Sen. Kerr’s Groundwater Bill Heads To House

Sen. Kerr’s Groundwater Bill Heads To House

By Daniel Stefanski |

A Republican proposal for groundwater policy is making its way through the Arizona State legislature.

Late last month, the Arizona State Senate passed SB 1221, which “establishes a process for the designation of a basin management area (BMA) and an active BMA in any location not included in an active management area (AMA), to be initiated by petition to the Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, [and] outlines the goals of an active BMA, active BMA council makeup, rights to water, reporting requirements, and requirements for the continuation or termination of an active BMA” – according to the purpose provided by the chamber.

The proposal passed the State Senate with a 16-12 vote (with two members not voting).

In a statement after the vote, Senator Sine Kerr, the bill’s sponsor, sharply criticized the state’s Democrat governor for the process and policies of her work on this issue. Kerr said, “In her State of the State Address, Hobbs made it clear she would work with the Legislature to enact groundwater policy. Sadly, she reneged on this commitment. I sent a letter this week to the Arizona Dept. of Water Resources urging the immediate withdrawal of her Administration’s proposal for an Active Management Area designation for the Gila Bend Groundwater Basin. Circumventing the Legislature sets a dangerous and undemocratic precedent in which our citizens did not approve of.”

The southwest Valley lawmaker added, “For months, I’ve committed time to researching and developing a tool that empowers rural Arizonans to manage, measure, conserve, and protect the groundwater within their communities for the benefit of their citizens and their local economies. Although still a work in progress, SB 1221 reflects the input of the actual water users whose voices were diminished within the Governor’s Water Policy Council. Her executive action promises to have detrimental impacts on rural Arizonans.”

When Senator Kerr introduced her bill, she compared her legislation to the “alternative proposals that would hand over the fate of local basins to the Executive Branch located hundreds of miles away, and under appointments all made from Phoenix.” Kerr was previously a member of Democrat Governor Katie Hobbs’ Water Policy Council, which was created last year “to analyze and recommend updates, revisions and additions to the 1980 Arizona Groundwater Management Act (GMA) and related water legislation, which shall include without limitation, analysis and recommendations for groundwater management outside current Active Management Areas.” Hobbs referred to this council as “bipartisan,” though Senator Kerr, resigned from her post in October, alleging that the Council was “nothing more than a forum to rubberstamp the progressive environmental goals of special interest groups,” and that “this community (of Arizona citizens and stakeholders) is not being provided with fair representation at the table.”

Along with Kerr, the Arizona Farm Bureau also announced its withdrawal from the Council that month, opining, “…the outcome of the greater Council appears to be pre-determined as essentially a cross between the seriously flawed attempts of the past and an AMA (Active Management Areas).”

At the end of November 2023, the Governor’s Water Policy Council reported back with its recommendations. Those included “a launch point and guidance for drafting new rules for an Alternative Designation of Assured Water Supply (ADAWS) program,” as well as “a foundational framework to craft legislation for creating a new groundwater management program for rural Arizona.”

In Hobbs’ second State of the State address this past January, she took time to discuss the importance of water for Arizona and her past and future work on this front. Hobbs said, “Let us remember that water and drought do not care about party registration or job titles or whether you live in an urban or rural community. We can only protect our water supply by working together. I stand ready to work with you to pass legislation that makes the changes we need today – all to safeguard Arizona’s water for tomorrow. And those who have spent years refusing to act: if you don’t, I will.”

That last line earned the Democrat governor an ovation from her allies in the Arizona House chamber, yet a warning of legal repercussions from two powerful lawmakers who were listening to her words.

Senate President Pro Tempore T.J. Shope responded, “Yeah, I don’t think she has that type of authority to act alone but she seems willing to bend the State Constitution to her will pretty often so I’m sure she’ll try and I’m sure we’ll see her in court.”

Shope’s colleague, Senate President Warren Petersen, added on to the comment, writing, “Kind of like when she broke the law by appointing 13 fake directors?”

SB 1221 will now be considered by the Arizona House of Representatives.

