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While water is always a big issue in Arizona, a lot happened last year in particular:
- A Tier 1 shortage was declared on the Colorado River
- State lawmakers put $440 million towards water infrastructure and water conservation projects, plus they established a new Water Infrastructure Finance Authority and Board to govern this new funding
- The first Active Management Area in more than 40 years was formed by citizens’ ballot initiative in Cochise County in southern Arizona
- An Irrigation Non-expansion Area was established in Mohave County in northwest Arizona
- Arizonans elected Governor Katie Hobbs to be our next head of state, who, in her State of the State address, made water a top priority
And while we came close, ultimately Arizona failed to pass any meaningful legislation that would equip rural Arizona communities with new tools to manage their groundwater resources, despite growing calls for help.
All these factors play into 2023, where Audubon and our partners will be hard at work pursuing more options for groundwater management for rural Arizona, which will ultimately help communities plan for their future and protect rivers, streams, and habitat for birds like the Yellow-breasted Chat and the Vermilion Flycatcher. And we will work to ensure state agencies have the resources they need to do their jobs: conserving and protecting Arizona’s lands and waters.
Here are our top priorities for Arizona’s 2023 Legislative Session:
- Pass legislation that provides communities in rural Arizona (places located outside of Active Management Areas) with the ability to plan, manage, and protect their groundwater resources in a locally-adaptable approach.
- Appropriately fund the Arizona Department of Water Resources so they can carry out their obligations to Arizona’s residents to manage, conserve, and protect water supplies (rivers and groundwater). Provide the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality with the increases in funding and fees they need to execute their directives to protect water quality throughout the state.
- Track and monitor the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA) as it unveils criteria and standards for its new grant and loan programs to fund water infrastructure and water conservation projects. In late December 2022, a rushed and not-thoroughly vetted proposal for a desalination plant and pipeline project was brought before the recently-formed WIFA board. Nearly 500 members of Audubon’s Western Rivers Action Network alerted board members to slow down and not to approve such a massive proposal without further discussion and vetting. We will continue to watch out for projects that would siphon the available funding without sufficient vetting, and we will advocate for cost-effective solutions to our water crisis that we can implement NOW, as opposed to far-off and far-away water importation projects.
- We will advocate for policies that help us manage the water we DO have as wisely as possible. We must patch the holes in the leaky bucket of Arizona water policy, such as fixing our currently unlimited groundwater withdrawal rules in rural Arizona; advancing the long-running General Stream Adjudications lawsuit to determine who has the rights to how much in-state river water; and working with Tribes in Arizona who have still not been able to settle their water rights claims. Leaving these issues unresolved generates uncertainty in a time when Arizona’s water supplies are under incredible stress.
At Audubon, we know that we must act with urgency and make good policy choices now to help the state adapt and transform so that in the future our rivers, communities, farms, businesses, birds, fish, and habitat can continue to flourish in Arizona. And we need your help to do this. Make sure you join the Western Rivers Action Network to stay up-to-date on the latest happenings on Arizona water policy and calls to action. Your voice makes a big impact on decisionmakers, and we need it, more than ever.