In his 1989 book, “Arizona: A Cavalcade of History,” historian Marshall Trimble of Scottsdale quoted the late former U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., about the importance of water in the West.
“There are three things a Westerner will fight over,” Goldwater said more than 30 years ago, as federal water development projects in the West were threatened with curtailment.
“Water, gold and women — in that order.”
We’re sure that Goldwater valued women far more than his rhetoric indicated. Yet he properly described water as indispensable to the survival of the West. It is the genesis of modern-day Arizona and created its political landscape from dust.
And so it is more than gratifying to learn, as the Tribune’s Joe Kullman reported on Sunday, that 150 Valley business and government leaders are keeping in mind that the recent wet winter should not be taken as a sign from above that water conservation can return to the back of Arizonans’ minds.
The state’s water reserves remain far too low for complacency, real estate and development attorney Grady Gammage Jr. told last week’s Valley Forward Forum in Tempe. Too true. That's why constant attention should be paid to conservation of our most precious resource.
Gammage’s warning that the days of “develop first, worry about water availability second” are over in this state has a certain immediacy, as growth continues unabated. We in the East Valley are seeing large populations settling in what were quite recently the deserts of Pinal County.
Water rights will be the key to sustaining life and livelihood here today, just as they have since the dawn of migration to Arizona more than 150 years ago.
Attorney Rod Lewis, who helped negotiate the recent federal water-rights settlement for the Gila River Indian Community, told last week’s forum that cities should begin talks with tribes with newly declared rights to lease water to meet future needs.
As Westerners, we must always be, as Goldwater suggested, ready to fight for the water we need to survive and thrive. At the same time, as the day approaches when we hand over Arizona to future generations, we should also honor the longstanding Western tradition of water thrift and sound water management that enabled our forebears to hand Arizona over to us.