A study released yesterday by ThinkAZ, a nonpartisan think tank based in Phoenix, warns both rural Arizonans and political leaders to balance growth with water availability.The report presents case studies of the towns of Payson, Buckeye, and Prescott Valley, and their respective ability to meet their citizens' water needs now and in the future.
"Of the three communities we studied, Payson's needs are the most immediate," said Rita Maguire, president and chief executive officer of ThinkAZ, and the principle author of the analysis. "Payson is dangerously close to overspending its existing resources, and needs to fill the supply gap."
Payson lacks the authority to institute local regulatory programs; therefore, residential development continues without assurance of a long-term water supply.Another complication is the natural geology of the area.The fractured bedrock system makes it extremely difficult to locate and use groundwater.
The study concluded that Payson's best hope lies in acquiring rights to at least 3,000 acre feet of annual water supplies from the Blue Ridge Reservoir, which is dependent upon on-going discussions with Salt River Project, the Navajo Nation and others.
In addition to local water conservation programs and the exploration for untapped groundwater supplies, the analysis recommends four steps to ensure future water supplies in Payson: 1) improve the town's authority and ability to ensure water adequacy for new residential development;
2) limit the construction of new domestic wells (that are exempt) in the area;
3) promote regional water management with surrounding communities; and,
4) be prepared to limit residential growth if additional water supplies are not found.
The analysis notes that past actions by the state's policymakers and professional water managers have established a solid foundation for protecting and managing the state's water supplies. However, greater regional cooperation, additional regulatory authority at the local and state levels of government, and more technical information about the state's underground water supplies will be needed to cope with an increasing population.
"An expert, independent voice needs to play a greater role in local growth decisions related to the availability of water," Maguire said."An expanded role for the Arizona Department of Water Resources is in order.Additional empowerment and funding for this organization would serve Arizonans well."
If growth continues without new water supplies, residents of towns like Payson will be faced with chronic water shortages. But if civic leaders choose to limit growth, they risk exacerbating the existing affordable housing problem.
"Pressure to allow residential development sets up a difficult dynamic for local leaders," Maguire said.
"However, responsible leadership calls for the ability to consider the big picture.In Arizona, that means responsible water planning."
The report was written by three of Arizona's leading water experts: Rita Maguire, Herb Dishlip and Michael J. Pearce. Maguire was director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources from 1993-2001. Dishlip worked at the Arizona Department of Water Resources for 22 years. He is the president of Dishlip Consulting. Pearce served as chief legal counsel for the Arizona Department of Water Resources from 1995 through 2002. The full report can be found on ThinkAZ's website at www.thinkaz.org.