Anyone who’s ever been to Page probably has the image of the looming red rocks standing tall against a backdrop of Arizona’s blue sky and a glimmering Lake Powell seared in their memory. We’re a small town, but our presence spans beyond the snapshots on postcards and social media. I’ve been lucky to serve the town of Page as mayor for a decade, which means that I’ve had my fair share of interactions and relationships with different elected officials. I’m no stranger to the distance that can often grow between local and federal leaders – too many politicians leave Arizona’s smaller towns behind.
But my experience the past two years couldn’t be farther from that. Instead, I’ve gotten to know and partner with a senator who has Arizona on his mind all the time, and his passion for our state shows in every conversation he has and the work he does every day in the Senate.
Senator Mark Kelly has proven that he has Page’s back.
I may be biased, but it helps that Page is hard to forget. On the shores of Lake Powell, we are nestled among many of the American Southwest's national parks and monuments. Though Horseshoe Bend and the rich culture of the Navajo Nation are only steps away – we’re also uniquely positioned in the crosshairs of the West’s historic drought.
Lake Powell, a key piece of the western United States’ water system that also happens to be in our backyard, is currently at only 26% capacity. In August, the water elevation of the lake surface was more than 166 feet below “full pool.” That means that our country’s second-largest reservoir is at its lowest level since it was filled in the mid-1960s.
Thankfully, no one in Congress knows the challenges we’re facing better than Senator Kelly – a retired NASA astronaut and experienced problem solver. Senator Kelly is so invested in this issue that he can regularly rattle off water levels at Lake Powell. As an engineer, he brings a unique perspective to the drought, and he focuses on science, not politics.
Our long-term drought is a problem. As Arizona continues to grow, water demand will increase alongside it. The impacts of water shortages are already felt by our farmers, and our state has faced serious wildfires and flooding as a consequence of a drier climate. And with the drought progressing, we can expect more debates about how water should be used along the Colorado River.
Here in Page, there is also a unique challenge we’re facing that many folks might not be aware of: drought’s effect on local tourism. Page is the main service hub of Lake Powell’s tourism industry. In 2021 alone, the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area created $410 million in economic benefit, a welcome uptick from the devastating effect of the pandemic. But drought conditions in the West have reduced water elevations and made it impossible to launch boats from many ramps like at the popular Wahweap Marina and Antelope Point Marina near Page.
If people can’t access the water to enjoy a houseboat, kayak or water skis, fewer people will come to enjoy our city. That means fewer folks eating at our local restaurants, staying in our hotels or patronizing our small businesses, which is why we critically need a whole-of-government approach to mitigate the drought. We are fortunate that Senator Kelly has committed himself to that already and delivered tangible results for our community.
When I spoke with Senator Kelly about my concerns early into his term, I could tell that he was ready to bring solutions. I told him about the need to rebuild the city’s aging water infrastructure and improve the response to low water levels at Lake Powell. He took those concerns seriously, and when he was working on the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, he made sure it upgraded aging water infrastructure, improved water storage, initiated more water recycling, funded the drought contingency plan and completed dam safety projects. He’s also delivered drought relief to support conservation and keep more water in Lake Powell. And he’s pushed the federal government to fix boat ramps so they can be used again. These are a big deal for communities like Page.
I know that I can trust Senator Kelly to be in our corner, because while Page might be far from Washington, I know that Senator Kelly always has our back when he’s there doing his job fighting for us. I hope that others will join me in supporting him so we can continue to benefit from his much-needed leadership.