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Hobbs calls for updates to Arizona's Groundwater Management Act

Gov. Katie Hobbs this week issued an  executive order to create a Governor’s Water Policy Council. Hobbs said the new group will be tasked with updating the state’s Groundwater Management Act.

“The fact is we’ve overcommitted water," Hobbs told reporters Monday. "It’s a big issue and there’s no easy answers to solving it.” 

Kathleen Ferris, a senior research fellow with ASU’s Kyl Center for Water Policy, helped create the Groundwater Management Act more than 40 years ago. She told KJZZ News the law is long overdue for an update and said she's thrilled with Hobbs' plan.

“She took really bold steps, I think it’s absolutely needed," Ferris said. 

As part of her announcement, Hobbs released a previously unpublished  report from the Arizona Department of Water Resources which shows groundwater can’t support all of the new development that’s planned in the West Valley.

Ferris  recently called for the report's release in an op-ed in the Arizona Republic. 

"[The report] is a confirmation of the fact that it is really dangerous for us to think that we can grow on groundwater," Ferris said. 

The Groundwater Management Act requires developers guarantee water supply for 100 years, but Ferris hopes the new Governor’s Water Policy Council will tighten those rules so growth can’t happen on the promise of groundwater alone.

“Groundwater is a finite supply. Even if it’s there for 100 years, if it’s pumped all gone in 100 years, then what?” Ferris said.  “We need to ensure that it isn’t just a race to the bottom of the aquifer by the person who has the deepest well and the most money."

The new council’s membership will include representation from state water agencies, utility providers, tribes and the agriculture and development industries, along with university researchers.

→  Arizona's water supply is shrinking, but its population is growing. Is it sustainable?

Katherine Davis-Young is a senior field correspondent reporting on a variety of issues, including public health and climate change.