COVID-19 has impacted every facet of our lives and brought what promised to be a productive Arizona legislative session—especially for key priorities like water—to a premature end.
The momentum was there. A year after the Drought Contingency Plan passed the Arizona legislature and was signed by Governor Doug Ducey, and after the Arizona Republic published their investigative series on Arizona’s Next Water Crisis, the Arizona Legislature was, once again, giving serious consideration to water policy legislation.
A record number of water-related bills were introduced this legislative session, from Republican and Democratic legislators alike. Multiple bills, reflecting sound water policy—such as House Bill 2675 which encouraged conservation, leaving more water in rivers—were moving through the legislative process with bipartisan support.
We were equally optimistic about the prospects for our budget priorities, as state agencies that protect water and the environment were likely to receive additional funding in recognition of the critical work within their specific regulatory responsibilities.
What’s more, there were authentic conversations about extending groundwater protections to areas in Arizona that currently have none. I testified in favor of Senate Bill 1635 and House Bill 2896. These bills highlighted the urgent need to address groundwater depletion and provide Arizona communities with additional tools to strengthen groundwater management in order to sustain their livelihoods.
But as the pandemic grew with intensity, ultimately dominating the political landscape, legislative and executive priorities understandably shifted to addressing the growing public health challenges and the corresponding economic crisis. We know the effects of COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation have been extreme, with people suffering from high rates of infection and death, compounded by the disparities in access to clean water.
Advancing sustainable water policies in Arizona is essential if we are going to protect our water resources for people, for birds, for fish and other wildlife. And Audubon will be there:
- Advancing the conversation on management of the Colorado River—the role of tribes and environmental non-governmental organizations must continue to be strengthened as we start to renegotiate the 2007 Interim Guidelines governing the Colorado River, which expire in 2026.
- Advocating for smart groundwater management that gives communities the tools they need to steward this finite resource for people, but also for the groundwater-dependent ecosystems that rely on healthy groundwater levels.
- Finding ways to incentivize leaving more water in rivers to sustain habitat on which birds rely.
- Fighting hard to protect the water quality of Arizona’s waterways through our involvement in the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s process to develop a state waterways protection program to cover the gap in water quality protections left in the wake of recent federal rollbacks to the Clean Water Act.
We know that there will be some unfinished as well as new business to tackle in the 2021 session, and we’ll be ready. We’ll need your voice as we gear up once again to advance sound water policy for people and birds—thanks for being part of our flock. Stay safe.