Two ballot initiatives were presented to voters in southern Arizona to regulate rural groundwater. The petitions were the result of a grassroots effort led by Arizona Water Defenders, a group of citizens concerned about residential wells drying up because of unregulated groundwater withdrawals.
It looks like voters in Cochise County approved an initiative to create the Douglas Basin Active Management Area (AMA) where there was already some regulation under an irrigation non-expansion area. The Arizona Republic reports that the other initiative to create an AMA in the Willcox Basin was rejected. Republican officials in the county were requiring a hand count of all votes due to their distrust of machines use to tally votes, a move that was blocked by a Superior Court judge. The County is reportedly appealing the Superior Court order, so it is unclear whether the dispute will play into the final tally on the citizens’ initiative.
The Arizona Department of Water Resources‘ information page published before the November 8 election explains:
On August 30, 2022, in response to a petition that was filed by residents pursuant to A.R.S. § 45-415, the Board of Supervisors of Cochise County called for an election, to be held on November 8, 2022, on whether to designate the Douglas Groundwater Basin as an active management area (“AMA”).
NOTICE: Pursuant to A.R.S. § 45-416, only those lands that were legally irrigated in the five years preceding that date (August 30, 2022) may be irrigated within the basin. “Irrigate” means to apply water to two or more acres of land to produce plants or parts of plants for sale or human consumption, or for use as feed for livestock, range livestock, or poultry. A.R.S. § 45-402. This prohibition will remain in effect until the results of the election are certified.
If the election results in the designation of an AMA, the prohibition on irrigation of new acres within the basin (with certain limited exceptions) would remain in effect permanently. Additionally, if an AMA is designated, a person may withdraw groundwater from a well having a pump with a maximum capacity greater than 35 gallons per minute (“non-exempt well”) only if the person holds a right or permit to withdraw the groundwater. Generally, within an AMA, a person may withdraw groundwater for a non-irrigation use from a well having a pump with a maximum pump capacity of 35 gallons per minute or less (“exempt well”) without a right or permit. However, there are some limitations on the use of exempt wells within AMAs.