Flood control may not be the hottest topic in Washington, D.C.
But to Arizonans in the path of potential destruction, the nearly $3 million that U.S. Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick and Paul Gosar helped secure in the president's budget to protect communities is big news.
The projects receiving partial funding would prevent damage to homes and farms in northern and central Arizona, as well as vulnerable rail lines, highways and even Northern Arizona University, if major rain storms or erosion from a forest fire caused rivers to overflow in what planners refer to as a 100-year flood.
Kirkpatrick, a Democrat, and Gosar, a Republican — one-time campaign rivals turned allies on rural issues — urged the administration to fund projects in Flagstaff and near Casa Grande. Both are in Kirkpatrick's far-flung district, where Gosar used to serve before he switched to a neighboring seat. Kirkpatrick also advocated for a third project in her district in Winslow.
"We've seen some devastating floods in our community," said Maricopa Vice Mayor Edward Farrell, whose family has lived in the area for four generations. "In 1983, my senior year of high school, (the Lower Santa Cruz River) came through and flooded our whole community four feet deep. ... That night we were rescuing people off the roofs of their houses. ... We were out of school for two weeks, cleaning all the silt out of the classrooms and the books."
Farrell said Gosar and Kirkpatrick have been "true champions" on flood-control issues.
"They both have been out here, and they've taken tours personally to try to understand," he said. "That goes a long way."
Kirkpatrick is sure to tout the projects this year as she campaigns in a tough race for a third term.
Bringing home the bacon for local projects often helps to win over voters in her rural, swing district.
Here's a look at the plans:
• Flagstaff: Rio de Flag runs through the city. If it overflowed, the river could inundate up to half of Flagstaff's population, including the NAU campus, Route 66 and a rail line, causing tens of millions of dollars in damage, according to a study by the Army Corps of Engineers.
A major flood-control project, estimated to need an additional $50 million, is under way. The president's 2015 budget would provide $1.6 million to fix a retention basin, about half the amount Gosar and Kirkpatrick asked for in a letter last month to the Corps.
Local leaders, including Flagstaff Mayor Jerry Nabours, praised the representatives for continuing to push for money despite budget austerity in Washington.
"Congresswoman Kirkpatrick has relentlessly pursued funding for the Rio de Flag ... without her support, this project may not have received funding," Nabours said in a written statement. "We are thankful that Congressman Gosar's continued efforts have once again yielded funding for this important project. He understands that investment in this project could yield almost a billion dollars in economic development, eliminate the flood plain and save residents costly flood insurance premiums."
• Central Arizona: The Lower Santa Cruz River on the surface appears dry in many places. But an unusually large monsoon storm could produce a deluge that crests its banks and flows into newly built neighborhoods in cities such as Maricopa and Casa Grande and on three American Indian reservations. A flood in 1983 put schools and farms in Maricopa underwater for days, and some farmland remains unusable, its topsoil buried in river silt.
Since that time, development has exploded, leaving more homes in danger.
For the first time, the president's budget would add the Santa Cruz watershed to the list of official Army Corps of Engineers projects. It would also provide $300,000 for two phases of a study, the first steps in the project. Kirkpatrick wrote directly to the president to ask for his support for the project, noting that the congressional earmark ban keeps lawmakers from including such funding in the budget on their own.
Mark Killian, chairman of the Lower Santa Cruz River Alliance, said Gosar and Kirkpatrick moved the project forward, after years of work by stakeholders to make it a Corps priority.
"The Lower Santa Cruz River has a history of disastrous flooding during major storms," Killian said in a written statement. "This allocation will help protect farms, housing, communities, businesses and infrastructure across our region."
• Winslow: The Little Colorado River runs in northern Arizona, not far from Navajo and Hopi homes and businesses near Winslow, as well as key commercial shipping routes by rail and on Interstate 40.
The population that would be affected by a flood is smaller than in other places.
But Kirkpatrick argued to the Corps in a letter in December that the loss of a home is devastating to a homeowner in any location. And she noted that some of the tribal homeowners were relocated to the floodplain almost 40 years ago by the federal government itself.
The president's budget would set aside $750,000 to study a levee. While funding for Rio de Flag and Lower Santa Cruz is finalized, the Little Colorado portion must be approved by Congress during the budget process. However, the project is unlikely to face opposition.
Jesse Thompson, chairman of the Navajo County Board of Supervisors, said in a written statement that the project would be "critical" to protecting the lives and property of businesses and residents in Winslow.