Water: A Conversation with Scottsdale’s Mayor Lane

By Warren Tenney

Jim Lane’s resume is packed with past and present memberships on important governing boards, such as the League of Arizona Cities and Towns and Maricopa Association of Governments. After becoming the City of Scottsdale’s Mayor in 2009 he added one more, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association’s Board of Directors. Since then, he has been a regular at the monthly meetings, has served as AMWUA’s Board president and is now the Board’s secretary/treasurer. He is AMWUA’s longest serving Board member. During his 43 years living and working in Scottsdale, the Mayor has taken an interest in the Valley’s efforts to secure water supplies, in particular from the Colorado River, and the progress cities and the state have made saving and cleaning once-polluted aquifers. His active role as Scottsdale’s mayor comes first, but the Mayor said AMWUA is second. “Water is foremost in my mind, “ he said. “A resource so vital to our ability to grow and to be productive.” We thought it was time to sit down and talk water with the Mayor.

Q. What’s with all these golf courses in Scottsdale? It’s a desert city after all. 

A. “Golf is an industry. It is one of our primary industries. We have come to recognize it as one of our primary exports. People come here, buy an experience, and take it home. In order to accommodate that, we were the first – and maybe the only – city in the state to have 23 of those golf courses on a separate recycled water system. It’s a separate system the golf courses paid for themselves to water their golf courses. So, it waters their turf and keeps them in water at a competitive rate. It’s highly treated, but it’s reclaimed water.”

“Nearly a quarter of our general fund dollars comes from tourism, not to mention the fact that people who have second homes here are paying property taxes. It pays for basic services, police, fire, streets, roads, and libraries. Our direct tourism dollars – this would be bed-tax funds – enable us to off-load from our citizens the cost of maintaining TCP (Tournament Players Club), WestWorld, to build the Museum of the West and those kinds of things that end up enhancing our tourism traffic.”

Q. What question about water do people ask you the most?

Mayor Lane HeadshotA. “What is a little, sometimes, bothersome is that now I’m getting questions like: We have a water crisis. What are you doing about it?  I don’t ever want anyone to think we’re in la-la land, and in denial of challenges ahead of us. And so I try to say, look, we are as ready for this as anybody is. And we’re working every day on fine tuning and planning, not only solutions but conservation and growth. Another thing I share with them: In five years of increasing population our (City of Scottsdale’s) water consumption is flat.”

Q. Are you worried about climate change and what it could mean to our water supplies?

A. “No. I guess I’ve got to say I’m still a skeptic. I’m always concerned when the government is trying to assume more and more control over something, either to control or to tax. I concern myself with the motivation. Have we had cycles in our weather? When I was a younger man, the new ice age was coming. Then it changed to global warming. Then when things weren’t going that way, then we’re talking about climate change. I think we do have climate change, and I think we’ve always had climate change. But, nevertheless, I guess I’m a bit of a skeptic. I know some consider me a knucklehead because of my thinking and my skepticism on this subject.  Whatever the case may be, we still have to respond and manage our water according to the conditions before us.”

Q. Your city has worked hard to encourage residents to use water efficiently and provide innovative incentives to help residents conserve, such as rebates to remove water softeners and pools. Do you see cities as partners with environmentalists?

A. “The contrast we have with the environmentalists  – and I’d say maybe with the purest of the environmentalist’s side – is that we’re still advocates of growth. It has to be managed. I don’t mean managed in the sense of growth. I mean we have to manage our resources to make sure we can sustain our economy and our growth. That doesn’t mean by abusing our resources, it means by conserving our resources and making it work. But we’re not going to tell everybody to leave. We don’t see humans as the problems. We see them as something we have to accommodate and grow with.”

Q. So you’ve been in your home for 29 years. Have you made any changes to make it more water efficient?

A. “When the kids were home, we had a small soccer field out there (the back yard) so we went (with grass) from wall to wall. When they were all gone we decided to rein it in a little bit. We like the grass but it works out fine for us as it is right now, probably sometime we’ll change that configuration again. All the edges are Xeriscape. The front yard and most around the pool is all Xeriscape and has been from the beginning. When I built this house we hired a guy from ASU. He was a specialist in Xeriscape so all our vegetation was adapted. We weren’t into a lot of non-indigenous plants. We have over-seeded (the grass) in the winter a couple of times. When our oldest son got married we reseeded and we had the wedding here. And there have been a couple of times since then that I’ve done that, but it’s not a matter of course. It looks great but it’s just not worth it.”

Q. What are the water issues we haven’t talked about that you think are important?

A. “One thing is a concerted effort to get rid of salt cedar (also known as Tamarisk) in our watershed areas and primarily the Colorado River basin – 30 gallons (of water each tree uses) a day for millions of trees. It’s not indigenous to the area. It’s not right for our area. That’s a huge problem. I know it’s been a futile effort up until this time. Totally inadequately funded and I think that’s a major problem. It’s an outrage.”

Prescribed burn in Coconino National Forest Photo: SRP

“The second is forest management, which directly affects the water we receive in the Valley. I’ve spent the last several years trying to partner with environmentalists and you realize that we are looking for the same thing, ultimately. There will be differences in how we get there. But forest management is one of those critical things in which environmentalism – in the purest form – has really worked against us. It’s created the wildfire scenario where high-intensity flames just burn things to dust and destroy the watershed and pollute with biomass materials coming down in the drainage. This creates a monumental addition to (water) processing costs, which is a further carbon footprint as far as the power used to reprocess this (polluted water).  And then there is, frankly, the pollution of the water to boot and the inadequacy of soil conservation and, therefore, a denigration of the watershed and its development. Those are huge areas. The Four Forest fund initiative we actually contributed to at my suggestion. The City of Scottsdale will contribute $120,000 over the next three years to that fund as a participant. And my constituency would ask me: why are we contributing to that? Frankly, it’s our watershed.”

Q. How has AMWUA changed in the seven years you have helped to lead it?

A. “When I first came onto AMWUA it was a very different organization. It was just sort of a much lower profile organization doing the basics of representing the municipalities with SRP (Salt River Project) and CAP (Central Arizona Project). Now we’ve become more of a policy advisor for a wider group of folks, or I’d like to think we are. The credibility and reputation we’re building is a positive thing.”

For 47 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

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