Arizona Gov. Hobbs talks water management in State of State, launches groundwater council

Jan 9, 2023, 5:27 PM | Updated: 5:36 pm

The Colorado River Basin supplies water to 40 million people in seven western states. (Photo by Jus...

The Colorado River Basin supplies water to 40 million people in seven western states. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

PHOENIX –Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs  addressed water management during her State of the State speech Monday afternoon, and she signed an executive order to set up a council focused on groundwater management.

Hobbs spoke of the Colorado River water cuts that went into effect at the start of the calendar year, as the key water source for much of the Western U.S. has been impacted by drought and overuse.

Arizona will see an 80,000 acre-feet of water cut — 21% of its total share — from the river critical for drinking water, hydroelectric power and irrigation for farmers. An average household uses one-half to one acre-foot of water a year.

“We must also all understand this: barring a miracle from nature, it will likely get worse before it gets better,” Hobbs said in her speech. “This should be a wake-up call for all of us, because it will take all of us to solve it.”

Hobbs released a report from the Arizona Department of Water Resources on the 100-year outlook of groundwater in the Hassayampa sub-basin in the West Valley. The area is projected to fall 15% below Assured Water Supply limits, short of pumping demands.

To address the threats facing one of the fastest growing states by population in the country, Hobbs signed her fourth executive order to create the Governor’s Water Policy Council.

The action states the council will analyze and recommend updates, revisions and additions to the 1980 Arizona Groundwater Management Act and other water legislation.

The Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources — currently Tom Buschatzke — will chair the council and create committees. Membership will include directors of the Department of Agriculture, Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Forestry and Fire Management, State Land Department and Commerce Authority.

The sitting governor can also choose representatives from entities including the state Legislature, Salt River Project, Navajo Nation, Tribal communities within current Active Management Areas (AMAs) and private water companies.

“Facing our current reality, it’s time to update groundwater management tools and protect groundwater supplies – particularly in rural communities,” Hobbs said.

“We must take these actions today because in many parts of our state, there are effectively no restrictions on groundwater pumping and local communities have little-to-no support to manage water supplies. As a result, a new water user can move in, dig a well, and pump as much water as possible – even if it dries up the community’s aquifer.”

Hobbs spoke on assisting rural communities with water governance. She referenced the Saudi Arabian company that bought land in Arizona to pump groundwater and send crops back to the Middle East. Attorney General Kris Mayes told 12 News that she plans to challenge the state’s lease agreement with the company.

“We all know that’s not right. Our groundwater should be used to support Arizonans, not foreign business interests,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs announced she will release her budget on Friday and said it includes funding for rural communities to set up AMAs, which provide long-term management and conservation.

“All cities and towns in our state need to proactively manage our groundwater, and by funding this program we are providing a powerful tool to ensure we strike a balance between usage and recharging our water table,” Hobbs said.

The governor stressed the need for bipartisan cooperation at local, state and federal levels as the West endures drought.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Arizona Gov. Hobbs talks water management in State of State, launches groundwater council