Jun 15 2020Share

Groundwater Management Act: The Next 40 Years

By Warren Tenney

As the celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the 1980 Groundwater Management Act (GMA) wind down, our collective focus now must shift to the future. We know that the GMA was a monumental piece of legislation, but we can no longer rest on the laurels of the past and must continue to work together to address the groundwater issues within our State.

The GMA and the 100-Year Assured Water Supply Program brought many benefits to the Phoenix area cities, which is why AMWUA is vigilant about protecting them.

  • It has enabled us to collectively build a thriving economy and sustain our way of life in the desert. 
  • Groundwater overdraft was reduced by requiring water users in all sectors – cities, agriculture, industry - to use less groundwater.   
  • The GMA secured federal authorization to build the Central Arizona Project (CAP), bringing an important water source to the AMWUA cities. 
  • Since then, the AWMUA cities invested in diversifying their water resources, expanding infrastructure, creating conservation programs, and developing underground storage.

Even with the benefits gained from the last 40 years, we still must take an honest look at the issues that face water management within and outside the Active Management Areas (AMAs) that were created by the GMA. While Arizona does the best job in managing its water in the West, we are not perfect, and we need to make improvements to ensure we can tout our success for the next 40 years.

As we look forward, we must remember groundwater is fundamental to a sustainable life here in the desert now and for future generations. Even though the overall usage of groundwater in Arizona has been reduced, groundwater remains a fundamental water source, and in some areas of Arizona, it remains the only water source.

As we move into a drier future, some of the challenges include:

  • Large volumes of groundwater pumping continue to be allowed in the AMAs without requirement or obligation to replenish or replace the water withdrawn.
  • Recharging water in one part of an AMA but then recovering in another area of an AMA.
  • Developing tools to effectively manage localized groundwater depletion in and out of AMAs.
  • Preparing for future shortages on the Colorado River as well as the impact of prolonged drought on all supplies throughout Arizona.
  • Ensuring viable long-term water supplies for areas committed to growing outside of designated 100-year assured water supply areas.
  • Confirming the Arizona Department of Water Resources has adequate staffing and funding to address all water management challenges effectively.

Efforts to address these and other groundwater issues in Arizona are underway. The creation of the Governor’s Water Augmentation, Innovation & Conservation Council, which was formed in January 2019 by executive order, is a step in the right direction. The Governor’s Water Council created four committees to focus on - how to augment new water supplies, desalination, how to address groundwater issues in rural Non-Active Management Areas (Non-AMAs), and how the State would continue to manage groundwater within the five AMAs after 2025. Water management after 2025 is also the focus of the AMWUA cities as they look to identify strategies to continue their sound water management into the future and for future generations.

Now is our time to step up to these challenges and work together to find strategies to improve water management in Arizona. Those who played a critical role in the development of the GMA can offer great insight. Successful groundwater management in Arizona is vital to our long-term sustainability, and that is why it is the focus of this year’s Water Resources Research Center (WRRC) annual conference. Water at the Crossroads: The Next 40 Years will virtually gather past, present, and future leaders to discuss the road traveled and the road map to move forward.

Together we acknowledge the challenges, yet we have come a long way since the passage of the GMA 40 years ago. The GMA has enabled us to better protect our groundwater by requiring the use of renewable water supplies, and most importantly, it laid a solid foundation for water management. Collectively we need to protect our groundwater and keep it as an available water source for when we may need it most.

Through this previously written three-part series on groundwater, we took a look back at the past to acknowledge how far we have come, and discussed the challenges and the groundwater pumping concerns we still collectively face.

Groundwater in Arizona: Past, Present, and Future - Part One
Groundwater in Arizona: Past, Present, and Future - Part Two
Groundwater in Arizona: Past, Present, and Future - Part Three

For over 50 years, the 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

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