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Controversial groundwater protection bill passes AZ Senate

A bill to allow rural communities to manage and create groundwater protection areas passed out of the state Senate on Thursday, despite opposition from Democrats and some rural Republican county officials.

Sen. Sine Kerr (R-Buckeye), the sponsor of Senate Bill 1221, says she’s still working on the legislation.

“[SB] 1221 will, in its final form, be an incredible basin management tool for our state again setting precedence for the nation as we have always led. Arizona has been a national leader since our  inception on water management,” Kerr said Thursday.

The bill passed out of the Senate on a party-line vote, with only Republicans in support. 

SB 1221 aims to give rural communities more power over their groundwater by creating basin management areas, or BMAs, that would be managed by a locally elected council. But critics, including Democratic senators, say the BMAs are too difficult to implement — there are several steps to get there, including a unanimous vote by supervisors on all the county boards in the basin area. 

“I’m still wondering why it has to be so difficult to create the BMAs and get them going, especially when as they currently stand it's harder to create these BMAs than it is to create the active management area as is currently the only tool available,” Sen Priya Sundareshan (D-Tucson) said on the Senate floor. 

Kerr’s proposal conflicts with the groundwater protection recommendations made by Gov. Katie Hobbs’ water policy council, which Kerr was a part of but walked away from. She and Arizona Farm Bureau President Stefanie Smallhouse said the council wasn’t interested in the views of rural and agricultural stakeholders. 

In order for Kerr’s plan to become law, however, it will have to be signed by Hobbs.

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