Monday, September 7, 2009

Arizona's new Blue Ribbon Panel on Water Sustainability

We already have an effort underway to locate and secure additional water supplies for the Central Arizona Project service area (where the vast majority of Arizona's population resides) - called the ADD Water process. Now the state is jumping into the water sustainability discussion with a splashy (clever, eh?) announcement [pdf; press release from the Arizona Department of Water Resources website (ADWR)] regarding a special "blue ribbon panel on water sustainability" that was announced just over a week ago.

I first heard about it at a water planning conference put on by the Arizona Investment Council the end of August, where all three of the blue-ribbon-bearers were speakers. The Arizona Investment Council was a new organization to me. They are a think-tankish, policy outfit that probably does a bit of lobbying as well, with a focus on utility regulation and infrastructure investment. If you have a lot of free time on your hands and are really interested in infrastructure they have a report on their website called "Infrastructure Needs and Funding Alternatives for Arizona: 2008-2032" (it can be found by clicking on a link on the left side of their homepage), that goes into, at times, mind-numbing detail on how much we need to invest in our water, wastewater, energy, and transportation infrastructure in this state over the next 20-odd years. Trust me, it's a very large number, and probably fairly accurate but reflects a mindset that we must have bullet-proof, gold-plated infrastructure to compete for jobs and outside investment in the future.

Much of the conference was directed by what's in this report and there were some interesting talks, but nothing real earth-shaking.

Back to the water sustainability panel - hard to predict what will come out of this but based on the press-release it appears to be focused on water recycling, which probably means they will explore legislative and regulatory changes that need to be made to expand uses of reclaimed water and ways to convince people that reclaim is a safe, viable option for augmenting potable water supplies. The make-up of the panel indicates a desire to leverage areas of expertise and authority over the companies, municipalities and districts that manage water, wastewater, and probably other utilities as well - considering the whole energy-water nexus that's all in vogue these days.

Can't wait to see how the panel gets fleshed-out and provided with further direction - oh ... and will the legislature fund the activities of the panel next year? ADWR, ADEQ, and most other state agencies have had their budgets slashed in the past year to deal with rapidly declining state tax revenues - to the point where some people are saying it could take years for ADWR to recover to the level of competency it was at just a few years ago. I guess that will be the real determinant of whether this panel will produce anything worthwhile.

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