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“Once it’s gone, it’s too late.”
With just a few words, Erin Young, water resources manager for the City of Flagstaff, aptly characterizes the need for why Arizona must address the management and protection of one of its most precious resources: groundwater.
Many of the state’s waterways, habitats, and communities are at risk if local groundwater supplies are lost. Its overuse could lead to rivers, springs, and wells running dry, affecting the ability for both people and birds to thrive. And yet, this critical resource is still often overlooked, misunderstood, and undermanaged throughout most of the state.
That is why the Water for Arizona Coalition, of which Audubon is a member, launched Groundwater in Rural Arizona, a webinar series which featured panels, presentations, and conversations on groundwater management throughout the state and the West. Attendees learned about every corner of the state—from the northern Town of Tusayan, through the Verde and Hualapai Valleys, to as far south as Willcox. This gave an in-depth look at the groundwater situation in different communities.
The premiere of the series, Groundwater's Importance to Communities: A Panel of Local Voices, featured prominent voices representing communities that depend on groundwater. Jamie Kelley, general counsel for the Mohave County Water Authority, moderated the conversation with the panel including Erin Young as well as Chairman Jon Huey of the Yavapai-Apache Nation, Mohave County Supervisor Travis Lingenfelter, and Tusayan Mayor Clarinda Vail.
"The most important thing Arizonans can do is to start cooperating on water management in Arizona, whether it be groundwater, surface water, or tap water," Chairman Huey emphatically said during this event.
Panelists shared unique perspectives on the role groundwater plays in their communities, and what challenges and opportunities they face in relation to its management and protection.
Mayor Vail alluded to the second installment by saying, “If you don’t have water, you don’t have a community.” In Where Did the Water Go? Impacts of Groundwater Overuse, Chris Kuzdas of the Environmental Defense Fund’s water program and Audubon Southwest’s Policy Director Haley Paul dove into exactly what groundwater is and how it supports both habitats and communities. We also dug into the consequences of its overuse, which range from impacting existing wells to causing land subsidence (collapsing of the land) and declining water levels in nearby rivers and streams.
Tools for Managing Groundwater: Examples From Around the West, the series finale, reimagined how Arizona could protect its groundwater resources by learning about what works in other locations throughout the West. Rachel O’Connor with the Environmental Defense Fund and Jocelyn Gibbon of Freshwater Policy Consulting examined the rules and tools that Arizona already has in place for managing its groundwater, before discussing other states like Nevada, Texas, and Kansas. In exploring the failures and successes of groundwater management in other states, we hope to inspire new ideas, and more importantly, renewed motivation to solve the challenges we face in Arizona.
As Mohave County Supervisor Lingenfelter shared during the initial panel, “We simply have to have more water tools from a policy standpoint to manage this situation.” More tools are out there, and the eagerness shown by the series’ speakers and attendees demonstrates that our communities are more than ready to improve the outlook of groundwater in Arizona—for people, rivers, and wildlife.
You can watch all three events of the series on-demand here, and read responses to some of the questions asked during the series here. Stay up to date on groundwater issues in Arizona: join the Western Rivers Action Network today.