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Enviros, Kozachik push Ducey on water policy, climate change

Leaders of Arizona environmental, business and faith groups, along with Tucson Councilman Steve Kozachik, urged Gov. Doug Ducey to take include more voices in discussions about state water policy, and a coalition pressed the Republican governor on climate change.

Sandy Bahr, president of the local chapter of the Sierra Club, said environmentalists sent a letter with more than 2,000 signatures asking Ducey to join governors and public officials in other states in developing an action plan to reduce carbon emissions and support the goals of the Paris climate accord.

Another letter this week pushed Ducey to listen to more state residents about possible shifts in water policies.

Kozachik and a number of leaders of Tucson environmental groups were among the signers of that letter.

"Conservation voices are absent from the governor's efforts to frame new water policy," Kozachik told TucsonSentinel.com. "So is a Southern Arizona component. And so is transparency — meetings are being held behind closed doors forming public policy that must be open to public scrutiny."

"Ducey and the Central Arizona Project are involved with extremely important discussions that will impact our water security for years to come," said the Tucson Democrat. "That exchange cannot be driven by the cotton, mining and agricultural industries."

"We recognize the extraordinary challenge associated with keeping the level of water in Lake Mead from triggering a shortage declaration, especially with the continued and
increasing impacts of climate change," said the letter about water policy. "Our primary concern remains the lack of transparency and authentic public participation" in discussions about water.

State Rep. Ken Clark said he hopes the climate change letter will spur Ducey to work on possible solutions to climate change in Arizona such as replacing gas power with solar and battery power.

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“The powers that be in Arizona should not fear renewable energy,” said Clark, a Democratic legislator who represents central Phoenix and south Scottsdale. He said Arizona is falling behind.

Ducey’s office did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment.

Sally Rings, of Arizona Interfaith Power and Light, said climate reforms can help businesses by providing more jobs and reducing health concerns such as asthma and state and local leaders have a greater responsibility.

“Climate change is the defining moral issue of our time,” Rings said. “It affects every single thing.”

Vance Marshall, president of VJ Properties, Inc., said he hopes Ducey will join other state officials across the nation in the We Are Still In group that supports the Paris climate agreement.

President Donald Trump in June announced plans to withdraw from the agreement, saying it was bad for the economy. The Wall Street Journal said the Trump administration is considering staying with the deal “under the right conditions.”

Kozachik said he's most concerned about shifts in state water policy that would effect Tucson and Southern Arizona.

"The players absolutely must be expanded to include those of us who believe simply allowing water users and developers to be the only groups seated at the table is a huge step backwards from the forward-thinking water policy leaders in this state have demonstrated since the days of Mo Udall and the 1980 Groundwater Management Act," he said.

The Sierra Club's Bahr was among the signers of the letter from the Sustainable Water Workgroup, along with other heads of Arizona environmental organizations.

Tucson and Southern Arizona signers included Tricia Gerrodette of the Friends of the San Pedro River, Nicole Gillett of the Tucson Audubon Society, Keith Bagwell of the Sierra Club, Carolyn Campbell of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, and Madeline Kiser and Christina McVie of the Community Water Coalition.

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The lack of transparency cited by the group "seems to be created in part by the new role of private capital to finance water discussions," the letter said, noting the participation of the Walton Family Foundation.

"In a time of shifting climate trends and diminishing flows in the Colorado River, there is an urgent need to honestly assess whether we can continue to primarily base our state's economy
on continuous growth in the water-intensive housing and development industries and on agricultural crops that use excessive amounts of water, such as alfalfa and cotton," the letter said. "Any discussion that surrounds augmenting water sources is really a discussion about how Arizona will take water from one portion of the state in order to move it to meet the growth needs of the particular stakeholders who are currently at the table - that currently does not include representation for maintaining and/or restoring environmental flows."

"Our 20 billion-dollar per year tourist industry depends on water for our natural ecosystems," the group said. "This is currently not recognized in Arizona's water policies. Furthermore, without healthy rivers and streams and the springs that feed them, Arizona will lose a core part of its identity, and whole economies in the rural parts of our state will be irreparably damaged if these waterways and ecosystems are not safeguarded."

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U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Photo

The Central Arizona Project canal snakes across the desert west of the Phoenix area.