Arizona Considers Changing Regulations On Groundwater Pumping

By Will Stone
Published: Monday, February 1, 2016 - 11:27am
Will Stone/KJZZ
Land in Cochise County.

Arizona could roll back some regulations on groundwater pumping if a new bill wins enough support. A state legislative committee is considering the proposal Monday.

Travel outside central Arizona and there are almost no restrictions on groundwater pumping. The exception: some counties require new subdivisions to get a state certificate showing an adequate water supply for the next 100 years.

Cochise County has that rule, which applies to all cities and towns there. But that could soon change — which makes Kathy Ferris of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association nervous. She said some rural areas are already grappling with a rapidly declining water table.

“Getting rid of the adequate water supply in these counties increases groundwater pumping. It increases competition for dwindling groundwater supplies," said Ferris.

“We think the cities should be able to make the decision on their own," said Sierra Vista Mayor Rick Mueller.

Mueller said this is about local control. The bill would exempt cities from that county water requirement. His city has been proactive in managing its water supply, he said, but this rule for subdivisions “puts us lower on the list of where developers want to come in, so we have had a number of developments that have not come into Sierra Vista because they want to wait until this lawsuit is over with.”

The federal government sued to halt a development in Sierra Vista out of concern it would sap the San Pedro River, even though the state had given approval.

Republican Sen. Gail Griffin, chairwoman of the Senate Water & Energy Committee, is behind the proposed bill. She’s received campaign contributions from a trade group defending the development in Sierra Vista. Griffin did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

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