Politicians divided on rural water bill

KINGMAN - The House of Representatives voted May 24 to approve a bill that would give counties the authority to restrict growth based on water supply.

With the 50-1 vote, the House passed Senate Bill 1575, which will give counties and municipalities more control over growth in rural areas. Local representatives Nancy McLain and Trish Groe both voted in favor of the bill.

The Senate passed the bill 26-2 on March 8.

McLain said county officials have been asking the Legislature repeatedly for the authority to deny subdivisions on the basis of water adequacy. This legislation addresses those concerns, she said.

The provisions of the bill, as put forth in the Senate fact sheet, allow "county Board of Supervisors, by unanimous vote, to adopt an ordinance requiring a proposed subdivision located outside of an AMA (active management area) to demonstrate an adequate water supply before the final plat can be approved."

District 2 Supervisor Tom Sockwell said the Mohave County Board of Supervisors had been pushing this issue for several years. To the best of his knowledge, Mohave County was one of the few counties outside of an active management area to require proof of adequate water supply before final plat approval.

However, state statutes have never backed up the policy, Sockwell said, and there has often been a fear that it would not hold up under legal scrutiny, if anyone chose to fight it.

This legislation will give the county the teeth it needs to ensure growth is handled properly, he said.

AMAs have been able to deny subdivisions based on assured water supply since their formation in 1980. It's time for the rest of the state to have the same ability, he said.

District 3 Supervisor Buster Johnson remains unconvinced. The state has been constantly pushing responsibility and duties onto the counties, which have neither the expertise nor the resources to carry them out. Johnson said he fears the county is not qualified to handle this type of authority.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources is a large department with expertise and resources galore, he said. Mohave County doesn't have the ability to handle the types of things ADWR does, not to mention smaller counties with even fewer resources.

Johnson also said he didn't want to see county taxpayers foot the bill for this new legislation.

Senate Bill 1575 is a companion bill to House Bill 2692, which was signed into law by Gov. Janet Napolitano May 24. This bill created two new statewide water funds to help provide grant monies to pay for water supply development projects. One fund will help urban areas, while the other will assist rural areas.

The bill will also create an eight-member Rural Water Supply Development Fund Committee for areas such as Mohave County that will authorize rules governing the application for and awarding of Water Supply Development Revolving Fund monies.

Senator Ron Gould said he voted against the House bill that created the fund because he was not thoroughly convinced that it protected private property rights.

Gould also said that he was always hesitant to create a fund with no money. While the bill information said it would be funded by federal and other grants, it has been his experience that these funds don't normally become available until the second year after a request is made.

While he has no problem giving the Board of Supervisors the power to take water into consideration when deciding on a new development, a state government with a $400 million deficit should not be approving new funds.