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With the American Rescue Plan Act on the way, combined with the funding from the previous two federal stimulus packages, Arizona’s state finances are looking stronger than expected.
But we have no shortage of issues facing our state as we continue to grapple with water scarcity driven by climate change. That is why we must take this opportunity to invest in Arizona's water and environment for the good of all people, wildlife, and our economy. And given ongoing challenges—lack of access to clean drinking water for some Arizonans sustained declines in groundwater levels across rural Arizona, upcoming renegotiations around the shrinking Colorado River, and adapting our existing policies to ensure sustainable management of water supplies in the central populous part of the state—we must invest in water security today.
Audubon has several priorities for the Arizona state budget that would help safeguard water and the environment; many of these have been underfunded or not funded for the last two decades. Audubon respectfully requests the following from Arizona’s General Fund:
- $24 million to advance the Healthy Forests Initiative which will prevent catastrophic wildfires and improve watershed health. The headwaters of many Arizona rivers originate in the forests, and it is critical we manage our forests to reduce wildfire risk and improve the reliability of our water supplies—for people, birds, fish, and other wildlife.
- $5 million to adequately fund the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) so that it can hire and keep talented professionals to collect groundwater data, perform analyses, enforce conservation plans, model groundwater basins, and more. Currently, the department is operating with two-thirds of its pre-2008 recession staff (amidst the driest years on record in Arizona).
- $18 million for the Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund (WQARF) program to ensure contaminated state superfund groundwater sites are properly cleaned up across Arizona so that people are drinking water and growing crops from safe water sources. Groundwater is a critical water supply to many communities across Arizona. The Legislature should also develop a permanent funding solution to keep WQARF operational and ensure its ability to meet its obligations in future years.
- $10 million for the Heritage Fund which will provide critical resources to Arizona’s local, regional, and state parks, trails, and open spaces. This money is long overdue, as the Legislature swept this fund during the 2008 Recession and never returned it. With the outdoor recreation boom we have seen during the pandemic, now—more than ever—we must invest in the places that not only drive our thriving recreation economy, but provide us solace and relief during these difficult times.
- $2.9 million to support and advance the General Stream Adjudications, the long-running lawsuit to determine who has the right to how much water among the state’s rivers and streams such as the Gila, Little Colorado, Salt, and Verde. More certainty is needed to protect Arizona’s waterways, and a quicker resolution of the General Stream Adjudications would help.
- $1 million for the Arizona Water Protection Fund, a competitive grant program which provides funding to projects that enhance and restore rivers and riparian habitat, and to projects that protect water quality and quantity. The grant also funds projects that benefit fish and wildlife dependent on healthy rivers and streams.
Investing in Arizona’s natural resources now will ensure their protection in the future, and protect Arizona’s recreation economy, which generates more economic output to the state than golf and mining. Stay on the lookout for opportunities to engage with your state legislators on budgetary needs for water and the environment by joining the Western Rivers Action Network