Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources this week that the Colorado River’s essential reservoirs could fall below critically low elevations in 2023, despite recent emergency efforts to sustain them. She further underscored that Reclamation would take action as needed to protect the system unless the states and federal leaders are able to reach an agreement in the next two months on how to conserve an additional 2 million to 4 million acre-feet of Colorado River water between now and the end of 2023.
At the same time, the Arizona Legislature is considering the authorization of a $1 billion plan over the next three years to identify and develop new water supplies, even as rural Arizona leaders are demanding legislation to protect existing groundwater supplies.
Haley Paul, co-lead of the Water for Arizona coalition and Arizona Policy Director at the National Audubon Society, issued the following statement about this critical moment for Arizona:
“The testimony from Commissioner Touton is staggering and sobering. Her call to conserve at least 2 million additional acre-feet of water underscores the major water security threat facing the entire Colorado River Basin, including Arizona. To put that number in context, California is entitled to 4.4 million acre-feet of Colorado River water per year, and Arizona’s annual allotment is 2.8 million acre-feet. Faced with this looming crisis, any inaction from Arizona’s state leaders to protect our water would jeopardize our communities, our economy, and our environment.
"The proposals for the water spending plan in Arizona would create new mechanisms for communities, residents, and businesses to invest in water supply projects. It remains imperative, however, that the negotiations authorizing any new or improved water authority also enshrine meaningful water conservation measures as well as rural groundwater management. Rural groundwater protections are needed alongside the new funding opportunities to ensure communities across Arizona have the ability to protect the groundwater supplies they do have.
“After months of bipartisan negotiations, it is time for lawmakers to reach a collective agreement on the importance of groundwater management alongside any advancement of a water authority proposal. If they don’t, their decision will hurt rural Arizonans, who often rely on groundwater as the only water supply and who have no Colorado River allocation.
“Right now, in more than 80% of the state, there are no limits on how much groundwater can be used. HB 2661, introduced by state Rep. Regina Cobb for the third year in a row, would enable rural communities to opt into a system to manage their groundwater and empower them to manage their own water resources, based on their own needs. Communities would be able to make informed and voluntary decisions about how to use and to protect their groundwater supplies.
“For years, we’ve used more water in the Colorado River system than nature can provide. Within the next year, we may see severe cutbacks in Arizona as a result. We cannot allow Arizona’s rural groundwater supplies to see the same fate of continued overuse – especially as rural leaders plead for change. For the benefit of all people in the state, our lawmakers must provide rural communities with the tools they need to manage and protect groundwater supplies. And the better we manage all of our water resources, the more credible a partner Arizona is with other states in ongoing Colorado River negotiations.”
About the Water for Arizona Coalition
The Water for Arizona Coalition is a community of Arizonans who support innovative practices and smart policies to ensure a reliable water supply to meet the state’s needs. The Coalition was recently recognized as an Arizona Capitol Times “2020 Leader of the Year” for their efforts in protecting Arizona's most valuable resource. Organizational support is provided by solution-oriented groups like American Rivers, Business for Water Stewardship, Environmental Defense Action Fund, National Audubon Society, and Western Resource Advocates that collectively have over 60,000 Arizona members, as well as hundreds of hunters, anglers, and outdoor recreation enthusiasts across the state.