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4:47 AM Sun, Feb. 17th

Ducey, top Arizona lawmakers call for bipartisan water deal

Gov. Doug Ducey

Gov. Doug Ducey

PHOENIX – Faced with reduced levels in Colorado River reservoirs, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said Tuesday that securing the state's water future is its most pressing issue.

Ducey and top lawmakers from both parties appeared together in the governor's office to offer bipartisan support for reaching a deal and winning legislative approval by the end of the month.

A federal agency has set a Jan. 31 deadline for Arizona to adopt a water conservation plan or see the agency impose its own restrictions.

Ducey said industrial and agricultural water users would bear the brunt of a reduced water supply, with average residents likely not seeing an impact. He did say part of the water discussion needs to be creating a "culture of conservation."

"Everyone is going to have to give and I've been impressed by the willingness to do so," Ducey said of the dozens of water interests that have been involved in negotiations.

Following years of drought, water managers fear that the surface of Lake Mead will fall below the spillways where water can be released for use by Arizona, other states and Mexico, triggering severe shortages.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation plans to impose water use restrictions unless the seven states that draw from Lake Mead can agree to a drought contingency plan to voluntarily reduce their take. State water officials and lawmakers have worked for months to broker an agreement among water users.

State Sen. David Bradley of Tucson, the leader of the Democratic minority, said lawmakers need to see legislation soon so they can evaluate it and understand its impact on their constituents.

"The Jan. 31 deadline is crystal clear, but it should be equally clear that approval from the Legislature is not to be taken for granted," Bradley said. "Let's get the language written so we can properly vet it."

Farmers from Pinal County, who stand to lose a big chunk of water, say the plan would likely require them to fallow up to 40 percent of farmland. They want the state to approve $10 million in funding to help them drill wells and build pipelines to rely more on ground water.

They also want the state to cover a roughly $20 million payment expected from the federal government if it doesn’t materialize, and to approve various changes to laws governing water allocations.

“We don’t want to wipe out a county, communities, culture, way of life,” Tiffany Shedd, a cotton farmer in Eloy, told reporters at a news conference. “I think it’s just important to realize everything from schools to charities to our county taxes will suffer if we lose agriculture abruptly.”