Friday, October 23, 2009

What could additional budget cuts do to Arizona Dept. of Water Resources (ADWR)?

Responding to reports that state tax receipts have been running $0.5 billion below projections and the ongoing fact that our state government is unwilling and/or incapable of putting together a complete state budget for the current fiscal year, our governor has asked all state agencies to present plans detailing how they might cut an additional 15% from their budgets for the remainder of this fiscal year (until the end of June 2010). The agency that manages our water supplies has submitted their plan, which they posted on their website here (pdf document).

I am not personally aligned with any political party and am perfectly willing to criticize any politician, from any party, who advocates bad policy, resorts to fear-mongering, and otherwise panders to various vested interests, be they democrat, republican, or Bull Moose. But Arizona is currently controlled by republicans and we can only wish these were the republicans of Barry Goldwater's day. These are the kind of republicans who resolutely place ideology over common sense no matter how stubborn and stupid it makes them look (ok, there are a few moderates still in there, but they're pretty marginalized most of the time). My point is, these are the kind of people who believe the state government shouldn't be wasting tax dollars collecting basic hydrologic information. Number one - decent, god-fearing Arizona landowners don't need the government telling them how to use and manage their water. Number two - if data is so vital, there should be private sector entities that can step up and pay for it's collection. And finally - let the federal government pay to collect the data if it's really that important, just don't use that data to tell the state how to manage our water.

So what will we have to do? The report spells it out in pretty stark terms. Admittedly, the document produced by ADWR is intended to strike fear in the hearts of those who control the purse strings but with the cuts they have already endured, another 15% will absolutely cripple the ability of that agency to adequately provide management of our increasingly strained water supplies.

The plan includes eliminating the Statewide Planning Division, and reducing the Hydrology, Surface Water, and Water Management Divisions. Follow the links if you want to learn more about what those parts of ADWR do, but just as a starter those are basically all the main functions of the Department.

The Statewide Planning Division (SPD), in particular will be a huge loss. There is precious little data about water supplies and water uses in areas of the state outside of the Active Management Areas (AMA) - the rural parts of the state. The primary entity for collecting this data and helping those areas - where constraints on water supplies are often very significant because they don't have access to Colorado River water from the CAP canal - is SPD. Without them the task of developing management strategies for water supplies in those areas will fall on local entities, which have very few resources for those tasks as well as some vested interests that would prefer not to have the bad news that data might bring.

The other Divisions, which aren't being eliminated but are being cut to levels where their effectiveness will be greatly reduced, are responsible for administering surface water rights in the state, developing management plans for the AMAs, and collecting basic data to support all the other programs ADWR handles. I don't want to contend that these functions are more important than education and services for poor people (also being hammered by the current budget situation), but as someone who relies on the data and programs of ADWR for much of what I do this is grim news indeed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

High Country News article on the problem of exempt wells

This is from the most recent issue of High Country News, describing the pretty much West-wide problem of exempt, or unregulated, wells - typically household wells used for domestic, livestock, and limited irrigation uses.

It's an issue that has started to come to greater prominence in a few areas (in states that recognize the connection between surface and groundwater and regulate both under the prior appropriation doctrine - sadly not the case here in Arizona).

That aside, it's a nice piece, giving a good overview of the problem and how one state - Washington - is attempting to deal with it.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Water Conservation in New Property Development

There was a recent article in the Wall Street Journal about the efforts of property developers along the Colorado Front Range to reduce the water impact of those properties.

I think it's fantastic that developers are embracing water conservation in a significant way, even if you consider that they really have no choice in many cases. For some areas it has become a matter of build smart or don't build at all. Or at least be happy with building something that will make a much smaller profit. But something that tends to get lost in the self-congratulatory language of these developers is that maybe the choice shouldn't be between a high-water-use development and a low-water-use development but between any development and no development.

If you're talking about a new development on untouched land I would much rather see it remain open space than see the most environmentally-conscious, low-water-use development in the world be built there. However, if you're talking about converting an existing use - farming or low-intensity development - to a new higher-intensity use, then by all means they should make every effort to limit the impact on local water supplies.

I realize it's not always so easy. When land is privately owned there are certain rights to develop land that can't just be taken away from the owner without just compensation. And often a larger-scale development offers greater opportunity to exact concessions from the developer, forcing a more limited impact on the environment than is the case when the land is divided into 36 acre ranchettes. But just because the developer is installing rainwater and gray water reuse features, and water conserving appliances doesn't make it something to be praised. After all the developer will most likely have no role in the development once built. The buyers might use just as much water as the development up the road. But for now the developer gets to be the good guy and in addition probably gets to charge a premium for homes in the development because of it's "green" features.

This stuff always warrants a closer look.

h/t to John Fleck for pointing me to the WSJ piece.