“Do we really have enough water? Really?

And thus began an intriguing panel last week on the topic of water in a desert climate. Anyone interested in water law—or in drinking, cooking or living in Arizona—should be attuned to the evolving conversation. This one occurred at Monorchid Gallery in downtown Phoenix. (It had been calendared for the Downtown Public Market, but rain—of all things—brought the event indoors.)

L to R: Heather Macre, Marc Campbell and Paul Hirt speak at a water resources panel, Feb. 20, 2013, Monorchid Gallery, Phoenix.

L to R: Heather Macre, Marc Campbell and Paul Hirt speak at a water resources panel, Feb. 20, 2013, Monorchid Gallery, Phoenix.

The panel was sponsored by Women Design Arizona and Blooming Rock Development. It is their second annual lecture series on “sustainable urbanism” in the Phoenix area.

The speakers had a wide variety of experience in water issues:

  • Heather Macre, a lawyer and member of the Central Arizona Conservation Water Board
  • Marc Campbell, a senior water rights analyst at Salt River Project
  • Paul Hirt, a historian at ASU

They covered a lot of ground (and groundwater) in their far-ranging conversation.

Macre mentioned the battles over the Navajo Generating Station, for which the EPA has advised requires huge and expensive changes.

Navajo Generating Station

Navajo Generating Station

Assuming improvements costs $1 billion (with a b) or more, Macre pointed out that we may have to reassess water pricing.

Other panelists took up the pricing topic. Paul Hirt relayed a humorous story demonstrating that water in Arizona is even cheaper than dirt. He got estimates on having a ton of clean topsoil delivered to his house. A ton of clean water (according to WikiAnswers, about 240 gallons) delivered from SRP would cost about 20 times the dirt cost.

“20 times cheaper,” Hirt marveled, “to get this precious, life-giving resource.”

In 1970, Hirt said, Tucson attempted to raise water rates. They began the process in the suburbs, the foothills of the Catalina Mountains, where the higher elevation equaled higher pumping costs.

Unwisely, perhaps, those first efforts at more accurately pricing water occurred in June, among homes of wealthy and well-connected people. The homeowners revolted, and Tucson has never reinstituted higher rates.

The SRP’s Marc Campbell urged attendees to examine all of the choices we make, as individuals and communities.”We need to ponder why we’re sitting in a desert city. We have to pick up the gauntlet, solve the problems.”

For Macre, solutions begin by reexamining relations we thought we understood. For instance, she says she tells people, “When you turn on a lightbulb, you’re using water. When you turn on your faucet, you’re using electricity.” Connections we always imagine to be intrinsically related may be just the opposite.

She echoed the other speakers when she mentioned the down economy as a time of opportunity. The “pause” in the economy may give us the chance to strategize and learn how we want to answer the question “Do we have enough water?”

Her answer? “Yes, but ….”

What’s your answer?

Congratulations to Taz Loomens, Blooming Rock, Tiffany Halperin and Women Design Arizona for an eye-opening conversation.

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