Arizona’s groundwater supply poses problems and potential solutions for policy makers.Snell & Wilmer

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While the local and national press are flooded with articles about the dire nature of Arizona’s water supply and questions about why people are even allowed to live in the desert, decades of water leaders’ Careful planning across the board has created a resilient response to these challenges. Southwest, and possibly country. Arizona is arguably far better suited to withstand the challenges of drought and climate change than any state that relies heavily on groundwater supplies or other single sources of water. This article, the second in a series, focuses on Arizona’s groundwater supply and the challenges and solutions that the use of this finite resource can pose.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources (“ADWR”) has released an extensive analysis of Arizona’s groundwater resources. These analyzes confirmed that Arizona has hundreds of millions of acre feet of groundwater in more than 40 different groundwater basins throughout the state. However, while this groundwater is a vast resource, it is also an almost entirely non-renewable source (i.e., most of the state’s aquifers have annual hardly any water is added). Because of this limited natural recharge, some of Arizona’s more extensively developed groundwater basins experienced significant drops in water tables in the late 20th century.th century. This prompted the Arizona Legislature to enact his Groundwater Act of 1980. This was intended to slow and eventually end groundwater depletion and related problems such as land subsidence and fissures.

At its most basic level, the Groundwater Code established provincial areas for enhanced groundwater protection, called Active Management Areas (“AMAs”) and Irrigation Non-Extended Areas (“INAs”). In these locations, the Groundwater Act imposes extensive regulatory requirements that limit access to groundwater in ways that significantly limit the “reasonable use” doctrine that applies elsewhere in the state. . Under the AMA, groundwater can only be pumped if the pump operator meets the following conditions: (2) Service area rights issued to municipal water utilities and irrigation districts. (3) Groundwater withdrawal permission. or (5) “exempt” wells with a yield less than 35 gallons per minute. In addition, groundwater users exercising any of these rights must generally also comply with conservation measures to ensure efficient use of groundwater. These conservation measures are intended to become more stringent over time in order to gradually reduce groundwater withdrawal. In INAs, the use of groundwater for irrigation purposes is limited to land that was irrigated at the time the INA was established.

The Code also provides the ability to create new AMAs and INAs through actions initiated by the Director of ADWR or by voter initiative. In the Hualapai Valley Groundwater Basin near Kingman, Arizona, a local politician successfully petitioned his ADWR to establish a new his INA this year, and local farmers are now self-sufficient with this new status. are learning how their business will be affected. Likewise, all groundwater users of the new He AMA voter-approved in the November 2022 elections face much stricter groundwater regulations than previously applied to the basin.

In addition, the Groundwater Act establishes a guaranteed water supply program, requiring land subdivided for sale to have an ADWR-approved water supply to meet the needs of the subdivision for 100 years. This requires that the water supply must be legal, physical, and continuously available for 100 years; It means that you have the means to Among other things, to prove physical availability, the water utility must demonstrate that the groundwater used in the supply does not cause the water table to drop below a certain elevation established in the ADWR’s Secure Water Supply Regulations. there is. Additionally, the 1995 amendments to the Groundwater Code require that most of the water used to support a guaranteed water supply come from renewable sources.

As you can imagine, cracks are starting to appear in the regulatory framework after 40 years of groundwater management under the Groundwater Act. One way to circumvent the guaranteed water supply requirement is for landowners to fail to meet the subdivision definition. This is what happened in the Rio Verde Foothills region. By selling off land not covered by the Assured Water Supply program, developers in the area are leaving homeowners to secure their own water. With prolonged drought impacting the availability of his renewable he CAP water supply and limited access to groundwater in the area, many homeowners are struggling to find affordable and sufficient water. has not been ensured. Officials at multiple levels of government have been trying to find long-term solutions, but until solutions are in place, these homeowners will continue to face challenges.

The Lower Hassayampa River Basin in the Phoenix AMA appears to pose a different but equally important challenge for landowners and water suppliers. Around the same time that the Rio Verde problem made national news, ADWR published the results of a detailed groundwater modeling analysis. This analysis concluded that the Lower Hassayampa River Basin is over-exploited and that groundwater was likely over-allocated in previous Assured Water Supply ‘analyses’. Proposed development in the sub-basin. Since this sub-basin is currently largely undeveloped, the impact of the ADWR conclusions will be felt more by developers than by current homeowners.

Future articles will discuss potential solutions to water shortages, and while it may sound illogical, there are some solutions that can be found by increasing the use of groundwater. First, Arizona has a statutory law for the purpose of pumping groundwater and transporting it by canal, pipeline, or other means at the Central Arizona Project into one of the first AMAs established by the Groundwater Ordinance of 1980. There are four groundwater transport basins licensed in One such shipping basin is the Hulkuahala INA, about 40 miles west of Phoenix. Here the landowner is currently working with the Arizona Department of Lands and the town of Queen Creek to receive approval from his ADWR for a unique project to boost Arizona’s water supply. Central Arizona.

Another potential solution to groundwater overdraft is the conversion of AMA irrigated ancestry to non-irrigated ancestry as urban areas expand into agricultural areas. This is happening rapidly in central Arizona, where industries are seeking and using significantly less groundwater than was used to irrigate the acres used for industrial production. In some cases, water users may also pump up stored Colorado River water and sewage that has been stored above ground pursuant to a permit authorizing the creation of long-term storage credits (“LTSCs”).[1]

More controversially, policy changes could mitigate perceptions of scarce groundwater availability. As mentioned earlier, Arizona’s aquifers collectively contain hundreds of millions of acre feet of groundwater. With proper protection measures, more of this groundwater can be utilized to meet short-term and even long-term needs. For example, guaranteed water supply requirements that limit groundwater withdrawals to elevations specified in each AMA create inherently arbitrary limits on groundwater use in these basins. However, the idea has been historically highly controversial and will be difficult to sell to water regulators and managers working well within current limits. New legislation may allow for new approaches to groundwater management, such as cap-and-trade markets, which set limits on total water withdrawals and provide water users with shares that they can buy, sell, or trade.

Groundwater is just one component of Arizona’s diverse water portfolio. Groundwater supplies are a problem in some parts of the state, but groundwater provides at least a partial solution to many of the challenges facing communities in Arizona. New policies and new groundwater markets could be a key factor in Arizona’s water future.

The next article in this series will examine the laws and policies surrounding Arizona’s surface water supply and its critical resources.


[1] A follow-up article will cover Arizona’s wildly successful effort to store millions of acre-feet of renewable water supplies under the Arizona Underground Storage Permit program. These efforts have produced vast amounts of water to help meet our needs during prolonged droughts.




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