Opinion Photo

Arizona’s current drought is coming up on 15 years and has surpassed the worst drought in more than 110 years of official recordkeeping. Arizona’s water reservoirs are severely depleted, and according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, nearly 99% of Arizona is in some sort of drought.

So, what does this mean for Arizonans and what can be done to prevent this? The U.S. EPA and other federal agencies, state agencies and industry continue to diligently research future resolutions. Still, part of the solution must be providing education focused on environmentalism and conservationism and opening up career opportunities for students who are passionate about improving and protecting Arizona’s water supply.

Western Maricopa Education Center (West-MEC), a career technical education public school district for high school and adult students, offers a highly sought-after, hands-on environmental sustainability program that prepares students with laboratory and technical knowledge for entry-level water services positions with some of the largest companies in the state. 

West-MEC students are learning how to solve complex problems pertaining to the water cycle, water and wastewater treatment and could be the key to protecting and preserving Arizona’s future water supply.

Instructor Rickie Timmons, an industry professional with more than 40 years’ experience in the nuclear power space, says students closely study local and statewide environmental issues to understand the core problems that the drought is presenting to the Southwestern United States.

The long-term drought was slightly alleviated thanks to an above-average monsoon season for many portions of the state, but the fact is it took thousands of years to fill the aquifers in the Southwest, and there is simply not enough rain in this region to make up for the rate that locals are using water.

Timmons notes that it will take a diverse pool of innovative people like our emerging West-MEC students to find workable solutions to these types of problems, adding, “Looking at one potential problem, such as climate change, is a very small view of a variety of issues facing the environment — consider plastic trash, overpopulation, loss of good soil to grow an adequate food supply. The world changes, as do the people in it, so our prevention measures and solutions should, too.”

Take last summer, when, for the first time in history, a water shortage was declared on the Colorado River, which is a major source of water for Arizona. The New York Times reported that the shortage will reduce Arizona’s supply of water, delivered by a system of canals and pumping stations called the Central Arizona Project, by about 512,000 acre-feet.

Adaptation to future water stresses in Arizona will be difficult and costly and will affect numerous industries, including tourism, high-tech manufacturing, agriculture and ranching. The hands-on education West-MEC students receive is imperative. It improves decision-making, increases adaptation and mitigation capacities, and empowers them to explore future sustainable practices.

The leaders of tomorrow are West-MEC’s Environmental Sustainability Program students of today. As they continue their education, we can all do our part by encouraging our youth to use natural resources like water more wisely, volunteer for environmentally focused community events and think about what future generations may experience because of continued climate changes.