Borrowing money

Arizona has yet to set aside $1 billion for water

Arizona set aside $1 billion for water. Kind of.

Details matter here.

The money was spread over three years. But it will be up to the next legislature to set aside the remaining two-thirds of that money — something that may or may not happen, depending on its priorities and, more likely, whatever happens with the economy.

(My bet? A the slowdown is coming. Don’t count on the full billion.)

It’s more like $300 million for projects in the state

Lawmakers invested $334 million this year in a fund intended primarily to pay for additional water sources. But at least three-quarters of that money must be spent on a still-determined project to import water from out of state.

That leaves about $83.5 million in that fund for projects in the state that could conserve or enhance existing water supplies.

In a last-minute move, lawmakers also created a separate fund with $200 million in federal pandemic relief dollars for a wide range of conservation projects — from turf removal to promoting conservation. groundwater recharge.

It is in addition to $40 million lawmakers allocated last year to another fund primarily for rural water supply projects.

Put it all together and the state has about half a billion dollars, of which about $300 million is earmarked for projects in the state.

We must consolidate our own house now

Yes, it would have been better had water been given the full billion this year, and had most of it not been earmarked for some elusive import project that may or may not come to fruition – including, potentially, the desalination in Mexico or maybe even a recycling effort in California.

That doesn’t mean we should stop pursuing these projects with state and federal partners.

But Arizona could soon cope cuts to its Colorado River supply which are much deeper and more painful than anyone would have believed. Even those with the highest water rights are likely to be affected.

Many more straws are about to get stuck in the ground to make up for these cuts, and at a time when several areas of the state are already rapidly depleting a finite supply.

It’s time to consolidate our own house.

The money can actually be used this time

Again, even $300 million is a lot more than we previously had to spend on projects in the state.

And unlike the money lawmakers set aside last year for these projects, this round may have a better chance of being used.

Urban areas that were previously closed are now eligible to apply for some of the loans. And there are grants for some projects, which should catalyze conservation efforts and help cash-strapped rural areas pursue projects they otherwise couldn’t afford to repay.

Lawmakers also proposed a better structure for distributing the money.

Instead of the creation of a powerful new water authorityas Governor Doug Ducey and legislative leaders originally proposed, they gave these new powers to the existing—albeit now radically strengthened—Water Infrastructure Financing Authority, which has been lending for water infrastructure for decades.

We will learn a lot more about supply and demand

The 57 page invoice clearly explains the purpose of this exercise:

“The protection of current and future residents, the economy and the environment of this state is best achieved through a comprehensive water strategy that conserves water, improves efficiency and reuse of water resources. and augment existing water resources with new renewable water sources.

It specifies how the board should prioritize projects for funding. This includes considering their statewide benefits, cost effectiveness, and ability to cushion further water supply reductions, as well as what we will learn from an upcoming study. on water supply and demand.

The bill also sets aside $3.5 million to conduct this study each year – critical information, given that the last such study revealed a statewide gap of at least 600,000 acre-feetat best, between what we use and what we have.

And that was in 2011, which isn’t even in the same universe as the conditions we face today.

Far from perfect, but still a win on the water

No, money alone will not solve our water problems. And because a large number of new members need to be appointed to consider nominations — likely by the next governor and next legislature — it could still be a while before that money sees the light of day.

Although many people worked all session on this bill, it was not even officially introduced until the penultimate day. And even then, it initially lacked the votes to pass.

But after a flurry of 11th-hour amendments, which received virtually no public scrutiny, the legislation was passed almost unanimously.

Is it perfect? Shit no.

And we are not done. Consider this a down payment for future efforts, including those to shore up weak spots in state water policy.

But given the future we face — which promises to be an exercise in choosing the lesser-bad of less-than-ideal options — Arizona should consider this a victory.

Contact Allhands at [email protected]. On Twitter: @joannaallhands.

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