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Legislature Ends Session Without Progress On Water

san pedro river
Center for Biological Diversity
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handout | agency | This photo was in our library. - TMAX 12/30/19
The San Pedro River is the last undammed desert river in Arizona.

Arizona lawmakers finished their 2018 session without passing any significant water legislation, raising the stakes for next year.

Before the session began, there was a lot of anticipation that big-ticket water reforms would at least get proposed. Gov. Doug Ducey released a memo on his priorities, but the Legislature didn’t act on them.

Kathleen Ferris, a former director of the Department of Water Resources, said lawmakers leading the legislative push on water were competing with Ducey over the water agenda. “And their agendas weren’t the same.”

Ferris said the two failed omnibus water bills that were introduced were “bad bills,” particularly a measure that would force rural counties to revisit restrictions on groundwater use. Ducey’s request for more state control over Colorado River conservation also went nowhere.

A lot of the characters in the water drama could change by next session, which is after November’s midterm elections. Still, Ferris doesn’t think the election will do much to alter the stalemate.

“In elections, most people don’t go to their candidates and say, ‘hey, what are you doing about water?’” she said. “And that needs to happen, frankly. Water needs to become a higher-priority issue for our Legislature.”

In the meantime, Arizona is holding up drought-planning for the entire Colorado River basin. Agencies within the state resume talks this week.

Ferris said they need to find a politically acceptable compromise.

Bret Jaspers was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2017 to 2020.