Udall: Investing in water infrastructure good for economy, environment

Posted 6/8/21

The physical and natural infrastructure that Arizonans depend upon for their water supply needs attention.

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Udall: Investing in water infrastructure good for economy, environment


The physical and natural infrastructure that Arizonans depend upon for their water supply needs attention. And while the word “infrastructure” may not create images of a vibrant environment, the reality is our natural surroundings are enhanced by functioning water infrastructure just like our farms, homes, businesses and communities.

Arizona has forested watersheds that feed several river systems including the Colorado, Little Colorado, Verde and Salt Rivers, the Gila and San Pedro Rivers and countless streams. Arizona also has many majestic reservoirs that serve as recreational “lakes” for everyone to enjoy.

These watersheds, rivers and reservoirs create an array of diverse ecosystems with varying plant and animal species that benefit all. In addition, those that depend upon the water from these watersheds and rivers, whether that be farmlands or urban uses, in many instances create exceptional habitat for many animal species, local and migratory. Maintaining many of Arizona’s greatest natural habitats therefore requires properly functioning water infrastructure.

Arizona’s forested watersheds provide the natural infrastructure that feeds our rivers and reservoirs. These watersheds are critical to a clean and reliable water supply and include some of Arizona’s greatest natural habitats.

However, this infrastructure is in dire need of forest restoration and adaptation to prevent wildfire and catastrophic impacts to our water supply and natural habitat. The dams that create reservoirs and water storage facilities also need regular maintenance to function properly and as intended; some even need major rehabilitation to meet current and future long-term water supply demands, environmental benefits and recreational activities.

Our water infrastructure needs are more than just fixing what is already in place. The future we desire requires us to evaluate our current situation and adapt to change. As the current administration has said, this is an opportunity to “Build Back Better.”

That time is now, not later! Wherever you are, you are depending on natural and physical water infrastructure in one form or another to improve your quality of life.

We need to invest in our natural and physical water infrastructure systems to adapt to climate change. This means restoring hundreds of thousands of watershed forested acres to a more natural condition, building more or enhancing existing long-term water storage capacity for surface water to more effectively capture the anticipated extreme variability of precipitation events associated with a changing climate.

New “green infrastructure” methods have recently used farm fields in the winter to capture flood flows. This helps replenish groundwater supplies while also providing critical habitat for wildlife.

We must also take advantage of new technology to help us increase water supplies through recycling, desalination, and augmentation efforts such as cloud seeding. Moving forward, whether repairing or enhancing existing infrastructure, using new technology or pursuing natural solutions, all will require major federal financial investment.

Historically, long-term partnerships with the federal government on water projects have been the basis for the development of the Western U.S. These partnerships are vital in moving infrastructure projects forward and support from our Arizona Congressional delegation is paramount.

That is why a diverse Arizona coalition, representing farmers, ranchers, water providers, irrigation and electrical districts, businesses, communities and others have joined to urge our federal partners to include water infrastructure in upcoming federal infrastructure-related legislation.

Addressing the critical needs of our water infrastructure does so much more than secure a sustainable water future. Investment will create critically important jobs; help improve our economy and assist disadvantaged communities by providing access to clean and reliable water supplies. Finally, these infrastructure projects will help us adjust to our changing climate and better protect the environment.

We call on Arizona’s Congressional delegation and all our federal partners to support and assist us in securing this sorely needed investment.

Chris Udall is executive director of the Agribusiness & Water Council of Arizona. Visit agribusinessarizona.org.