By Congressman Tom O’Halleran
There is nothing more important to the future of our state and the entire southwest region of our country than our access to water. I have spent most of my time in public service, as a state legislator, concerned citizen and community leader, and now in the United States House of Representatives, working extensively on Arizona water issues. I understand just how important this resource is to Arizona.
For years, Arizona has worked to implement a drought plan that ensures our state continues to have access to water from the Colorado River and other in-state water sources, while protecting the health of our waterways and national parks and forests. The outcomes of this work must honor our settlement agreements with Native American tribes and nations and ensure the rights of private property owners are protected. The decades-long drought Arizona is facing and the realities of climate change have jeopardized the long-term accessibility of our water and increased the fervency of getting a plan in place.
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During my time in the Arizona Legislature, I spent years working with Republicans and Democrats alike to create Arizona’s first-ever conservation, drought and statewide water management plans. I led these efforts, and my legislation to develop and implement these critical plans was passed with broad, bipartisan support.
Today, the recent passage of the Drought Contingency Plan expands on my work. The interstate plan is an important step, and I am pleased with the outcome. My staff and I have worked closely with tribal, local, state, and federal stakeholders throughout the entire process, and we must continue to work together to ensure this plan works for everyone in the state.
Now, as a member of the House of Representatives, I have continued to make protecting our state’s water resources a priority. Two different efforts to jeopardize our watersheds in Northern Arizona were turned back in the last two years.
The first, a $23 million cut to the Upper Colorado River Basin Fund, would have impacted management programs and research that protects the long-term health of the Grand Canyon watershed and management of water supplies on the Colorado River. The second attack on our water came with the threat that the Administration would lift a ban on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon watershed. Uranium mining in the region would have a disastrous impact on our natural resources in an area that is still coping with the toxic legacy of abandoned uranium mines from World War II. I worked alongside then-Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl Grijalva to prevent this ban from being lifted.
In addition to water conservation and sustainability across the state, there are communities in the most rural parts of the First Congressional District who are facing a completely different water issue. Rural and tribal communities often lack water infrastructure, leaving families without safe, clean drinking water. We were successful in passing legislation in the past year to allow the White Mountain Apache Tribe to use available funds to build a water delivery system that provides communities throughout the region with clean water. There are still communities that are facing this problem, and I will continue working to fund these critical infrastructure projects.
There will not be a shortage of water issues that will need to be addressed in the coming years, but it is imperative that we start those discussions sooner than later. Our children and grandchildren are relying on us to take action to ensure our state remains competitive and our economy thrives. We have a great deal of work ahead of us, but I am confident that we can work together to serve the needs of our communities today, and into the future.
Tom O’Halleran is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives representing Arizona’s District 1. A Democrat, he lives in the Village of Oak Creek.
This column appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.