/ Modified jun 18, 2021 12:48 p.m.

Telegraph Fire; water shortages; mandating vaccines

Plus, the Regional Transportation Authority's role in shaping the Tucson metro.

Across Arizona, record highs in the triple digits are becoming the norm and several active wildfires have scorched more than 250,000 acres combined this month. The largest is the Telegraph Fire outside the town of Superior. Since it started on June 4, it has burned more than 170,000 acres, at times forcing evacuations in nearby communities. Tony Paniagua traveled to the area where he saw its impacts and spoke to one evacuee about the ordeal.

Arizona is coming off one of the worst wildfire seasons in the last decade. Fire managers in the state said in 2020 more than 2.500 fires burned nearly a million acres. Currently more than half the state is experiencing what's considered "exceptional drought" where conditions are ripe for fires year-round. We discussed when some relief could be on its way with the arrival of the monsoon with UA climatologist Michael Crimmins.

Longstanding drought and ongoing development are straining resources from the Colorado River. The water level at Lake Mead, the country's largest reservoir, dropped to a record low earlier this month to 1,071 feet above sea level. The Drought Contingency Plan Arizona and six other states entered in 2019 laid out how states would have to cutback should levels at the lake drop below 1,075 feet. For insight into what this means for Arizona’s water future we spoke with Sharon Megdal, director of the UA Water Resources Research Center.

An executive order from Gov. Ducey this week prevents Arizona's public universities and community colleges from requiring students to get a COVID-19 vaccine or subject them to mandatory tests and masks if they want to attend classes. It came about after Arizona State University announced unvaccinated students would need to take a test twice a week. After the governor issued the order, ASU said it would comply.

But the entire situation raises questions about what rights institutions and businesses have when it comes to issuing their own vaccine and mask requirements. We got answers from Tara Sklar, an expert in public health law at the University of Arizona.

For Pima County commuters, dealing with road construction can seem like a way of life. The Regional Transportation Authority has had a role in numerous projects that have shaped how we get around the area. Voters approved its formation in 2006 and with it a half cent sales tax over 20 years to improve infrastructure across nine municipalities and tribes. It's managed by the Pima Association of Governments. As the board figures out its next steps, the city of Tucson is considering splintering off and launching its own plan. Leaders say the RTA’s next iteration needs to do a better job of meeting the city's needs and give it more representation in its decision making. To get some perspective on the RTA’s goals, we discussed them with UA urban planning professor Arlie Adkins.

Arizona 360
Arizona 360 airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. on PBS 6 and Saturdays at 8 p.m. on PBS 6 PLUS. See more from Arizona 360.
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