The December 2001 Final Report of the Governor’s Water Management Commission (Commission) completes a two and a half-year examination of the Groundwater Code (Code) and water quantity management in Arizona's Active Management Areas (AMA). The Commission concludes that the goals and legal framework of the Code are sound and as such should continue to guide water management decisions and investments in the AMAs.

Further, the Commission endorses the statutory management goal of each individual AMA, recognizing as appropriate their differing hydrologic and political characteristics. The Final Report briefly describes the issue identification efforts of the Commission's Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and the five individual AMA Task Forces that preceded the appointment of the Commission. It also details the Governor's charge to the Commission, the activities of the Commission, and the approximately 50 individual recommendations the Commission is forwarding to the Governor.

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Governor Jane Dee Hull appointed the 49-member Commission in June 2000 to review the 21–year-old Groundwater Management Act and recommend changes — if necessary — to ensure that the five Active Management Areas within the State continue to maintain a reliable, sustainable water supply to meet current and future needs. Specifically, the Governor charged the Commission to:

1. “Evaluate progress toward meeting the goals of the 1980 Groundwater Management Act and the management goals of each of the five Active Management Areas to assure that the goals are appropriate and achievable.”
2. “Evaluate mechanisms to reduce the use of mined groundwater, increase the utilization of renewable water supplies and most efficiently meet the water needs in the Active Management Areas.”
3. “Evaluate whether changes are needed in statutes, rules, or policies to improve the effectiveness of water management in the Active Management Areas at the state and local levels of government.”

The Commission held 18 public meetings and two weekend retreats, also open to the public. Additionally, 300 meetings with extensive public involvement were held by Commission subcommittees and work groups and by the TAC and AMA Task Forces. The issues for Commission consideration were presented in a series of seven issue papers developed by the individual AMA Task Forces and the 33-member TAC.

The initial issues included: continued groundwater pumping by existing right holders as well as new industrial users and the impact of this pumping on achieving the management goals; how to address sub-area or critical area conditions; proliferation and concentration of small capacity exempt wells; utilization of renewable supplies; concerns about the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District (CAGRD); and long-term water supply reliability.

The Commission, after extensive debate, achieved consensus on approximately 50 recommendations for public review. A series of public Open Houses were held in each AMA the first week of October 2001 to solicit public comments. These comments were used to further refine the recommendations and in late October 2001, the Commission adopted their conclusions and the final package of recommendations for the Governor to consider.

The Commission recognizes that although groundwater mining has not been eliminated, water users, in response to the goals and requirements set forth in the Code, have significantly reduced groundwater mining in three of the five AMAs since the 1980s.

However, current data indicate the Phoenix, Prescott and Tucson AMAs may not reach their goal of safe-yield by 2025. The actions recommended by the Commission, which include a number of statutory changes, are focused on fine-tuning aspects of the Code and other activities. These actions will assist in further reducing groundwater mining and will maintain the stability and certainty necessary for investments in water supplies, delivery infrastructure and efficiency improvements which are vital to Arizona’s future.

The Commission recommendations will: increase the utilization of renewable supplies to help ensure sustainability; address allowable pumping to reduce groundwater mining; protect ecologically significant habitats; and enhance water resources planning and technical assistance. The major recommendations are summarized below in the seven categories established by the Commission. The full set of recommendations is covered in detail in Section V of the Commission’s Final Report.

A. Renewable Supplies Utilization of renewable supplies has increased over the past 20 years, facilitated by the construction of surface water treatment plants and the completion of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) allowing the use of Colorado River water either directly or indirectly through artificial recharge and recovery projects. The Commission addressed issues related to the utilization of renewable supplies in all AMAs.

These issues included:

1) how to maximize the use of available renewable supplies until currently unused CAP water is fully utilized by municipal, industrial and Indian entities;
2) how to ensure that regulatory programs and institutions promote efficient storage and use
of renewable supplies;
3) how to facilitate cooperative efforts to finance infrastructure;
4) how to define the long-term role of the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District (CAGRD); and
5) how to ensure the long-term adequacy of renewable supplies to achieve a sustainable water supply.

Recommendations include authorizing enabling legislation for a multi-jurisdictional infrastructure financing authority to issue revenue bonds or use other financing alternatives intended for financing multi-jurisdictional water infrastructure projects that benefit a specified geographic area.

The Commission is also recommending changes to the authority and responsibilities of the CAGRD. The CAGRD is an entity that currently uses excess CAP water to replenish mined groundwater on behalf of certain subdivisions or water providers in the Phoenix, Pinal and Tucson AMAs for assured water supply purposes. Two of the most significant changes recommended are a requirement for the CAGRD to establish a replenishment reserve to help secure water supplies for CAGRD members and an enrollment fee for new subdivisions.

This “reserve” would take advantage of currently available CAP supplies to store sufficient water to meet 20 years of demand for CAGRD members.

The Commission also made a number of general recommendations in the category of Renewable Supplies that do not specify statutory or rules changes, but which are intended to encourage actions outside of the Commission process.

B. Allowable Groundwater Pumping— While a number of major water users within the AMAs have become less reliant on groundwater, other existing right holders and even new users continue to rely on groundwater.

Issues addressed by the Commission include:

1) the continued pumping of groundwater pursuant to legitimate withdrawal authorities allowed under the Code, described as “holes in the bucket”, which are projected to negatively effect the ability to achieve AMA management goals; and
2) the localized impacts that may be created by groundwater withdrawals.

