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ADWR considers establishing a groundwater protection area in Gila Bend

The Arizona Department of Water Resources is considering establishing a new groundwater management area for the first time since 1980.

The proposal for a new Active Management Area in Gila Bend would mark the first AMA created by the state government since the passage of the Groundwater Management Act more than four decades ago. 

Groundwater levels have sharply declined in the Gila Bend basin over the past several years. Between 2000 and 2020, the basin’s median rate of change was negative 3 feet each year and every single well measured saw a decrease. An AMA would regulate groundwater harvesting in Gila Bend for the purpose of conservation. 

In 1980, state lawmakers passed the Groundwater Management Act. It established four of the state’s five existing AMAs, one of which was later split into two. 

The only other management area created since 1980 occurred two years ago in Douglas. But it was voters, not the government, who elected to create their own AMA, the first established in that manner. 

The Department of Water Resources will hold a public hearing next week to consider making an AMA in Gila Bend.

Groundwater management is a polarizing and hotly debated issue at the state Legislature, where dozens of bills have already been introduced on the issue. House Democrats applauded ADWR’s consideration of creating a new AMA. 

“Protecting Arizona’s groundwater must be larger than partisan politics," Sen. Priya Sundareshan (D-Tucson) said in a statement. "If we fail to update the Groundwater Management Act soon, the long-term health of our water basins may never recover. The days of working in silos on water policy are over; it’s time to have honest and transparent negotiations amongst all interested stakeholders.” 

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