Landmarks in Arizona Water Planning

As you will see by the following reports, there has been an increased concern for water management in Arizona since 2000. CAP water did not solve all water problems because 80% of land area does not receive CAP. The following reports are long, ponderous and repetitive, so you won't have time to read them all—but knowing of their existence does seem important. Keep in mind that you are being spared another 2,000 pages of technocrat reports written annually on Arizona water by universities and USGS.


A brief summary of each report is provided with a link to the entire report. The principal issue is permiting  for housing developments without any hydrological studies that calculate loss of rivers, streams and riparian habitat, impact on adjacent wells, or danger of subsidence. Further, since industry, including the heavy water users, mining and electric power plants, and wells that pump 35 gallons of water per minute (equivalent to 56 acre feet annually=the amount used by 56 urban families of four in a year) or less) are exempt. These issues exist both inside and outside AMA's, for not all areas in AMA's have CAP water. It could be summarized by stating many areas that do not have direct use of CAP water are in danger of critical water depletion, this includes Santa Cruz County, Cochise County, Yavapai County, Coconino County, Mojave County, Yuma County and the northeastern and southern part of Pima County.

1963 USGS Report

“ Arizona’s water problem is grave. The beautiful scenery, fine climate and fertile soil, like those of other southwestern states, have combined to entice an even larger number of people to settle there, and water demands have grown accordingly.”

1980 Groundwater Code

The plan was to get heavy agriculture use off of groundwater. The farmers did not cooperate, and urban sprawl was mushrooming in both Phoenix and Tucson.
Summary of Code

1985 Colorado River water arrived in Arizona

CAP was to solve all Arizona’s water problems. (Future Water Info Sheet will detail CAP’s history in Arizona). Fifteen years later a report came out in U.S. Water News, indicating otherwise:

2000 U.S. Water News Online
"Arizona facing water crisis with growth"

If Arizona doesn't manage its water better, some of the state's shiny new cities could dry up like the deserts they sprang from.

Growth is pushing communities ever closer to water crises:

  • Prescott is running out. The rapidly growing city is depleting its groundwater and has no long-term surface water supply. Without another source, the increasing demand could begin to suck water from the Verde River, which serves Phoenix.
  • Tucson has stretched its groundwater nearly to the limits and still hasn't found a way to better use its share of the Colorado River delivered by the Central Arizona Project Canal. The Old Pueblo has stored most of its CAP share by pumping it into underground aquifers.
  • Pinal County 's expected residential growth will compete with already hurting farmers, who hold onto a tenuous groundwater supply and face the loss of CAP water.
  • Even metropolitan Phoenix, with a remarkably stable long-term water supply, still pumps too much groundwater and could run into shortages because cities in parts of the Valley haven't built the infrastructure to use CAP water.

…Toward that end, Gov. Jane Hull last week created a 20-member water commission and charged it with studying Arizona's water supplies, uses, and what policy changes to recommend to the Legislature by 2002.

Commission members will find plenty to talk about:

  • The state's groundwater basins are overdrawn.
  • Most of the rivers are tapped nearly to their limits.
  • Arizona now uses all of its non-CAP Colorado River water and will fully develop its CAP allocation by 2035.

2002: Governor Hull’s Water Management Commission Report

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.

Governor Hull's Commission principal recommendations for the AMA’s:

1) Limit exempt wells
2) Identify specific riparian areas and limit pumping adjacent to prevent draining
3) Allow AMA’s to create sub-basin, or smaller, management areas, needed in such areas as Arivaca and Queen Creek.

2004: Report by Arizona Policy Forum Outlines Risks of Rural Water Situation

The report recommends legislative enactment of new laws to achieve three "policy goals":

1) Require that a long-term physical water supply must be demonstrated before new residential development is allowed to proceed.

2) Allow a new well to be drilled to serve a new residential use only if there is a 100-year water supply for the proposed use.

3) Establish a state program of impact fees on new residential development to provide matching funds for water resources planning, acquisition and infrastructure to applicants demonstrating significant problems meeting current or projected residential water demands—with an early emphasis on assisting rural areas.

"Allowing the continued rapid growth that is occurring in many of Arizona's rural areas without the assured availability of long-term water supplies poses severe risks for rural Arizona's future," said Phoenix attorney Dan Salcito, a member of the board of the Arizona Policy Forum. Salcito, of Plattner Verderame P.C., co-chaired the water advisory committee with attorney Marvin Cohen, Sacks Tierney P.A., Scottsdale.

