- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 10, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - As Arizona deals with less water in its reserves, the state also is coping with fewer government water experts to help solve the problem.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources’ staff has dropped from a peak of 250 employees to 125, with no plans to staff up soon, The Arizona Republic reports (http://bit.ly/1HF9DI5).

The shortage comes as the state faces a number of water challenges, such as dwindling river flows, depleting groundwater and constant negotiations on water rights.

“They don’t have the staff to really even be creative in thinking about those things,” said Kathleen Ferris, who directed the department in the 1980s and now leads the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association.

The department’s staff dropped as the Great Recession hurt the state’s budget. Although Arizona gradually has rebuilt the department’s budget, the staff has not moved from 125 in three years.

“We’re making do,” Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke said. “People are doing double duty, so to speak.”

Gov. Doug Ducey announced a water-sustainability initiative in October that included authorization for the department to hire five new employees.

Buschatzke said he plans to use the additional employees to help increase water-policy expertise, which is necessary as the state works across state lines on Colorado River negotiations. He currently has six staff members dedicated to Colorado river management, including himself.

Though the promise of help is welcome, Buschatzke said the pay scale in his department is a problem. He can pay hydrologists, resource managers and policy experts $50,000 to $60,000 a year, which is less than many cities and water districts pay.

“Our biggest challenge is recruiting people, with the pay levels that we have, (who) have experience already in either adjudication or, maybe more importantly, the Colorado River,” Buschatzke said.

The governor’s office said he has not yet determined how much he will seek for the water department during this winter’s legislative session.

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Information from: The Arizona Republic, http://www.azcentral.com

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