Governor’s Water Policy Council reviews “ag to urban” groundwater reform proposal

June 20, 2024
The Governor's Water Policy Council meeting on June 18, 2024

The statewide group of stakeholders tasked by Gov. Hobbs to modernize Arizona’s groundwater management laws met on June 18 to discuss reforms considered during the recently concluded session of the State Legislature.  

Representatives from the Governor’s Office and ADWR provided the Governor’s Water Policy Council with a review of ongoing discussions of rural groundwater legislation and a detailed analysis of an “ag to urban” groundwater-management proposal.

“We’re going to share, in that regard, a lot of data, a lot of projections, that ADWR has been working on,” said ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke, who co-chairs the Governor’s Water Policy Council, while introducing his Department’s presentation. 

“We have made some progress to date and we recognize that there is a path forward, but we also believe that now is the time to act - now and in the near future,” he said.

Data visualizations based on a conversion of ag to urban where consumption is reduced from 5 acre-feet per acre, to 1 acre-foot per acre over 100 years

In launching ADWR’s presentation of proposed groundwater reforms, ADWR Special Adviser to the Director Bruce Hallin observed water users across Arizona appear to be tightly focused on the importance of protecting groundwater supplies. “In 40 years in this business I’ve never had this number of stakeholders reaching out to me,” said Hallin.

Governor Hobbs’ representative on natural resource issues, Patrick Adams, noted that “we have built significant momentum on this issue over the last few months.” Adams told the Council members that the Governor is “prepared to consider calling a special session” should the momentum toward consensus on groundwater reforms continue.

“The expertise and the knowledge assembled around this table is critical to making sure we get water policy right,” said Adams. 
Hallin cited a set of “guiding principles” for the groundwater framework. The reforms, he said:

•    Must contain meaningful conservation and water management programs that protect groundwater users and improve aquifer conditions.
•    Must offer customizable, flexible programs that local water users and stakeholders can tailor to the needs of the groundwater basin.
•    Formation must be science-driven and comparable to the formation of an AMA or Irrigation Non-expansion Area.  
•    Governance must include equitable representation of basin stakeholders and basin water use sectors.  
•    Water management and regulation is a function of the State, and ADWR’s technical expertise and authorities must be part of the process to establish, manage, and implement the groundwater management framework and its programs.

ADWR hydrologists and planning experts presented a detailed analysis of the ag to urban proposal. 

Visualization showing the difference in simulated water level elevation due to reduced pumping

They said that the Department’s research concluded that a program to incentivize growth on former agricultural lands could provide substantial benefits to the health of urban aquifers if done correctly. While the Department has proposed appropriate parameters in the Phoenix Active Management Area, additional work would be required to identify the right parameters for the Pinal Active Management Area.

The Department’s presentation, as well as a video recording of the June 18 meeting, can be found here.