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The Arizona Legislature concluded its 2022 session with the passage of a bipartisan budget on June 22 followed by a water spending plan late in the evening on June 24.
Haley Paul, co-lead of the Water for Arizona Coalition and Arizona Policy Director for the National Audubon Society, issued the following statement:
“The Arizona Legislature made a critical down payment on improving Arizona’s water outlook. Nearly $440 million is dedicated to conservation and water reliability projects throughout the state including unprecedented funding for improving surface water flows, groundwater recharge and aquifer health, and landscape watershed protection including through green infrastructure. This funding–if used wisely–can help jump-start the long-term transformation we need in order to adapt and thrive in our new water reality of drought and water scarcity supercharged by climate change.
“But despite these historic investments, Arizona leaders missed a tremendous opportunity to address the groundwater challenges we face throughout Arizona. Today, groundwater across 85% of our state’s geography is unprotected, and unlimited groundwater pumping threatens rural communities’ water supplies. These unchecked withdrawals have resulted in land subsidence, fissures in the ground, wells running dry, streamflow declines, and a de facto policy of ‘the deepest well wins.’ This threatens rural communities’ very existence.
“The legislature’s inaction on this issue means that rural Arizona still faces an uncertain future. It is our firm belief that if Arizona truly wants to secure its water future, we must address these issues today. As Arizona starts to invest the $1.4 billion total allocated in the water spending plan, in order to maximize the benefit of these taxpayer dollars, it should also provide a regulatory framework for communities to be able to protect any water they are able to conserve, reuse, and recharge into the ground from being pumped out from under them.
“Fundamentally, we have a math problem in Arizona: we use more water than nature provides. That’s why we must do more — for people and nature. Water augmentation and importation projects, which to the extent feasible are a decade or more away, will only backfill a fraction of the cuts we are already taking on the Colorado River–and don’t help rural Arizona communities protect the water supplies they DO have, nor the rivers, streams, and springs on which we all rely.
“That’s why we must heed this blazing alarm we are receiving from the Colorado River, its tributaries, and our groundwater supplies. We need an all-of-the-above strategy to achieve greater water security and reliability in the face of our new water reality. This means investing in conservation and augmentation, but it also must include a sound and meaningful regulatory framework for the nearly 85% of the state currently without groundwater management options. Our communities, our businesses, and our flowing rivers with their ribbons of green depend on us doing more.
“We are grateful to the policymakers in both parties who worked and negotiated tirelessly on this water spending plan. Along with other changes from the initial version such as increased transparency and improved criteria for funding projects, Representative Cano, Representative Abraham, Minority Leader Bolding, and numerous others secured $200 million specifically for conservation projects that will reduce overall water use and improve water reliability, which improved the water spending plan dramatically.
“It is critical for Arizona’s future that leaders meet the moment and do more to improve Arizona’s water security in coming legislative sessions. The Water for Arizona Coalition will continue to advocate and advance solutions that help Arizona protect water supplies for people and nature so we can continue to thrive as the Grand Canyon state.”
About the Water for Arizona Coalition
The Water for Arizona Coalition is a community of Arizonans who support innovative practices and smart policies to ensure a reliable water supply to meet the state’s needs. The Coalition was recently recognized as an Arizona Capitol Times “2020 Leader of the Year” for their efforts in protecting Arizona’s most valuable resource. Organizational support is provided by solution-oriented groups like American Rivers, Business for Water Stewardship, Environmental Defense Action Fund, National Audubon Society, and Western Resource Advocates that collectively have over 60,000 Arizona members, as well as hundreds of hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreation enthusiasts across the state.