In 2022, state legislation was passed that requires the Arizona Department of Water Resources to complete Supply and Demand reports as an assessment of each groundwater basin in the State of Arizona at least once every five years, with at least six groundwater basin assessments issued by December 1st of each calendar year. The purpose of these reports is to more fully comprehend the current and future water conditions and to assist in future planning throughout the State of Arizona.
Last week on December 1, 2023, there was a quiet release of the first eight of these Supply and Demand reports. Curiously, I haven’t seen any media outlets really cover this new data release in-depth. I am sharing with our Mohave County residents to bring attention to a critical issue that has emerged from this recent data released by the Arizona Department of Water Resources regarding declining rural groundwater levels throughout our state.
The latest released findings indicate a disconcerting trend of diminishing rural groundwater resources throughout Arizona. These declines raises significant concerns about the long-term certainty and sustainability of Arizona’s rural groundwater supplies and the potential long-term impacts on our rural communities, our rural economic development efforts, and our rural way of life.
The data published on December 1, 2023, further underscores the need for legislation that establishes a new adaptive framework that can be used for reasonable rural groundwater management in rural groundwater basins deemed to be “at-risk” by the best available hydrologic data and modeling by ADWR and USGS.
The rural groundwater management framework recommendations from the State Water Policy Council, which Jamie Kelly and I served on, parallels our historical conservative approach that started right here in Mohave County with former State Representative Regina Cobb, my predecessor former County Supervisor Gary Watson, and through a strong partnership between the City of Kingman and Mohave County. However, the Council rightfully also heard concerns from stakeholders on all sides and incorporated many of their concepts and ideas as well.
As stewards of our finite rural groundwater resources, it is difficult for me to believe that rural Arizona has been nothing short of left behind as the Arizona Legislature has failed to act. The sustainability of rural groundwater resources has to date been left to the judgement of one Legislator, Gail Griffin, and for over four years those of us representing rural Arizonans have not been granted the courtesy of even one Committee debate or discussion on rural groundwater management. Understanding the complexities and challenges associated with rural water management, I believe it is imperative for us to come together to explore sustainable solutions and strategies to mitigate this harrowing decline statewide.
Here is just some of the alarming data that stood out to me from the water supply and demand assessment:
* In the Hualapai Valley Basin (Kingman) our annual inflow to outflow of water has increase sixfold since 2012 from a 5,000 acre foot per year deficit then to a 30,000 acre foot per year deficit by 2021; this is almost entirely to do with large scale agriculture moving from newly-regulated environments, nationally and internationally, to unregulated environments in our region;
* In the Butler, Harquahala, and McMullen Basins (La Paz County) there is a combined deficit of 151,000 acre feet of water per year, meaning the use of water far exceeds the rate or water recharge (NOTE: These three basins serve as the transfer basins that could bring water from La Paz County to Maricopa County);
* In the Willcox Basin (Cochise County) there is an annual deficit of 108,000 acre feet of water per year while, coincidentally, the Minnesota dairy that moved into the Willcox Basin indicated to Circle of Blue they pump 110,000 acre feet of water from the basin annually (that is the equivalent amount of water to satisfy the entire City of Tucson!)
I have heard from my colleagues and constituents about the tragic decline in groundwater levels and the threats to their livelihoods, and this is why I have been so bold and vocal about the need for rural water management tools at the state level. These newly released ADWR Supply & Demand reports affirmed these stories and should be alarming to each and every one of us that we are running out of groundwater in certain parts of rural Arizona.
Rural groundwater legislation will provide greater certainty for our small businesses, industry, homebuilding, and agriculture alike. By working collectively, we can work to safeguard our groundwater resources for our future generations. To me, there is no more important work than securing the water future of over 1.3 million people that call rural Arizona “home”. I am thankful for Mohave County’s partnership with the City of Kingman, Kingman Chamber of Commerce, and several other rural counties and communities throughout Arizona. We must continue to be relentless in our advocacy and education efforts on behalf of current and future rural citizens, and we must not stop until we achieve a new rural framework in state law that will provide rural Arizona communities with some level of certainty in our long-term groundwater planning.
Travis J. Lingenfelter
District 1 Mohave County Supervisor