On September 20, 2021, Haley Paul, Audubon Southwest’s Policy Director gave the following testimony before the Mohave County West Basin Water Users Study Committee, in support strengthening groundwater management that would allow local communities outside of Arizona’s most populous areas to develop their own rules on the use of groundwater:

Madame Chair, members of the committee,

My name is Haley Paul and I am the Policy Director for the National Audubon Society here in Arizona.

Audubon is part of the Water for Arizona Coalition, a group of pragmatic and solutions-oriented conservation organizations dedicated to advancing Arizona water policy issues for the benefit of Arizona residents and the environment.

One of those water issues we have been working on is groundwater outside of the Active Management Areas. As you heard from my colleague Kevin Moran last month, we care about this issue because 40% of Arizona’s water supply comes from groundwater, and in some places throughout Arizona, groundwater is the only source of water for communities. We think communities should have a say in their water future, and have the ability to protect their water supplies for the long-term.

In addition to declining groundwater levels, drying up of individual wells, and threatening community water supplies, we have seen what the impacts of unconstrained groundwater pumping can do to our rivers, streams, and springs, which is what I would like to highlight today.  

As conservation organizations, we care about stewarding our groundwater resources because it is a critical water supply, but also because groundwater is essential to sustaining flowing rivers, streams, springs, and nearby habitat. Groundwater dependent ecosystems support an abundance of plants and animals, and are a lifeline in our arid environment. Essentially, all of Arizona’s rivers that still flow year-round are fed by groundwater. Arizona’s thousands of springs also depend on groundwater.

One study by the Springs Stewardship Institute found that the flow is declining in springs throughout the Verde River groundwater basin, due to both groundwater pumping and decreases in natural recharge from rain and snowmelt. Studies also show declines in certain Grand Canyon-area springs. Extensive research in the San Pedro, Santa Cruz, and other desert rivers demonstrates how unrestricted groundwater pumping can dry up rivers that once flowed year-round.

These iconic waterways are not only great bird habitat—they are an economic powerhouse for the state, with outdoor recreation along water in Arizona a $13.5 billion industry, supporting 114,000 jobs.

Given the importance of groundwater to people and nature throughout Greater Arizona, we think communities should be able to conserve and protect this resource for the future. That is why we are so grateful for Representative Cobb’s leadership, and why the Water for Arizona Coalition is encouraging and supporting local voices to be part of the conversation.

It is clear that communities need new tools to manage their groundwater supplies. What we have now is not working for rural Arizona. We appreciate this committee’s work, which is shining a spotlight on the need to protect groundwater in Greater Arizona.

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