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Arizona Lawmakers Pass Bill To Ease Groundwater Regulations In Some Cities, Towns

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Cities and towns in rural Arizona could have fewer restrictions on how much water is needed before a subdivision is built.

On Monday, the Senate Committee on Water and Energy approved legislation that would roll back groundwater requirements in counties outside the swath of central Arizona where groundwater is regulated. 

In 2007 state lawmakers passed a bill that gave counties the power, if they chose, to require developers get a state certificate proving an adequate 100-year water supply before building. So far, Cochise and Yuma are the only counties to take advantage of that legislation and adopt such a law. But cities and towns within those counties, like Sierra Vista, Benson and Douglas, want out. 

“The county has usurped our authority," said Sierra Vista Mayor Rick Mueller to lawmakers while testifying in favor of the bill advanced by Republican Senator and Committee Chairwoman Gail Griffin. 

Mueller said the legislation has removed the city council's ability to exercise local control on planning issues. 

"Please restore our authority to develop our environmental and economic future for our community," Mueller said. He added that his city has been proactive on water issues and currently has a 100-year water supply. 

Ultimately the Senate committee agreed with Mueller and voted in favor of the bill, which lets cities in counties with this groundwater rule opt out.

But some worry eliminating this requirement contradicts the state’s current efforts to preserve its aquifers, including Democratic Senator Lynne Pancrazi of Yuma.

“If anything needs to be regulated from the state-down, I think it needs to be water,” said Pancrazi as she cast one of the only no votes. 

Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club also testified against the legislation, saying "the last thing we need is to have more exemptions and narrow the application of water adequacy."

Recently, the federal government sued to prevent a development in Sierra Vista from going forward out of concern it would dry up the San Pedro River, even though the developers had received approval from the state water department. 

The Arizona Municipal Water Users Association had previously came out against the bill, but revised its stance to neutral after an amendment was introduced. 

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.