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Panel examines impact of water shortage on Pinal developers, farmers
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CASA GRANDE — The future of Pinal County will include less water but more people, according to speakers at the most recent Pinal Partnership breakfast.

A panel on water issues Friday outlined challenges ahead for developers and businesses in light of recent announcements about limited access to diminished water resources within Arizona and the Southwest overall.

The panelists touted the partnership’s Water Resource Committee for their work on a variety of legislative solutions and modeling studies.

Pinal Partnership Chairwoman and panel moderator Jordan Rose said the organization would be pivoting from a focus on transportation to water in their work overall.

“We’re really lucky that we have been thinking about water,” said panelist Jake Lenderking, senior vice president for water resources at Global Water. “Water is scarce in Arizona. It always has been, and we are just realizing the effects of that.”

Lenderking said that despite the drought, the county could potentially double in size, adding 400,000 people, under existing entitlements.

Still, the shortages on the Colorado River have led to tightened restrictions on both surface water use and groundwater. Farmers in Pinal County are expected to bear the initial brunt of Central Arizona Project water shortfalls, and that has cascading effects for the local economy.

To ameliorate these affects, the panel discussed solutions that address water availability directly, such as recharge and recycling, and how to overcome regulatory roadblocks in order to help farmers and developers move forward.

“Our goal is to help our communities build the dreams they want to create,” said Terri Sue Rossi, water resources manager with Arizona Water Company. Rossi expressed frustration with the 100-year requirement to secure assured water certificates, believing that the timeframe ignores current needs.

Pinal County Supervisor Steve Miller warned that there is “no one silver bullet” for addressing water scarcity but suggested “capitalism and competition” would help find solutions at affordable costs, whether through desalination or some other mechanism.

Lenderking also noted that GWR is taking a “holistic” approach to long-term planning, which include conservation measures and recycling. According to Lenderking, GWR has put forth several proposals to the state to help acquire water supplies and “alleviate the strain” for the Pinal Active Management Area.

The panel agreed that the county’s farmers would be hit hardest, no longer able to rely on water from the Central Arizona Project to supplement their supplies. That could lead to more groundwater pumping or leaving acres fallow.

One concern among the panelists is that while farmers could sell or lease their land to projects like solar farms, new agreements with developers are stymied by existing regulations even though municipal development uses less water than farming.

Miller said that many landowners had purchased and leased land to farmers that they planned for future development, but that the land was stuck in limbo after the new stipulations on groundwater usage.

Within Casa Grande, Mayor Craig McFarland said that the city had not stopped anyone from rezoning due to water concerns, but if developers don’t already have a certificate of assured water, they are “out of luck.”

Casa Grande has implemented a conservation plan to reduce domestic water use by 15%, and Rossi said that AWC is working with Coolidge and Superior on new programs in those cities.

In addition to, Lenderking, McFarland, Miller and Rossi, the panel also included CAP Planning Analyst Austin Carey.

The Water Resource Committee, chaired by McFarland and Arizona Water Company President Fred Schneider, is working on trying to bring back full recognition of grandfathered rights to award farmers annual water-saving credits if farmland is converted to new housing or other urban construction.

The federal government announced a Tier 1 shortage on the Colorado River on Aug. 16, while the Arizona Department of Water Resources released a statement in July that no new permits would be issued in Pinal County for developments that depend on groundwater.

The Tier 1 shortage cuts Arizona’s allotment of Colorado River water by a third, or 512,000 acre-feet. The status goes into effect next year.

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US regulators give full approval to Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. gave full approval to Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine Monday, potentially boosting public confidence in the shots and instantly opening the way for more universities, companies and local governments to make vaccinations mandatory.

The Pentagon promptly announced it will press ahead with plans to force members of the military to get vaccinated amid the battle against the extra-contagious delta variant. The University of Minnesota likewise said it will require its students get the shot, as did Louisiana’s major public universities, including LSU, though state law there allows broad exemptions.

More than 200 million Pfizer doses have been administered in the U.S. under emergency provisions — and hundreds of millions more worldwide — since December. In going a step further and granting full approval, the Food and Drug Administration cited months of real-world evidence that serious side effects are extremely rare.

