Skip to main contentSkip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
AP top story

Drought in Western US heats up as a Senate campaign issue

  • 0

RENO, Nev. (AP) — In a midterm campaign season dominated by inflation, abortion and crime, there’s another issue that is becoming more urgent in Western states: drought.

The topic of water historically has played little to no role in campaign ads in much of the region, but funding to fight drought is coming up now in door-knocking campaigns and is on the long list of talking points that advocacy groups are using to rally voters in two states with vulnerable Democratic incumbents and looming water cuts: Nevada and Arizona.

“This issue appeals to the economic anxiety of our voters and our people,” said Angel Lazcano, a Las Vegas-based organizer for Somos Votantes, which seeks to mobilize Latino voters across swing states.

Federal officials recently announced that Nevada and Arizona would get far less water in 2023 as the stranglehold on the Colorado River worsens because of drought, climate change and demand. The federal government threatened to impose deeper, broader cuts if the seven states that depend on the waterway can’t agree on how to use less.

The two vulnerable incumbents whose states are hit hardest by the cuts — Catherine Cortez Masto, of Nevada, and Mark Kelly, of Arizona — seized on the opportunity to seek funding through the federal legislation. They were joined by U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, who is seeking reelection in Colorado, and Arizona’s Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. The four Western senators negotiated $4 billion in last-minute funding to help address the region’s growing water crisis in the Inflation Reduction Act.

In tight races in Nevada and Arizona, the Colorado River basin cuts and last-minute $4 billion in drought-relief funding will serve as a test of how influential access to water will be in deciding two of the most consequential Senate races this cycle.

Though still not allocated, the drought relief funding will generally pay farmers to leave fields unplanted and will pay for water conservation and habitat restoration projects.

Cortez Masto said in a brief interview that she doesn’t see it as a campaign issue, but rather an issue for the entire West.

Somos Votantes released ads in English and Spanish, thanking Cortez Masto for the funding. In Arizona, the Environmental Defense Fund and its advocacy partner did the same for Sinema and Kelly, who has touted the funding on social media.

Kathleen Ferris, a senior water policy researcher at Arizona State University, said drought is a politically murky subject. She doubts the relief funding will have any sway on the election, and even the Colorado River cuts have not risen to the level of other hot-button issues.

Campaigns historically have trouble communicating complex water policies because there are so many interest groups that have a stake, she said.

"It’s not necessarily easy to say, ‘Well, I will do this,’ which would hurt this group, or ‘I will do that,’ which would hurt another group,” said Ferris, a senior research fellow at ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy. “So mostly, what they say is ’I will convene stakeholders’ and ‘We will have robust discussions’ and ‘We will figure out a path.’ Well, that’s not very sexy for the electorate.”

The funding is small in the wider context of a historic megadrought. Farmers in Yuma, Arizona, are already requesting over a quarter of the funding, and projects elsewhere to convert ocean water to drinking water often cost billions.

Though projects in Nevada and Arizona may get priority, 17 states are eligible for the funding, which will be doled out through 2026.

Questions also remain about whether the one-time allocation will turn into an annual stipend. If so, experts say, other funding requests could come under scrutiny from states not reliant on the river.

Though the basin cuts will not result in immediate new restrictions, they signal that unpopular decisions about how to reduce consumption could come soon.

Nowhere have the effects of drought been as visible as in Lake Mead, the Colorado River’s largest reservoir, which supplies water to nearby Las Vegas. Residents have watched human remains and old artifacts reveal themselves as levels drop.

Lazcano, the community organizer at Somos Votantes, which endorsed Cortez Masto, brings up Las Vegas’ robust water recycling infrastructure and the $4 billion in drought relief funding while door-knocking or hosting events in Las Vegas' Latino neighborhoods.

He pitches drought relief as an environmental and economic issue — affecting jobs and opportunities next to rising gas prices, labor shortages and inflation.

“I feel like people have that surface-level understanding of these things that are happening,” he said. “Like they hear about the cuts and the money coming in, but they’re not too sure with how to take that in, and that’s where we come in. To tell them about how it is, or what these investments mean.”

The funding has earned mixed reactions from Republican candidates in Nevada.

