The Legislature is set to pass a $200 million proposal to fund areas without a proper water supply.
The money would help meet long-term demands and financially assist in the creation of water supply and conservation projects.
The proposal, which is part of the FY2022 budget, passed the Senate June 22 on a party-line 16-14 vote and the House still had not considered it as of press time.
It narrowly passed the Appropriations committees in the Senate and House on May 25 as Democrats and Republicans on those panels agreed something needs to be done about the state’s nearly 21-year drought, but Democratic lawmakers opposed the bill because they said that it may do little to properly address the drought, and in some cases may be used to speed up the depletion of resources already in short supply, such as groundwater.
As a desert region with an already limited water supply further drained by climate change, Arizona has been working to resolve the lack of water. In 2019, the state enacted the Drought Contingency Plan, which outlines how Arizona and other Colorado River basin states will divide the limited water that’s now available.
The plan conserves water in reservoirs such as Lake Mead and Lake Powell and funds various groups for leaving water within them.
The Associated Press recently reported, however, that Lake Mead has hit a record low water level since its creation in the 1930s, a decline expected to continue until November.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has said it’s expected to issue the first-ever shortage declaration that prompts water reductions in Arizona and Nevada, creating a further need for legislation.
The Legislature’s answer to meet Arizona’s long-term water demand is legislation to establish the Drought Mitigation Board and the $200 million Drought Mitigation Revolving Fund.
Rep. Randall Friese, D-Tucson, said in the May 25 House Appropriations Committee hearing he was curious as to whether there was a way to monitor the board that would receive the funds. Friese said that the board could “spend money as they see fit without review.”
The committee’s chairwoman, Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, said that while there was no established review for the fund, she would be open to a review of recommended expenses for the board in the future.
Rep. Aaron Lieberman, D-Paradise Valley, said that while the fund was a step in the right direction, it did not directly solve the underlying problem.
Lieberman then directly took note of issues he had both with the bill and the water treatment, citing issues such as water pumping that the bill did not adequately address.
“Unfortunately this bill isn’t doing anything to bring some accountability along with the significant investment,” Lieberman said.
Cobb said people “can always say it’s not enough and vote no, but it’s something so I vote yes.”
The bill was narrowly passed by the House Appropriations Committee 7-6, with Republican Rep. Jake Hoffman, R-Gilbert, joining five Democrats in opposition.
Senate Democrats also questioned the bill’s credibility in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it passed on a partisan line of 6-4.
Sandy Bahr, director for the Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter, spoke in opposition of the measure.
“While it is true many parts of the state do not have sustainable water supplies based on current or projected uses as the bill indicates, the fund does nothing to address the underlying issues contributing to that,” Bahr said.
Bahr similarly cited unfettered groundwater pumping and connections between ground and service water as points of concern. Bahr also said she believed that the proposal should have been a stand-alone bill so it could be debated and evaluated on its own merits.