A Central Arizona Project official said drought can be a good thing as it pushes groups to develop plans to manage an increasingly short supply of water.
John Newman, assistant general manager for CAP, told members of the Arizona Farm Bureau that the state’s nine-year drought is prompting positive action.
Newman was among several leaders to speak Friday on the final day of the Arizona Farm Bureau’s annual convention in east Mesa.
Despite their long histories and previous droughts, a shortage has never been declared at either Lake Powell or Lake Mead, whose levels hover at 50 percent, Newman said.
That’s because governmental agencies managing those bodies don’t have a set of guidelines that would outline when, where and how to identify, declare and respond to a shortage.
As a result of the ongoing drought, however, a drought planning task force has been created and a shortage plan is in the works, Newman said.
Rep. Tom O’Halleran, R-Sedona, said that the state is being much more aggressive in developing action plans, including a state drought management plan, which is "long overdue."
O’Halleran said the public needs to be educated about desert living and pointed to three upcoming drought meetings to be held in Scottsdale and other areas around the state as a good start.
It was water issues that held center stage throughout the Farm Bureau’s Friday gathering, as Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., discussed legislation recently approved by the Senate.
The Arizona Water Settlement Act will be taken up by Congress as part of its final agenda before the end of the year.
The measure could resolve claims over American Indian water rights and allow settlement between the federal government and the state over costs associated with construction of the CAP, a 336-mile network that brings Colorado River water to Pima, Pinal and Maricopa counties.
But not all Farm Bureau members support the bill. Pinal County farmer Le Smith said he objected to Arizona agriculture having to foot the bill for a dispute between the federal government and Indians by giving up significant water rights.
"I feel like we’re being sacrificed to take care of the Indian treaties," Smith said, adding that costs of a settlement should be paid by all states and their residents equally.
Kyl said he appreciated Smith’s view.
But given a number of factors including the likelihood of an expensive, lengthy and what would probably be a successful lawsuit by Indians, the agreement was a good compromise between all of those involved, he said.