Recommendations developed to address these issues include:

1) new well permitting and impact requirements;
2) a “mined groundwater tax” for existing municipal and industrial groundwater users;
3) an obligation for new municipal and industrial groundwater users to utilize renewable supplies or replenish their mined groundwater with renewable supplies; and
4) changes to the exempt well statutes.

The Commission considered and then proposed a recommendation that would limit certain new wells from being drilled within “designated riparian area protection zones” located within the AMAs. These zones are proposed to be legislatively delineated on a map and are based on a ½ mile buffer adjacent to specified stream segments or cienegas within an AMA. The limitations apply not only to non-exempt wells, but exempt wells (a well with a pump capacity of 35 gallons per minute or less).

Aside from this ecommendation being limited to new wells in an AMA, several other exclusions apply including:

1) replacement wells;
2) stock watering wells; and
3) exempt wells used for domestic purposes and proposed to pump less than two acre-feet per year.

There are also provisions that allow certain categories of users to get waivers if a demonstration of hardship or non-impact on the designated riparian area can be made. The Commission is also recommending changes that would eliminate or reduce groundwater mining by certain municipal and industrial water users within the AMAs.

(Designated water providers and members of the CAGRD are not included in this recommendation, as they are subject to the Assured Water Supply Rules.) First, the recommendation requires certain existing municipal and industrial water users (who currently have no obligation to use renewable supplies) to pay a phased-in “Mined Groundwater Tax.” This tax would be used to replace a portion of the mined groundwater or to fund water-planning activities aimed at finding a mechanism to reduce reliance on
mined groundwater. Second, certain new municipal and industrial water users would be required to make use of renewable supplies or replenish all of their mined groundwater over a period of time. This would also result in a statutory expansion of the CAGRD’s current authority and allow the CAGRD to enroll industrial customers as well as municipal customers who predate or are not required to comply with the Assured Water Supply Rules. Finally, the recommendation eliminates issuance of certain new groundwater permits or rights without a full replenishment obligation after 2025 (2040 in Pinal AMA). This last proposal applies in all AMAs; however, provisions for Pinal, Prescott and Santa Cruz recognize the
unique conditions within these areas. Additionally, certain users are exempted from this
recommendation including agricultural users, metal mining operations and untreated water providers.

The Commission is also recommending changes to the exempt well statutes. These changes only apply within the AMAs. The first proposal would require that new exempt wells be limited to a pump capacity of 20 gallons per minute (a reduction from the current 35 gallons per minute); however, up to 35 gallons per minute could be requested based on a demonstrated need for a higher flow rate. A second set of proposals relates to exempt wells that are within the service area of (or affected by) a water provider or other
groundwater withdrawal authority. Within a municipal provider service area, new exempt wells would not be permitted without a denial of service from the provider. Another provision would limit the ability of existing exempt well owners to prevent the drilling of new non-exempt wells (using more than 35 gallons per minute) and would eliminate the ability for a new exempt well owner to protest impacts from a subsequent new non-exempt well.

C. Environment & Economic— The Commission recognized that environmental concerns were not addressed in the 1980 Groundwater Code. A number of proposals to protect the environment were presented and discussed. The following recommendations address some of the water needs of environmental habitats within the State. First, the Commission recommends the establishment of zones around specified and legislatively adopted riparian areas for protection from new groundwater withdrawals, within the AMAs. This recommendation is directly linked to the discussion above under the Allowable Groundwater Pumping category. The Commission is also recommending several statutory changes to increase funding and responsibilities of the Arizona Water Protection Fund.

D. Conservation— ADWR establishes “conservation requirements” for agricultural, industrial, and municipal water users within the AMAs. Issues raised included the role and effectiveness of conservation efforts in achieving the goals of each AMA and potential improvements for the current programs.
The recommendation in this category is for the Governor to initiate creation of a nonprofit cooperative association to serve Arizona’s need for effective water conservation, education and research throughout the State.

E. Management Goals— The Commission concluded that the management goals were appropriate in each of the AMAs; however, the Commission also recognized the unique needs of the Pinal, Prescott, and Santa Cruz AMAs. As such, the Commission recommends local water users and the Department of Water Resources continue to work together to develop new programs to achieve the management goals in these AMAs.

F. Water Resources Planning— The Commission recognizes the need for better data and long range planning in the AMAs and throughout Arizona. Specifically the Commission recommends:

1) continued support for funding the current Rural Watershed Initiative;
2) initiation of discussions between stakeholders from throughout Arizona to develop and fund a planning process for addressing the state’s future water demands; and
3) preparation of a periodic report on hydrologic conditions and progress towards meeting the goals of each AMA, and a separate biennial summary report of conditions in the AMAs to the Legislature.

G. Costs Of Water Management Programs— The Commission recognizes that some of the 50 recommendations they are forwarding to the Governor will create additional work for the Arizona Department of Water Resources and water users throughout the state. The Commission recommends the Governor and the legislature consider mechanisms to ensure the Department of Water Resources has sufficient resources to carry out programs recommended by the Commission, to maintain current programs and to provide timely and quality technical assistance and water management planning for the State of Arizona.

Arizonans, by working together on water resources, have already achieved enormous gains in our effort to manage this vital resource effectively. The Commission is confident that implementing the package of recommendations we are forwarding to the Governor will maintain and enhance Arizona’s water management efforts.

For entire report...

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