ADWR's 'safe yield' rule needs some teeth
Several weeks ago, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) formed a stakeholders group to help it write a policy for some subdivision developers in active management areas (AMAs) that want to change their plats without having to re-apply for a state water certificate.
The state granted 100 such certificates based on preliminary plats prior to the state's groundwater mining declaration in the Prescott AMA. The certificates show the subdivisions (25 to 50 of them with no houses on them yet) have a 100-year supply of water.
That's a necessary approach to a problem that requires resolution, but perhaps ADWR should expand its "to do" list in advance of the coming January legislative session.
The 1999 groundwater mining declaration is long on specifics and short on teeth.
It affects only municipalities, water companies and subdivisions and doesn't contain any consequences if the Prescott AMA fails to reach "safe yield" by 2025 as mandated in the declaration. "Safe yield" is a state in which water users don't pump any more water out of the ground than they and nature put back in.
The Legislature needs to establish several points in the law.
First, it needs to set up a mechanism to monitor exactly how much water AMA water users are taking out of the aquifer. It gets accurate information from the larger wells, but we have no idea how much water the approximately 10,000 individual wells in the unincorporated areas are pumping.
Second and what's far more important, once it has a handle on just how much water the water users are taking out of the aquifer and how much they are recharging, the state needs to set intermediate goals for water users to achieve on the way to safe yield, as well as incentives that encourage them to meet the goals and consequences if they fail to.
Clearly, it's an even more ambitious (and perhaps politically impossible) undertaking than modifying the subdivision policies, but it's infinitely more necessary and important.