Rural areas must protect water sources

State director talks to supervisors about methods of management

KINGMAN – Mohave County remains a critical area of concern when it comes to adequate water, the director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources recently told supervisors across the state.

ADWR Director Herb Guenther said there has been “extensive development planned, limited capacity groundwater basins with little recharge and a need to import water.”

Guenther spoke to the County Supervisors’ Association last week about the state of water resources throughout Arizona as well as options available to rural counties.

Guenther suggested the use of Rural Water Management Areas. These areas are “special management areas designed by local partnerships,” he said.

“Local partnerships establish goals and select from an array of tools to accomplish goals.” They would be, he said, locally created and administrated and could be funded by a combination of local taxes, bonds and low-interest loans or grants. ADWR would provide technical support and oversight.

According to the Arizona annual water budget, 2.9 million acre-feet of groundwater is used per year. Another 4.2 million acre-feet are from surface water, mainly the various rivers within the state.

Arizona faces challenges, he said, in groundwater management, future water supplies, Indian water settlements and over-allocation of the Colorado River, to name a few. In active management areas (AMAs), he said, a goal has been adopted to reach safe yield by 2025. This means that water will not be mined and use will not overreach recharge by dangerous amounts.

However, Mohave County and other rural areas outside AMAs can have serious problems because “a developer with a determination of inadequate water can still develop,” Guenther said.

Areas outside AMAs are only required to receive an “adequate water supply” determination from ADWR. Guenther said that this began in 1973 as a consumer advisory program. He said that before the Department of Real Estate will authorize lot sales, they must receive a water report from ADWR stating whether or not adequate water exists. To receive an adequate water determination, the developer must prove that water is “physically, legally and continuously available for 100 years.”

Developers, Guenther said, have two recourses to prove this adequacy. They can either submit a water report to ADWR or can have a stated commitment of service from a designated provider. If they receive a declaration of inadequacy, it must be disclosed to only the first buyer he said.

A group of stakeholders and water interests will be attempting to design a process and potential necessary legislation over the next 10 months. Rural stakeholders and rural citizens will be sought out for input at regular intervals during the design process, Guenther said.

“All findings will be shared with the legislatively established Rural Water Study Committee for their input,” he said.

Chairman of the Mohave County Board of Supervisors and county representative for CSA Pete Byers said he had some concerns about the rural water management areas.

“If we form these areas, we have to understand that, although it seems warm and fuzzy, it is going to create another layer of government and another taxing jurisdiction,” Byers said after the meeting. “What this is all about is the state wanting us to take over their present responsibilities concerning water. Those responsibilities will include a lot of local taxpayer expenses that are presently handled by the state.

“I’m interested in how, exactly, these areas and committees will be formed and, if the counties become responsible to fund the programs and research, whether the counties will have the authority or whether the state will hold on to that through their own advocates on the committee.

“We need more answers before I can take a position on Guenther’s proposals. I do question whether the creation of another bureaucracy will be of benefit to anyone, especially one that will bring an added tax at a time when property owners are already questioning their bills. I am interested in what our residents think of such a proposal.”

“The purpose of the Advisory Group is to advise the Arizona Department of Water Resources regarding programs for water resources development and management that are needed to provide a reliable future water supply throughout Arizona,” Guenther said in a recent letter to Byers. “The Advisor Group is being formed to address water issues that have come to the attention of the Legislature and governor. The deliberations and advice from this group may result in proposed water legislation for consideration in 2007.”

Byers said he will be in Phoenix on May 5 to attend the first meeting of this group. He said it is his understanding that supervisors from other counties and representatives from other governmental bodies and businesses will be in attendance. He hopes to gather more information at that meeting.