Tensions over local groundwater control sparked in Arizona

Gila Bend Groundwater Basin
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February 5, 2024 — The informal public meeting about the Gila Bend Groundwater Basin conducted by the Arizona Department of Water Resources late January predictably raised tensions over rural water use and control.

The meeting was about the creation of an Active Management Area (AMA) — which would enable the state to administer groundwater withdrawals from the Gila Bend Groundwater Basin, which is predominately agricultural.  Such a move would be the first made by the state since 1980.

SB 1221 for Local Control.

Shortly before the hearing, State Senator Sine Kerr introduced SB 1221Opens in a new tab., which would allow local control over groundwater.  The bill provides for flexible, voluntary conservation measures that reward proactive efforts to conserve water.  The bill was introduced by Senators Kerr and Gail Griffin on January 29 and assigned to the Appropriations, Rules, and Natural Resources, Energy and Water standing committees.  The Natural Resources, Energy and Water committee is scheduled to hear the bill on February 8.  A livestream of the hearing will be available from the state senate at https://www.azleg.gov/videoplayer/?clientID=6361162879&eventID=2024021035Opens in a new tab.

Arizona Public Radio’s KJZZ reports that “Kerr’s Senate Bill 1221 would allow community members to establish protected groundwater basin areas, but unlike AMAs, which are managed by ADWR, they would be governed by an elected local council.  Kerr acknowledged that in her proposed basin protection areas, agriculture would face water cuts. But the cuts would be made across the board, she says, and not targeted at agriculture, as she warns they may be if an AMA is approved.”

Agriculture Has Been Conserving Groundwater for Years.

Writing about the decades long nightmare that Arizona water issues have created for the state’s agriculture sector, Arizona Farm Bureau President Stefanie Smallhouse points outOpens in a new tab., “As for the resource itself – the water – conservation is ongoing. The conservation conversation is not a new one in our daily lives. As Dr. Frisvold with the University of Arizona has compiled from USDA data, in 2013 alone, Arizona growers of all crops spent $53.3 million on new irrigation-related equipment, facilities, land improvements, and computer technology. These investments in irrigation improvements averaged $151 per acre and $42,000 per farm. Of the $53.3 million – $12.2 million were investments primarily to conserve water, while another $1.1 million was to conserve energy. Over the last 30 years, while urban and industrial withdrawals in Arizona have risen by 68%, ag water withdrawals have fallen by 35%. For most of the state, conservation has always been a choice – not a mandate. We have chosen to conserve. We must lead on this issue.”

Comments Can Still Be Submitted.

The deadline to submit comments on ADWR’s January 30 informal meeting is February 12.  The Arizona Department of Water ResourcesOpens in a new tab. has posted a recording of the meeting and presentation, as well as comments received so far, on its website.  ADWR’s presentation shows that groundwater levels in the Gila Bend basin are in severe decline.

Map/Image SourceArizona Department of Water ResourcesOpens in a new tab.



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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