Top Arizona Water Priorities for the Legislature this Year

A fresh look at how the statehouse can support Arizona’s waterways.

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Arizona’s legislative session is set to begin in-person next week. While there are many competing priorities this legislative session, we are hopeful that bills improving water security for people and birds can cut through the noise and bring lawmakers together to improve the lives of Arizonans and the birds, fish, and other wildlife that rely on healthy rivers and streams.

Audubon has four main priorities for the 2021 Arizona legislative session:

  1. Support flowing rivers
  2. Steward groundwater resources
  3. Protect water quality in Arizona’s rivers, lakes, and streams
  4. Adequately fund state agencies tasked with protecting water resources and the environment

Support flowing rivers

Last year, many bills were moving through the legislative process but ultimately left in limbo due to COVID-19 and the abrupt closure of the 2020 session. This year, legislative leadership may want to prioritize these early in the session. One of these bills could leave more water flowing in rivers by preventing the “use it or lose it” provision of Arizona water law, when a user files a water conservation plan with the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) and diverts less river water onto their property through efficiency and conservation measures. We expect to see this bill (last year titled HB 2675) reintroduced, and, hopefully, move swiftly through the legislative process.

Steward groundwater resources

In order to steward our state’s precious groundwater resources and give groundwater-dependent ecosystems—like springs and streams—a fighting chance, we must empower local communities to protect their groundwater supplies for the future. Right now, outside of the central populous portions of Arizona, the state provides very limited options to local communities seeking to protect their groundwater. Representative Regina Cobb (R-Kingman) is expected to introduce legislation that would allow for the formation of Rural Management Areas, allowing local communities to protect groundwater in specific areas through best management practices.

Other legislation we expect to see would provide local communities with a way to stem unsustainable groundwater pumping by stopping new agricultural irrigation in specific geographic areas called Irrigation Non-expansion Areas (INAs). Several communities around the state have requested the formation of INAs to curb groundwater pumping near their communities, but they have been denied by ADWR due to the way the law is currently written. We should fix that. Legislation is needed so that ADWR can look at likely future groundwater pumping scenarios when determining if an area should be able to prohibit new agricultural irrigation using additional groundwater.

Protect water quality in Arizona’s rivers, lakes, and streams

With the Trump administration’s rollbacks to the federal Clean Water Act in effect in Arizona, many rivers, lakes, and streams are now at risk to pollution and construction. And with uncertainty as to how long it would take a Biden administration to reverse the Trump rule, it is imperative that the state of Arizona pass legislation authorizing the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to develop and implement a state-level water quality protection program. Audubon and our partners have been working with ADEQ and other stakeholders since the spring of 2020 to develop legislation that protects rivers, lakes, and streams. This is particularly important for the sustainability of Arizona’s economy and the many birds that rely on Arizona’s waterways. We expect to see legislation introduced this session and believe it is necessary to protect places such as Aravaipa Creek, Burro Creek, Watson Lake, and Sycamore Creek (among many others) from harmful discharges and construction activities.

Adequately fund state agencies tasked with protecting water resources and the environment

In the recession of 2008, Arizona gutted the state agencies that protect water resources and the environment—and they have been slow to bounce back. While progress has been made to improve funding for programs and staffing at ADWR and ADEQ—thanks in part to our network’s advocacy—we must remain vigilant that these agencies have the resources they need to do their jobs for Arizona. We will advocate accordingly during the budget process. 


It is anyone’s guess how the 2021 Arizona legislative session will ultimately unfold given the worrisome state of the COVID-19 pandemic, but we are prepared and ready to engage on these key issues in order to advance sound water policy for people and birds. Get ready to take action with us (from the comfort of your home) by making sure you are part of our Western Rivers Action Network. You can also check out our advocacy training webinar (recording) to learn how you can engage in the legislative process (safely and virtually).