President Joe Biden said that for those who hesitated to get the vaccine until it received what he dubbed the “gold standard” of FDA approval, “the moment you’ve been waiting for is here.”

“Please get vaccinated today,” he said.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla called the FDA’s action “an important milestone that I think will unlock some of the more skeptical minds.”

Pfizer said the U.S. is the first country to grant full approval of its vaccine, in a process that required a 360,000-page application and rigorous inspections. Never before has the FDA has so much evidence to judge a shot’s safety.

The formula, jointly developed with Germany’s BioNTech, will be marketed under the brand name Comirnaty.

Moderna has also applied to the FDA for full approval of its vaccine. Johnson & Johnson, maker of the third option in the U.S., said it hopes to do so later this year.

Just over half of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated. Vaccinations in this country bottomed out in July at an average of about a half-million shots per day, down from a peak of 3.4 million a day in mid-April. As the delta variant fills hospital beds, shots are on the rise again, with a million a day given Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

Full approval of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine means it meets the same “very high standards required of all the approved vaccines we rely on every day,” said Dr. Jesse Goodman of Georgetown University, a former FDA vaccine chief. That should help “anyone who still has concerns gain confidence” in the shots.

Earlier this month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he would seek the president’s OK to make the vaccine mandatory by mid-September or once the FDA grants final approval, whichever comes first. On Monday, after the FDA acted, the Pentagon said guidance on vaccinations will be worked out and a timeline will be provided in the coming days.

The approval also opened the way for swift action by colleges to require vaccines and solidified the legal ground for hundreds of universities that have already issued mandates for students and staff.

The public university systems in Louisiana and Minnesota had been waiting for FDA action before making vaccinations mandatory. Louisiana has become a COVID-19 hot spot, repeatedly breaking records for the number of people hospitalized with the virus. But certain other states forbid universities to require shots, including Texas and Florida.

“Mandating becomes much easier when you have full approval,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio of Emory University. “I think a lot of businesses have been waiting for it.”

On the same day the FDA decision came down, New York City announced that all public school teachers and other staffers will have to get vaccinated.

The delta variant has sent cases, deaths and hospitalizations soaring in recent weeks in the U.S., erasing months of progress. Deaths are running at about 1,000 a day on average for the first time since mid-March, and new cases are averaging 147,000 a day, a level last seen at the end of January.

Elizabeth Nichols, 18, of Akron, Ohio, said she felt “a rush of relief” after hearing the news of the FDA’s approval. She already was on her way to get her first vaccine shot Monday morning after months of hesitation.

“I had an internal battle of whether I should get the shot or not,” Nichols said in an email. “It can be scary subjecting yourself to something that is unapproved.” But she added: “The authorization proves how safe it is.”

The FDA, like regulators in Europe and much of the rest of the world, initially allowed emergency use of Pfizer’s vaccine based on a study that tracked 44,000 people 16 and older for at least two months — the time period when serious side effects typically arise.

That’s shorter than the six months of safety data normally required for full approval. So Pfizer kept that study going, and the FDA also examined real-world safety evidence.

Pfizer’s shot will continue to be dispensed to 12- to 15-year-olds under an emergency use authorization, until the company files its application for full approval.

Normally, doctors can prescribe FDA-approved products for other reasons than their original use. But FDA’s acting Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock strongly warned that the Pfizer vaccine should not be used “off-label” for children under 12 — a warning echoed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Both Pfizer and Moderna have vaccine studies underway in youngsters, and they are using lower doses than those available for people 12 and older.

Pfizer’s Bourla said he expects study results from 5- to 11-year-olds by the end of September, but data for those younger than 5 will take a couple of months.

Also, Woodcock said health providers are offering COVID-19 vaccines under agreements with the government that should preclude using Monday’s approval as a pretext for offering booster shots to the general population.

Currently, the FDA has authorized third doses of either Pfizer’s or Moderna’s vaccine only for certain people with severely weakened immune systems, such as organ transplant recipients. For everyone else, the Biden administration is planning for boosters starting in the fall. But the FDA is evaluating that question separately.

