Arizona’s Overdue Water Plans Must be a Priority
By Warren Tenney
AMWUA and the rest of Arizona’s water community tout the importance of the 1980 Groundwater Management Act, a set of laws that protect groundwater supplies particularly in the most populated areas of the State. But how does it work? A key part of the Act is a series of regulatory documents, called Management Plans (MPs), that implement the water conservation goals of the Groundwater Management Act. Since the summer, those Management Plans have been a focus of public meetings held by the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR).
To understand what the Management Plans are, you first need to know what exactly the AMAs are. Under the 1980 Groundwater Management Act, Active Management Areas (AMAs) were created in specific regions where groundwater supplies were most depleted. Within the AMAs, water users are subject to a stringent set of rules and regulations that determine who can use groundwater, how much they can use, and how they are required to mitigate the effect of groundwater pumping within their AMA. To improve the groundwater situation, the five AMAs were designated with specific goals that were to be achieved by 2025.
To keep everyone on track and ensure the AMAs were advancing toward their goals, the Act required that each region evaluate their progress every ten years. Roughly every decade following 1980, each AMA would adopt a new Management Plan that evaluated progress towards its respective goal and made any adjustments as necessary. Contained within the Management Plans are conservation requirements for a broad variety of water users, including cities, private water providers, mines, farmers, golf courses, and power plants, just to name a few.
With each successive management period, the conservation requirements inside of the Plans were intended to become increasingly more stringent to reduce the rapid depletion of groundwater supplies in the AMAs. Typically, those conservation programs reduce groundwater use in the following ways:
- Establishing efficiency and water use requirements for agricultural irrigators.
- Mandating reductions in per capita water use within cities and towns.
- Requiring the use of the latest water saving technology by industrial water users.
- Establishing Best Management Practices for different water use sectors.
The Management Plans play an important role in how Arizona manages groundwater in the AMAs by establishing a regular process to improve and adjust water use regulations. Unfortunately, the MPs are now out of date and need to be made current to be an effective tool. The completion of each plan has not been an easy task, but the Fourth MPs, which are still being developed, have proven to be the most challenging one yet.
The process began back in 1980 when the newly formed ADWR immediately went to work to complete the First MP, which was completed by the end of 1984. In the following years, they waded through intensive stakeholder processes and challenges to complete the Second and Third MPs in 1991 and 1999 respectively. The Fourth MPs were legally required to be completed in 2008 but currently remain unfinished for the Phoenix, Pinal, and Santa Cruz AMAs. The Fifth MPs are supposed to take effect from 2020 – 2025, a now unrealistic deadline that is quickly approaching.
Largely due to staffing reductions at ADWR, progress on those remaining Management Plans (Fourth and Fifth MPs) was stalled. The delay is the impact of the drastic budget cuts that took place in the mid-2000s. Prior to that, the Department maintained regional offices in each AMA so it could coordinate with local stakeholders, develop, and enforce the Management Plan for that area. Today, ADWR employs less than half of the workforce that it had before the Great Recession, which has severely hampered the Department’s ability to fulfill its duties.
With the understanding that timing is critical, ADWR has a renewed focus to push forward and complete the Fourth Management Plan. They have released a draft that proposes increasing conservation requirements by the agricultural, industrial, and municipal water use sectors. Due to the hurried timeline, some stakeholders have voiced concern that this process is moving too fast. In response to these concerns, the Department has extended the timeframe for community input, but the Director of ADWR recently reminded the water community of Governor Ducey’s mandate to prepare for a drier future through conservation and preparation. That is why ensuring that the Fourth MP continues to make strides must be a priority.
The AMWUA cities are supportive of ADWR’s efforts to complete the Fourth Management Plan and then immediately start developing the Fifth. It is critical that water users from around Arizona, and from all AMAs continue to be dedicated to improving and building upon these foundational water management regulations. The struggle to complete the most recent plans is also a good reminder about the importance of having ADWR adequately funded so they are equipped with and can retain the appropriate staff that is necessary to carry forth its vital task of managing Arizona’s water resources. We all know that having the Groundwater Management Act is a great foundation for Arizona, but we must ensure the Management Plans, can be effectively used like they were originally intended. This is how we plan for the future to ensure sustainability, and that will also allow us to continue to enjoy our way of life here in the desert.
For 50 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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