Playing Catch Up on Arizona Water Management Plans

Playing Catch Up on Arizona Water Management Plans

As most of you already know, the Groundwater Management Act of 1980 created five Active Management Areas, or AMAs, in Arizona. Within an AMA, groundwater users are subject to a stringent set of rules and regulations that determine who can use groundwater, how much groundwater they can use, and how they are required to mitigate the effect of groundwater pumping within the AMA.

Many of these rules are set forth in formal management plans for each AMA, written and adopted by the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR). The 1980 Act created five management plan periods, starting in 1980 and running through 2025. Right now, Arizona is in the tail end of the fourth management period which runs from 2010 to 2020. The fifth period, which is the last for which the 1980 Act accounts, runs from 2020 to 2025.

But, there’s a bit of a hiccup: though we’re almost done with the fourth management period, no fourth management plan has been adopted in the Phoenix, Pinal, or Santa Cruz AMAs. A recent audit of the Arizona Department of Water Resources focused significant time and concern on the fact that the department is so far behind its required adoption of the fourth management plan, and cited lack of staff as one of the major reasons for the delay (from 2009 to 2014, staff positions at ADWR were reduced by more than 60 percent).

At the urging of the Governor and in response to the audit, the Department has developed a plan for writing the next two management plans. First, taking advantage of some new staffing opportunities, ADWR has hired someone to focus specifically on the management plan revisions and adoptions. Thanks to the additional staff capacity, they already have a draft of the fourth management plan for the Phoenix AMA, the Pinal AMA, and are working on the draft for Santa Cruz.

If you’re like me and you try to think in terms of working smarter, not harder, you may wonder why they’ll even bother with a fourth plan if there are mere months left in the period. The bureaucratic answer to that question is “the statute tells us we have to.” And, technically speaking, that’s true. But also coming into play is the fact that the management plans are intended to impose increasingly rigid conservation requirements as time goes on. So, if the Department misses the chance to add water use restrictions to the fourth plan, it’s one step behind, and won’t be able to impose even more rigorous conservation standards to the fifth plan.

 In a briefing on the proposed fourth management plan for the Phoenix AMA, it was clear that the requirements are indeed increasingly rigid. The plan proposes up to a 10 percent decrease in water duties for the top 25 percent of agricultural users in the AMA, with an estimated savings of 9,000-acre-feet per year. It also proposes to require irrigation districts to line 100% of the canals that deliver agricultural water. Finally, it modifies the Best Management Practices (BMP) program by requiring more points for a farm to comply and re-weighting the point structure so that fewer points are assigned to less impactful BMPs. Similar changes are proposed for municipal and industrial users as well.

The fourth management plan drafts are far from set in stone, and the Phoenix Groundwater Users Advisory Council (GUAC) met recently to begin its discussions on the plan. Farm Bureau will continue to be engaged and will be sure to let our grassroots members know when the opportunity for public comment on the plans becomes available.

And remember: that’s just the fourth management plan. We still must adopt a fifth management plan, to be effective from 2020 to 2025. But unlike the fourth plan, which was developed almost exclusively by the agency, ADWR has convened a public workgroup to allow for industry input on the terms of the fifth plan. The first meeting of that workgroup took place last month, and subgroups will continue to meet to discuss the needs and concerns of specific industries, including agriculture. In addition, a subgroup to discuss the management goal in Pinal County, which is focused specifically on preserving agricultural economies, will convene to determine whether that goal needs clarification.

Long story short: there’s a lot of work to be done, and not much time to do it. But Arizona Farm Bureau is here to stay on top of the issues and keep you informed along the way. If you want to attend, participate, or just stay up-to-date on the work of the fifth management plans workgroup, meeting dates, materials, and other important information will be posted at https://new.azwater.gov/5MP.

Editor's Note: This update first appeared in the bi-weekly “While You Were Working” legislative update. To receive these updates in your email inbox, sign up for Action Alerts on www.azfb.org. Click on “Public Policy,” then on “Action Center.”

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