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AZ Lawmakers Face Tough Questions About Water

By Howard Fischer for Capitol Media Services

Just a year after approval of the much-heralded Drought Contingency Plan, Arizona lawmakers once again face tough questions of how to deal with the increased demand for water in the face of drier weather — and getting water to where it is needed.

The 2019 plan provides some short-term relief for the state as Arizona is required to withdraw less from the Colorado River. While few are convinced that this provides a permanent solution, it could create some breathing room, especially for farmers whose river supplies are being cut.

But the emerging problem is in areas that do not get Colorado River water, like portions of Cochise and La Paz counties where there has been an emergence of large industrial farms.

In essence, the law on groundwater is it can be pumped by landowners who can put it to “beneficial use.” But in much of the rural part of the state, there are no limits on how much someone can take — or, for that matter, even any efforts to measure it.

The effective result is that whoever has the longest straw wins. Put another way, if a large farm drills a deeper well than nearby smaller farms or residents, it need not legally concern itself if those other wells dry up.

That’s what has been happening. The only question is what politicians are willing to do about it.

House Minority Leader Charlene Fernandez said the first step is figuring out how much is being sucked from the ground every year.

Rep. Regina Cobb (R-Kingman) said she would like a state law governing all wells. But she said there is too much political opposition.

“Some areas of the state decided they don’t like to have monitoring,” Cobb said. “They don’t want to know what’s in their aquifers.”

Her legislation would permit — but not require — counties to decide whether to monitor and regulate groundwater withdrawal.

The fight is over more than groundwater regulation.

Some Arizona communities anxious for water supplies for continued growth are looking at Western Arizona as a solution.

For example, Queen Creek is negotiating to buy the rights to about 2,000-acre feet of Colorado River water that belongs to a farming operation there. In essence, the company that owns the property would agree to stop farming and develop the land for uses that could be fulfilled with local water supplies.

Read more at KJZZ.

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