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As Arizona lawmakers turn their focus to the budget, Audubon is advocating for increased investments to help birds and people adapt to our climate and water realities.
The urgency cannot be overstated. Hotter and drier conditions are limiting our available water supplies and we must take an all-of-the-above approach to solving our water crisis. This includes adequately funding the departments tasked with ensuring safe and reliable water supplies, creating new funding sources and tools that empower communities in rural Arizona to protect their groundwater resources, continued investments in forest and watershed health, and more.
The Arizona Legislature and Governor Ducey have a historic opportunity to make further investments in protecting our water and natural resources. This budget cycle, state leaders have the opportunity to support the state’s water needs and sustain Arizona’s thriving water-based outdoor recreation industry–which generates $13.5 billion in economic output annually and supports 114,000 jobs in the state, but only if water remains in our rivers, lakes, and streams.
How might we accomplish this? By allocating adequate funding to the following priorities:
- $50 million to a new fund, to be administered by the Arizona Department of Water Resources, to support local communities that form Rural Management Areas to implement groundwater protection plans and build projects that recharge or otherwise help sustain groundwater.
- $38 million to the State Parks Revenue Fund to upgrade campsites, renovate historic structures, strengthen water conservation, improve physical and digital access to the park system and addressing wastewater issues throughout the Arizona State Parks.
- $32 million for the Arizona Healthy Forest Initiative to continue work (initiated through a budget appropriation last fiscal year) to prevent forest fires and promote watershed health and restoration throughout the state.
- $15 million to the Nonnative Vegetation Species Eradication Fund, which bolsters existing efforts and resources to remove invasive plants such as salt cedar and restore areas with the appropriate native plants to provide wildlife habitat and improve river health and function. Through testimony and advocacy, Audubon was instrumental in enacting an initial appropriation of this program four years ago, which has contributed to 28 projects restoring and treating 6,006 acres across the state.
- $10 million for the Heritage Fund to provide ongoing and reliable funding for Arizona’s local, regional, and state parks, trails, and open spaces. This funding is long overdue, as the Legislature swept the funds from this voter-approved fund during the Great Recession and never replenished it.
- $6.5 million for the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to monitor and enhance water quality, support surface water protection, implement and enforce drinking water quality programs and standards, and update groundwater quality standards. There is existing proposed legislation to give ADEQ the authority to increase fees so they can achieve these objectives, but until those fees can start being collected, the department will need a one-time appropriation of $6.5 million to meet its mission to protect water quality for people and the environment. We also support the ongoing $15 million baseline appropriation to the Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund (WQARF), a victory from last legislative session (in that it was included for ongoing funding). The program cleans up contaminated state superfund groundwater sites.
- $5 million to the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) to ensure staff can be paid at the going market rate for professionals in the field. Our advocacy last year resulted in pay increases for ADWR staff that put them on par with their sister agency, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. However, positions such as hydrologists and modelers can be difficult to recruit and retain at ADWR because of competition with other water agencies (such as cities, private water utilities, and private water consulting firms), and ADWR cannot currently pay the going market rate that other employers are paying. Filling important positions and keeping and rewarding high-achieving staff is an essential component to effective water management in our state. These monies are also needed to support new full-time positions.
- $1 million for the small drinking water systems fund. This essential fund is set to run out of money after this fiscal year. It is administered by the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority and helps small communities who may not otherwise have the means to finance needed repairs and upgrades to fix their water systems to meet drinking water quality standards. This protects human health.
- $1 million to continue to support efforts to bolster the General Stream Adjudications process. We must accelerate the resolution of long-standing legal uncertainties over water rights by dedicating more funding to the courts and ADWR for this effort.
- $1 million to the Arizona Water Protection Fund, a competitive grant program which provides funding to projects that enhance and restore rivers and riparian habitat, and benefit fish and wildlife dependent on healthy rivers and streams.
- $250,000 to the Arizona Trail Fund to help maintain the 800-mile-long statewide trail. Additionally, Audubon supports policies that allow this funding to also develop water sources for recreators along the trail.
The state budget is a reflection of Arizona’s priorities and values. Policymakers can demonstrate that they are serious about addressing our growing water and climate issues. The resources outlined above are essential for the sustainability of our state.
Stay tuned for how and when you can urge your legislators and the Governor to make these critical investments.