Protecting Habitat

Arizona water law does not recognize the connection between surface water and groundwater; therefore, pumping groundwater near rivers and riparian areas has been and is making them disappear. This deletion of rivers and riparian areas is due to pumping groundwater by agricultural users, industrial users, and exempt, unregulated wells (that pump 35 gallons of water per minute = 56 acre feet per year).

Wherever you speak with a water authority, either in Arizona or outside, they will cite Arizona’s disconnect of ground and surface water as the prime example of futility in water management. Wild birds, fish and animals require surface water, so if the draining of surface water continues, there won’t be a bird or an animal left outside of cities with CAP water and golf courses with wastewater. Even now, rabbits (therefore their predators) find grassy golf courses their best bet for a decent meal.

In a recent hearing on water, Senator Marsha Arzberger put forth a bill to help critical water areas with studies. She specifically mentioned that she had spoken to a person in the San Pedro Alliance and they had said “We just don’t know what to do.”

More studies?? Hundreds of thousands of dollars have gone into studies of the San Pedro. The Bureau of Reclamation is just completing a two year study. A cottage industry has developed around studies to save the San Pedro. Everyone knew what needed to be done—stop the agricultural pumping along the river that was draining it. If the taxpayer money spent on studies had gone for buying up the land and water rights along the river, the problem could have been solved before it became critical. Groundwater pumping that empties a river or riparian area has to be regulated, or stopped in some cases.

The Verde River is under the same threat from Prescott and Chino Valley. Why can’t we use some of the lessons learned at the San Pedro? Prescott and Prescott Valley plan to drain the aquifers at the headwaters of the Verde River—even though it flies in the face of state statute that water cannot be transferred between basins. Every year ADWR has to ask the legislature for special permission to transfer water between basins in case of an emergency situation (HB2488). There remains the principal question: When they dry up the Verde, then what will they do for water? Why not put that plan in place now and save the Verde from drying up?

Think about it: Arizona water law honors prior appropriation. The rivers were here first. They created a wonderful environment that brought settlers to Arizona. The Santa Cruz and Rillito Rivers in Tucson and the Gila and Salt Rivers of Phoenix were perennial waterways for swimming, fishing and other recreation. The rolling plains around Tucson were beautiful fertile plains with grasses growing waist high. The mesquite, cholla, prickly pear reality we now see in Pima and Pinal Counties was created by man in the past 100 years. What will it look like in another 50 years—with legal pumping down to 1,000 to 1,200 feet? That subject will be addressed in next week’s water info sheet.

For complete information on this subject, we refer you to the report by Professors Robert Glennon and Thomas Maddock III: Arizona 's Futile Effort to Separate Groundwater from Surface Water

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