Sometimes to Be Heard, You Have to Leave the Room
Rural Arizona should not be an afterthought. Our landscapes are as diverse and productive as the people who live here. This is where we steward the watersheds that feed, build, and hydrate the cities. For more than 100 years the Arizona Farm Bureau has been proudly representing farmers and ranchers across the state growing every commodity and in every county of the state. We have engaged in nearly every water conversation with either a seat at the table or a bullhorn at the gate.
I recently withdrew from the Governor’s Water Policy Council (the Council) on behalf of the Arizona Farm Bureau, along with rural legislator, Senator Sine Kerr. In all my time working in the natural resources field and advocating for Arizona’s farm and ranch families, I have never walked away from the negotiating table. I believe participation is critical to bring your voice to the conversation. After all, the Arizona Farm Bureau has been engaging with a broad group of rural stakeholders for nearly a decade to better understand your concerns and create policy to support your views regarding the management of groundwater all over the state.
We were optimistic when the process started about the opportunity to provide the Council with these concerns and share ideas and discuss innovative solutions that align with the values of sustainable water management, local accountability, protecting existing uses, and creating opportunities for future growth with an emphasis on conservation. However, what we have experienced over the last four months has merely been an accelerated attempt to build support around a recycled concept focused on state control. A concept that would leave the future of current water users and rural economies at the impulses of unelected political appointees and blanket the entire state with new regulations regardless of existing circumstances.
This latest version, Local Groundwater Stewardship Areas (LGSA), was once again resurrected for committee deliberations. While a small number of voices would lead you to believe that the LGSA concept is widely supported across rural Arizona and blocked by the whims of a few individuals, these concepts have many critics and mounting opposition across rural Arizona.
Our concerns, alternative proposals, and concepts have fallen on deaf ears, with committee leadership only open to briefings around failed concepts and relying on a predetermined majority to roll over opposing voices. We found ourselves fighting for footnotes in a report that has already been written, despite attempts to offer alternative paths. To not allow any legitimate discussion of our concerns or ideas, but merely document them, would in no way reflect the importance of rural Arizona’s voice in a process that will directly impact them. On rare occasions like this, the only way to finally be heard in a room full of people is to leave the room.
Although we have left a dysfunctional process, we are committed to working with the legislature and other stakeholders around the state who have a vested interest in rural groundwater. We are looking forward to continued discussions and working collaboratively to develop a management framework that is focused according to need, aligns with the broader goals of rural Arizona, ensures continued economic prosperity, and the conservation of our precious resources.