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Arizona Legislation Would Let Counties Undo Groundwater Protections

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With the Colorado River in its 16th year of drought, the Arizona legislature is poised to give counties more leeway in undoing certain groundwater protections.

Thursday the House of Representatives passed SB1400, despite opposition from some lawmakers and the environmental community.

Democratic Representative Rosanna Gabaldon said loosening such regulations is a dangerous path to head down, especially because many praise Arizona for its forward thinking water policies, most notably the 1980 Groundwater Management Act.

“Passing this bill would be sidestepping that legacy and the responsibility to manage our resources,” Gabaldon said.

Most rural counties are not subject to the same groundwater regulations as the metro areas in the state, but counties can require that new subdivisions prove an adequate water supply before building. That approval comes in the form of a certificate from the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

SB1400, however, orders counties with such rules to periodically review and, if they so choose, reverse them.

Republican Representative Brenda Barton said that gives local governments more flexibility.

“This is only for two counties – Yuma and Cochise – who voluntarily establish this within their jurisdiction. It does require a unanimous vote” by the county supervisors to rescind the rules, she said.

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

The bill now heads to the senate. 

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.