Gallego: Arizona is a water conservation leader; neighboring states should take note
In June, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton told the U.S. Senate that states using the Colorado River Basin for their water supply have 60 days to create an emergency plan to cut their water usage by 2 to 4 million acre-feet.
That spells bad news for Arizona. Our state is allowed 2.8 million acre-feet of water each year, so a cut of that size could be more than Arizona's entire water supply.
As Commissioner Touton testified, "the Colorado River Basin is in the 23rd year of a historic drought." Put another way: we're in a water crisis, and the clock to find solutions is running out.
That's why it is imperative that, as Basin states work towards a solution, they look to Arizona as a model.
For years now, Arizona has been putting in the work to conserve water. In 2021 during a Tier 1 water shortage, Arizona cut about 18% of our Colorado River Water, the most of any state.
Unfortunately, officials from neighboring states refused to follow federal instructions to conserve more water, but now it's time for other Western states like California to follow our lead.
One recent case study in Arizona's collaborative approach to water conservation is the agreement between leaders in Tucson and the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC).
In May, Tucson Mayor Regina Romero and GRIC Governor Stephen Roe Lewis announced a joint commitment to address the Colorado River crisis, making the hard decision to voluntarily contribute a significant amount of their water allocations towards preserving Lake Mead in order to prevent more extreme water shortage declarations.
This type of inter-governmental collaboration is a strong example of the foresight and sacrifice needed to prevent the direst cuts we will see further down the line if action is not taken.
A few hours north in Phoenix, Mayor Kate Gallego led the city in approving a similar commitment in July, bringing the total acre feet that Phoenix has left in Lake Mead this year up to 30,000.
In fact, over the last 20 years, Phoenix has worked to anticipate future cuts so its water supply can keep up with its growing population. Phoenix's approach has proven to be a success: despite its population growing by over 400,000, the city has managed to cut its per capita water use by 30%.
Getting these results has not been easy, but implementing solutions like groundwater reclamation, adjusting the water price rate in summer months to encourage efficiency, and coming together to use desert-adapted and native vegetation to beautify its communities have paid dividends.
If we want our neighboring states to see these same successes, we must not only make sure they're accountable for their fair share of water conservation, but we must increase resources and collaboration in local, state, and federal government to fight drought.
That's why in Congress, I was proud to support the Inflation Reduction Act, which contains $4 billion in drought mitigation funding.
The bill is a monumental victory, and thanks to the climate and drought provisions in it, the Bureau of Reclamation will be able to pursue creative solutions around water conservation, voluntary reductions, and reservoir conservation and Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
This money will translate to meaningful solutions but looking at the water level of Lake Mead underscores just how quickly we need to act. And as Commissioner Touton has made clear, if Arizona and our neighboring Colorado River Basin states won't work together to agree on solutions, the Bureau will do it for us.
That's why Basin states must look to Arizona's leadership in water conservation as an inspiration as we work together to decide the future of water in the West.
Rep. Ruben Gallego is the member of Congress for Arizona’s 7th Congressional District. He sits on the House Natural Resources Committee.