Arizona AMAs

A map shows the different Active Management Areas in Arizona. The Pinal AMA, sandwiched between Phoenix and Tucson AMAs, is one of the three largest.

PHOENIX — Proposed legislation would change how Pinal County’s groundwater is allocated in the future, but the bill hasn’t progressed because critics say it doesn’t address the issue in other management areas in the state.

The Arizona Municipal Water Users Association met on Thursday to discuss the assured water supply in the Pinal Active Management Area. The Board of Directors of the association discussed House Bill 2880, which if approved by the Legislature would change the requirements for receiving a certificate of assured water supply, or CAWS.

Executive Director of the association Warren Tenney read and explained each bill to the rest of the board during the meeting. “Let’s jump into the fun one,” said Tenney when he reached HB 2880 on the agenda.

It deals with the assured water supply in the Pinal AMA. It proposes to change the requirements necessary, in Pinal county, for determining whether a certificate of assured water supply can be granted by the Arizona Department of Water Resources. A CAWS is necessary for the sale or lease of subdivided land to prove that there is enough water physically available to sustain the land for its proposed purpose.

“The problem that has come up in Pinal County,” said Arizona Water Resources Management Adviser Cynthia Campbell, “is that between all the agricultural pumping and all the developers who, over the many years have gone in and gotten a certificate [CAWS], sort of tying up available groundwater in the county, there is no more physical availability of groundwater in Pinal county so that means nobody else can get a certificate.”

Pinal county is in need of a solution because the lack of physically available water “...effectively means you can’t build anymore and that you might not even have enough water for what you’ve got and that’s been very alarming,” said Campbell.

In light of the dwindling water supply, some that have already been granted CAWS may be looking to lower the amount of water necessary for their projects. However, under the current law, they would have to re-prove that the amount of water needed for the project is held in the groundwater reserves if any changes are made to the current proposal.

Since developers cannot make changes to their proposals if they use less water than planned without having to start their approval process over, “established municipalities may lose groundwater supplies that they rely upon as a backup when water shortages occur,” said Tenney. The extra water would still be designated in the plan of city water distribution and would actually be available for other projects.

The Arizona Municipal Water Users Association is opposed to HB 2880. Tenney said the reason is not because of the plans to change the water allocation laws, but because it would only affect Pinal county.

“What HB 2880 does is it protects the groundwater allocated to designated water providers only in the Pinal AMA, therefore excluding the rest of the AMAs,” Tenney continued. “You can’t come up with a solution using the assured water supply program and say it’s only for Pinal AMA without talking to the rest of the AMAs.”

Spencer Kamps, deputy director of the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona, said that the organization is in support of the bill. He addressed the reasons why he does not think the other AMAs should be included in the legislation.

“The governor in the state has specifically said I’m looking for legislation this year to address the Pinal problem. Not Maricopa, not Pima. Pinal,” said Kamps. “We were directed by both the department and the Legislature to fix the problem.” He continued, “the problem does not exist in Maricopa County.”

As of now, the bill has not been passed and the two opposing sides are working to come to an agreement that suits both parties.

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Kayleigh Gallagher is a student in the Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

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