|The story is told of Henry Fountain
Ashurst, one of Arizona's original U.S. Senators back in 1912, getting
up to make his maiden speech extolling the virtues of the newest state.
After expounding on Arizona's assets -- her
beauty, her mineral riches, her climate, and so on -- Ashurst concluded,
in his spellbinding, stemwinding, Fourth-of-July oratorical style, "Gentlemen,
there are only two things my State needs to become an earthly Paradise:
plenty of water, and lots of good people!"
As he sat down, so the story goes, an old Yankee
from New Hampshire rose to respond, "Senator, that's all they need in He//!"
* * * * * * * *
So far we have the people. Our population has
gone over the two million mark, and in the wake of the East Coast's most
severe winter on record the wave of migration to the Southwest is bound
But the same weather shift that brought blizzards
to Buffalo also brought hot, dry winds to wither crops and blow away topsoil
in the West. Our neighbors in California are now getting a harsh lesson
in the meaning of finite resources, as drought forces some to live
on as little as 36 tightly rationed gallons of water a day.
Closer to home, a new Tucson city council majority,
elected on a pledge to roll back municipal water rates, turned around and
increased rates by some 13% in its first few weeks in office.
And President Carter achieved the impossible --
uniting Arizona's bipartisan Congressional delegation -- by attempting
to delete funding for the Central Arizona Project from the 1978 Budget.
The 60-day furor triggered by that attempt ended
April 15 with the announcement that, after intensive scrutiny by an Interior
Department review team, the
|President had decided to restore funding
for the most important elements of CAP.
I think that was a sensible decision, a victory
for both sides in the continuing dispute over the Project and the larger
issues of water policy in an arid land.
But Arizonans had better not assume that the struggle
is over. Both CAP and the less visible but no less important conflicts
over water use will remain at the forefront of our state's political, legal,
and economic life far into the future.
The basic facts are these:
** In Pima, Pinal, and Maricopa counties, we have
a population of almost 2,000,000 people; we have 750,000 acres of agricultural
growing crops from alfalfa to cotton to lettuce to barley; and we have
the mines which produce about 25 percent of America's supply of copper,
a critical mineral. Those uses today require 4.7 million acre feet of water
a year (an acre foot is the amount needed to cover an acre of land with
a foot of water -- about 325,850 gallons).
** We can generally count on about 1.1 million
ac/ft of "surface" water, mainly from the Gila and Salt River systems,
in those areas. None of that surface water is available for use around
** The remaining water supply, including all of
Tucson's water, must be pumped from underground aquifers. That amounts
to 3.6 million ac/ft each year.
** Only 1.8 million ac/ft of groundwater is "recharged"
by rainfall and effluent percolating back into the ground each year in
the three-county area.
** That means we have an "overdraft" of 1.8 million
ac/ft annually that is being drawn from our one-time groundwater supply.
As it is pumped out, the water table falls. We have to drill deeper, at
greater expense, using more energy, to tap this irreplaceable resource.
And the deeper we go, the poorer the quality of the water we get. At the
same time, the falling water table may cause the land to sink, damaging
structures and causing cracks in the overlying land.