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The 2021 Arizona Legislative session has adjourned, with the session uncommonly extending into the month of June. Legislators debated everything from tax policy, to education, to criminal justice reform, and even had a special session dedicated to appropriating $100 million to combat the severe wildfires Arizona is experiencing. In the midst of all these budgetary negotiations, some of Audubon’s environmental and water priorities were quietly sent along to the Governor for approval.

As part of the state’s overall budget, Audubon and its network of advocates sought funding for water and environmental priorities to help birds and people. We are happy to report that our advocacy helped ensure more than $50 million dedicated to the protection of the environment and stewardship of water resources.

Included in the approved budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, Audubon fought for:

  • $25 million for the Healthy Forests Initiative to protect habitat and prevent catastrophic wildfire
  • $15 million in the Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund (WQARF) to clean up contaminated groundwater
  • $5 million in the Heritage Fund to support Arizona State Parks and Trails
  • $2.9 million to support the General Stream Adjudication processes, such as adequately staffing the courts and providing legal assistance to people with small water rights claims through the University of Arizona
  • $2.8 million to the Arizona Department of Water Resources to increase staff salaries and to help retain critical water professionals
  • $1.2 million for the Arizona Water Protection Fund to administer grants for projects that protect and restore riparian habitat

One particularly large sum of money was dedicated to water—the Drought Mitigation Revolving Fund. This new fund, initially infused with $160 million in state funds, is intended to support feasibility and planning efforts that bring in new water supplies from outside of Arizona. It also allows for funds to be used to pay large water users to leave water in Lake Mead, called system conservation.

Audubon and our partners in the Water for Arizona Coalition believe that Arizona should be investing in an “all of the above” strategy. This includes dedicating resources to water conservation, reuse, recycling, efficiency, sustainable agriculture, storage and recovery, and aquifer recharge—all of which are proven, cost-effective water security strategies that can be implemented at a fraction of the cost of building massive pipelines to bring water in from out of state.

Thanks to the Western Rivers Action Network and our partners, the 2021 legislative session saw success with the passage of HB 2056 Water conservation notice; no forfeiture and the budget resources mentioned above dedicated to water and the environment. We also managed to halt the advancement of bad bills that would have reduced the ability of the Arizona Corporation Commission to set carbon reduction goals. We know that climate change is driving water scarcity in the West and we need to address the root cause—carbon emissions—to improve our water outlook.

Of course there is more work to do to protect our water resources—including groundwater—throughout the state as well as confront the ongoing challenges that climate change brings with hotter temperatures, increasing wildfires, and reductions in river flows.

With the next legislative session beginning in less than six months, we will have the opportunity to continue our efforts to improve the Arizona environment for birds and people.

For now though, we will celebrate the successes achieved this session.

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