2004: Eighty-Fifth Arizona Town Hall “ Arizona’s Water Future: Challenges and Opportunities”
Grand Canyon , Arizona

“Water is the lifeblood of Arizona's vitality, lifestyle and growth. Fortunately, Arizona's leaders, from the time of statehood and even before, had the vision and foresight, intelligence and tenacity to plan and implement policies and projects to develop a reliable and safe water supply. Current and future leaders must step forward in today's climate of further unprecedented growth and current drought conditions to continue that safe and reliable water supply. Following are just a few of the major recommendations that the record-setting 177 participants at the 85th Town Hall developed that reflect what they believe must take place to accomplish the mission of maintaining a reliable and safe water supply for the future.”

  • To avoid crisis management, Arizona must engage in long-term planning based on good science and data collection that should be made widely available throughout the state.
  • ...the collection and dissemination of information about water supplies and demand is a statewide concern and must be improved, particularly in non-AMA areas.
  • Non-AMA areas should have management tools specific to the needs of each region.
  • While water shortages have prompted many communities to better manage their resources, it is imperative that communities plan for water shortages before they occur.
  • Existing AMAs generally are effective but need some modification. A major concern is the rapid growth of the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District membership and the District's ability to meet the growing long-term replenishment obligations.
  • New or amended legislation is required to empower counties and local entities to address water management issues.

2004: Governor’s Water Listening Session/Tucson & Phoenix

No transcript or list of persons who commented was ever made available.

The following comments were made by Holly Richter, Upper San Pedro Program Manager, The Nature Conservancy in Arizona:

Long-Range Water Policy Issues/Recommendations

In most parts of Arizona, we are over-dependent on groundwater.

Failure to adequately manage Arizona’s new growth jeopardizes the reliability of water supplies for existing residents and economic drivers, as well as our rivers.

Rural communities need additional growth management tools in order to balance the sustainable use of water resources with rapidly growing populations.

In the face of both rapid population growth and extended drought, rural communities in Arizona need to make some tough water management decisions relatively quickly.

Southern Arizona Recommendations:
Rural Arizona communities need tools such as:

The ability to manage water use and resources on a regional basis outside of Active Management Areas authority to manage proposed development based on sustainable water supplies authority to establish transfer of development rights (TDR) programs authority to control wildcat subdivisions and lot splits. Private water companies need the ability to request water surcharges for excessive water use in rural areas. ADWR has a pivotal role to play statewide by providing information from which sound water management decisions can be made, but requires additional funding to fulfill its mission.

2006: Eighty- Eighth Arizona Town Hall: “ Arizona’s Rapid Growth and Development: Natural Resources and Infrastructure” Report
Prescott, Arizona

The allocation, distribution and cost of water can be integrated into Arizona’s overall planning through better coordination among the state’s water regulation entities and all levels of government, including tribal governments. There should be conjunctive (joint) management of ground and surface water. Counties and local jurisdictions need expanded powers to incorporate water resource planning concerns into land use decisions, including the monitoring and managing of groundwater, and restrictions on developments in areas with inadequate water supplies. As recommended by the 85th Arizona Town Hall, all domestic wells outside of AMAs should be metered. There is concern that the current pricing structure of water does not provide an incentive for prudent use, and that implementation of effective tiered rates often is hampered by Corporation Commission regulations, practices and recent appellate court decisions.

At the conclusion of two Town halls held in 2006, the participants were asked to rank priorities for Arizona, Water Resources came in second, after land use. Under water resources, they prioritized three strategies.

1) Maximize conservation strategies and efforts.

2) Develop strategies for sustainable future water supplies.

3) Develop measurement and regulation of resources, particularly outside Active Management Areas.   

2006 ADWR Rural Water Supply Development and Management (SWAG)

There was general agreement about the need for cities and counties outside of active management areas (AMA) to have the authority to require the demonstration of water supply adequacy before a subdivision is approved.

Arizona Water Resources (ADWR) recommended bills for 2007 legislative session

2007 Tucson Town Hall

Given the rapid growth of Tucson, the rest of Central Arizona and the State, the following is recommended to the Tucson Business Community:

• Monitor growth in the CAGRD and consider the implications of that growth on the future availability and cost of water for the Tucson region.
• Participate in the development of a common set of facts on which to base the T ucson regional water supply decisions.
• Monitor and/or participate in development of future water legislation and regulations, including conservation ordinances and conservation plans, for local jurisdictions, water providers, the Tucson AMA and the state.
• Monitor the development of drought plans, which requires some understanding of the implications of shortages on the Colorado River on the cost and availability of CAP water.
• Support continued efforts to meet the safe-yield water management goal established in statute.
• Encourage regional efforts to explore innovative approaches to water supply treatment, development and acquisition and participate in evaluation of policy and infrastructure investment options that may enhance the region’s ability to secure additional water supplies.


Is someone trying to tell the Legislators something? And why aren't they listening.

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