Water fight tied directly to arizona’s growth local news tucson.com electricity 1800s

Adams likened the current time to the era of Arizona’s 1980 Groundwater Management Act, a nationally pioneering law that toughened state controls over excessive groundwater pumping. After that law passed, the state entered into a very big growth period, he said.

At stake is a few hundred thousand acre-feet of water, enough to raise Lake Mead by a few feet if it were all put there. So far, the governor’s committees haven’t come up with a formal proposal for how to deal with this water, and a CAP task force is now trying to sort the issue out separately.

This issue also taps into underlying tensions among suburban developers, homebuilders, ranchers, cities and environmentalists. That’s because a healthy chunk of the leftover river water today goes to the highly controversial Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District, which like CAP is operated by the agencies’ parent Central Arizona Water Conservation District.

The river water that goes to the replenishment district compensates for groundwater pumped out for thousands of subdivisions statewide, including dozens in Pima County. Such water is recharged into aquifers. Getting that water ensures that growth in places like Green Valley south of Tucson and Surprise west of Phoenix can continue as planned.

This water is available because Tucson, Phoenix and Indian tribes that have legal contracts for CAP water don’t always need every drop that they had previously planned to buy for a given year. So the CAP lets other users such as the replenishment district, that don’t have such contracts, buy it.

Dennis Rule, the replenishment district’s manager, sees no conflict of interest because he doesn’t believe the CAP governing board would ever agree to deliver excess water to his district if those deliveries lowered Lake Mead enough to create a shortage.

“I’m not confident that it is good public policy to make an automatic, open-ended, unquantified contribution to Lake Mead,” said Tucson-based CAP board member Sharon Megdal. “No other party to these Drought Contingency Plan-Plus negotiations I’m aware of is being asked to do that. You should know what you are contributing and what you are expected to contribute.”

The replenishment district also has influential supporters. The Home Builders Association of Central Arizona recently joined with the Arizona Cattleman’s Association to put a full-page ad into the weekly Arizona Capitol Times supporting the district.

For ranchers, that district’s use of renewable water to boost suburban land development keeps private land values stable. If there’s no ability to get enough water to develop former ranches and farms, their value plummets, said Bas Aja, the cattle growers’ government relations director. “Our ability to borrow money on the value of those lands on my ranch or farm or feedlot goes down dramatically.”

For the homebuilders, “the district fulfills what we believe is a critical component of the state groundwater act — to put water back into the ground,” said Spencer Kamps, its vice president of legislative affairs. “That’s a critical, critical supply. We need that supply.”

A quick cutoff wouldn’t stop development because the groundwater replenishment district could buy Colorado River water from other sources. But that water would cost far more than the CAP supply, raising costs for both homebuilders and homebuyers, said Rule, who manages the replenishment district. He estimated the total extra tab at $8.6 million over two years.