U.S. Water News Online
PHOENIX -- After 18 months of study, a task force appointed
by Gov. Janet Napolitano has approved reports on ways the state can
cope with the current drought as well as a plan for future water
Key elements include establishing a new drought monitoring system,
setting up systems to trigger drought responses, creating a new state
office to implement conservation programs, imposing mandatory water
cutbacks for state agencies and universities, and a requirement that
cities and other water providers adopt drought contingency plans.
Some steps recommended by the Governor's Drought Task Force in a
package of water conservation and drought plans would take effect
according to drought stages, and some would take effect only with
The task force will send its reports to Napolitano, who appointed
the group in March 2003. She plans to make a major address on water
policy issues on Nov. 1.
Before then, Water Resources Director Herb Guenther said state
officials will determine whether Arizona's drought is now moderate or
severe according to the plan's proposed criteria. That finding likely
will vary by region, depending on local conditions, he said.
The five stages would range from normal to exceptional drought.
Temperature, precipitation, stream flow and groundwater levels are
among measurements that will help determine the stages.
Napolitano said in May that Arizona needs to adopt a "culture of
conservation'' though she said the state is "far away'' from having
to impose growth restrictions because of water supply issues.
The task force said the most urgent need for drought planning is
in fast-growing rural communities were water supplies are very
limited and where the economic pillars of recreation, ranching,
forestry and tourism are extremely sensitive to drought.
Though the plan allows flexibility to avoid a cookie-cutter
approach statewide, all communities will need to plan ways to combat
drought, task force members said.
The task force agreed early on with calls from water providers
that decisions to impose water conservation measures be made at the
local level. But the task force agreed to strengthen a draft version
to reflect the severity of the drought.
"We need to give municipalities and local people the ability, at
least early on, to work it out themselves,'' said state Rep. Tom
O'Halleran, a task force member and Sedona Republican.
Guenther said the state would provide examples of conservation
plans for local governments and providers to consult. "The mandate is
to have a conservation plan that is tailored for your particular
community,'' Guenther said.
The plans by cities and other providers would affect both
individuals and businesses. Such plans, already in place in some
communities, could include such steps as restricting lawn planting
and watering and banning outdoor misters, the task force said.
The drought is now in its ninth year in most parts of Arizona, and
has shown no indication of easing. Weather experts said the summer
monsoon was one of the weakest in years, though runoff from winter
snows plays a bigger role in filling reservoirs.
Signs of the state's 9-year-old drought include federal warnings
of a possible declaration of shortage of Colorado River water --
illustrated by a 35-foot extension of a boat ramp at Lake Powell to
reach receding waters -- and the Salt River Project's recent decision
to continue reduced water deliveries to cities and agricultural
districts for the third straight year due to low spring runoff.
The task force said drought is serious business, citing decreased
power production, health problems resulting from higher dust levels,
degradation of water quality and threats to outdoor recreation.
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