The bleak water management picture Abrahm Lustgarten presents in (“Less than Zero,” July 24) overlooks some important facts.
In 1980, when Arizona passed the Groundwater Management Act and began regulating groundwater pumping in designated parts of the state, wells in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima Counties were annually pumping out 2.5 million acre-feet more groundwater than could be recharged naturally. Thirty years later the combined annual groundwater overdraft in those counties had been reduced to less than 180,000 acre-feet. This decline is the result of the Act’s limits on well-drilling and agricultural expansion. Today, over eighty percent of Arizonans live in areas where groundwater pumping is regulated.
Since the mid-1990s, Arizona has proactively worked to store water underground for later recovery. Today, some nine million acre-feet of water have been “banked” in the state’s aquifers—five and a half times the quantity of Colorado River water the Central Arizona Project delivers to central and southern Arizona cities, towns, industries and farms each year.
Moreover, a legal connection between groundwater and surface water has been established and is, indeed, a central issue in Arizona’s General Stream Adjudications, court proceedings to determine the extent and priority of tens of thousands of claimed water rights in the state. The proceedings have gone on for over forty years and are bogged down by complexity and unwieldiness. To help move the ball forward, the Kyl Center for Water Policy has convened a broad group of stakeholders who are working together to find ways to facilitate resolution of the Adjudications.
Since before statehood, Arizona has worked to establish a diverse portfolio of water supplies to reduce vulnerability to drought and water scarcity. Arizona’s Groundwater Management Act is a keystone of the state’s long term plan for water security. Bringing the General Stream Adjudications is a critical next step in Arizona’s water stewardship.
— Sarah Porter is director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy, Morrison Institute for Public Policy, Arizona State University.