Gov. Doug Ducey on April 21 signed a bill that provides larger grants for developing water projects in rural areas, but questions linger on whether there will be any money for them.
House Bill 2388, sponsored by Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, expands the amount of a single grant from the Water Supply Development Revolving Fund from $100,000 to $250,000.
The recipient water provider must be located in a county with a population of fewer than 1.5 million people.
While Griffin said the fund isn’t just meant for rural areas, some experts who work with water believe the benefits can greatly help many rural communities.
Chris Udall, executive director of the Agribusiness and Water Council of Arizona, said funding for water projects is a job provider and can help communities prosper.
“I come from rural Arizona myself, and there are some areas that could use an economic shot in the arm,” Udall said.
Changes made are to broaden the definition of water providers to include all municipal water delivery systems and adding a public water system.
The fund dates back to 2007 as part of a legislative package that allowed municipalities and counties to enact ordinances to require a sufficient water supply for lands before they could be offered for sale or lease.
The Arizona Finance Authority Board administers the fund to provide financial assistance to water providers for constructing water supply projects and obtaining additional water supplies to meet demands.
Also, the bill expands the definition of water supply development to include planning, designing, building, or developing facilities and adding structures that actively or passively recharge stormwater to a list of qualifying facilities.
The fund, however, is currently empty. The fiscal-year 2015 General Appropriation Act enacted a one-time $1 million appropriation to the fund that was exempt from lapsing.
That amount was swept the following year, and the fund has not received any money since.
As Arizona faces a potential water shortage for the first time next year because of a 20-year drought that is shrinking the Colorado River, there are calls to do more regarding water infrastructure and getting more sources of water for Arizona.
Patrick Bray, executive vice president of the Arizona Cattle Growers’ Association, said: “I think it’s just solid policy to invest in those water infrastructure projects, and we think that anywhere we can invest in our future of water that’s what we should be doing when the opportunity arises.”
Bray said that because of the state budget surplus officials should be thinking bigger in terms of developing Arizona’s water infrastructure.
The river operates in a “tier zero” status where the state contributes 192,000 acre-feet of Arizona’s 2.8 million acre-feet annual entitlement to Lake Mead coming entirely from the Central Arizona Project system.
Cities and tribes are considered a high priority, so they will not be affected by the cuts during a possible “tier one” shortage when it comes to Colorado River water.
As for whether the fund will get more usage given chances of future storages, Griffith said she’s pushing for the fund to be used in conjunction with another bill to study the water supply.
“We do have a bill this year to look at this issue, HB2577, a water supply study. It’s a money bill so we have to come to an agreement on the budget before this bill moves forward,” Griffin said in an email statement.
The bill would appropriate $5 million from the state General Fund in fiscal year 2022 to the Department of Water Resources to study potential sources of water for Arizona.
She said that other funding has been prioritized in the past and that she will be looking to secure funding soon.