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The entire Colorado River Basin is in crisis, and Arizona is at critical juncture. The state needs to update its water policies in order to adapt to the climate and water reality we face. And Audubon—along with our partners in the Water for Arizona Coalition—has developed a practical approach to improving Arizona's water outlook. We're calling it our Arizona Water Security Plan.
As the state contemplates large funding opportunities to augment, conserve, and use water efficiently, it behooves us to match large water investments with smart water policy to ensure we are using the water we do have as wisely as possible.
The Colorado River and its tributaries support 40 million people and more than 400 species of birds, but they are shrinking due to climate change and overuse. As Colorado River water availability decreases, our reliance on in-state surface water and groundwater will intensify—and our policies and structures for sustainably managing these resources need to keep up.
Therefore, all water supplies in Arizona must be managed to ensure their reliability and sustainability for generations to come. If we do nothing, Arizona’s economy and its enchanting environment will be in serious danger.
Although we agreed to the Drought Contingency Plan in 2019, it is not going to be enough. Our groundwater management laws have not been advanced in more than 40 years. Take the fact that in the majority of the land area of the state, there are no limitations on the amount of groundwater that can be used. And finally, key deadlines for significant regional water management policies and agreements are imminent—the Groundwater Management Act expires in 2025 and the rules governing the Colorado River need to be renegotiated by 2026.
Meanwhile, climate change and aridification (resulting in less precipitation, hotter temperatures, and thirstier soils) are fundamentally changing life-supporting ecosystems across the Southwest. The decisions made on water in the next five years are critical for how our state adapts. We can—and must—choose to deal with these issues and work to ensure water security for all.
The foundation of this bold approach should address six urgent and interrelated water issues:
Issue 1: Acknowledge accelerating climate change impacts and incorporate urgency into our water planning and decision making.
Issue 2: Protect groundwater for all Arizonans (including outside Active Management Areas).
Issue 3: Renew the Groundwater Management Act and update the rules for managing groundwater within the AMAs.
Issue 4: Continue to support tribes in resolving tribal water issues.
Issue 5: Accelerate the resolution of long-standing legal uncertainties over water rights by dedicating more funding to this effort.
Issue 6: Invest in water conservation projects and in the agencies that promote sustainability and quality of our water supplies.
A new era of water leadership is required to sustain flowing rivers and springs, prevent the drying up of wells, conserve habitat for birds, fish and other wildlife, and ensure the state of Arizona maintains a reliable water supply for its residents, farmers, and businesses.
Current and future decisionmakers in the state legislature and in the governor’s office must prioritize integrated and statewide water policy reforms and smart investments in Arizona’s water future.
More action is needed to advance Arizona's water policy to adapt to today's water reality. You can help by using your voice. Join the Western Rivers Action Network today.