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Management Plan Work Group Offers Public Opportunity to Develop Water Policies

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by Fred Breedlove

Arizona’s 1980 Groundwater Code offers a unique opportunity for the public to get involved in shaping water policy through the process of adopting management plans for the Active Management Areas (“AMAs”).  The process is playing out now and there are still opportunities to make your voice heard.

There are five AMAs, generally located in the central, most populated areas of the State:  Phoenix, Pinal, Tucson, Prescott, and Santa Cruz.  The Management Plans include conservation requirements for municipal water providers, industrial users, and agriculture, which are intended to help meet the “Management Goal” of each AMA.  For the Phoenix, Tucson, and Prescott AMAs, their Management Goals are the same: to achieve “safe yield” by 2025.  Safe yield is defined as “a long-term balance between the annual amount of groundwater withdrawn in an active management area and the annual amount of natural and artificial recharge in the active management area.”  For the Santa Cruz AMA, the Management Goal is to maintain safe yield.  Recognizing the long-term importance and relevance of the agricultural industry in the Pinal AMA, the Pinal AMA’s unique Management Goal is to “allow development of non-irrigation uses and preserve existing agricultural economies for as long as feasible, consistent with the necessity to preserve future water supplies for non-irrigation uses.”

The first Management Plans were adopted in 1980, subsequent ones were supposed to be adopted every ten years until the 5th Management Plan, which is designated by statute to be in place for 2020 to 2025.  Adoption of the plans are behind schedule, however.  The Arizona Department of Water Resources (“ADWR”) is in the process of adopting the 4th Management Plan for the Phoenix AMA and intends to adopt it by the end of 2020, along with 4th Management Plans for the Pinal and Santa Cruz AMAs.  Due to a statutorily required implementation period, these 4th Management Plans would then become effective by 2023.

In addition, ADWR is forging ahead with development of 5th Management Plans for all AMAs, which ADWR hopes will be adopted by 2023 so that they can be implemented by 2025, as discussed at the December 4, 2019 meeting of the Management Plan Work Group.  The next meeting of the full Management Plan Work Group is scheduled for March 19, 2020.  The schedule of upcoming meetings is posted here.