The Roosevelt Dam in 1911. The Hoover Dam in 1936. The Central Arizona Project in 1993.

Monumental projects like these often come first to mind when discussing Arizona’s water history — and these achievements over the years that have enabled our state to thrive.

There’s another that deserves equal, if not greater, recognition: the Groundwater Management Act of 1980.

Over four decades years ago, our state’s leaders came together to pass landmark legislation to protect Arizona’s consumers and groundwater supplies and to ensure we are doing all we can to be good stewards of our most precious resource.

Under the leadership of Gov. Bruce Babbitt, Senate Majority Leader Stan Turley and Speaker of the House Burton Barr, diverse groups from around the state, including cities, mines and agriculture, put parochial interests aside to establish rules for water use in the state’s largest metro areas, including Pinal County. Those rules outlined the standards for groundwater use and established critical consumer protections for water users that have created enormous benefits for Arizonans over the last 40 years.

Today, Arizona uses less water than it did in 1957 — with six times the population and 19 times the economy. We certainly have earned our reputation as a national and international leader in water conservation.

But the achievements of the past must be continually renewed if we are to protect both consumers and our water resources long into the future.

Arizona showed earlier this year we can still work together to achieve the big things with the passage of the Drought Contingency Plan — a plan to conserve substantially more water in the Colorado River.

Now, we face a new challenge, and one of crucial importance for the future of Pinal County’s growth.

Groundwater supplies have helped Pinal County grow its economy and its agricultural industries, while meeting the water needs of hundreds of thousands of residents every day. But groundwater supplies are finite and we have work to do to ensure that this precious resource remains reliable for years to come.

Unlike surface water, such as the Colorado River, groundwater aquifers can take hundreds, even thousands, of years to fill.

Continuing to provide the high quality of life Pinal County residents know and love will require renewed collaboration among all water users in the region.

The best solutions for Pinal County’s future must be local solutions, involving all water users and industries. To that end, the Department of Water Resources supports establishing a process that’s community-driven, one that honors the letter and intent of the 1980 groundwater reforms, while addressing future population and economic growth with local and statewide solutions. The Department of Water Resources stands ready to provide technical support and assistance throughout such a process.

The legacy of the 1980 Groundwater Management Act is an enduring one. It proved that a spirit of cooperation among diverse interests can achieve far more than by acting alone.

It’s time to apply what we learned in 1980 to this moment, and to Pinal County. Our future is counting on it.


Tom Buschatzke is director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.