Growing Returns

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How to advance water security for Arizona? These 3 bills are a good start.

With dozens of water bills introduced in the Arizona Legislature this session, EDF Action and the Water for Arizona Coalition are focusing on long-overdue steps needed to ensure water security for all, especially rural communities that face high water risk.

Rural Arizona is the only substantial region left across the seven Colorado River Basin states where an “open access” approach to groundwater management is still the norm. This anything-goes approach puts people and ecosystems in rural Arizona at a disproportionate risk of water insecurity and economic instability. Read More »

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Climate leadership is water leadership. This Arizona bill is neither.

Climate change is already having sweeping impacts across Arizona — from devastating wildfires to increases in heat-related illnesses and deaths to declines in safe and reliable water supplies. Unless global carbon emissions are reduced to net zero in the coming decades, these impacts will only multiply and increase in severity across the Southwest.

We must embrace all available tools to reduce carbon emissions to help stave off worsening climate change, which is why we oppose HB 2248, a bill that would undermine progress on Arizona’s proposed clean energy rules. Read More »

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Top 3 water priorities in the 2021 Arizona legislative session

Despite uncertainty about the Legislature’s operations amid the COVID surge, Arizona’s 2021 legislative session opened last week with the expectation that several bills will be introduced to advance water security and support a healthy environment.

State policies that promote water security for all people and ecosystems remain as important as ever as communities confront public health challenges, look to rebuild economies and face what is shaping up to be yet another record-shattering dry winter across the Southwest. Read More »

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3 simple steps to help protect Arizona’s at-risk rivers and lakes

Arizona’s rivers, creeks and lakes provide valuable drinking water, critical habitat for wildlife, and serene spaces for people to enjoy with their families and friends. However, many of these ecologically important waterways are now at risk of pollution and even destruction as a result of recent rollbacks of federal protections. Read More »

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Rural Arizonans need these tools to manage declining groundwater resources, fast

In some parts of rural Arizona, groundwater is the primary or only source of water for households, farmers and entire communities. But groundwater pumping has caused wells, rivers and springs to go dry.

A study by Arizona’s Department of Water Resources found that areas of Mohave County, which includes Kingman, may have only 60 years of groundwater remaining under certain pumping scenarios. Last month, the U.S. Geological Survey presented a new study showing areas of Mohave County could have over 100 years of groundwater supply.

The USGS study assumed that farmers will switch to less water-intensive crops and that new acreage won’t be converted to farmland. The difference in projections between these studies demonstrates that how we collectively manage and use groundwater matters, leading Mohave County Supervisor Gary Watson to conclude, “time is of the essence.” Read More »

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Arizona leaders must finish what was started on groundwater 40 years ago

Forty years ago, then Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt signed Arizona’s landmark Groundwater Management Act, which created a system to manage groundwater in five regions of the state where overpumping was most severe and aquifer levels were declining rapidly.

“I called the leaders of the water establishment together on the day after Thanksgiving in 1979,” Babbitt recalled in an oral history. “I personally sat them down and met with them once or twice a week for nine months and just kind of shut the door and said, ‘We’re going to reform our way out of this problem, and we’re going to draft a meaningful water management system for the state of Arizona.’” Read More »

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This bill will protect scarce water supplies for rural Arizona, if the Legislature can pass it

Breakthrough reporting by the Arizona Republic widely exposed what is perhaps one of the state’s darkest water secrets: Groundwater pumping is essentially unregulated in nearly 80% of the state, putting the livelihoods and water supplies of up to 1.5 million residents at risk.

Groundwater is essential for life in the Southwest. It makes up about 40% of the water that Arizonans use each year. In many of the state’s rural areas, groundwater is the only available water supply.

Although Arizona regulates groundwater in and around Phoenix and Tucson, there are no limits on groundwater pumping in most of the state. As a result, more than a third of Arizona’s perennial rivers have been lost or altered; the city of Kingman’s main aquifer is projected to run out of water in 60 years or less; and residents in rural Arizona are already seeing their wells run dry.

Lack of oversight and transparency on groundwater pumping has left communities and rural citizens powerless to secure their water supplies.

Without action by the Arizona Legislature to address this crisis, rural communities will face ever-mounting groundwater challenges as populations grow, out-of-state mega farms move in and persistent drought continues. Fortunately, state leaders – both Republicans and Democrats – are now coming forward with legislation to tackle rural groundwater challenges. Read More »

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Resilience on the river: How an Arizona farmer combines tribal traditions with modern practices

Velvet Button’s parents, Ramona and Terry, started farming on a 10-acre allotment on the Gila River Indian Community Reservation south of Phoenix more than four decades ago. Today, the family farms 4,000 acres of alfalfa, Bermuda hay and four types of traditional beans. Ramona and Terry were inducted into the Arizona Farming and Ranching Hall of Fame in 2017, and at least 100 chefs from coast to coast are cooking or baking with their products.

“We’re bringing our traditional food crops to the modern table,” Velvet told us recently on a tour of Ramona Farms. Here are some highlights from our interview and tour with Velvet. Read More »

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New Lake Mead forecast spares Arizona – for now. Here are four critical steps to water security.

Arizona just got another temporary reprieve from water cuts in Lake Mead, for the second year in a row. However, sustainable water management — of both the Colorado River and groundwater — remains crucial for communities in the Southwest to become resilient to increasingly arid conditions.

A new, closely watched 24-month study of water levels on Lake Mead, the country’s largest reservoir, means Arizona has managed to avoid substantial water cuts next year. On Thursday, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation predicted Lake Mead’s elevation will be 1,089.4 feet on Jan. 1, thanks to an unusually wet winter and seven states reaching a historic agreement on how to conserve Colorado River water. Read More »

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This Arizona bill supports local planning for resilient groundwater supplies in two rural counties

Editor’s note: This post was updated on May 23, 2019.

While Colorado River surface water supplies have dominated news headlines recently, Arizona communities face another important water challenge: rapidly declining groundwater levels.

Arizona relies on groundwater for about 40% of its water supply, yet groundwater resources outside of the state’s biggest urban areas are largely unprotected and unregulated, posing a risk to long-term economic growth, community resilience and healthy flowing rivers.

HB 2467, a bill that was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey on May 22, takes an important step forward to address groundwater challenges in Mohave and La Paz counties.

Mohave County is in northwest Arizona and includes western portions of the Grand Canyon and the city of Kingman on historic Route 66. La Paz County is just south of Mohave and includes the Interstate 10 corridor, part of the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge and important perennial streams. In recent years, residential and other small wells have increasingly seen water levels dropping as more large-capacity wells are drilled for commercial agricultural operations moving into the region, often from outside Arizona.

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