Daniel Stefanski is a reporter for AZ Free News. You can send him news tips using this link.

Why Proposed Rural Groundwater Control Legislation Is Bad For Arizona

Why Proposed Rural Groundwater Control Legislation Is Bad For Arizona

By Rep. Gail Griffin |

There has been a lot of talk recently about rural groundwater bills not getting a hearing at the Arizona State Legislature.

Over the years, proposed legislation has gone by many names, including “Groundwater Conservation Areas,” “Special Management Areas,” “Rural Management Areas,” and “Local Groundwater Stewardship Areas.” It also includes “Sustainable Groundwater Management Plans.”

Regardless of the name, the concept is the same, and all are bad.

While the idea of “local control” might sound good, the actual provisions are far from local or voluntary.

Instead of requiring a local vote of the community, these bills would allow as few as two people in some counties to establish irreversible groundwater control districts throughout the county.

Instead of being elected by the people, the members of these districts would be appointed by the Governor.

Instead of requiring a unanimous vote of county supervisors to adopt the most stringent assured water supply regulations in the nation, these bills would require only a simple majority.

Instead of applying equally across the entire watershed, these bills would allow only “portions” to be designated, meaning that individual properties could be singled-out for their water use, such power plants, farms, mines, hydrogen production facilities, or any business.

Instead of reducing the size of government, these bills would create new layers of government and give additional taxing, zoning, planning, and condemnation authority to a small group of unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats to decide the community’s economy and tell you what you can and cannot do with your private property.

Instead of voluntary conservation requirements, these bills would allow mandatory reporting requirements, groundwater supply rations, and groundwater withdrawal fees (taxes).

Instead of holding government officials accountable for public funds, these bills would allow the Governor to give up to $50 million each year to any non-profit organization or Indian tribe, regardless of geographic location, political ideology, or conflict of interest.

Instead of respecting the right to privacy, these bills would intrude into the personal lives and affairs of rural Arizonans and require active monitoring devices on private wells, including ranchers and farmers litigating water rights in ongoing stream adjudications.

Instead of authorizing temporary measures to help restore aquifer health, these groundwater control districts would be forever.

Instead of limiting absolute power, these bills would allow the unelected members of the board to essentially rule by fiat by establishing “local management goals” that would allow them to do whatever they want as the board.

Instead of requiring water to be put to “beneficial use,” these bills would open the door to “water markets” wherein water could be turned into a “commodity” and sold to the highest bidder, hoarded, and exported out of the district to big cities, environmental non-profits, and private corporations.

Instead of narrowly tailoring government power to prioritize human life and prosperity, these bills would allow the board to expand the definition of an “assured water supply” to require not only enough water for human activity over 100 years, but also enough water to protect endangered species, streams and rivers, and fish and wildlife habitat for 100 years (or longer). In other words, no water for people; only for the environment.

All of these are fraught with abuse and are unworkable for Arizona.

Thus, “local control” (in this context) is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, designed to trick voters into thinking the bills do something other than what they actually do.

We must do everything we can to identify bad legislation before it gets a hearing. And we must find solutions that make sense for Arizona and help strengthen our responsible use and management of water and natural resources.

We do have solutions moving forward, and we will continue to explore additional solutions that can help to address rural groundwater in Arizona.

As an elected official, I am committed to working with anyone who is willing to work with me and others to find reasonable solutions.

Until then, I will continue to fulfill my duty to the public to support good legislation, and oppose bad legislation, on rural groundwater management in our state.

Gail Griffin is a Republican member of the Arizona House of Representatives serving Legislative District 19, which includes areas of Greenlee, Graham, Cochise, and eastern Pima Counties. Griffin chairs the House Natural Resources, Energy & Water Committee and is co-chair of the Joint Legislative Ad Hoc Committee on Water Security.

