Why Groundwater Matters for Arizona’s People and Birds

We need to ensure its continued protection.

Groundwater takes thousands of years to accrue—and sometimes—just decades to deplete. When too much is pumped out of the ground too fast—as we have seen throughout Arizona—entire river stretches and the ecosystems and wildlife that rely on that water can be depleted. The quality of this fossil resource often degrades as people must dig wells deeper and deeper.

Given the connection between riparian health providing bird habitat and groundwater withdrawals, Audubon is committed to protecting groundwater and ensuring its sustainable management in Arizona. After all, as we like to say, #BirdsNeedWater—even if that’s groundwater.

Ahead of the 2020 Arizona legislative session, a flurry of news articles and meetings have elevated the discussions around groundwater to the public square. Here is what you need to know:

  • Arizona Has Allowed Growth that Relies on Groundwater. Experts call for changing the rules: The Arizona Republic highlights a new report by the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University, which questions the longevity of our current growth and water supplies. Current rules allow for new housing and business developments to use groundwater, as long as another entity (the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District) recharges water back into the ground at the same levels.
  • Ancient Aquifers are Dropping as Tucson’s Suburbs Pump Groundwater: The Arizona Daily Star zeroes in on one of the issues highlighted in the Kyl Center report, that there is a hydrological disconnect between where developments served by groundwater are withdrawing water and where they are replenishing it. This “disconnect” is resulting in areas of localized groundwater depletion, while other areas, namely where a lot of Colorado River water is being put into groundwater recharge basins, are seeing groundwater levels rise.  This means while some areas are reaching “safe yield” (the amount of water replenished equals the amount withdrawn), other areas may see localized stress over time from groundwater pumping.
  • Pinal County Faces 100-year Water shortage: KJZZ, Phoenix’s public radio station, covers the announcement by the Arizona Department of Water Resources that the agency projects a shortfall in available groundwater to meet slated demands in Pinal County. A group of stakeholders will be convening to address these water supply gaps and propose solutions.
  • Rural Counties should take Charge of Groundwater, Former Gov. Bruce Babbitt Warns: The Arizona Republic reports that Bruce Babbitt, the Governor of Arizona when the 1980 Groundwater Management Act was signed into law, urged rural County Supervisors to seek the ability to govern the groundwater resources in their county jurisdictions. On a related note, there is currently a committee, as part of the Governor’s Water Council, aimed at addressing priorities for groundwater management outside of Active Management Areas (AMAs). Currently, groundwater is only regulated within AMAs.

At Audubon, we’re ready to defend against short-sighted proposals that weaken existing protections of groundwater. We are also on the lookout for opportunities to advance sound legislation around groundwater management, and will be calling on you to help us this legislative session.

Need a primer on groundwater management? Check out: 10 Things You Should Know About Arizona’s Groundwater Management Act.