While the inflation measure was universally vilified by the party, GOP lawmakers and candidates did not deny that drought needs urgent attention.

Adam Laxalt, who is running against Cortez Masto, has mostly stayed away from talking about drought. In an email, he said he supports efforts to address water problems in Nevada, noting that the crunch “didn’t just happen overnight.”

The Inflation Reduction Act will contribute to more inflation, and Cortez Masto should have secured funding without having to support a larger bill, he said.

Sam Peters, a Republican candidate for Nevada’s 4th Congressional District — which covers much of rural central Nevada down to the northern edge of the Las Vegas area — criticized paying farmers not to use water, saying that Democrats “throw money at it without a real solution.” He suggested desalination as a longer-term solution.

U.S. Rep Mark Amodei, Nevada’s lone Republican congressman, supported the general idea of the funding and also pointed to desalination, the technology that removes salt from ocean water and turns it into drinking water.

A $1.4 billion desalination project was proposed in California with support from Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom but was rejected by a California coastal panel in May because of its cost and threat to marine organisms at the base of the food chain.

Days after the Inflation Reduction Act passed, Amodei sent out a blog post that didn’t mention drought but outlined the provisions he said would deepen the country’s economic woes.

Asked about the drought funding later, he said it was “maybe some of the least egregious stuff” in the act.


Stern is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Stern on Twitter: @gabestern326

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

0 Comments
0
0
0
0
0

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Authorities are searching for a 42-year-old convicted bombmaker who escaped from a Nevada prison where he was serving a life sentence for a deadly 2007 explosion outside a Las Vegas Strip resort. Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered an investigation into the incident late Tuesday after he said his office learned the escapee had been missing from the medium-security prison since early in the weekend. Porfirio Duarte-Herrera was convicted in 2010 of killing the boyfriend of his co-defendant’s ex-girlfriend using a motion-activated coffee cup bomb placed atop a car parked at the Luxor hotel-casino. The blast initially raised fears of a terrorist attack on the Strip.

Policy, politics and progressive commentary

Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak Thursday announced the launch of ArrayRx, a prescription drug discount card, which he said will help Nevadans save up to 80% on generic prescription drugs and 20% on name brand prescription drugs regardless of income, age, or citizenship.  Nevada joins Oregon and Washington in ArrayRx Solutions, formerly known as Northwest Prescription […]

The post Nevada joins Oregon, Washington in prescription discount drug program appeared first on Nevada Current.

Embattled Boise Police Chief Ryan Lee has resigned at the request of the city’s mayor Lauren McLean. The announcement came Friday afternoon amid complaints from officers, reported by KTVB this week, and after an investigation into an allegation that he injured a subordinate in a neck restraints demonstration last year. Boise City spokesperson Maria Weeg said “It became clear to the mayor the department needed different leadership.” City officials say Lee’s resignation will take effect Oct. 14, but he will be placed on leave until then. McLean appointed retired officer Ron Winegar as acting chief.

A judge has awarded Nevada GOP governor nominee Joe Lombardo nearly $88,000 on Wednesday in legal sanctions. It stems from a lawsuit the judge threw out last month by Reno attorney Joey Gilbert, who came in second to Lombardo and challenged the primary results. Gilbert argued the June primary results were “mathematically impossible.” Carson City District Judge James Wilson ruled that Gilbert's lawsuit is frivolous and ordered him to pay the sanctions. The judge says Gilbert didn't present any admissible evidence to support his thesis that he received more votes than Lombardo. Gilbert's campaign didn't immediately return an email seeking comment Thursday.

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak announced the launch of a prescription discount card on Thursday, a method of softening the increasing costs of medications. The digital card, called ArrayRX, saves an average of 80% on generic prescriptions and up to 20% on brand name drugs and is free for Nevadans. For those without health insurance it is set to lower costs significantly, Sisolak said at a Thursday press conference in Las Vegas. Those with health insurance will now be able to compare their costs with ArrayRX, and can opt for whichever option is cheaper. All Nevada, Washington and Oregon residents qualify regardless of age, income or citizenship status.

SALT LAKE CITY -- The University of Utah congratulates the more than 8,000 graduates who make up the Class of 2022 during an in-person commenc…

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

News Alerts

Breaking News