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Arizona Gov. Hobbs' groundwater regulation plans clash with Republican chair's proposals

Arizona Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs’ has her own plans to overhaul rural groundwater regulation that she teased in her State of the State address Monday. But Hobbs will have to get those plans past Rep. Gail Griffin (R-Hereford), who has a history of blocking regulation in rural communities.

“I stand ready to work with you to pass legislation that makes the changes we need today — all to safeguard Arizona’s water for tomorrow,” Hobbs said in her speech. “And to those of you who have spent years refusing to act: if you don’t, I will.”

→  State of the State analysis: How Hobbs is taking a more measured approach

Christian Slater, a spokesman for Hobbs, said the comment was not specifically targeted at Griffin. But as the influential chair of the committee on Natural Resources, Energy and Water, Griffin’s presence is a dam that stops the flow of most groundwater regulations bills from passing through the legislature.

Last year, Griffin opposed even a Republican-led bill that would have created local stewardship areas that could create goals for managing groundwater in rural areas. That  bill called for the creation of local groundwater stewardship areas with boards nominated by local boards of supervisors and appointed by the governor.

Griffin said it would have given unelected bodies the ability to impose mandatory requirements on rural water users and could be used to target specific users like farms or power plants. And she alleged it would lead to the creation of “groundwater markets” where that water could be sold off to the highest bidder.

Last year, Hobbs created a bipartisan water policy council with stakeholders from various backgrounds to analyze Arizona’s water issues and propose solutions. Hobbs is hoping that her decision to include Griffin — and farmer Ed Curry, one of Griffin ‘s constituents — on the council will pay dividends.

“I will say it was extremely deliberate that we invited Rep. Griffin to be part of the Water Policy Council, so that we could lay out all of these solutions for key legislators,” Hobbs said. “And I’m still hopeful that she’ll move on this.”

So far, Griffin’s addition to the council doesn’t appear to have paid off. 

Griffin has already filed 30 bills on water policy this year, but much of her legislation is at odds with recommendations made by the governor’s water council.

“It is not a surprise that the bills that you're seeing from majority members aren't lining up with what the council and the committee developed,” said Sarah Porter, director of   Arizona State University's Kyl Center for Water Policy and a member of the governor’s council. “I think we knew from the moment that we lost the participation of Sen. Kerr and the Farm Bureau, that it would be a challenge.”

In October, Sen. Sine Kerr (R-Buckeye) and the head of the Arizona Farm Bureau said they would no longer be a part of the committee. They said other members didn’t intend to hear and protect the interests of agriculture which uses the majority of the state’s water.

As for Griffin, she said Republicans plan to introduce a sweeping omnibus water bill at some point this session. But Griffin may still be at odds with some of her fellow Republicans. Sen. Sonny Borrelli (R-Lake Havasu), who sponsored last year’s stewardship area bill, said he is “working on a plan” this session as well. 

“It is a fair analysis to say that the majority has not coalesced around a particular direction on water policy this session, and frankly it was that way last session too,” lobbyist Barry Aarons said.

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Camryn Sanchez is a field correspondent at KJZZ covering everything to do with state politics.