Over the last year, after leaving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C., life’s great journey has led me, with my loving and supportive wife and kids, to Arizona to reunite with family and connect with America’s grand and gritty, majestic and stressed western ecosystems.
Since June 2009, I’ve been honored to serve Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer as head of the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. I get the chance to walk in a state regulator’s shoes (or cowboy boots), learn the hard, old-fashioned way about unfunded mandates and unprecedented deficits, and create new opportunities for western water and clean energy in an arid, carbon-rich climate. It’s also a great opportunity to put in place air quality and waste management practices that consider water footprints and watershed factors.
I’ve also continued to serve on the board of directors for the educational, nonprofit Clean Water America Alliance (www.cleanwateramericaalliance.org). It keeps me grounded in national water challenges and the need for integrated solutions.
Integrated National Water Policy
In fact, the alliance recently issued the report “A Call to Action: The Need for an Integrated National Water Policy,” which is available on its website. It identifies four key national issues: energy/water nexus, water quality and quantity, green infrastructure and watersheds. More to follow on those subjects in the future. I encourage every water professional, policy-maker and breadwinner to read the report. Each of us can plant seeds for healthy and sustainable water, whether nationally, regionally or locally.
The report recognizes, and my experiences in the arid Southwest confirm, that one size clearly does not fit all. Nor should it. National standards, permits and funding priorities must strive to customize environmental policies on a regional basis to recognize that not all waters and watersheds are the same. Not even all cacti and desert washes are the same. They certainly merit regulatory protections different from those for bottomland hardwoods and coastal marshes.
We also face unique policy challenges and choices in the West. For example, in the arid Southwest, dust is a four-letter word that threatens public health and safety. It also complicates water conservation efforts, whether the proving ground is a city lot, a county road, a farm field or a feedlot. We’re working to reconcile Clean Air Act (CAA) particulate matter control requirements with water rights and allocations, recognizing that every drop counts but that wetting down unpaved areas reduces dust and produces public health benefits too.
Sustainable Water & Clean Energy: Priorities
As Arizona’s new environmental director, I’m putting a priority on two areas critical to our state’s future: water sustainability and clean energy.
On the waterfront, my agency is partnering with the Arizona Department of Water Resources, which regulates and allocates uses and quantities, and the Arizona Corporation Commission, which licenses and regulates utilities and sets private water utility rates.
We have convened a blue-ribbon panel of more than 30 Arizona experts to break down silos, build partnerships and blaze trails for increased conservation, efficiency and recycling. More to follow, particularly on the recycling front, as Arizona puts bold policies in place to reclaim and reuse treated wastewater and graywater and to harvest rainwater.
I’m convinced that America will follow Arizona’s lead and reuse increasing amounts of reclaimed and rediscovered water. In Arizona, 58% of our larger sewage treatment plants (greater than 24,000 gal per day) are putting wastewater to beneficial reuse, with an additional 20% using treated effluent for groundwater recharge. We need to keep growing those numbers, and we need to work harder on our public education and outreach efforts.
On the energy front, we’re focusing on renewables, such as solar, wind and algae biofuels; reviewing promising technologies such as carbon capture and storage; and looking at growing opportunities for nuclear power, a carbon-free fuel that provides 26% of the state’s current electricity supply. We’re also connecting the dots on water-related impacts, as EPA considers CAA technologies to improve visibility by controlling nitrogen oxide at coal-fired power plants.
So, Arizona is treating the Grumbles well and teaching us lots. Future “Grumbles on Water” columns will no doubt have a western flavor, with a handful of Phoenician spice. The main dish, however, served up every other month, will continue to cover pressing national issues and trends. Thanks for reading.