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Why Would Arizona Deregulate Groundwater Now?

For decades the arid state has required most new construction projects to demonstrate adequate water supply, but at the edge of the next dry spell, two lawmakers are trying to get rid of the rules.
April 9, 2018, 7am PDT | Katharine Jose
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Ingrid Curry

In a sweeping piece that covers the history of groundwater management in Arizona, as well as the issues it will confront in the future, Dustin Gardiner of The Arizona Republic reports that in the current legislative session, Arizona's elected officials have been working on several bills that would begin to dismantle progressive planning and pumping regulations that have been in place for decades.

Most of the current regulations are rooted in the 1980 Groundwater Management Act, which is legislation that possibly enabled one of the nation's driest states to endure the most recent drought without catastrophe, and could be important as the state descends into the next dry spell. It mandates, among other things, that developers of new subdivisions in the state's most populous areas demonstrate that they have a 100-year water supply before beginning construction.

"The lawmakers have described their drive to let counties rescind the 100-year water supply rule—primarily Cochise County in southeastern Arizona —as a move to let local governments decide what’s best for themselves."

The problem, of course, is that groundwater is not a local issue, even according to the Arizona Supreme Court, which ruled in 1981 that aquifers are a shared public resource. Groundwater alone comprises 40 percent of water supply in Arizona, but as is true almost ;everywhere in the U.S., aquifers have been and are being drained faster than they can be replenished.

Once finished, the new bills may not pass the legislature, and even if they do, Governor Doug Ducey has previously vetoed legislation that would deregulate groundwater. But, Gardiner writes, "even if the bills fail, water-policy experts and environmentalists say the push for deregulation at the Capitol speaks to a broader problem," namely that the state seems willing to give up its mantle as a "role model" of groundwater management in the name of furthering development.

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Published on Wednesday, April 4, 2018 in The Arizona Republic
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