Common sense limitations on industrial ag water use is how we regain control of our future, our communities, and our homes.
We are launching a campaign to create groundwater active management areas (AMAs) in the Sulphur Springs Valley. The creation of these AMAs will be a meaningful step that we, as a community, can take toward saving our residential, small farm/ranch, and community wells. This will enable us to reclaim control over our future in this valley and in our communities.
Residential wells (and other wells pumping less than 35 gallons per minute) are NOT subject to any metering or regulation under an AMA.
Rather, in an AMA, common sense limitations are applied to groundwater use of high-production wells (those capable of pumping 35 gallons per minute or more), such as those used by the mega farms and nut orchards flooding into the valley.
While most of Arizona's population lives within one of the state's five existing AMAs (administered by the Arizona Department of Water Resources), there are currently no groundwater protections in place here, which is exactly why so many out-of-state growers have come here and exploited our groundwater.
The Sulphur Springs Valley consists of two groundwater basins: the Douglas Basin and the Willcox Basin. We will be working to create AMAs to protect both of these basins.
It is true that there is an irrigation non-expansion area (INA) in the Douglas Basin, but as we have all seen, the Douglas INA has done absolutely nothing to protect our groundwater.
In essence, all the creation of the Douglas INA accomplished was to “grandfather” in the irrigation rights of growers who had irrigation wells in use at the time of the INA's creation in 1980. However, wealthy out-of-state growers have entered the INA by simply buying up farms with existing irrigation rights. They may then drop as many new wells as they like (some of which are now up to 2,200 feet deep) and use groundwater without any limitation whatsoever.
Large growers in the INA have even been transferring portions of “grandfathered” irrigation rights over to parcels within the INA with no existing irrigation rights-- thereby expanding irrigation within the irrigation non-expansion area.
Douglas Groundwater Basin Map
Willcox Groundwater Basin Map
The creation of AMAs in the valley, on the other hand, will actually help to slow down the insane expansion of groundwater use we've seen in recent years. This would be done through groundwater use allotments and best management practices applied to high-production wells (like those nearly half-mile-deep wells some growers have been dropping into our aquifer).
Again, residential and other exempt wells (pumping less than 35 gallons per minute) would not be regulated or monitored through the creation of these AMAs.
Under Arizona law (ARS 45-415), we, the residents of these groundwater basins, may petition to hold an election to vote on whether we want our groundwater basins to be designated as AMAs.
All we need is for ten percent of the registered voters residing within each basin to sign petitions calling for a vote on this issue, and the question of whether or not to create these AMAs will be on the ballot in the next election.
We have been working hard on finalizing these petitions, and they will be coming to a community event near you very soon.
We will be publishing updates through our website (arizonawaterdefenders.com), our email list, and through social media. More information about these resources below.
Here's the bottom line: we have all seen the incredible insurgence of out-of-state growers into our valley in recent years. They come to exploit our groundwater because there is absolutely no limit on groundwater use here. As their water use has surged, our residential, small business, and community wells have started to run dry.
Most of these insurgent growers do not provide many jobs in the community. For the most part, they spend very little in our local stores. What they need, they import-- and they have shown that they are more than happy to export our water (in the form of nuts, feed, and dairy products) so that they can make a buck.
In the end, we're going to be left holding the bag-- in the form of groundwater so deep that the average person can't afford a well to reach it, and in the form of homes, schools, community business, and small farms and ranches with no water and no future. Then, when the out-of-state growers who ran the place dry decide that it has become too expensive for them to pull the last drops of water out of the ground, they will move out-- leaving behind a dustbowl of fallow fields and skeletal orchards for the wind to pick apart. We've seen what the dust storms have been like as they cleared the ground. Imagine how bad it will be when they decide to abandon it.
We have worked hard for our homes and our communities. Let's fight to keep them alive. Creation of these AMAs is how we reclaim control of our future in this valley.
I know a lot of us are reluctant to have any more government influence in our lives, and an AMA does necessarily mean government telling big water users (not residences or owners of wells producing less than 35 gallons per minute) what they can and cannot do.
We get it. None of us are not fans of big government. But we have all tried asking nicely. We've asked big water users to be more responsible. We've asked our county supervisors to help us out. We've asked our lawmakers to do anything at all that might help.
We asked nicely, and I don't think we got anything to show for it. Last I checked, peoples' wells are running dry left and right-- and the outlook for our homes and communities keeps getting worse.
Here is a thing I think we forget about government: it is OUR government; they work for us-- not the other way around. So, if we need the Arizona Department of Water Resources to actually step in and do something, we have to tell them to do it.
That's what this AMA petition and election is all about. If we vote for this, we will compel OUR government to do what WE want.
We have heard frustration with the notion that if we implement this AMA, we would then just hand it over to the government to do whatever they want with it. This is not true.
Once we vote this into effect through an election, the ADWR director must hold public hearings-- in OUR communities-- to hear what we want to happen, in terms of management goals and plans [https://www.azleg.gov/ars/45/00569.htm].
So, Under the law, the director cannot adopt goals or plans for our AMA until these meetings have been held. And, if after those hearings, the director adopts goals and plans we do not approve of, there is a process of judicial review we can undertake to alter them. If we need to do that, and remind these guys that they work for us, we will.
So, the key to this is being engaged. This is our government-- they work for us. We will make sure our voices are heard, and we will make sure our voices are listened to.
We are doing this for our homes and our communities. This is not something we are going to do only half way. If we are really going to regain control of our future, we need to follow through with this fully-- and that is exactly what we plan to do.
Please help us spread the word in your communities and through social media. Please encourage anyone you know who may be interested to join our Facebook group (www.facebook.com/arizonawaterdefenders)
Please visit our website and join our email list, here: www.arizonawaterdefenders.com/join-our-mailing-list
If you are interested in getting more involved in the campaign, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to learn more about AMAs, the Arizona Department of Water Resources has resources here: new.azwater.gov/ama.
Here is the Arizona law that gives us the power to do this: www.azleg.gov/ars/45/00415.htm