobs for Veterans Act of 2015 (S1603), which passed the Senate in early September. The bill would allow active recruitment of military personnel who are separating from military service to serve as Customs and Border Protection Officers.
Flake ended his remarks by answering a few audience questions.
The Chamber’s Political Insider Series is an exclusive benefit for Premiere and public affairs committee members. Click here to discuss upgrading your membership.
-Written by Josh Coddington, manager, marketing and communications for the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce.