Opinion: New legislation amending “use it or lose it” law bolsters Arizona’s reputation for wise water stewardship

Arizona has a long history of wise water stewardship. Since the 1950s, we have reduced our water use even as our communities have grown. Arizona’s economy continues to thrive—even now, amid a global pandemic—precisely because we know how to adapt. And, over the past few decades, Arizona’s business community has played a critical role in stewarding our resources and advocating for commonsense solutions.

Arizona’s business community understands that a secure and sustainable water supply will remain a fundamental component of our state’s economic vitality. Without water, our businesses and communities cannot grow.

In 2019, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry supported the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, a historic water agreement that positioned Arizona to manage our Colorado River supply in times of shortage through voluntary conservation. DCP was an important step in securing Arizona’s water supply and reducing the risk of far deeper shortages.

DCP will not prevent shortages or eliminate that risk completely, which is why it is critical for us to continue re-examining our water code and regulations to ensure that we incentivize conservation.

On February 18, Gov. Doug Ducey signed HB 2056 into law, representing a bi-partisan, unopposed win for Arizona’s businesses, communities, and the environment. The bill, referred to as the “no forfeiture” bill, allows agricultural water users with legal entitlements to water to file a conservation plan notice outlining the conservation measures that they will implement. In exchange, these water users are guaranteed that any water conserved as part of the plan does not constitute an abandonment or forfeiture of the water to which the user is entitled.

This commonsense reform addressed a risk—or in some cases a perceived risk—in prior law that a surface water user choosing to conserve water could be forced to forfeit valuable water rights.

While this may not appear to be a traditional business issue, reducing the threat and fear of forfeiture removes a harmful disincentive to conserve and will encourage water users to implement best practices to conserve water throughout the state. This conservation, in turn, frees up additional water that can support the diverse needs of Arizona farms, communities, businesses, and the environment, and gives farmers, ranchers, and other surface water users the flexibility they need to engage in smart water conservation practices with full confidence that their water rights will be protected. Water security and flexibility means businesses in Arizona can continue to grow and operate with a more dependable and long-term water supply. With this new law, Arizona continues to improve upon its water laws and systems, which is good for business and good for the state.

If the last year has taught us anything, it is that we must adapt to survive. That has been true throughout Arizona’s history—our communities and businesses have always found new and innovative ways to thrive in our unique desert environment. Amid 21 years of drought, the reality of less rain, and declining allocations from the Colorado River, it is clear that we in Arizona need to make the most of every drop of water in order to maximize economic, community, and environmental benefits across the state.

Luckily, Arizonans know how to come together to protect our state’s water resources. By passing HB 2056 into law, we in Arizona have once again demonstrated critical leadership on water, fundamentally changing a key tenet of western water law and eliminating the “use it or lose it” concept. Businesses care about these issues, and we must celebrate this achievement. This is a win for us all.

Garrick Taylor is the interim president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry

Garrick Taylor

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