Effort To Regulate Groundwater Use In Southern Sulphur Springs Valley Hits Legal Snag

Effort To Regulate Groundwater Use In Southern Sulphur Springs Valley Hits Legal Snag

By Terri Jo Neff |

Voters in the southern Sulphur Springs Valley will find out later this week whether they get to vote on the creation of a Douglas Groundwater Basin Active Management Area that will establish new regulations for the withdrawal and use of groundwater by private landowners across a large swath of Cochise County.

And the Douglas AMA initiative could make it on the 2022 general election ballot even if not enough verified, valid petition signatures were turned in, according to an argument put forth by the group which collected the signatures.

Judge Laura Cardinal will conduct a hearing Friday on a challenge by Rural Water Assurance to block the AMA initiative from the ballots of roughly 13,450 voters whose addresses fall within the boundary of the proposed Douglas AMA.

The city of Douglas as well as the agriculture-heavy communities of McNeal and Elfrida will be impacted if the Douglas AMA is approved, as will be a portion of the city of Bisbee and surrounding areas.

Proponents of the Douglas AMA contend unregulated pumping from large agricultural wells in central and southeastern Cochise County is depleting the aquifer. They are calling for several restrictions on groundwater use and irrigation which proponents claim are necessary to prevent harm to local residents who live in the area.

Critics like Rural Water Assurance, however, argue that an AMA interferes with private property rights in a number of ways. There will also be a loss of property value from newly implemented AMA-related restrictions placed on the use of the land, they argue, including a 100-year assured water supply certification required for subdivision development.

There is also concern that the push for a Douglas AMA comes at a time when southeast Arizona is expecting to see long-anticipated renewed economic activity thanks to Congressional plans to overhaul the current Douglas Port of Entry at the Mexico border.

But the issue before Cardinal will not be about the political arguments or water policy. Instead, she is being asked to rule whether Arizona Water Defenders submitted enough petition signature to get the AMA initiative on the upcoming ballot.

Part of what Cardinal must decide is whether it matters if those petition signatures are legitimate signatures of actual registered voters living within the boundaries of the proposed AMA. Or is a random sampling good enough.

Arizona Water Defenders needed at least 1,346 petition signatures to qualify for the ballot. The group submitted 2,271 signatures on July 6 and Cochise County Elections Director Lisa Marra later reported there were 1,683 valid signatures.

However, the process Marra used did not actually verify the validity of all of the signatures. Instead, a few dozen signatures were discounted immediately due to technical issues after which a random sample validation process was used.

This resulted in an extrapolated figure being provided by Marra without any verification if all of the presumed valid signatures were in fact valid.

In its election challenge, Rural Water Assurance argues Cardinal must disqualify nearly all of the submitted petition signatures as deficient for myriad reasons from mismatched voter signatures to signers not living within the proposed AMA boundaries.

A more crucial problem, the election challenge argues, is some of the 206 petition sheets did not include a completed circulator affidavit. That affidavit must be filled out by the person who circulated the petition to collect signatures.

With 10 signatures possible on each petition sheet, any petitions not properly circulated could result in a large number of disqualifications whether the voters’ signatures themselves are valid.

For its part, Arizona Water Defenders has asked Cardinal to dismiss the election challenge. The group argues that under current state law, it is legally irrelevant whether there is actually 1,346 verified petition signatures for getting the Douglas AMA initiative on the ballot.

The only important factor, according to the group’s attorney, is that Marra’s random-sampling calculation gave the group credit for more than the required number.

“There are no longer any remaining statutory requirements for the examination and verification of each signature of each petition by the Recorder,” attorney John A. MacKinnon argues in a motion to dismiss. “If the number of valid signatures as projected from the random sample equals or exceeds the minimum required number, the initiative is entitled to be on the ballot” under one of two statues.

The Cochise County Board of Supervisors and Cochise County Recorder David Stevens have been subpoenaed to court for Friday’s hearing, as has Marra and members of Arizona Water Defenders.

Arizona currently has five AMAs. The four located in Prescott, Phoenix, Pinal County, and Tucson where created by the Legislature. The fifth was approved by Santa Cruz County voters several years ago.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources provides a FAQ page about the proposed Douglas Groundwater Basis AMA here.