The clock is ticking and Arizona lawmakers are working to meet a deadline Thursday night for their part of a multistate agreement on how to deal with the shortage of Colorado River water. The House Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee late on Tuesday approved a package of bills that was sent to the full House as the Senate also began working on the same proposals. Legislators normally burn the lights late at the end of a session, but they know they also need that now.
Federal officials have threatened to take control of the situation if the states do not have their own drought contingency plan. And no one wants that to happen. However, some tough decisions are involved, and much of the brunt involves agriculture in Pinal County. Once the threshold low level of Lake Mead is reached, farmers will receive less water and be forced to reduce crop acreage. That is being mitigated somewhat by water made available by the Gila River Indian Community from its entitlement and also cash that will develop groundwater resources.
That is a good thing, because Pinal agriculture is important to the economy of the county and state and also helps to feed it. However, farmers’ water allocation will be reduced anyway in little more than a decade, and the future clearly involves more conservation and low-water crops.
HB 2545 has added to the $5 million in the original plan, bringing the total to help Pinal farmers to $9 million. An additional $20 million is projected from the state or federal government.
Many Arizona leaders, including some from Pinal County, have worked hard to get this far on the drought plan. Other states are already onboard, but the impact here is great and the need for legislative approval makes the situation more complicated.
Arizona must have completion of this legislative package, and it seems that legislators will deliver.