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Arizona Considers Changing Regulations On Groundwater Pumping

Cochise County
Will Stone/KJZZ
Land in Cochise County.

Arizona could roll back some regulations on groundwater pumping if a new bill wins enough support. A state legislative committee is considering the proposal Monday.

Travel outside central Arizona and there are almost no restrictions on groundwater pumping. The exception: some counties require new subdivisions to get a state certificate showing an adequate water supply for the next 100 years.

Cochise County has that rule, which applies to all cities and towns there. But that could soon change — which makes Kathy Ferris of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association nervous. She said some rural areas are already grappling with a rapidly declining water table.

“Getting rid of the adequate water supply in these counties increases groundwater pumping. It increases competition for dwindling groundwater supplies," said Ferris.

“We think the cities should be able to make the decision on their own," said Sierra Vista Mayor Rick Mueller.

Mueller said this is about local control. The bill would exempt cities from that county water requirement. His city has been proactive in managing its water supply, he said, but this rule for subdivisions “puts us lower on the list of where developers want to come in, so we have had a number of developments that have not come into Sierra Vista because they want to wait until this lawsuit is over with.”

The federal government sued to halt a development in Sierra Vista out of concern it would sap the San Pedro River, even though the state had given approval.

Republican Sen. Gail Griffin, chairwoman of the Senate Water & Energy Committee, is behind the proposed bill. She’s received campaign contributions from a trade group defending the development in Sierra Vista. Griffin did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Will Stone grew up with the sounds of public radio. As a senior field correspondent, he strives to tell the same kind of powerful stories that got him into the business — whether that means trudging through some distant corner of the Sonoran Desert or uncovering an unknown injustice right down the street. Since joining the KJZZ newsroom in 2015, he has covered political scandals, fights over the future of energy, and efforts to care for some of Arizona’s most vulnerable communities. His pieces have also aired on national programs like Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here & Now and Marketplace. Before coming to KJZZ, he reported for public radio stations in Nevada and Connecticut. Stone received his degree in English literature from Haverford College, where he also wrote about the arts and culture scene in Philadelphia. After graduating, he interned at NPR West in Culver City, California, where he learned from some of the network’s veteran reporters and editors. When he doesn’t have a mic in hand, Stone enjoys climbing mountains, running through his central Phoenix neighborhood and shamelessly promoting his cat, Barry.