“Whiskey is for drinking, water is for fighting.”

Nobody’s certain who said that, but it’s been a fact ever since they invented booze.

But progress last week means that when the state Legislature convenes Jan. 14, there could be a whole lot more agreeing than fighting. When’s the last time you heard that kind of cooperation out of Phoenix?

There’s a good chance the federal government will issue a shortage declaration on the Colorado River by 2020, according to Gov. Doug Ducey. That’s makes passage of a Drought Contingency Plan important this session. The Central Arizona Water Conservation District — the board that oversees the CAP canal — had some success Thursday. It brought stakeholders together and came to an agreement on how shortages would be handled; that plan goes to the Legislature in January.

There’s no doubt a shortage is coming, the question is how to manage it, and do so fairly for Nevada, Arizona and California, and interests such as agriculture, tribes and developers.

Ducey backs a plan that protects water levels in Lake Mead (lake levels trigger shortage declarations). He also wants us to look at “a drier future” through conservation. Nothing that hasn’t been said before, but nearly two decades of drought has decision-makers getting serious.

In February, Ducey released a policy paper on “Arizona’s water future,” which you can access online. It didn’t get much traction in the Legislature, but now that some big questions have been addressed, lawmakers are eager to act.

I contacted our three legislators about their priorities for the session and they all agreed that nailing down a Drought Contingency Plan is crucial.

“I serve on the DCP Steering Committee and see this as one of the most important issues our state has faced in its history,” Rep. Rosanna Gabaldon told me.

She’s not overstating it. Water policy is complex and it’s boring. But it also affects everything. By the way, check out this link to see what’s being done locally to ensure our groundwater is replenished in Green Valley and Sahuarita.

Other issues

When that’s taken care of, here’s what our legislators say will be front and center for them.

Sen. Andrea Dalessandro wants to look at charter school reform “based on past and recent events and www.grandcanyoninstitute.org research on abuses.” She also wants to look at criminal justice reform, and sees potential leadership changes in the Legislature that could allow progress on that.

Rep. Daniel Hernandez is looking at how to spend surplus revenue the state has on hand. “You can expect every lawmaker to send their pet projects along as the governor negotiates the budget.”

He also lists criminal justice reform among priorities, and wants to restore funding to community colleges “and look at models from other states on workforce development.”

Gabaldon want to restore cuts in public education, saying, “Despite positive steps, Arizona is still $800 million behind funding levels for public schools before the Great Recession.” She also said some large employers “have expressed concerns about our state’s lack of investment in public education and preparedness of our students to meet the job demands.”

Another priority: Rural infrastructure.

With legislators not having to focus on re-election for a while, this is the time to make progress on boring-but-important issues. Let’s hope it happens.

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