In reaching Monday’s decision, the FDA said serious side effects remain very rare, such as chest pain and heart inflammation a few days after the second dose, mostly in young men.

As for effectiveness, six months into Pfizer’s original study, the vaccine remained 97% protective against severe COVID-19. Protection against milder infection waned slightly, from a peak of 96% two months after the second dose to 84% by six months.

Those findings came before the delta variant began spreading, but other data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the vaccine is still doing a good job preventing severe disease.


Associated Press Reporter Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Mayor says more big projects coming to Casa Grande
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CASA GRANDE — Lucid Motors is just the start. Casa Grande could have four “high-level projects,” as Mayor Craig McFarland described them, that would significantly impact the community. He just couldn’t identify them yet for legal reasons.

“Hang onto your hats,” McFarland said, “the ride is here.”

During a Biz Outlook Luncheon on Friday at The Property Conference Center, McFarland took a light, even self-effacing tone, as he went through a roundup of recent business projects coming into the city, joking about past mega projects that fizzled such as the too-aptly-named Dreamport Village, and the recent census undercount, which saw Casa Grande fall behind neighbor Maricopa in population.

“My friend, the mayor of Maricopa (Christian Price), texted me when the census numbers came out, to boast,” McFarland said. “So I sent back my own text: ‘We own the business, we own the jobs, just send us your people.’”

Despite the lower-than-expected census numbers, McFarland touted Casa Grande as “the focus of Pinal County” and “the heart of Arizona’s innovation tech center” due to the presence of companies like Jomi Engineering and Lucid, whose manufacturing center is expecting to have 1,400 jobs by the end of the year. Jomi is a supplier for Lucid.

“Lucid is an incredible boost to our economy, and it’s only going to get bigger,” McFarland said.

While McFarland could only hint at incoming developments, he did offer some more specific updates. Significant upcoming developments include an expanded and remodeled emergency room within Banner Casa Grande Medical Center and a Marriott-affiliated-brand hotel just east of The Promenade at Casa Grande, next to PetSmart.

McFarland also joked he was taking bets on whether the Best Western or the Texas Roadhouse would be done first along Florence Boulevard. (The restaurant construction started much later.) Other new businesses that may open in the coming months include a new Rosati’s Pizza in the Promenade and a new Whataburger on Florence Boulevard between Arizola and Henness roads. An Aldi’s supermarket is also planned for that same location.

McFarland also ran through the city’s strategic plan, which was updated at the end of last year and contains several categories for improvement, including education and workforce development and quality of life for the community.

For the latter, McFarland said all the parks within the city had been upgraded, and work is scheduled on a trail system for bikes and pedestrian traffic. McFarland said the first mile of the trail system is planned between Trekell and Peart roads near Casita Verde RV Resort, and the goal is to add to it every year.

McFarland called the city staff “the best I’ve ever worked with” and specifically credited City Manager Larry Rains for the city’s continued residential and economic growth.

“The council works very hard, and we try to do the right thing for the city,” McFarland said. “I’m proud to be mayor.”

PhoenixMart update

As new projects come through, the empty PhoenixMart structure on the eastern edge of the city casts a long shadow.

While McFarland joked about the project, which has become a notorious failure locally, he did address some questions about the future of the property.

According to McFarland, the original owners still have control of both the land and the half-finished building, which sits along State Route 287.

“The site has building permits,” McFarland said. “The only things it doesn’t have are water, power, sewer and tenants.”

McFarland said a major reason the project stalled was because of recent stipulations around issuing assured water supply. Because the owners wanted to subdivide PhoenixMart among various suppliers — the project was meant to serve as a “global product marketplace” with showrooms — an AWS certificate was needed, which they didn’t have.

McFarland said that the owners could restructure the plat in order to move forward, and the city had also tried to encourage a resale to new developers, but thus far to no avail. In a worst-case scenario, McFarland said that eventually the city could be forced to ask the owners to tear it down.

“The roof is rusting,” McFarland said. “It’s an eyesore, frankly.”