Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

February 21, 2008


Host: Ted Simons

Arizona Water Supply Going Dry?


Guests:
  • Rudy Espino - Associate professor, Department of Political Science, Arizona State University
  • Bob King - President and C.E.O., Arizona Community Foundation
  • Larry Dozier - Deputy General Manager, Central Arizona Project
Category: Environment

View Transcript

Ted Simons:
Tonight on "Horizon," just when it was looking like smooth sailing for senator john McCain, the political waters get a bit choppy for the presidential candidate from Arizona. Scientists are claiming that major sources of Arizona's water supply could dry up in the near future. We'll talk with one of Arizona's water managers about their warning. And we'll take a look at what a new report is saying about the effectiveness of Arizona's schools. Those stories are next on "Horizon."

Announcer:
"Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons:
Welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Arizona congressman John Shadegg said he will not retire after all. He intends to seek an eighth term. Arizona senator McCain this morning emphatically denied he had an inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist. Anonymous aides were reported of saying that they told -- McCain is facing questions from a federal regulator about campaign finances. Joining me to sort through it all is Rudy Espino, an associate professor with ASU's Department of Political Science.

Ted Simons:
Thank you for joining us. Start first with the finances, and this $4 million line of credit senator McCain apparently secured but the way he went about securing it, that's the question, correct?

Rudy Espino:
Sure, that is the question. And it is an agreement in which he -- his lawyer strapped it up in which he had to provide collateral, and it appeared that the collateral was public financing in the future. This might put him in a hard position in ability not to opt out of public financing.

Ted Simons:
Indeed. The idea is that he said no to public financing, at least initially for the primaries, but if you are using that as securing a loan, then you are using it and that means you can't use it now, you can't -- you're kind of stuck until the convention, correct?

Rudy Espino:
That is one reading of it. But the actual drafting of this document is so complicated that only lawyers could figure it out. Only lawyers could interpret it. We will probably see lawyers involved. Probably going before the F.E.C. On exactly what McCain can do with this money. Already they're saying wait a minute, there are questions that we have for you on this.

Ted Simons:
McCain, as far as public financing is concerned, he and Senator Obama have a thing going on that.

Rudy Espino:
McCain is challenging Obama to run a clean election by opting into public financing, and it could be in part because of the position he is finding himself right now with this collateral agreement. We don't know. If he is unable to opt out of the agreement that he seems to have put himself in and Obama chooses not to secure public financing, McCain is very handicapped going up against the fundraising machine Obama is starting to develop.

Ted Simons:
Campaign finances in general, any controversy there involving John McCain has to be awkward for him.

Rudy Espino:
Certainly, because he has provided a legislative record of opposing influence of money. Most significantly with.

Ted Simons:
If he decides he wants to go ahead and opt out and go his own way, he has one of his advisors is a former F.E.C. Regulator, if not chairman, where does this go from here?

Rudy Espino:
That chairman is going to be really critical, and I think McCain is really grateful that he has him on the side because that will help him make arguments in terms of interpreting the law. What is exactly collateral, the timing of all of this, and how the F.E.C. Commissioners will interpret this.

Ted Simons:
Is this a story that could have legs to it?

Rudy Espino:
Yes, when we start reaching the summer months when McCain's money drys up and how he will press forward towards the November general election.

Ted Simons:
Another story out there, certainly splashed across papers and Web sites, and that is the lobbyist that the "New York Times" wrote about.

Rudy Espino:
Well, what the times is saying is that there are rumors from some of McCain's former aides that he had an inappropriate relationship with this lobbyist who represented certain clients in the telecommunications industry. What that relationship nobody is exactly sure. Both parties are denying any sexual relationship. They are not denying that they had contact and they did take trips together, but what really needs to be uncovered is exactly did -- what did McCain provide for the clients of this lobbyist, and right now we are in the -- mostly hearing about the sexual nature or possible sexual nature of this relationship, which both parties are denying. What we need to be uncovering, we are probably going to hear about more in the next week or month, was there any special favors offered by McCain in his position on the telecommunications committee to this lobbyist?

Ted Simons:
And this lobbyist represented an ownership out of Florida, trying to buy a T.V. station in Pittsburgh. McCain's side is saying all we wanted to do was speed up the process. Thumbs up, thumbs down, that wasn't our push. Just speed up the process. Is that a good argument to make?

