Letter to Water Infrastructure Finance Authority

Last year, in response to former Governor Ducey’s call for action to address Arizona’s water challenges, the Legislature passed bipartisan, multifaceted legislation to tackle a variety of water issues. As enacted, the new law gives the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA) new authority to fund conservation, reuse, and augmentation projects across the state.

Among these is a $200M grant program to fund water conservation, from education and research activities to projects that result in reduction in water use, improve water efficiency, or ensure water reliability. This infusion of funding is both welcome and necessary to address looming water supply-demand gaps throughout the state and ensure Arizona’s continued prosperity.

As a conservation organization with a primary focus on water conservation, Sonoran Institute recognizes the importance of Water Infrastructure Finance Authority’s (WIFA) new $200M water conservation grant program. This infusion of funding is both welcome and necessary to address looming water supply-demand gaps throughout the state and ensure Arizona’s continued prosperity.

Our Growing Water Smart Program provides training and technical assistance to communities in the Colorado River Basin to integrate water and land use planning to close these gaps. We have worked with 78 cities, towns, and counties throughout the basin, including 17 in Arizona. Our program identifies key actions that Arizona communities take, including around water infrastructure planning, ensuring water for development, reducing outdoor water use, and promoting low-impact development.

Sonoran Institute believes that, in order to thrive, Arizona communities must “up their game” around water conservation, reuse, and recharge. WIFA should use funds to help set a new standard for wise water stewardship. In that spirit, we offer the following suggestions:

1. WIFA should require that grantees set specific overall water conservation targets and measure their progress in the meeting those targets.

Setting targets and monitoring performance is important for transparency and accountability, particularly as all Arizonans are being asked to do their part in addressing our water challenges. It also allows our elected officials and residents to know how well we are doing in meeting these challenges.

Sonoran Institute has produced a Growing Water Smart Metrics guidebook. The guidebook presents a suite of “progress” and “impact” metrics that communities can select to meet their circumstances. “Progress” describes plans, policies, and programs that communities pledge to adopt, while “impact” includes ways to measure how these actions are reducing water use. Collectively, these metrics allow communities to chart a water conservation strategy and understand how they are doing in implementing that strategy.

2. WIFA should focus its grantmaking around specific high-return water conservation actions that local jurisdictions have the authority to undertake.

Historically, local planning around water supply and demand, the latter mostly driven by land use, haven’t been coordinated. Land use, for example, has traditionally driven thinking about demand. Looking ahead, integration will be critical as many Arizona communities cannot meet the needs of entitled development let alone future population growth. With a coordinated approach, communities can take to address looming water shortages and close projected water supply-demand gaps.

Sonoran Institute recommends that WIFA consider prioritizing grantmaking around the following high-return local actions, many of which are being implemented by Arizona communities as described in our Arizona Growing Water Smart guidebook:

· Adopt water conservation codes that reduce outdoor water by restricting residential and commercial turf and mandating lower water-use landscaping.

· Adopt water allocation policies that prioritize future water uses based on types of land development or business activity that best support local economic development and natural resource stewardship goals.

· Identify water sensitive areas that trigger additional development requirements related to water conservation, rainwater and stormwater harvesting, recharge, etc.

· Institute more aggressive and equitable tiered rate structures and system development charges that send a price signal to high-use customers and developers to conserve water.

· Expand rebate programs for high efficiency fixtures, appliances, irrigation systems and landscape retrofits.

There is a common misperception in Arizona that cities, towns, and counties, whether they are in or outside of Active Management Areas, have little authority to manage local water resources. However, local jurisdictions already possess a broad set of authorities to address water supply and demand issues. Sonoran Institute, with the support of various legal and academic partners, have previously responded to queries from local government staff on this topic. We believe that our recommendations to WIFA are consistent with the existing authorities of Arizona cities, towns, and counties.

Written by John Shepard