By Tara Kavaler

It has been nearly a decade since Rep. Greg Stanton first served as Phoenix's mayor.

His six-year tenure as Phoenix's mayor from 2012 to 2018 has profoundly shaped his approach to legislating in Congress.

Stanton's signature issue is water and one of his crowning achievements is the Arizona Environmental Infrastructure Authority.

Congress has provided Stanton, a three-term Democrat who represents Arizona's 4th Congressional District, the opportunity to continue his work as mayor to combat Arizona's 23-year drought on a broader scale.

Stanton argues that water is not just an environmental issue, but an economic and national security issue. He said that in order to properly address water scarcity, Arizona must build up its environmental infrastructure.

First he was mayor, then he went to Washington

In Congress since 2019, Stanton has been able to address water topics, something he has worked on since he was Phoenix mayor. He is a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and sits on the panel's Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee.

"I'm passionate about the issue of water. ... We did some really innovative things when I was mayor of the city of Phoenix, including the creation of the Colorado River Resiliency Fund," Stanton said, explaining that the program took a portion of Phoenix residents water bill and used it for water conservation projects throughout the state.

"It's a natural area for me because I have been working on being on the cutting edge (with water) my entire time in political life," he said.

Stanton has taken his experience as mayor to develop a localized approach to the federal government.

""I take kind of a mayor mindset to Congress," Stanton told The Arizona Republic.

"Part of my job is to be an advocate, to get the resources to my communities ... that I ... represent in Congress. I work with those local elected officials to ask them what can best serve the people in your communities, just like I did when I was mayor, working with City Council members," Stanton said.

The mayors and local officials are now his "guides," Stanton said, just like the Phoenix City Council members were when he was mayor, as he advocates for resources for his district, which includes parts of Tempe, Mesa, Phoenix and Chandler.

The need for water recycling in Tempe came directly from the mayor and City Council, which resulted in Stanton earmarking $37.5 million through the Arizona Environmental Infrastructure Authority to help reopen the shuttered Kyrene Water Reclamation Facility. The plant will bring in and clean wastewater, then send it back out.

The Kyrene facility shuttered in 2010 at the height of the Great Recession because of a smaller budget and the expense of operating the facility, as well as a decrease in Tempe's use of wastewater.

Tempe Mayor Corey Woods, who is a member of the Democratic party, said that Stanton's experience as mayor has made him a more effective member of Congress.

"So the fact that we're able to deliver on (the Kyrene Water Reclamation Facility) as a result of our office working very closely with Congressman Stanton is a big deal," Woods told The Republic. "... I can definitely say we would not have been able to do it without him."

Lack of water infrastructure a top concern of Stanton's

Stanton said that building up Arizona's water infrastructure, such as Kyrene in Tempe, is vital for fighting water scarcity.

"We need to be able to move recycled water much more efficiently," Stanton said, in order to deplete less of the Colorado River.

"Water infrastructure ... is one of the most important things that we can do in order to defeat the current drought," he added. "I know there's a lot of talk about water augmentation, new water, if you will. But I would argue in the short run, we need to do a lot more with reclaimed water, recycling water."

One of the major reasons why Arizona is lacking in water infrastructure is because of the newness of the state, which was established in 1912, combined with recent population growth.

"We're still a pretty young state. We're now one of the most populous states in the country, but much of that growth has only happened in the last 30 years. ... So this is a challenge," Stanton said. "With water in Arizona ... we haven't typically needed to have this much infrastructure for water recycling. Because of the 23-year drought, we do now."

The authority was funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, legislation that Stanton championed early on.

Prior to its creation, Stanton said that federal resources that could have gone to Arizona were instead going to states that had existing bodies governing their environmental infrastructure.

"When I first got it to Congress, we realized that there was a gap. Arizona was the only state of the surrounding states in our part of the country that did not have a direct to Arizona environmental or environmental infrastructure authority," he said. "We were leaving resources on the table. We needed to fight to get one for Arizona and so I rolled up my sleeves."

The environmental infrastructure governing bodies oversee smaller environmental projects in cities and communities rather than large-scale projects.

The communities in his district "really need these resources so that they can complete important projects that will help us fight the drought that they would not otherwise have the resources to utilize," Stanton said.

Other authority-funded projects besides the Kyrene Water Reclamation Facility include $18.75 million that Stanton has earmarked to improve Chandler's Ocotillo Water Reclamation Facility, one of two such plants in the city.

One update includes improving a pipe first built nearly 40 years ago through which most of the wastewater at the plant goes. The money also will be used to build a new pipeline to the Gila River Indian Community that will provide it with treated water from the plant.

How the Arizona Environmental Infrastructure Authority helps

One of the ways Arizona was lacking in water infrastructure was the absence of an environmental infrastructure governing body.

Stanton worked to create the Environmental Infrastructure Authority, a $200 million initiative approved in 2020 that has received more than $30.5 million in federal funding. Intended to assist local authorities fund local water-related infrastructure projects, the federal dollars from the Army Corps of Engineers have helped finance 20 water-related infrastructure projects throughout the state.

Water important to economic growth and national security, Stanton says

Arizona is the leading state in semiconductor investment. That industry, which requires a copious amount of water, is crucial for Arizona's economic growth.

A semiconductor fabrication plant, which manufactures microchips, can use tens of millions of gallons to operate daily, which is about the same amount of water 122,000 people would consume at home in a day.

Water scarcity is a threat to the expansion of semiconductors in Arizona.

Water recycling, Stanton said, is crucial for the industry's sustainable growth. He said that projects like Kyrene in Tempe and Chandler's Ocotillo are critical for these efforts, so that manufacturing can increase without drawing more water from the Colorado River.

"The projects that we're advocating for and the economic development of this community at the highest levels for these high-wage jobs, they go hand in hand (with water) and you cannot do one without the other," Stanton said. "We cannot grow semiconductors in Arizona like we have them growing unless we do more to recycle water and have the infrastructure to be successful in that regard."

Increasing Ocotillo's capacity in particular is essential for Intel's expansion, Stanton said.

"Intel does a good job recycling, but as they grow, they're going to need more capacity to recycle," he said. "We're getting them federal resources to grow the Ocotillo plant so that it can recycle even more water, allowing for the growth of the fabs, the new jobs that are going there in Chandler."

This includes an additional $3 million Stanton earmarked for a new Reclaimed Water Interconnect Facility in Chandler that will have the capacity to transport and treat 10 million gallons of water a day, which will be needed to bolster Intel's growth.

The state's and the district's chip manufacturing industry has been buttressed by the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act, of which Stanton was a major supporter.

He told The Republic last year: "My district is the epicenter of semiconductor manufacturing in the United States of America. ... No district is going to better benefit from the CHIPS Act than the district that I'm fortunate enough to represent." 

Stanton argues that having enough water to support the burgeoning chip manufacturing industry is not just vital to Arizona's economy, but to U.S. national security.

"Is there a more important industry for our national defense and competitiveness than the semiconductor industry?" Stanton asked.