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In Arizona, as throughout much of the West, the situation is serious. And while recent storms bring welcome moisture for thirsty western landscapes, one wet winter will not reverse 20 years of drought. We hope for rain and snow to replenish our reservoirs, rivers, groundwater, and habitat.
However, there is more we can do than just hope, we can take action that will improve the outlook for people and birds. In Arizona, action for Audubon is focused at the Arizona Legislature. There, we seek to advance policies and encourage investments that promote water reliability for our rivers and communities, to benefit birds and people. There are no shortages of challenges to address, and we have opportunities to advocate for solutions.
This year, during the Arizona legislative session, Audubon is focused on:
- Protecting rural groundwater: In order to prevent the drying up of rivers, springs, and wells, communities in rural Arizona—areas outside of the state’s Active Management Areas (where there are existing groundwater regulations)—should be able to conserve and manage their groundwater. Right now, there is little that communities can do to slow groundwater pumping, even when it dries up neighboring wells, or impacts nearby rivers and streams. The long-term effects of NOT protecting rural groundwater will mean less water available for rivers and streams and the habitat they support for birds.
- Supporting and extending existing groundwater protections. We must maintain the safeguards we already have in place for groundwater management. While certainly not perfect, existing rules governing groundwater use in Active Management Areas (AMAs) have been essential as we try to achieve groundwater sustainability. We should build upon and strengthen what we have, for instance by authorizing the extension of the Groundwater Management Act after 2025. We will fight any attempts to undermine existing groundwater protections.
- Increasing investment in state agencies to protect water quality and quantity: The Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) need additional funding to adequately fulfill their responsibilities to protect our water supplies. Attracting, hiring, and retaining water professionals has been a perennial concern for our state agencies since the 2008 Great Recession. Furthermore, ADEQ needs the legislature to authorize fee increases for its services so that the agency can carry out their required duties to protect Arizona’s water quality. Fully funding our water and environmental agencies is in the best interest of our state.
- Advancing the General Stream Adjudications process: We also need continued investment in ADWR and the court system to advance the General Stream Adjudications, which will provide more certainty over who has the rights to what amount of surface (river) water within the state. This is in turn could lead to innovative deals to provide more water for rivers and habitat.
- Preventing the weakening of clean energy standards: Climate change is driving water scarcity across the West, and is the single largest threat to birds. Now is not the time to reduce the ability of the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) to set clean energy standards that reduce carbon emissions.
- Supporting state funding for invasive plant removal, such as salt cedar, and replacing it with native vegetation that supports birds and river health. Invasive plant eradication reduces flood and fire risk, but can pose risks to birds (like the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher) and other wildlife if it is not accompanied by planting native plants. Investing in projects that accomplish both benefits people, municipalities, counties, birds, other wildlife, and more.
- Encouraging public funding for water projects and planning to go toward tried and true water reliability projects such as aggressive urban water conservation, stormwater and groundwater recharge projects (bonus if they are multi-benefit and create habitat), agricultural efficiency upgrades that lead to reductions in overall on-farm water use, and forest health and watershed protection. It is likely that lawmakers will propose large budgets for water augmentation projects. We want to make sure those funds go towards realistic, feasible, and multi-benefit water projects, instead of large-scale and unrealistic proposals to import water from other states.
- Advocating for policy involving all of the above to be equitable and inclusive: We are currently operating within a system of water management that did not originally incorporate the needs of Indigenous and other marginalized communities, nor the environment—which has had lasting effects that have impacted people and reduced bird habitat. If water security (clean and reliable water for birds and people) is to be achieved, we must influence and encourage water management decision-making that brings more voices to the table and incorporates the needs of those who have been historically excluded.
Taken together, these measures would help us adapt to our drier reality and prepare us for future years, leading us towards a more livable and equitable Arizona. The time to act is now. And your engagement in the state legislative arena in Arizona is imperative—we need your voice. Will you join us, and pledge to use your voice for birds in 2022?