Column: Locals must take the lead, not the state
Nine years ago, the Arizona Department of Water Resources declared that the Prescott Active Management Area (AMA) was out of "safe-yield."
It acted because:
Many exempt wells - all eligible to pump 35 gallons per minute - exist in the AMA. ADWR lacks statutory authority to regulate exempt wells. Thus it has no firm idea how much groundwater the exempt wells are pumping.
Although tighter regulations on groundwater use became effective in January 1999, developers had several months' lead time to file thousands of plats under the "old" regulations, which draw down even more groundwater.
The Prescott AMA lacks a delivery system or the legal access to sufficient renewable water supplies to bring a sustainable source of water into the AMA to replace groundwater pumping.
In the 1980 Groundwater Code, the Legislature established safe-yield as a goal, not a mandate. Lawmakers directed the department to develop conservation requirements and assured water supply requirements to help the AMA's reach the goal. While water users must comply with the conservation requirements, individuals cannot achieve safe-yield by themselves. Cities, towns, the county and individuals must contribute to the effort.
Safe-yield is the long-term balance between groundwater withdrawals and natural and artificial recharge in an AMA. Since it is the goal for the Prescott AMA as a whole, achievement means the AMA - as a whole - is at safe-yield by 2025.
The department recently began assessing each AMA's progress toward its goal. We will use water budgets and groundwater monitoring to determine achievement of safe-yield.
While the department has no statutory authority to act if localities do not reach safe-yield, ADWR does have authority to demand compliance with requirements of the Groundwater Code and the management plans in effect, and to take enforcement actions against violators. This authority rests primarily in the area of conservation requirements.
We intend to help towns and cities within the AMAs in reaching safe-yield. We will continue to employ educational and outreach tools, and regulatory measures such as conservation and assured water supply programs. We will continue to pursue appropriate compliance and enforcement actions.
The department will continue to provide strong leadership and encourage the Prescott AMA to attain safe-yield.
Drafters of the Groundwater Code recognized that achievement of safe-yield in an AMA may not be possible through the code's regulatory programs alone. So they included authority for the department to collect an additional groundwater withdrawal fee beginning in 2006 for buying and retiring grandfathered groundwater rights in the AMA.
However, because of the limited amount of fees the department could collect and the high cost of buying grandfathered rights, it would not be cost-effective to pursue this option without an additional appropriation. To date, the legislature has not appropriated any money for this purpose.
The community bears responsibility for wise, restrained use of this vital resource.
Biologist Garrett Hardin once wrote, "Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons. Freedom in a commons brings ruin to all."
In other words, selfish interests can keep a community from reaching a goal that benefits all.
(Herb Guenther is director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources.)