Rudy Espino:
That seems what was going on. All McCain was doing at this point is what we're hearing is intervening on behalf of the clients that this lobbyist was representing. For those of us that have a long political memory, we might remember the Keating scandal. What we saw was McCain getting involved on behalf of a certain individual to tell regulators, whoa, can you back off a little bit. That got him into some hot water. It remains to see what will happen here.

Ted Simons:
Is this a situation where the "New York times" is perceived as going after john McCain. John McCain has not been able to circle the conservative troops all that well. You have the "New York Times" going after your guy if you are a republican, is this something that could galvanize republican support for McCain?

Rudy Espino:
Absolutely. I think this already has, if you look at some of the political blogs on the conservative end of the political spectrum, already circling their wagons around McCain. Look, the liberal "New York Times" is attacking our guy, a republican. It is time that we unify and fight this.

Ted Simons:
So, let's say three months from now, which story are we still talking about? Which story is the media still looking into?

Rudy Espino:
I think what we will probably be looking into more is the nature of that relationship. His legislative record on that committee, and his financial -- his financial situation with this loan that he's on track to secure.

Rudy Espino:
And we talked about how much this could possibly galvanize conservative support for McCain. Conversely, how much does this hurt him right now?

Rudy Espino:
I think not as much as it would have two months ago when he was running neck and neck with Romney. Now that he is almost the last man standing, it hurts him a lot less than it would have two months ago. This story was developing, being investigated by the "Washington post" and "New York Times" several months ago. Had it broken at that point, his run for the white house probably would have been over then. As things go, if you're going to have the story break, the timing of it actually was pretty good for McCain.

Ted Simons:
Interesting. Thank you so much for joining us.

Rudy Espino: Thank you.

Ted Simons:
Arizona's school standards are not nationally competitive according to a new report from the Arizona Community Foundation and the Ellis Center for Educational Excellence. The president of the Arizona Community Foundation will join me to talk about the report, but first David Majure provides us with a few more details.

David Majure:
The report entitled "Educating Arizona: Assessing our Education System" contains no new research, it attempts to compile the best data from previous research efforts into one comprehensive document. Among its findings, fewer than half of Arizona students who pass the AIMS test to graduate from high school are not ready for college level course work in math, English, and reading, and only 68\% of Arizona students graduate high school in four years. Among the report's recommendations, Arizona should implement internationally competitive standards and curriculum, advance students based on proficiency rather than age and time spent, create a need based tuition assistance program for higher education, significantly improve teacher and administrator pay and professional developments, and create a data system to track individual student performance from kindergarten to college.

Ted Simons:
Here to talk about the report's major findings and recommendations is Bob King, President and C.E.O., of the Arizona Community Foundation.

Ted Simons:
Bob, thanks for joining us.

Bob King:
Thank you.

Ted Simons:
Let's get started by finding out what is the Arizona community foundation.

Bob King:
The Arizona Community Foundation is an organization almost 30 years old. We serve the interest of many, many donors who put their money with us, invest those moneys, and take the proceeds and spend it on the community. We have done that over the past 30 years. This past year almost $70 million throughout Arizona to help all sorts of charitable and culture purposes to serve our people.

Ted Simons:
Obviously this report focuses on education. What were you looking at? What did you find?

Bob King:
When we first started, we really thought, and we had heard this across the state, is people needed a resource of information that they felt they could rely on that was -- had integrity, that wasn't being presented with any particular political bias or anything like that. So we really tried to assemble as much comprehensive data as we could that painted as clear and as comprehensive a picture of our education system as possible.

Ted Simons:
Is that picture as dire as some say?

Bob King:
Of course, in any large system, or group of systems, like in Arizona, there are some very wonderful bright spots. But overall, the concerns that we have are substantial and they should be concerns that people in Arizona who care about the future of this state and the future for our children should pay attention to.

Ted Simons:
Time frame involved in the study?

Bob King:
We spent almost two years.

Ted Simons:
In the course of those two years, did you notice -- it sounds like more of a data gathering procedure, but even so, did you notice anything changing, anything improving, anything not improving?

Bob King:
Well, I think the thing that is improving is the level of attention that education is finally getting, the growth of a number of very important foundations in our state, the Rodel Foundation, other foundations, work we're doing in the Ellis Center, working not just in isolation, but with each other and working with people in the government and various school districts to try and drive improvement. It will take more than that. Hopefully this report will help stimulate the kind of public interest that will create the resources and the attention to this that it really needs.

Ted Simons:
Talk about some of the recommendations the report has that might stimulate some of that conversation and get that interest going.

