CASA GRANDE — Water concerns and highway expansion highlighted the issues raised by a panel of area leaders during a roundtable discussion Wednesday afternoon with U.S. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz.
Although some mayors present mentioned bringing new water to the county, Maricopa Mayor Christian Price asked for help to keep it off the roads. Funding for flood prevention within Pinal County and Arizona overall became a surprising topic of conversation.
“I explained to colleagues we don’t get a lot of water in Arizona,” Sinema said, “but when it does come, it comes real fast and there’s nowhere for it to go.”
Sinema spent an hour with representatives from Pinal County, including the Gila River Indian Community, at City Hall in Casa Grande. During the meeting, Sinema both highlighted what was relevant to Pinal within the recently passed infrastructure bill and gave those present an opportunity to outline their priorities for spending on local projects.
Although Sinema implored those present to follow up with her team to hammer out more specific funding amounts, Price mentioned working closely with GRIC Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis and Rep. Greg Stanton for $150 million in the House version of the bill to fund a project for safe floodwater channeling.
Sinema touted the bipartisan character of the bill, which was primarily negotiated between a group of 10 Republican and Democratic senators, including Sinema, over the past five months. Sinema also called the bill “a huge win for Arizona” and said the bill would mean the largest investment in the nation’s infrastructure in over 100 years.
“Infrastructure is not Democratic or Republican,” Sinema said. “Everybody uses broadband, everybody uses airports.”
Casa Grande Mayor Craig McFarland told Sinema that most of the cities and towns in western Pinal County work closely together as they have interconnected needs. McFarland cited the need to widen Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Casa Grande as well as for “last mile” broadband connections to area homes.
McFarland also raised to Sinema the importance of funding “anything water”: finding new sources via pipelines or desalination, or otherwise alleviating the burden on county farmers, who are set to be impacted first from shortages within the Colorado River Basin.
Some specific items in the bill that have local impacts include funding for all authorized Indian water settlements, fully funded broadband needs and money for water storage projects in the West. Sinema also noted that the bill is meant to address protection against climate and weather concerns such as wildfires.
Lewis thanked Sinema for including “critical” items for Indian communities in the bill, citing a “historic” level of funding between the recent bill and the American Rescue Plan Act.
“We are a good investment,” Lewis said. “Our community has always been innovative and forward thinking on how to utilize federal funds, not just for GRIC but for the surrounding area.”
Lewis cited the example of new schools and mobile vaccination units as serving area needs.
Sinema mentioned that in every county she’s visited recently, including Yuma and Cochise, leaders mentioned concerns about water, and told those present her team would go into a “deep dive” on how to address pervasive water issues in Arizona and the entire Southwest.
“I’m hearing word-for-word the same fears around water,” Sinema said. “Just substitute Yuma lettuce for Pinal cotton.”
The bill also provides $5.3 billion to the Arizona Department of Transportation to include improvements along I-10 as well as upgrades to four regional airports: Casa Grande Municipal, Coolidge, Eloy and Ak-Chin.
The bipartisan bill, the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, passed with 69 votes in the Senate on Aug. 10. The bill calls for over $550 billion in new spending without raising any new taxes.
Democrats in Congress are trying to pass a second planned infrastructure bill that calls for significantly more spending, through the budget reconciliation process, which was not discussed. Sinema has publicly criticized the second bill’s proposed $3.5 trillion price tag.