No ‘silver bullet’ in Arizona’s water crisis
Arizona water agencies stand before state lawmakers to talk water future
The day after Gov. Katie Hobbs delivered her first State of the State, outlining plans to address the state’s growing water crisis, the heads of the state’s water agencies stood before lawmakers to deliver an at times grim reality of the state’s water future.
“I do not believe that any of the (Active Management Areas) are at a safe-yield,” Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, told the House Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee Jan. 10.
Active Management Areas, generally referred to as AMAs, were created in 1980 in an effort to help the state manage its groundwater resources as the state continued to grow. Only the AMA in Tucson is near a safe-yield, meaning the amount of water withdrawn is balanced with the amount recharging it, but Buschatzke said that Tucson has reached that by storing large amounts of Colorado River water delivered by Central Arizona Project.
Approximately 82 percent of Arizona’s population resides within the state’s five AMAs.
But Buschatzke did not see it as a failure, and instead focused on telling the committee that solutions will need to be explored and that, in the future, more and more groundwater will begin to be pumped by municipalities across the state.
“It is not a failure in my mind in any way shape or form,” Buschatzke said, adding that the state needs to find more renewable water supplies, look to find ways to move water from one state to another or even from other sources outside the state.
“There is no silver bullet,” Buschatzke said. “But I think we have to embrace the success we have.”
The hearing also comes after Hobbs released an ADWR report showing areas in the West Valley cannot support planned development. Hobbs has accused former Gov. Doug Ducey of directing the agency to keep the report secret.
Lawmakers didn’t directly reference or ask about the report, but questions about development and its impact on water became a hot-button issue during the hearing.
Rep. Barbara Parker, a Mesa Republican, asked Buschatzke if he would be willing to help the legislature “educate” the public that agriculture uses more water than development. ADWR estimates from 2019 provided to the committee showed that agriculture made up for approximately 72 percent of water use, municipal 22 percent and industrial around 6 percent.
“They always want to be down on a builder,” Parker said, additionally asking Buschatzke if he thought Hobbs’ speech unfairly targeted homebuilders.
Buschatzke said that mandatory conservation requirements on farmers in AMAs have been efficient and have given them an advantage over California farmers. Both state’s farmers have been hit dramatically by the drought and recent cuts in Colorado River water. Arizona is facing a 21 percent cut in Colorado River allocation this year because of the drought and an alarming decrease of water in Lake Powell.