Bob King:
Well, one of the most interesting ones I think is creating a structure in education that says that children are going to move from course to course and from what we traditionally call grade to grade not because they got a year older, because they have demonstrated mastery of skills. What that means is a youngster who is particularly academically adept, may move through the system in 10 or 11 years instead of 12, but a student, if they need more time in third grade reading they will get it rather than pushing them forward in fourth grade. One of the most troubling findings is that when kids start to fall behind, it is rare that they catch up. The system just doesn't allow itself to pay enough attention to those kids, and as a result we have this very significant disparity in results, largely driven by the economic status of the children.

Ted Simons:
How much is accountability addressed in the report and things like Aims tests and other testing measures, how much are they addressed and what are your recommendations?

Bob King:
Well, there has been a great deal of attention paid to which test is the best measure of kids, and there are three tests that are used. A national exam called a national assessment of educational progress, the state test, and then another test that is administered in Arizona, but only a few other states, called the terra nova. Our view, and I think our governance committee would agree that fighting over which test is the best measure is not very productive. What we looked at is when the kids leave the public school system, how ready are they for the next stage of their life, whether it is work force, community college or university. What we find for example, stayed in school, passed the aims test and got their diploma and entered the -- they have to take a placement test. Only 33\% of the kids test ready for freshman level math. The kids go to the university. About 19\% of freshman admissions require some level of courses below traditional freshman level classes. On that end of the spectrum, it says to us that the fight over whether it is the aims test or the national assessment test isn't very productive. What is more important are they ready? There was a survey done, it is not in our report, because it was done after our report was done, the Salt River Project, surveyed business owners across the state. The largest biggest response, 61\% of the respondents said we're having difficulty finding qualified people to work in our small companies. These are not high-tech businesses. Those are the kinds of things that we think are a more accurate measure of how we are doing.

Ted Simons:
Who do you want to pay attention the most to this report?

Bob King:
Frankly everybody. I think that parents need to learn about whether their schools are achieving at levels that really matter. Our legislators need to know what's going on, and our educators who are doing a terrific job under very difficult circumstances. Hopefully we will be able to use this report to help them perhaps retarget their efforts to start to understand that our real objective is to produce graduates that are ready to compete in a 21st century economy.

Ted Simons:
Well Bob, thanks for joining us and video of this program and a link to the complete "educating Arizona" reporting is available by visiting us online at azpbs.org/horizon.

Ted Simons:
Well, The Colorado River water stored in Lake Mead and Lake Powell is being used faster than it's replaced. Add population growth and climate change to the mix and, as David Majure reports, some scientists believe the reservoirs may not last long.

David Majure:
The Colorado River ystem and its enormous reservoirs are important sources of water for Arizona and other western states. The federal Bureau of Reclamation operates dams on the Colorado River for water storage, flood control, and hydroelectric power --

Lonnie Gourley:
The system has basically been in a drought for the past ten years, the reservoirs behind Hoover, Lake Mead, and here at Lake Powell were pretty much full around 1995, and since 1995, the reservoir levels have gone down to about where the -- each of the reservoirs is right now just holding about 50\% of their storage capacity.

David Majure:
The reservoirs exist specifically for times like these. But scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California are warning that the reservoirs are in danger of drying-up.

Tim Barnett:
Yeah, we looked at the water budget of the Colorado River and quickly discovered that the chances of Lake Mead and Powell going dry by 2021 is around 50\%. There is a one in ten chance it could go dry by 2014. That's only six years off. A man on the street would look at this and say let's stop taking out more water from the river than there is there in the first place. Second of all, you look ahead a little bit and you see what the climate impacts are going to be and you say wow, how are we going to sustain the southwest civilization that we have now with a lot less water, the conclusion will be that we're not. We're living in an unsustainable situation in the southwest.

Ted Simons:
Joining me to talk about the Scripps research is Larry Dozier, Deputy General Manager of the Central Arizona Project which delivers Colorado River water to Arizona cities, tribal governments, and agricultural users.

Ted Simons:
Larry, thanks for joining us on "Horizon."

Larry Dozier:
Thank you for the opportunity.

Ted Simons:
You bet. 50\% chance that Lake Mead will be dry by 2021. Are you buying this?

Larry Dozier:
Not at all.

Ted Simons:
How come?

Larry Dozier:
We have just gone through an extensive bunch of studies to develop new operating criteria to deal with the reservoir in the lower conditions. We have had surplus criteria, developing shortage criteria and we found no studies that come anywhere close to having Lake Mead dry is a symbolic term. It has a lot of water left in it. It is below the ability to get it out, we found no opportunities for that to happen, even in the next 50 years, let alone the next 15.

