BULLHEAD CITY — Water policy proposals introduced in the Arizona Legislature last week could directly impact Mohave County.

“Section 25 is of concern for on-river users because it apparently provides broad sovereign immunity to Central Arizona Project in any dispute with

on-river users,” said Patrick Cunningham, HighGround Public Affairs Consultants general counsel. “Section 26

is of concern to on-river users because of the notice provision.”

House Bill 2512, introduced by Republican District 25 Rep. Russell Bowers, and Senate Bills 1507 through 1516, introduced last week by Republican Sen. Gail Griffin of Hereford, also include proposals to waive some restrictions on overuse, reintroduces workarounds to water use restrictions for Cochise and Yuma counties that Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed in 2016, includes a ban on water exports, studying desalination as a new water source and exemptions to current pumping rules for greenhouses.

Griffin’s one overarching bill breaks out individual items contained in the larger proposal, making it easier to remove a specific provision, Griffin told the Associated Press.

One of the proposals strips the Central Arizona Project of the ability to raise a common defense to lawsuits by state entities and moves oversight of some water conservation districts from the state Land Department to the Forestry and Fire Management Department.

“If this bill passes — and that’s a big if — we still maintain that the water belongs to the people, the housing, the agriculture and the development of this area,” said Mohave County District 5 Sup. Lois Wakimoto. “Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District is the trustee of the water and its allocation; therefore, the water that was set aside for this area remains the water that belongs to the people and the continued development of this area.”

Arizona District 5 Rep. Paul Mosley, who sits on the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee, which held a second reading of the proposals last week, did not respond to a request for comment.

“Regarding any water transfers from the rural counties to CAP, we are watching the actions of the CAP board (of directors) and the Mohave Valley Irrigation and Drainage District board to learn if they intend to press ahead with the purchase and transfer of Colorado River Water away from the river communities,” said Kevin Moran, Environmental Defense Action Fund senior director.  “If such action does go forward, we will then determine what action, if any, we will take.”

Moran, a former government relations consultant, is chairman of the Water for Arizona Coalition, composed of Arizona individuals and advocacy groups which support policies to ensure a reliable water supply to meet the state’s needs.

“While we appreciate Sen. Griffin and Rep. Bowers for putting water issues at the top of the state legislative agenda, the current proposals do not go far enough to address the water issues that confront us in Arizona,” Moran said. “In particular, we need action this session to address the dwindling water supplies in Lake Mead.”

Lake Powell is expected to get only 47 percent of its average inflow this spring and Lake Mead has dropped to 41 percent of its capacity due to scant snow in the mountains that feed the Colorado River.

“The current dry winter in most of the Colorado River basin has made the dire predictions about potential shortages even more troubling,” Moran said.  “In the near term we need our local water agency and state officials to focus on stabilizing Lake Mead and working out compromises on other issues to produce water legislation that enjoys broad support and can be signed by Gov. Ducey.”  

The Colorado River supplies water to about

40 million people and 6,300 square miles of farmland in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, as well as cities and farms in northwest Mexico.

Moran said he believes state legislation needed in this session includes authorizing the Arizona Department of Water Resources director to complete the Lower Colorado Basin Drought Contingency Plan agreement to protect Lake Mead’s elevation from dropping to critical levels, as well as the development of a systematic plan within Arizona for conserving Colorado River water with a stated goal for the quantity of conserved water necessary to keep Lake Mead at a 1,080-foot elevation. 

Moran said he also would like to see greater assurance that those who work to conserve their water would not see it diverted for use by another water user.

“We need to continue working with the other basin states and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to conserve Colorado River water that will be left in Lake Mead in order to reduce the risk of a federal shortage declaration,” Moran said. “This approach benefits all water users in the Lower Basin.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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