Southern Arizona citizens want a vote on groundwater regulation

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Residential wells have been running dry in Cochise County, Arizona, near the southern part of the state.  As ABC News 15 reports, some residents are blaming large, commercial agricultural businesses such as dairy farms and nut tree growers (video follows).

Groundwater pumping from the Willcox Basin, where residential wells have been drying up, is not regulated.  The nearby Douglas Basin has some regulation, but not in the form of an “Active Management Area” — or “AMA.”  This is worrisome to homeowners in the area, who fear their properties will be worthless if their wells dry up.

Citizens organized under the group, Arizona Water DefendersOpens in a new tab., want voters to weigh in by voting to create active management areas in both basins this November.  The group told ABC News that enough signatures have been gathered for the Willcox Basin to put the issue on the November ballot, and the group is now focusing on Douglas Basin.  If either initiative is approved, it will be the first time in state history that citizens have mandated creation of an AMA.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources has published FAQs for well owners in both basins, which are different.  Part of Douglas Basin already has an irrigation non-expansion area (INA) subject to regulation and the Willcox Basin has no regulatory system.  Generally, if the petitions are approved, residential wells pumping less than 35 gallons per minute will not be subject to regulation under the AMAs.

When the 1980 Groundwater Code was enacted, Arizona created five AMAs with specific objectivesOpens in a new tab.:

  • In the Phoenix, Prescott, and Tucson AMAs, the primary management goal is safe-yield by the year 2025. Safe-yield is accomplished when no more groundwater is being withdrawn than is being replaced annually.
  • In the Pinal AMA, where the economy is primarily agricultural, the management goal is to preserve that economy for as long as feasible, while considering the need to preserve groundwater for future non-irrigation uses.
  • In the Santa Cruz AMA, the management goal is to maintain a safe-yield condition in the AMA and to prevent local water tables from experiencing long-term declines.



Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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