Safeguarding our water must be a priority for legislators
By Warren Tenney
With the 2022 legislative session now underway, state legislators will be considering various proposals to address water challenges. The importance of water has been elevated with the uncertainty surrounding the Colorado River shortage, prolonged regional drought, climate change, and pressures to better regulate our groundwater. We are at a critical juncture, so lawmakers will need to carefully weigh every water bill to ensure each proposal will protect Arizona’s water supplies and not erode our ability to manage this vital resource.
Despite the additional action to protect Lake Mead by water managers last month, drier and hotter conditions will continue to add to the unpredictability of the Colorado River’s hydrology, affecting how much Colorado River water we will have access to. This year, a Tier 1 shortage is in place and requires Arizona to take 30% less water from the River.
With less Colorado River water now and in the future, there will be more pressure on our groundwater supplies. While the 1980 Groundwater Management Act and the 100-Year Assured Water Supply Program provide the vital framework for protecting this finite resource, large volumes of groundwater pumping continue to be allowed in Central Arizona without the requirement or obligation to replenish or replace the water withdrawn. This makes it nearly impossible to reach the management goal of safe-yield. The Arizona Department of Water Resources announced last year that due to the overpumping and stress on groundwater in Pinal County, no new development in the Pinal Active Management Area can happen unless it is relies upon non-groundwater sources. Additionally, outside of Arizona’s most populated centers, many rural areas are experiencing localized groundwater depletion without the tools to manage the situation effectively.
With these challenges and uncertainty, our elected officials must make even smarter and wiser decisions regarding water this year. There may be pressure by some interest groups who feel short-term profits are being hindered by strict, firm water rules and management. Yet, now more than ever, our legislators need to safeguard our water for the long-term, which is vital to ensuring our State’s overall economic health.
Uncertainty about the Colorado River will undoubtedly generate more discussions about finding another water source to backfill or supplement our Colorado River supplies. While we consider ways to increase or enhance our supplies, we should not let impractical ideas sidetrack us from the opportunities within our own backyard, including:
- Building upon our successful experience with reusing and recycling our water.
- Pursuing forest restoration efforts that improve and sustain healthy watershed conditions for the water delivered by the Salt River Project.
- Preventing groundwater contamination and effectively cleaning aquifers where pollution has occurred.
Since developing a new water supply will take time and is never guaranteed, it is another reason for us to conserve and wisely manage our current water resources. Legislators could encourage more self-reliance with the water we have by pursuing actions that maintain or improve the management of our groundwater both in Arizona’s urban and rural areas. This starts with upholding and enhancing the consumer protection we have been afforded from the Assured Water Supply Program and the Groundwater Management Act and needs to lead us to better management of unsustainable groundwater pumping that does not require replenishment.
As various water bills are debated this session, Legislators need to avoid focusing on short-term benefits and quick fixes to our water challenges. Instead, Legislators are encouraged to prioritize sustainable water management that ensures safe and reliable water for all Arizona’s homes and businesses and enables us to thrive here in the desert. Lasting economic strength comes directly from actively protecting and managing our existing water supplies along with continued investment in water resources and infrastructure. Through collaboration, planning, and thoughtful policymaking, we can successfully address the challenges and uncertainty we face.
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For over 50 years, the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has helped protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe, and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more information, visit www.amwua.org.
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