The Daily Agenda: Hydration hurdles
Executive enforcement of liquid laws? ... Certification comeuppances served ... And Siri saves.
A few hours after delivering her first State of the State address in January, Gov. Katie Hobbs called her first impromptu press conference as governor.
Her predecessor, former Gov. Doug Ducey, had buried a report showing that the West Valley had far less water than previously believed, she told reporters. The area was so dry that it no longer had the 100-year assured supply of water required under groundwater protection laws, which could have major ramifications on growth.
Unlike Ducey, her administration would take groundwater regulation seriously, she said. That meant delivering the facts on protected groundwater basins like the West Valley, and taking on foreign companies growing water-intensive alfalfa in the northwestern Arizona desert.
To that end, Hobbs formed a bipartisan commission of water exerts who would develop policy solutions she could send to lawmakers on two topics:
Groundwater protection in “active management areas,” like the sprawling suburbs of the Valley
And groundwater protection in rural areas that don’t have any existing regulations, like the sprawling alfalfa fields of northwestern Arizona
After almost a year of work, countless hours of incredibly nerdy debate, and a few key members quitting in protest, Hobbs’ commission delivered its recommendations yesterday.
Many of their proposals are dead on arrival at the Legislature next year.
But the governor probably knew that would be the outcome. And it appears she has been planning ahead.
100-YEAR ASSURED WATER SUPPLY
Of the two goals, strengthening protections for “active management areas,” mostly located in urban areas, is the less thorny. New housing developments in those areas are required to show that they have a 100-year assured water supply before building, and the committee’s main goal was to seal up loopholes to that rule.
Although Arizona Senate President Warren Petersen, a developer, recently called for scrapping the 100-year-supply rule altogether for developers, that idea doesn’t appear to have much backing and he later walked it back.
Instead, the commission’s proposals attempt to crack down on “wildcat” developments that don’t have assured water supplies, like the Rio Verde Foothills area that garnered national attention this year when Scottsdale turned off the taps to residents there.
Even Republican Rep. Gail Griffin, chair of the House’s committee on water and a longtime foe of conservationists, doesn’t seem to have a problem with the commission’s proposals for dealing with wildcat developments. Griffin, who is a member of the governor’s committee but didn’t attend yesterday’s meeting, wrote that she had already filed legislation that meets most of the commission’s goals, and she was generally amenable to the commission’s ideas.
The second half of the equation — protecting rural groundwater outside of active management areas — is far more contentious.
The main portion of the commission’s proposal urges lawmakers to create a new, leaner form of an active management area called a “Rural Groundwater Management Area.” Under the proposal, local citizens could initiate the process of starting a rural management area, or the Department of Water Resouces could do it.
Any rural management areas would include a board of local stakeholders who would develop conservation goals, a plan and a monitoring system.
But that idea seems like a longshot at the Capitol. Two members of Hobbs’ commission, Sen. Sine Kerr and Arizona Farm Bureau President Stephanie Smallhouse, walked off the job over the commission’s refusal to budge on the rural management areas. Kerr says she has her own plan, and Griffin says that’s the plan she’s backing.
This was all pretty foreseeable, considering Griffin killed a similar proposal at the Legislature this year and even took her conservative colleagues to task for supporting the idea.
Democratic lawmakers and conservationists have urged Hobbs to give up on getting the policy through the Legislature and instead do what she can via executive order or administrative action. Both Hobbs and Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke have indicated that may be the route they eventually take.
Creating a whole new classification of “Rural Groundwater Management Area” would require lawmakers’ support. But under existing law, Hobbs’ administration can continue classifying more places as “Active Management Areas” or the lesser “Irrigation Non-Expansion Areas,” assuming they meet legal requirements to be classified as such.
That’s what the department did last year in Kingman, announcing that farmers in the area were barred from expanding. It was the first time in roughly 40 years that a new management area had been created in Arizona.
But that kind of action can have drawbacks. Out-of-state businesses sued the department over the Kingman designation,1 and while the regulations are still standing, the lawsuit is ongoing.
#LockThemUp: Cochise County Supervisors Tom Crosby and Peggy Judd have been charged with two felonies each for their refusal to certify the 2022 election and attempt to delay the state certification of the election canvass, Attorney General Kris Mayes announced yesterday. If they’re convicted, they could face a year-and-a-half in prison and removal from office.
No time to spore: Recipients of the $5 million lawmakers doled out last year for psilocybin research may only have a few months to use the funds, Axios’ Jeremy Duda writes. The state’s health department has to award the grants by Feb. 1, but some officials say that money has to be spent by the end of the fiscal year on June 30. Legislators didn’t make the funds non-lapsing, but Arizona Rep. Kevin Payne, who pushed for the magic mushroom funding, said he wants to introduce a law that would extend the deadline.
Go for green: The Arizona Green Party estimates it turned in about 63,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s Office in an attempt to become a recognized political party, surpassing the 34,127 signatures needed to do so, per KJZZ’s Wayne Schutsky. The party lost its official status in 2019 after it didn’t get the required number of registered voters required by state law.
Wartime windfall: Arizona has received $2.259 billion in investments to build munitions and tactical vehicles for Ukraine after President Joe Biden’s dispersal of billions of dollars to the country, Politico reports. The Biden administration circulated graphs showing which states have gained the greatest economic benefits in attempts to garner support for more overseas war spending, and Arizona came in second.
Business on the border: The I-19 Border Patrol checkpoint is going unstaffed as an increase in Tucson Sector border apprehensions has caused the agency to redirect resources, the Green Valley News’ Kim Smith reports. On the other side of the border, restaurants and retailers are losing business in Nogales, Sonora, as the Morley Pedestrian Port of Entry remains closed beyond its planned reopening date, per Nogales International’s Daisy Zavala Magaña.
“We’re just hoping it reopens sooner rather than later because people from both sides cross to shop for Christmas,” said David Rodriguez, the general manager of Restaurante La Roca. “It’s really been affecting the local commerce of Ambos Nogales.”
Pinching pennies: Mohave County Recorder Lydia Durst will get to attend mandatory staff elections training after the Board of Supervisors approved her travel to Phoenix, but they shut down a separate request to attend an election security event with the Arizona Secretary of State’s office next month, the Today’s News-Herald’s Brandon Messick writes. The county is facing a $18.5 million deficit and previously banned out-of-county travel.
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Sign of the times: Gilbert Mayor Brigette Peterson was cleared from wrongdoing in an ethics complaint spurred by two residents the mayor kicked out of a town council meeting in September 2022, but the council shut down the findings and required Peterson to take open meeting law training anyway, the Republic’s Maritza Dominguez reports. The two citizens stood at the back of the meeting in question holding signs that said, “Stop Lying.”
Never mind: The Bureau of Land Management is giving the go-ahead for SunZia to continue constructing its 520-mile wind energy transmission line in the San Pedro River Valley despite objections from tribal leaders and conservationists, per KJZZ’s Ron Dungan. BLM halted construction in the area earlier this month over concerns from Tohono O’odham Tribal Chairman Verlon Jose that it would interfere with ancient burial and sacred land.
No escaping if you get caught vaping: Mesa’s public schools are getting new metal detectors and vape sensors in bathrooms after the school board approved the new safety precautions, per 12News’ Chase Golightly. The district's director for safety and security Allen Moore said Mesa’s schools seized six guns from students last year. Vape detectors are already installed at Red Mountain High School, and Moore said they go off every day.
It’s nice to know that United States senators are just as pathetically dependent on Siri as we are.