Water experts in AZ consider impact of EPA executive order

Water experts in AZ consider impact of EPA executive order

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - President Donald Trump signed an executive order which essentially rolls back the environmental legacy of President Obama, most specifically his climate change policies.

While much of the attention is on the rollback of the Clean Power Plan, there will also be impacts which affect clean water policy.

Some of that is due to the ending of President Obama's National Environmental Policy Act, which requires taking climate change into consideration when making federal policy decisions.

The Trump administration will not factor in climate change when making those decisions which will affect rivers, wetlands, and stream beds.

How that may affect water policy going forward is still unclear but some say reality may interfere with their plans.

"I don't think you can mandate that in any serious way," said Kathleen Ferris, a senior fellow at the Morrison Institute in Phoenix. "Because of our history of long term planning, we will always consider weather in whatever decisions we make moving forward."

She says "weather" has different meanings to different people but the bottom line is the same.

"You can call it climate change, you can call it weather, you can call it drought," she said. "It's a fact of life and we're not going to ignore it."

She was one of several speakers at the annual UA Conference on Water that this year focused on agricultural water.

70 percent of the water used in Arizona goes to agriculture and in the spirit of conservation, agricultural interests are looking for ways to use less water.

That is a must for Arizona's water future.

"Arizona's been in a drought for 17 years," Ferris said.

Water shortages loom on the Colorado River and the aquifers are being depleted, which is why agriculture use is such a significant topic.

So much so, that this year, attendance at the conference was 20 percent higher than in years before.

Although, it was also pointed out that there is a general consensus that water policy and climate change policy will be changing in the near future, in part, because of the election of the current president.

"Our planning must continue no matter what the rules and regulations of the federal government are," said Sharon Megdal, a leading water expert and chair of water resources in southern Arizona. "We are worried about whether there will be shortage declarations."

Megdal feels those declarations could come as soon as 2019, however, a wet winter this year could push it back to 2020 or beyond.

"One year is not enough to get us out of the drought," she said. "We are experiencing the impacts of a long term drought on the Colorado River."

She said the levels in Lake Mead continue to drop and there is a "concerted effort to conserve" so it doesn't keep falling.

She said despite the new executive order, nothing will likely change in the short term.

"I'm struggling to see how the federal government can change what we've been doing, at least in terms of water management," she said.

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