What’s being said about Arizona water policy
By Jim Holway
Director of Western Lands and Communities
A Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Sonoran Institute joint venture
What are our key water policy choices?
What values underlie these choices?
Will we face difficult tradeoffs between different uses of water?
What are our priorities and our major challenges?
Eighty individuals plus a number of facilitators gathered to discuss these questions during a half-day workshop held prior to the Water Resources Research Center’s annual conference in January. The Sonoran Institute, in collaboration with Morrison Institute for Public Policy and with funding from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy sponsored this workshop. A lively discussion ensued on the fundamental policy and value choices we will face about water in the Sun Corridor, on the driving forces that will shape these choices and on the tradeoffs that we may ultimately need to make concerning how we supply and use our water.
Grady Gammage Jr. opened with his recent Morrison Institute Watering the Sun Corridor report and the Sonoran Institute’s Joe Marlow discussed driving forces of change. The afternoon focused on small group discussions to dive deeper into four areas of water use that we believed would illustrate key policy and value choices for our region: agriculture, household, urban amenities and public areas, and the natural environment. A fact sheet, brief descriptions for each of these issues, and the Watering the Sun Corridor report had been distributed to all participants prior to the workshop.
Key messages I heard included:
· Strong support for continued agriculture
· Increased priority for natural environment water uses, and
· A need for increased dialogue and public engagement on water issues
The workshop highlights below were compiled from keypad polling of the entire group and notes from discussions among diverse groups of six to eight people at 11 separate tables. Throughout the afternoon we alternated between brief presentations and 30- to 40-minute small group discussions. Keypad polling questions interspersed throughout the afternoon were designed to solicit ad-hoc responses, illuminate key values and provoke discussion. This instant polling and the table discussions of a self-selected audience certainly do not qualify as a systematic or random sample; they do, however, provide food for thought and identify interesting areas for further work and dialogue.
The participants were evenly split between Pima and Maricopa county residents with approximately 12 percent from outside central Arizona. Participants indicated they represented the following sectors:
Environmental group 19%
Municipal provider/city 13%
Civic organization 5%
Finally, there was clearly a large number of “water buffalos” in the room – with 45 percent of participants indicating they had been at “too many water meetings to count” in the last two years, another 10 percent at more than five meetings and only 10 percent indicating this was their first water meeting in the last two years.
The first tasks at the 11 tables were to identify the priority water policy topics for each participant, to discuss what issues they were most concerned about, and to discuss whether the Watering the Sun Corridor report identified the most important water policy choices.
We captured the approximately 50 different issues identified and combined these into 14 broad topics. In the final round of small group discussions, participants considered whether any additional topics needed to be included, at which point three additional topics were added.
These resulting 17 priority water policy issues and water uses were:
1) Future of Agriculture & Water Use
2) Future Economy & Industrial Uses of Water
3) Water & Growth
4) Lifestyle of Affluence & Household Uses of Water
5) Aesthetics & Public (Urban Environment) Uses of Water
6) The Natural Environment & Uses of Water
7) Economics of Water & Water Pricing
8) Securing New Water Supplies
9) Energy Production and Water Use
10) Water Policy Decision Making Process
11) Water Education
13) Water Conservation & Effluent Reuse
14) Climate Change & Variability
15) Water Quality
16) Prioritizing Water for Local Needs
17) Ensuring Water Sustainability for Arizona
Using the keypad polling, participants voted for the five issues they considered top priorities to be addressed. Six of these 17 issues clearly came out on top and are listed below in priority order:
· Natural environment
· Water policy decision making
· Economics & water pricing
· Climate change & variability
· Ensuring water sustainability
· Water & growth
Notably, private landscape uses of water and urban amenity uses of water, two topics highlighted in the workshop, received the lowest number of top five issue votes.
Additional results included:
· A majority of the participants recognized that some agricultural water would likely move to urban uses, but they put a priority on maintaining a viable production agriculture economy in central Arizona.
· Water for the natural environment was identified as a top priority water issue both in the keypad polling and during the individual table discussions. This unusual result for Arizona water discussions was, I believe, not simply the result of who attended the workshop but does in fact represent an evolving shift in Arizona’s water discourse.
· Participants also indicated a significant willingness to pay to sustain natural areas.
· A majority of participants supported reducing household water use and, perhaps surprisingly, elected to do so using “all” tools – including regulatory approaches.
· When asked to prioritize eight different categories of water use, allocating water for new growth was by far the lowest priority. As would be expected, providing sufficient water to meet basic household needs was by far the top priority.
Participants overwhelmingly supported some basic assumptions behind the workshop. Granted, there is a selection bias in terms of who attended the workshop, but I was surprised by the high level of agreement registered in the concluding votes:
· Future water scarcity will require difficult water allocation and management choices (52% strongly agreed, 35% agreed).
· Increasing uncertainty about supply and demand will require that we develop mechanisms to address uncertainty (63% strongly agreed, 27% agreed).
· Future water management will benefit greatly from broader civic engagement on the fundamental values and policy choices that underlie water management decisions (64% strongly agreed, 23% agreed).
In the concluding small group discussions, issues related to insufficient water management capacity and decision making were the most frequently discussed topic, highlighted at six of the 11 tables.
This workshop was an initial step in the Sonoran Institute’s efforts to advance a broad-based dialogue on water in the Sun Corridor. Our goal is to engage a larger community of organizations, individuals, and leaders; to consider the fundamental value and policy choices involved; and to move toward an agreed “vision” that can guide our future water policy choices.
Jim Holway is director of Western Lands and Communities, a joint venture of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Sonoran Institute. Further information on the Tucson water workshop, as well as the issue briefs, presentations, participant characteristics, keypad polling results and summaries of the discussions, are contained on the Sonoran Institute website at: http://www.sonoraninstitute.org/watering-the-sun-corridor-workshop.html
Established in 1982, Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state’s quality of life.