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Lawmakers get first look at legislation for Drought Contingency Plan

The Colorado River is a major source of water for Arizona. The management of its supply involves numerous stakeholders and agencies.

The Colorado River is a major source of water for Arizona. The management of its supply involves numerous stakeholders and agencies. (Photo courtesy of Central Arizona Project)

As the deadline for Arizona to adopt a drought plan inches closer, state lawmakers received an early look at the water measures they could vote on later this month.

The draft legislation compiled by the Department of Water Resources looks similar to how water leaders described the measures at a Drought Contingency Plan Steering Committee meeting last week.

The six draft measures would allow Arizona to sign onto a multi-state drought plan with six other southwestern states working to stabilize water levels in the Colorado River by agreeing to use less water from the river.

But the legislation as drafted barely delves into the nitty-gritty details of a far more complex intrastate agreement that Arizona water users have been hashing out for months.

The intrastate agreement, which is still being finalized, details which water users will face cutbacks, how severe the cutbacks will be and how those users will be compensated for agreeing to take cuts.

Draft legislation obtained by the Arizona Capitol Times includes a joint resolution authorizing Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke, on behalf of Arizona, to sign onto the multi-state DCP.

But lawmakers will also have to approve a series of measures pertaining to the Arizona-specific drought plan.

Legislative leaders all but demanded draft legislation earlier this week, saying they needed time for their caucuses and constituents to look it over before voting on the drought plan.

“We’re the ones who vote,” Speaker of the House Rusty Bowers said. “It’s my position that my people need the time, and they’re going to get the time.”

Republican and Democratic legislative leaders joined Gov. Doug Ducey for a press conference Tuesday to declare their commitment to passing the DCP. But legislative leaders complained they didn’t know what exactly they were agreeing to because they hadn’t seen draft legislation yet.

“The legislative language needs to be before members and the stakeholders we
represent as soon as possible to allow time for evaluation,” said Senate Majority Leader David Bradley. “The Jan. 31 deadline is crystal clear, but it should be equally clear that approval from the Legislature is not to be taken for granted.”

When it comes to passing the Drought Contingency Plan, time is finite. Federal officials have demanded all the Colorado River Basin states adopt the multi-state plan by Jan. 31. Arizona and California are the two holdouts.

The draft legislation asks lawmakers to sign off on a $30 million appropriation from the state’s general fund to create a system conservation fund, which will be used to compensate water users that will face cutbacks as a result of the state signing onto the Drought Contingency Plan.

The Legislature will also have to sign off on Buschatzke serving as the administrator of the conservation fund.

The draft legislation also creates a temporary groundwater and irrigation efficiency fund that will be funded by a one-time general fund appropriation of $5 million and a groundwater management fee implemented in Pinal County.

The legislation will also repurpose Pinal’s current groundwater fee so it can be used to fund projects to rehabilitate and construct groundwater wells and other groundwater infrastructure. The director of the Department of Water Resources will set the fee.

The fund is slated to expire in 2027.

The legislation also changes some processes and procedures related to how water users can store or “bank” water in groundwater savings facilities.

The state appropriation to Pinal will occur in the current budget year and be paired with federal funding. But the $30 million appropriation will occur in the 2019-2020 budget year, according to the draft legislation.

Ducey offered up the $35 million in state funding in an attempt to solidify Arizona’s drought plan, which in turn, means the state could sign onto the multi-state drought plan.

Ducey kicked off the legislative session, saying adopting the DCP is his top priority this year. Now that lawmakers are starting to get an idea of what they will be voting on, it’s time to get to work to adopt the plan, Ducey spokesman Patrick Ptak said.

“The elements of the plan have been known for some time, with legislators at the negotiating table,” he said. “With specific language now with the Legislature, we’ll be working with them to get this done on time.”

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