U.S. Water News Online
PHOENIX -- Legislation intended to protect the Army's Fort
Huachuca by letting area residents chart their own course on
protecting one of the state's few free-flowing rivers could be a
model for use in other water-short areas of rural Arizona, the
state's top water official said.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 6-1 for a compromise
bill that would allow residents of Sierra Vista and other nearby
parts of Cochise County decide whether to create a special district
to plan and provide ways to augment water supplies in the San Pedro
If enacted, the bill (HB2300) would establish a nine-member board
charged with preparing a plan to be sent to voters in the proposed
district in southwestern Cochise County.
Other rural areas with population growth pressures and challenged
water supplies where similar approaches could be taken include
western Mohave County, envisioned by some as becoming a bedroom
community to Las Vegas, and the Yavapai County's Verde River valley,
said Herb Guenther, state Water Resources Department director.
"This is the first of its kind," he said of the San Pedro River
The San Pedro region doesn't fit criteria established under a 1980
groundwater law for state-imposed regulation of groundwater pumping,
Arizona political, civic and economic leaders fear Fort Huachuca
could be targeted in the next round of military base closings because
of a federal law that links the installation's future to efforts to
protect the San Pedro River and its sensitive habitat.
Fort Huachuca, a major Army base located in Sierra Vista, is one
of southern Arizona's largest employers and is home to several Army
commands as well as signals and intelligence brigades.
"We have to protect the river to protect the fort," said Rep.
Jennifer Burns, the bill's sponsor.
Similar San Pedro watershed legislation was considered earlier
during this year but was hung up over several concerns, including
some lawmakers' insistence that local residents decide whether to
create the proposed district and whether it should have taxing
The revised San Pedro River proposal is the Legislature's latest
effort on rural water concerns. Lawmakers have already passed bills
this session to give rural areas new powers to tie development
projects to adequate water supplies and to set up a new fund -- with
no money in it initially -- to help pay for projects to augment
communities' water supplies.
Though there's plenty of water in the aquifer to support
population growth, continued pumping in excess of recharge levels
will put the river's surface flow -- and the Army base -- in
jeopardy, said Burns, a Tucson Republican whose district includes
part of Cochise County.
Sierra Vista would become a "ghost town" if the base closes, Burns
Mary Ann Black, a Sierra Vista real estate agent and a board
member of a local conservation district, said the new water district
isn't necessary because the area can do more to meet its water needs
through conservation and recharge.
"This whole thing is a scare tactic to create a taxing authority
and power and authority for a certain elite group in our community,"
Sen. Jake Flake, a Snowflake Republican who held out for a local
vote on the district's creation, said it's essential to let the
affected communities decide how to handle the problem rather than
have the state impose mandates.
"In this state there is no one size fits all," Flake said.
The Appropriation Committee's vote for the San Pedro proposal
jettisoned the bill's unrelated original contents and sent the new
version to the full Senate for likely consideration. Senate passage
would send it to the House for an up-or-down vote.
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