After Colorado River drought plan, what’s next for water in Arizona?

The Salt River, in Arizona/Alan Stark via Flickr

By Elizabeth Whitman | Phoenix New Times

Even though the roller-coaster negotiations over the Drought Contingency Plan have finally come to an end, Arizona’s water problems, which are far more complex than just a Colorado River shortage, are not over.

To Cynthia Campbell, they never will be, because managing water in a desert is a never-ending, ever-evolving task, both in cities and throughout the state.

“We’re sitting in the middle of the desert, trying to grow a city. Which defies logic, for many people,” said Campbell, the water resource management adviser for the city of Phoenix. But whatever people think about the sensibility of cities in deserts, she said, the city is responsible for securing diverse supplies of water and ensuring it can move that water wherever it needs to go.

Congress passed an historic Colorado River drought deal on Monday, which is now on its way to President Trump’s desk for his signature. That leaves Arizona back to wrestling with water issues that it mostly set aside during the two years it fixated on the negotiations for the Colorado River deal.

Even in actively managed regions of the state, water is pumped from aquifers at a rate faster than it seeps back underground, experts say. Conserving water remains a touchy topic, and one that people are reluctant to discuss, much less implement. Cities are trying to build infrastructure that can quickly adapt to fluctuations in water supply in an unpredictable, changing climate. Environmentalists fear that the state isn’t managing its water holistically or sustainably, with a long-term perspective.

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