1980 Groundwater Code

The Arizona Ground Water Management Code (Code) was passed in 1980 due to lowering of the groundwater tables, particularly in agriculture areas. By the late 1970s, excessive groundwater pumping resulted in myriad problems including land subsidence, earth fissures, water quality degradation, increased pumping costs, and most importantly, the threatened availability of water for future generations.

The Code has four primary goals:

1) Control the severe overdraft currently occurring in many parts of the state.

2) Provide a means to allocate the state's limited groundwater resources.

3) Augment Arizona's groundwater through development of other water supplies.

4) Reach and maintain a goal of “safe-yield” in the most populated areas of the state by recharging water equal to the amount pumped.

 After decades of heated political contention, Arizona state leaders recognized the need to protect water, the State's most vital resource. Understanding the necessity of agreement among all the major water interests, the Governor, along with legislative leadership and representatives of agricultural, mining, and municipal water users, established the Groundwater Management Study Commission. The Commission agreed to the adoption of a comprehensive Groundwater Management Code and the creation of a new Department of Water Resources (DWR) in 1980. The Code's ultimate goal is to reach a safe-yield, a balance between groundwater withdrawals and replenishment, by the year 2025.

1) Agriculture, the biggest water user, which in 2000 was still using 80% of the groundwater and 80% of the surface water according to U.S.G.S. statistics, was "grandfathered" by the Code, but regulation capped the users to their 1980 levels. For the first time, sellable water rights were granted, creating a new market for access to groundwater.

2) Mining and industry, the second largest water user in many areas, was not only “grandfathered” for its current use, but all new use was exempt from any hydrological study or “safe yield” criteria—even within AMA’s.

3) Development: Sprawling development was supposedly to be halted with the provision that new housing could not be constructed unless the developer could guarantee an "assured water supply" for the next 100 years—but this rule existed only within AMA’s. Further, this guideline was sidestepped within the AMA’s by the creation of the Groundwater Replenishment District that allows for recharge away from the site of the actual pumping. In some areas, it has caused development to increase outside the boundaries of water management.

On the positive side, for the first time the State required metering and reporting of water use—except for exempt wells, which can pump up to 56 acre feet per year (enough to supply water for 56 urban 4-member families for a year). In order to effectively implement all aspects of the Code, the Department of Water Resources was given enforcement powers, including cease and desist orders, civil fines and criminal sanctions. In addition, the Code has increased public awareness of the necessity of monitoring and managing water use.

It is now time to ask the question: Is the Code doing what it was intended to do?

Is it time to have some logical management of rural areas that will give localities tools to protect their water supply?

 For example, in Patagonia, which falls outside of an AMA, the water level is some 20 feet below surface and extends to some 150 feet. The water adequacy rules state that supply can be drained down to bedrock (or 1,200 ft) in 100 years. At this time, Patagonia region is being threatened by a housing development and 100’s of mining claims, including the copper giant Phelps Dodge/Freeport-McMoran. Remember, mining water use is exempt, so the devastation would come long before 100 years.

Is it reasonable to exclude the local people from having a hydrological study to ascertain the impact on their water supply by any development or mining operation—and take their "first rights"? 

Summary of 1980 Groundwater Code

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