Mar 18, 2021

Arizona Groundwater & River Protection Bills Under Consideration

Bills that would establish some groundwater rules in Arizona’s unregulated rural areas are receiving opposition

water quality

Bills that would strengthen Arizona's water rules to protect declining groundwater and desert streams have run into opposition. 

Republican and Democratic legislators introduced several bills that would establish some groundwater rules in Arizona’s unregulated rural areas, reported Arizona Central News. These unregulated areas have no limits on pumping and where water levels are dropping.

During the hearing there were several appeals to the legislators to take steps to protect flowing streams and rivers, as the state’s remaining rivers could dry up due to excessive groundwater pumping, drought and climate change.

Those bills were opposed by the agriculture industry and key Republican leaders in the Legislature, according to Arizona Central News.

A water proposal focusing on water quality is moving through the Legislature. According to Arizona Central News, a bill that was passed by the House would establish state clean-water rules for some of the streams and wetlands that were left unregulated when federal protections under the Clean Water Act were rolled back.

One proposal by Sen. Kirsten Engel focused on protecting flowing streams and rivers. This measure was an amendment to a different water bill introduced by Republican Rep. Gail Griffin and the amendment was voted down by Republican legislators in a Senate committee, according to Arizona Central News.

Engel initially introduced her watershed health proposal as its own bill, Senate Bill 1474, but it was declined to be on the agenda for a hearing. Instead, Engel raised the proposal as an amendment to Griffin’s bill, HB 2441.

“Our watersheds are in trouble, and they do need our help. And this has been an issue that we have pretty much ignored,” said Engel during the hearing, reported Arizona Central News. “We should be looking for strategies right now for how to make sure that our watersheds continue to be healthy.”

This proposal would allow people who have surface water rights to voluntarily transfer an existing right for the purpose of supporting watershed health, according to Arizona Central News.

Democrats objected to parts of Griffin’s bill and concerns were raised that the bill might allow more water to be diverted from rivers. The Arizona Farm Bureau supported Griffin’s bill but not the watershed health measure, reported Arizona Central News.

Rep. Regina Cobb, also introduced two bills that would establish some groundwater rules in unregulated rural areas, but Griffin declined to put those measures on the agenda for the House water committee, according to Arizona Central News. 

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