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Hobbs opposes GOP groundwater plan, touts power of the executive water department

Gov. Katie Hobbs says she won’t sign a bill championed by some Republicans to conserve rural groundwater, calling it “convoluted” and “beyond unacceptable.” She also warned that the state water department has the power to implement its own plans.

Hobbs spoke at the University of Arizona on Wednesday on water, and said she agrees with proponents of the bill that rural communities need a new method of groundwater conservation. 

Her water policy council pitched an idea to create rural groundwater protection areas, but it hasn’t advanced at the legislature as introduced by Democrats. 

The bill that Republicans have pushed forward would do something similar, but would also require several more steps and the unanimous consent of local politicians.

Four rural counties also oppose the bill as written.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources also operates under the executive branch, and Hobbs emphasized that the department can make inroads in water conservation without legislative Republicans’ permission. 

“At the end of the day, we have the tools available to help rural communities through groundwater management. The Arizona Department of Water Resources has the responsibility and the authority to make data-driven, science-based decisions to implement groundwater management throughout Arizona,” Hobbs said.

The department can create active management areas where groundwater is protected, and it has taken the first steps to create a new one in the Gila Bend basin, which many Republicans oppose.

“I won’t shy away in supporting ADWR’s exercise of this authority,” Hobbs added. 

She also said there’s reason to be optimistic about getting some bipartisan groundwater protection legislation passed soon.

“Leaders in this state have many shared values -- a desire to protect rural Arizona, to provide certainty to water users, to give local stakeholders more control over water management, and to slow this unmitigated depletion of Arizona aquifers. We can, and we must, tap into this common ground to find a solution that works, and to put aside petty politics,” she said.

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