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Digging into Arizona's historic water legislation

Arizona water usage
Posted at 11:48 AM, Jul 08, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-08 21:27:22-04

PHOENIX — In response to the deterioration of the Colorado River, Senate Bill 1740 was signed with the goal of securing Arizona's water future.

The bill was signed on Wednesday with bipartisan support.

Included in the more than $1 billion price tag is funding for three main things: $200 million for conservation, $200 million for water supply development revolving fund, and $1 billion for water augmentation projects over the next three years.

Augmentation can be anything from recycling water to importing water from outside of Arizona.

Things like desalination and pipelines from flood-prone areas are often mentioned as sources. House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R) of Mesa said the state is already in talks with potential partners.

"That billion dollars is leveraging money that puts us as a partner in larger operations that allow us with them, and Mexico and others," Bowers said.

The funds will be distributed in the form of loans and bonds. The same is true for the water supply development revolving fund. It could pay for things like recharging aquifers in rural areas. But Mojave County Supervisor Travis Lingenfelter tells ABC15 that this law does nothing to solve their immediate problem: unlimited groundwater pumping.

"That free for all has really attracted and continues to attract, you know, a lot of out of state and out of country, corporate agriculture businesses," Lingenfelter told ABC15.

Earlier this year he showed us around the county where new nut farms and large industrial-sized wells are popping up everywhere and pumping unlimited amounts of water because in most of rural Arizona there are no rules against it.

He questions why a community would take out a loan to recharge an aquifer where anyone can pump as much as they want.

"Unless we have some sort of common sensical groundwater policy and tools to manage how much can be pumped out, I don't really see it makes much sense to invest millions and millions of dollars in these recharge projects with no limit really, with who can pump that water back out," Lingenfelter said.

When it comes to the 200 million in conservation dollars, municipalities will be able to apply for grants for things like fixing leaks, incentivizing residents to take out more turf, and providing funds for rainwater harvesting.

"That is something good in the bill," said Sandy Bahr of Sierra Club.

But she said the bill does not do enough to protect current water supplies.

"We needed more than money. We needed the legislature to step up and say, 'Look, we have to change the way we do things with water,'" she said.

Still, there is a lot of hope among legislators and policymakers around the state that the investments made will set a path for Arizona to have the water it needs for years to come.