Don’t leave rural Arizona behind again, pass groundwater protection legislation this year
When Governor Katie Hobbs took office, we welcomed her focus on water challenges and the need for bipartisan solutions.
She emphasized the need to “protect groundwater supplies – particularly in rural communities.” She added, “We must take these actions today because in many parts of our state, there are effectively no restrictions on groundwater pumping and local communities have little to no support to manage water supplies. As a result, a new water user can move in, dig a well, and pump as much water as possible – even if it dries up the community’s aquifer.”
Governor Hobbs is spot on. We must act today to address unfettered groundwater pumping that occurs over 80% of the state.
We are County Supervisors in Mohave, Coconino, Yavapai, and La Paz Counties, representing about 625,000 rural Arizonans – nearly half of the Arizonans who live in open-access groundwater basins. We see firsthand how unregulated groundwater pumping leaves our communities high and dry, literally. Out-of-state speculators continue to expand their reach exploiting our finite water supplies. More and more drinking water wells are going dry forcing families out of their homes or into debt to drill deeper wells. Our iconic rivers and our local farms, businesses, and livelihoods all face growing risk.
On multiple occasions our Boards unanimously passed resolutions urging the Legislature to act. Indeed, for four years we have advocated for bipartisan rural water policy solutions with broad support. Yet the Legislature continues to sit on their hands.
Earlier this year, Senator Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu City) and Representative Leo Biasiucci (R-Lake Havasu City) introduced Senate Bill 1306 and House Bill 2731, Local Groundwater Stewardship Areas. Other water advocates such as Minority Leader Andrés Cano (D-Tucson) and Representative Stahl Hamilton (D-Tucson) have also championed this concept.
The Stewardship Area bill would provide rural Arizona with dedicated funding and an opt-in approach that puts local communities in the driver’s seat of our own water future. In a Stewardship Area, a representative local council would be established, and they would work in a transparent process with the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) to identify a cooperative local management goal and create a management plan that could include conservation programs, incentives, or spacing out large new wells, for example. The Stewardship Area would be in effect for 10 years, then reviewed by ADWR for continuation based on local hydrologic conditions. This new tool is flexible, balanced, and provides value for all rural economic sectors, while ensuring stability for our families, farms, and businesses. Through this innovative approach, we could tailor local management to our communities’ needs and goals, supported by technical experts at ADWR.
The only options we have right now for groundwater protection are new Active Management Areas (AMA) or Irrigation Non-Expansion Areas (INAs). Rigid AMAs are not a good fit for much of rural Arizona and the INA is a narrow tool only impacting irrigated acreage. But the Legislature has refused to provide alternatives, so last year the first new AMA and INA were created in over 40 years, with more on the horizon. We do not want to turn to AMAs, but rural Arizona is running out of time, and the Legislature has stalled out providing us with alternatives.
Rural leaders and local elected officials from all over the state–Republicans and Democrats from Kingman to Willcox to Tusayan to Pine–met regularly over the last year to vet options for groundwater management that could meet rural communities’ needs. We collectively and wholeheartedly agree that the Stewardship Area bill is the solution for rural Arizona. Arizona voters are with us too. A new voter survey found water is the #1 issue facing the state, and 78% of voters support Stewardship Areas.
Despite broad support from communities, the Stewardship Area bill was not even given a hearing. We are fed up with this delay tactic by a small group of special interests, year over year, while communities suffer the growing consequences of “whoever drills the deepest well wins.” Arizona voters are taking note: 73% believe elected statewide and legislative leaders are not delivering results needed to protect our water future.
Governor Hobbs, Speaker Toma, President Petersen, Minority Leader Cano, Minority Leader Epstein: please do not let another year pass while our water supplies irreversibly disappear. We ask you to pass the Stewardship Area bill this year, make it a going home priority in the state budget negotiations.
We hear promises of not leaving rural Arizona behind. But the people of rural Arizona need to see action. Arizona needs your water leadership, now more than ever.
By Mohave County Supervisor Travis Lingenfelter, Coconino County Supervisor Patrice Horstman, Yavapai County Supervisor Donna Michaels and La Paz County Supervisor Holly Irwin
May 3, 2023 @ 1:22 pm
Thank you County Supervisors! Protecting our water in rural areas is long over due. It begs the question: are there back room deals that benefited law makers or politicians that might be exposed? Follow the money.