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Some Cochise County residents blame Rep. Gail Griffin for blocking groundwater conservation progress

At a recent listening session hosted by Attorney General Kris Mayes, Cochise County residents called on state officials to do more to protect Arizona’s groundwater — and pointed the finger at one rural lawmaker for blocking progress. 

Cochise County residents such as Anne Carl reported that mega farms, dairies and lithium mines are sucking the groundwater out of the earth and leaving it dry which causes the ground to shake and crack. 

“I reached an abyss, it wasn’t just a fissure. I mean there was no road at a certain point,” Carl said of a recent drive. “I had to turn around, and it’s dangerous. I’m so glad it was in the daylight."

Residents blamed Rep. Gail Griffin (R-Hereford), the powerful chair of the House Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee, for blocking bills that they say would protect their water rights. Mayes, a Democrat who’s spoken strongly against drill permits previously awarded to foreign-owned companies, suggested they vote her out and vowed to act if the Legislature will not. 

"If that Legislature doesn’t get its act together this session I'll tell you what, I’ll be the one to lead the ballot initiative — and that is a promise,” Mayes told the residents. 

Griffin, who represents a large portion of Cochise County, was present at the hearing, but did not speak. She did not respond to a request for comment.

Cochise County is largely rural, and many residents rely on groundwater pulled from wells. Digging newer, deeper wells to reach the receding water can cost tens of thousands of dollars for residents. 

When wells run dry, the value of the property attached to the well also shrinks. One resident said her neighbor’s house with 20 acres sold for just $50,000 because the well had gone dry. 

“I’m terrified of my well being dry and my property being worth nothing. … I'm just terrified,” she said.

Mayes’ spokesperson Richie Taylor said she will hold more meetings in locations across the state, concentrated on rural areas outside of regulated active management areas.

Mayes asked residents about specific instances where they've experienced problems like light pollution, noise pollution, or damage to their homes from the pumping.

She said her office has set up a unit to address the issue and that they will be “as aggressive as [they] possibly can.”

Taylor declined to say whether she’s preparing to file a lawsuit.

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