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Garcia: 'Water, water everywhere' is not the question

"Water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink."

That famous phrase from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" is anything but the riddle of modern Arizona: We have plenty of water to drink today, but how can we quench the growing thirst of an arid state for the next 100 years?

That question was asked again and again at a statewide conference and workshop earlier this week at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Morrison Institute for Public Policy played an instrumental role in both the "Watering the Sun Corridor Policy Workshop" on Monday and the following day's conference, "Urbanization, Uncertainty and Water: Planning for Arizona's Second Hundred Years."

Watering the Sun Corridor: Managing Choices in Arizona's Megapolitan Area, the Morrison Institute report by Senior Fellow Grady Gammage Jr., provided a frame of reference for both events.

The workshop was hosted by Western Lands and Communities, a joint venture of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the Sonoran Institute. The conference was hosted by UA's Water Resources Research Center. Both were done in collaboration with Morrison Institute.

So, you ask, was the question answered?

Well, as Dr. David Daugherty, our director of research, so aptly noted at the conference in his welcoming remarks: "Ask two water experts about a single, seemingly simple issue and you'll get three complex and often conflicting answers."

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Add 300 advocates for agriculture, industry, municipalities, tribal governments, developers, citizens, water companies and the environment and you can imagine the various responses to the question of whether Arizona – especially the urban counties of Maricopa, Pima and Pinal – has a sustainable supply of water for its next century.

I think maybe Gammage says it best: "We need to shift the discussion away from whether the Sun Corridor is going to run out of water to how can we make more intelligent decisions about water in Arizona."

And that is the whole intent of Gammage's often-cited, often-discussed and often-debated report, as well as the workshop and conference itself:


Let's start the discussion. OK, first, let's quit with the crazy talk. We're not going to run out of water today, and a state crisis is not imminent. Arizona, in fact, has ensured a healthy supply of water to support the phenomenal growth it has enjoyed to this point and for decades to come.

But we must again start talking about sensible water policy today to ensure we have a sustainable supply of water 20, 50, 100 years into the future. As I told a reporter covering the conference: Arizona needs the same foresight and initiative for the coming decades as our state leaders demonstrated when the Central Arizona Project was first being discussed, planned, funded and eventually built and the water allotted and subsequently distributed.

It is now our turn to make the tough choices, which will of both the personal and collective variety.

Should 70 percent of Arizona's water continue to go to agriculture? Should we provide water to new development even if it comes at the added expense of those already living here? Should we continue to plant the lush and grassy landscapes of Phoenix or adopt the desert-friendly, water-miser philosophy of Tucson? Should we protect water in Arizona's outdoors against the siphoning straws of farmlands and towns? Should we look beyond "legislate and litigate" as the best way to set state water policy?

Plenty of questions, right?

I am by no means a "water buffalo" (the nicknamed bestowed upon water experts of varying points of view and interests), but I would venture to say that what the question no longer is whether the glass is half empty or half full.

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Metaphorically speaking, we still have half a glass of water left. The question we'll be asked to answer in the next coming years is, what do we want to do with the remaining water?

Doing nothing is out of question.

"Talking" often is the first step of an action plan. And in this case, further dialogue is certainly warranted, as the Tucson conference and workshop underscored.

Morrison Institute is committed to continuing to be a resource, conduit and convener to this most critical task.

Why? Because we believe that if intelligent ideas flow, the water will wisely follow.

Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.

The director of communications for the Morrison Institute of Public Policy at ASU, Garcia is a longtime, award-winning journalist whose experience as a top editor, columnist and reporter included positions at The Arizona Republic, The Daily Times, Tucson Citizen, USA Today and The Associated Press.

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1 comment on this story

Jan 31, 2012, 8:41 am
-1 +0

This was an an intelligent piece about an often-stupid subject.

I for one think that the water issue has always been exaggerated. No, Chicken Little, the sky isn’t falling.

I remember when I was growing up the threat was always that there wouldn’t be any water around here by the time I graduated high school. Well, my class is going to have its 20th reunion this year, and water has been running out of my faucets all that time.

The solutions implemented so far have been stupid, and environmentally damaging. The CAP is one of many sources that taps from the Colorado River. So many municipalities think that river is theirs to do with whatever they please. It’s nothing short of a miracle that the Colorado still flows to the Gulf of California.

Additionally, I don’t care what anyone tells me CAP water is not safe to drink. Fish can’t live in it. Guess what…fish are a biological organism, just like I am. If it kills them then it is not good for me, either. I live near Marana where that poison is not yet flowing out of my taps, and I hope to hold off that poison for as long as I possibly can. CAP is not and never was a realistic solution. All it does it take a problem and add more problems to it.

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