Ted Simons: The Scripps folks saying the analysis and data they used he they were erring on the side of being conservative.

Larry Dozier: The Scripps report is somewhat simplistic when it assumes net outflow uses, uses and losses exceed net inflow, you will go dry. You will run the bank account dry. In this case they looked at some of those studies that the bureau of reclamation used, they looked at those studies and they added additional losses, evaporation and such which appears to me the best that I can tell from their report that they double counted some losses, they assumed then that other human demands would continue to grow at basically the same rate and they assumed that the supply would dwindle by as much as 10, 20, 30\% over the next 50 years as a result of global warming, and while I may or may not disagree with that data, what they left out was a lot of things that water resource managers are doing. We do have shortage criteria. They took a brief look at them, but I don't believe that they applied them quite directly. They overestimated losses. They assumed uses would continue to grow, when, in fact, shortage criteria would reduce the uses, and guess what? When the rivers aren't flowing above the reservoirs in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, your uses can't grow because there is no water there to grow with. A couple of other things if I don't take too much time here, but a couple of things we are working to augment those supplies, improved efficiency in managing tail water losses. Major ocean desalination -- those are ongoing activities. About two-thirds of the lower Colorado water supply is used for agriculture, 60\% to two-thirds range. If society needs to do that, you can reduce the agricultural acreage and move the water to people. That is a societal decision that provides you a huge cushion should you decide to do it.

Ted Simons:
There is a 50\% chance reservoirs will be too low to provide hydroelectric power -- again same dynamic same model?

Larry Dozier:
Same dynamic, two differences. One they assume in Lake Powell if they go below a certain level, you can no longer release water through the generators, and Lake Mead you can release water to the generators right down to the bottom. You just have to redesign the turbines. We have already done that analysis with reclamation and for a few million dollars, less than a few million dollars per each turbine or each runner you can change out about half of them and continue to generate significant electricity, although on a much reduced basis. You blend that into a system which probably less than 10\% of our electricity in this area comes from hydro power. Most of it comes from other sources. So, yes, it is an economic impact, but it is not a catastrophe.

Ted Simons:
Let me get this right about the supply of water. If I am not mistaken, the report says we go like this, and all of the sudden we hit bottom and bad things happen. What you're saying is, when you get to here, there is an adjustment. When you get to here, there is an adjustment, by the time you do get to there, if nothing else, it has been adjusted so many times we have serious trouble going on here.

Larry Dozier:
That's true. Again, for people, the bottom line is I would have dramatically reduced agriculture to keep the people alive, and the people would be conserving more than they are now, water rationing, you know, those sort of things, but it is not going to be like one day we're all going to wake up and our faucets have run dry and we don't know what to do about it and we panic. Which is the disingenuous part of this report. You put a catchy title on it, and then you put an assumption, 50 years, 50/50 chance. That's just not realistic. There is no cause to panic. There is cause to plan. And we believe we're doing that.

Ted Simons:
I was going to say, the report, even if it is off by a significant amount, it does sound as though there will be water issues and there needs to be planning in the future. The planning is going on now. Is that taking into account a moving target as far as water supply is concerned?

Larry Dozier:
Yes, it does. We don't know what that moving target is. There is no scientific certainty as to what is going to happen with climate change and the effect on the water. A reasonable number of the reports say we will get more precipitation in the Colorado basin but it will be rain instead of snow and it will run off faster, which is fine because we have big reservoirs to catch it. Fine for us down here, not for the guys above. But for us down here we catch it in the reservoir. We try to plan for a wide range of conditions. Perhaps it is not wide enough. I don't know. You can do lots of mathematic manipulations of your data base it make your range get wider and wider and wider. We tried to look at 100 years of solid history, 800 to 1,000 years of tree ring history to create a fairly wide range of conditions to look at.

Ted Simons:
So, pay attention to the report, but don't necessarily start panicking.

Larry Dozier:
That's right. It raises a point, the Colorado River is oversubscribed but not yet overused and we are planning for it.

Ted Simons:
Thank you for joining us.

Ted Simons:
The latest on new challenges facing john McCain's presidential campaign. And what state lawmakers are doing about the growing budget crisis. It's all on the "journalists' roundtable" tomorrow at 7:00 on "horizon."

Ted Simons:
Thank you so much for joining us this evening. I'm Ted Simons. You have a great evening.

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If you have comments about "Horizon," please contact us at the addresses listed on the screen. Your name and comments may be used on a future edition of "Horizon."

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