Strengthen, Not Weaken, Water Management in Arizona

By Warren Tenney

Sound long-term water management is vital to ensure that Arizona has a strong economy both in urban and rural parts of the State. This is why the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association (AMWUA) opposes SB1400 and SB1268 from becoming law.

Both bills attempt to address a legal challenge that is keeping a 7,000-home development in the City of Sierra Vista from proceeding. Rather than let the legal process unfold over the next year, the State Legislature was asked to make a quick fix that dismantles the adequate water supply rules adopted by Cochise County and any other county.

AMWUA recognizes that the 1980 Groundwater Management Act and the Assured Water Supply Rules created a water management foundation for economic growth in the Phoenix and Tucson areas. The Act and Rules regulate the most heavily populated areas of the State, requiring those areas to reduce groundwater pumping, use renewable water supplies, conserve and reuse water, and demonstrate a 100-year assured water supply before new development is approved.  

Knowing that unregulated, less populated counties could be facing water challenges in coming years, the Legislature wisely passed legislation in 2007 that gave counties the opportunity to adopt 100-year adequate water supply rules. These rules protect existing communities by ensuring there are adequate, reliable long-term water supplies to support growth. Both Cochise and Yuma counties voted unanimously to put in place these rules.

SB1400 would make those rules null and void five years after adoption and require a unanimous vote to reestablish the rules. SB1268 would allow cities within these counties to opt out of the adequate water supply rules. Both bills are a step backward in the effort to strengthen water management in rural Arizona. These bills do not just affect rural Arizona but the State as a whole, which will be seen as chipping away at Arizona’s overall success in managing its water.

Arizona’s economy is inseparably linked to water. The enactment of these bills would raise questions about Arizona’s commitment to the effective management of water supplies. This would create uncertainty for homeowners, businesses, and investors regarding the State’s long-term commitment to water policies that promote sustained economic growth.

The AMWUA Board, comprised of elected officials from Avondale, Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale, Goodyear, Mesa, Peoria, Phoenix, Scottsdale, and Tempe, have taken a firm position against SB1268 and SB1400. These leaders recognize that strong, sensible wateroutlet management policies are the foundation of their local economies, creating an environment of certainty and resiliency. As elected officials, the AMWUA Board understands the importance of local governance. AMWUA holds strongly that local water providers should have the ability to manage, plan, conserve, and acquire water resources for their customers. Yet, Arizona has been wise to manage water as a State through regional oversight since water does not obey jurisdictional boundaries. For these reasons, the AMWUA Board does not want to see water management weakened anywhere in Arizona. We want to avoid the potential ripple effect and unintended consequences these bills could have for the State as a whole.

At a time of prolonged drought and looming shortage on the Colorado River, SB1268 and SB1400 begin to disassemble the long-term planning and policies that have helped Arizona avoid a California-like water crisis.

The benefits of building one housing development in Cochise County are not worth weakening water laws that fuel our long-term economic growth and our national reputation as a state that effectively manages water resources in the arid West. Arizona’s overall long-term economic health is directly linked to our success as stewards of our water, in any region of the State. 

As Governor Ducey said about his water initiative, “All Arizonans have a role and responsibility to play in the future of this great state and a strong water supply will be central to that future.”

For 46 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

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