Legislature overwhelmingly passes water conservation bill with support from business groups

At the conclusion of one of the longest legislative sessions on record, state lawmakers reached a bipartisan agreement on a $1 billion water conservation and augmentation package that advocates believe is an essential step toward securing the state’s water future amid an ongoing drought. 

The bill achieves a goal Gov. Doug Ducey announced in his January State of the State Address when he called on the Legislature to act. 

“Our goal: Secure Arizona’s water future for the next 100 years,” he said. 

Advocates for the bill in the Arizona business community cheered passage of the bill. 

“We are pleased the Arizona Legislature and Governor Ducey have taken bold action to invest and protect our state’s water future,” said Cheryl Lombard, the president and CEO of real estate development group Valley Partnership. “The historic billion-dollar investment will enhance efficiency, increase water reuse, and provide the funds to secure future water supplies for existing and future users.” 

The bill’s passage came days after Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources. 

Acknowledging the substantive steps Western states like Arizona have taken to preserve Colorado River water, Touton told the committee still more needs to be done. 

“In the Colorado River basin more conservation and demand management are needed in addition to the actions already underway. Between 2- and 4-million-acre feet of additional conservation is needed just to protect critical levels in 2023,” she said. 

Following the Commissioner’s appearance on Capitol Hill, Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke said in a statement that Touton’s testimony “should remove any remaining doubt that the Colorado River States and our federal partners have a duty to take immediate action – no matter how painful – to protect the system from crashing.” 

Buschatzke reiterated the point in his own testimony before the state House Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee last Thursday. 

“Given the essential need for water for our communities, our economy, our future water management must take a conservative approach and therefore it is imperative that this legislation be enacted,” he said. “There are no better options out there for us, and we need to do this now.” 

The Legislature responded. The Senate voted 25-1 and the House 48-1 to pass the bill and send it to the governor. 

Gov. Ducey applauded the Legislature’s passage of the bill. 

“Today, the Arizona Legislature passed an unprecedented investment in Arizona’s water future.  Arizonans expect their leaders to face the challenges of our state head on ⁠— and with this landmark legislation to secure our state’s water future, we did,” the governor said in a tweet. “With the passage of this legislation, we are rising to one of the most consequential challenges of our time. We are securing Arizona’s water future. We’re protecting our water supply, strengthening our conservation strategies and ensuring that our future remains bright.” 

The governor and Legislature have made water stewardship a priority in the past few years, adopting the Drought Contingency Plan in 2019 and including $200 million in water infrastructure funds in last year’s budget deal. 

Business and industry groups supporting this year’s agreement included the Arizona Chamber of Commerce & Industry, the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation, the Home Builders of Central Arizona and the Grand Canyon State Electric Cooperative Association.

Robert Clarke

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