As part of its ongoing review of Arizona’s groundwater policy, Chamber Business News is meeting with water experts and political leaders to hear their views on groundwater and what they think. be the defining issues for one of the state’s most pressing challenges.
Today, CBN is visiting Cheryl Lombard, President and CEO of Valley Partnership.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
House Business News: Cheryl, tell us about your job and what your organization does.
Cheryl Lombard: I am the President and CEO of Valley Partnership. We are a real estate development advocacy organization in the Valley and Arizona. We have all types of real estate developers. We have master plan developers, and we have industrial and commercial sectors, which include office, retail, and multi-family buildings. We advocate responsible development, which we have defined in terms of certain policy outcomes, which include work on water, infrastructure, transport and consistency between cities in terms of regulations.
CBN: Let’s say you meet a new lawmaker, maybe you meet a new city councilor, and they say, “Cheryl, I want to know more about water. I want to know more, but this is an intimidating subject. Where do I start? ”What are the benchmarks that guide your work in the water sector and that you try to convey to elected officials and regulators?
Cheryl: This is a topic I touched on when I joined the Valley Partnership six years ago. The situation was then a little more certain at the water level. It was certainly not a question my members were asked or even their investors were thinking about. But now it’s a question. We have worked for the past six years on policy development. These policies include obtaining new water resources, protecting what we have, and determining how we pay for them.
We mainly work in active management areas. We look at how we pay for water now, how we have good water policy, how we build infrastructure. Real estate development is part of the solution. Many of our blueprint developers are building wastewater treatment plants, even with our commercial office buildings. They build infrastructure pipelines and pay impact fees that pay for infrastructure in our cities that build our water supply infrastructure and help pay for supplies. We also pay water tariffs in our cities.
CBN: In Arizona, we read the headlines about a big new investment – a development that is going to result in a big building where a lot of people will be working. But in some corners, these developments will face criticism that the project is too greedy for water. How do you respond to critics who accuse your industry of exacerbating the state’s water problems?
Cheryl: Our urban areas are planning, our entire state has been planning for years. We have an excellent infrastructure. We have big bones in terms of water supply, very high water rights in our urban areas. These are not major concerns. The big cities have invested in this hydraulic infrastructure and they have done a great job in terms of conservation. New developments actually use less water than any type of older infrastructure, older developments, residential and commercial office space.
CBN: You are in a high demand sector. You are in a state of rapid growth. Do we have the water supply to meet this demand?
Cheryl: Yes. Obviously, with the Colorado River we are entering a level one scarcity. The first wave is something we’ve been waiting for. It was part of the Emergency Drought Plan, which we just negotiated two years ago.
We have a great history in our reconciliation, which is what we did with DCP. We knew those level one cuts were coming. It just happened a little earlier than expected. Arizona is trying to find more solutions. There are other ways of supplying water, whether it is using Harquahala water, which is already legally allowed to be transferred from this basin to the AMA (Active Management Area). If we look at other supplies, there is desalination (desalination). It’s quite far. We are now considering some very important federal legislation to be introduced by Senator (Mark) Kelly, relating to the Colorado River Indian tribes. It will be an important source. Salt River Project is looking to expand storage. Our cities store water underground. We have large reserves of water as we not only move into future Colorado River water reductions, but move to other resources.
As recently as the last session, President (Rusty) Bowers led the way in establishing this drought mitigation fund. This is going to be an incredible tool for new sources of water. We hope that the next session will be broadened in terms of funding and other opportunities.
CBN: We have farmers in Pinal County who are now forced to rely less on canal water and more on groundwater from wells. If your members were to build a building in Pinal County, would your members use the water that comes out of the canal or would they use the groundwater?
Cheryl: Let us remember that the objective of AMA Pinal has a different objective than that of other AMAs. It is a community with strong agriculture which was hypothetically in transition to development. So he has what is called “planned exhaustion”. They have the legal right to go into groundwater.
For real estate development, however, we have to meet what is called the secure water supply to enable development in the AMA of Pinal or, really, anywhere. Currently in AMA Pinal, due to the imbalance of the water table, real estate development is not able to obtain new certificates in AMA Pinal.
CBN: Is it just home builders or other types of builders as well?
Cheryl: Only for residential, you must obtain an assured water supply. But where it matters, hypothetically, are these big industries that are disappearing in Pinal County. We are very keen to meet the residential demands of these new employees who come there. We really need to start identifying new sources for Pinal County and, again, the rest of our state, which is why the President’s fund from the last session was so important.
But this is not unique to all of our AMAs. It is not unique to the rest of our state that we grapple with these issues as we grow up and determine how we manage our water resources. We have water, we just have a few regulatory hurdles to move water, which is going to be an interesting discussion.
CBN: Let’s say you have a member who wants to build a factory in Pinal County. Should they have to meet the assured water supply the same way home builders do?
Cheryl: I’m co-chair of the post-2025 committee, which deals with these issues. The question of whether we should strengthen the groundwater code – especially in AMAs – in this time of crisis has been raised.
The majority of committee members felt that we must first deal with additional supplies before amending the Groundwater Act. We need to have this certainty in place before we start adding new limitations to the Groundwater Management Act.
CBN: You are an accelerator of development and growth, but you also mentioned the need for responsible growth. On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being totally pessimistic, 10 being optimistic, do you think Arizona can meet this desire and demand for growth?
Cheryl: We already have an excellent base. We have the Groundwater Management Act. The most immediate fight will be in Pinal County and what the future looks like in terms of agriculture, responsible development and industry in these areas, as well as in all AMAs. We’re really going to have these discussions.
In addition, cities want to be responsible users of their water sources and determine the best type of businesses to attract. I think we’re going to see more of it in our cities. These are good discussions for us.
How to find the right balance? What are some of these criteria that we really need to look at so that we can have homes and jobs in an area?
CBN: In the years that you have worked on water policy, what is a misperception or something that is pointed out that you hear over and over again and most want to correct?
Cheryl: It’s all those out-of-state news agencies that start with the perception that nothing is sustainable in Arizona. Whether it is that we are too hot or that we do not have water. Now we have other states trying to take our chance in terms of what’s going on with our economy and trying to leverage water against us. It’s really frustrating because, frankly, Arizona has it planned. We have had the Groundwater Management Act for much longer. California just received it. It is therefore important to make these facts known outside our State. He’s my biggest pet peeve at this point.
There is a way to do it all. There is a way for us to work with rivers, agriculture, mining, development and industry, and to work together.
CBN: Do we need to review the Groundwater Management Act or is it satisfactory as it is?
Cheryl: It’s satisfying as it is right now. We need to use the tools that are in the Groundwater Management Act, like certain exceptions to transfer groundwater out of AMA. Now is the time to need it. Now is not the time to take them off.
We also need to actively work with tribal partners. Once this certainty is established, we will be able to consider the follow-up to be given to the Law on the management of groundwater.
CBN: Are you optimistic about this?Cheryl: Yes. I am very sensitive to this. We already have very good bones, much better than most Western states. We need to demonstrate our ability to come together in order to have more certainty and then look at all of our regulations.