Rural county stakeholders ask Governor for better groundwater rules

A coalition of county supervisors, mayors, water authorities, tribal leaders and others from rural Arizona have written to Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs expressing their opposition to an “unworkable” groundwater management proposal.

The group urged the Governor to continue to work on a more “viable” solution to the issues facing rural areas, which emerged in part due to concerns about foreign-owned farming interests using up groundwater. The highest profile of these cases involved a Saudi-owned farm called Fondomonte which bought some land and leased more in rural La Paz County, and has had virtually unlimited access to the groundwater under the land.

“Since this group formed in 2022, we have convened to discuss and support locally-driven and tailorable rural water solutions,” the letter reads. “With this mission in mind, we feel strongly that SB1221 is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach that does not promote local decision-making and does not provide us the tools necessary to address local groundwater issues. SB1221 is cumbersome, locks in groundwater depletion, provides no meaningful conservation, and would instead impede local groundwater management from happening in a basin. Put simply, SB1221 hurts rural Arizona homes, businesses, generational farms, and our local economies. For these reasons, we are opposed to this bill and ask that the Legislature refocus their efforts to negotiating and passing a meaningful solution that will address our groundwater challenges.”

The letter went on to express gratitude for Governor Hobbs’ efforts, saying that the dialogue is an important one, and urging the Governor not to give up.

“Our coalition’s tireless pursuit of water certainty for all rural communities will continue, and we hope the Legislature will carry this same energy and determination. We can find a legislative solution this year that balances all stakeholder perspectives, that is responsive to the broad diversity of needs, geography, and conditions across our rural basins, and ultimately results in water security for many generations to come, for all Arizonans.”

The Fondomonte case has pushed the issue of groundwater management up the state’s agenda in the past couple of years, with state departments, the Governor’s office and the legislature proposing changes to the rules. The issue is part of a wider one about the growing southwestern United States’ reliance on rivers and groundwater to sustain itself, while drought conditions persist.

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