Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin has introduced legislation that would help rural areas pay for water projects to supply future growth.
Tobin's House Bill 2338 closely mirrors the collaborative recommendations of the bipartisan Arizona Water Resources Development Commission that Tobin created three years ago.
"This is developed after two years of study bringing all the water groups together," said Tobin, a Republican from Paulden. "It's likely the most comprehensive water legislation since the (1980) Groundwater Act."
The bill allows local governments and private entities to create public "regional water augmentation authorities" that would help augment local water supplies and infrastructure by allowing members to pool their efforts.
The bill seeks a $30 million general fund appropriation this year for the state's Water Supply Development Revolving Fund, which has never received any money. The augmentation authorities could then get low-interest loans from the fund.
Tobin said the state might need to continue to add $30 million a year to the fund for as long as a decade, since a subcommittee of the temporary Water Resources Development Commission identified at least 34 proposed water supply expansion projects across the state that would cost a combined $3 billion over the next 50 years.
They include the ongoing U.S. Bureau of Reclamation study in Yavapai County to identify future water needs and supplies, called the Central Yavapai Highlands Water Resource Management Study. It has concluded this region will need about 45,000 acre-feet of new water supplies by 2050. Current use is about 73,000 acre-feet.
The Northern Arizona Municipal Water Users Association (NAMWUA) board agreed Friday to support the legislation, said John Munderloh, Prescott Valley's water resources manager.
"There's no clear number for what you need in the revolving fund... but we'd want to see it grow for a number of years so we could demonstrate that the state is serious about addressing all its water issues statewide," Munderloh said.
The bill would help local water providers get financing for projects to expand water supplies, and make it easier for local governments to work on projects with private entities, Munderloh said.
"Water is clearly a top priority in going forward on economic prosperity in our state," Tobin said.
"It's an incredibly important statement for economic development," Munderloh said of the bill, noting that at least three neighboring states all have water development funds.
It's also important that the bill doesn't create any new taxing authority, and it makes it voluntary to create water augmentation authorities, Munderloh added.
The authorities could buy and sell property and water rights; lease, exchange, transport and deliver water; build and operate water projects; issue revenue bonds; and exercise eminent domain powers on private land for water projects (except well sites).
Rural subdivisions would have to prove they have adequate 100-year water supplies if they wanted to benefit from the revolving fund loans through water augmentation authorities.
State law already requires developers in the more urban active management areas, such as the 485-square-mile Prescott AMA, to prove they have 100-year water supplies.
The Water Resources Development Commission recommended requiring counties and municipalities to adopt the state's "water adequacy rule" before getting to use such loans to help local water providers and subdivisions outside of active management areas.
The 2007 state law creating the adequacy rule allows counties and municipalities to reject new subdivisions outside of active management areas if they don't prove to the Arizona Department of Water Resources that they have adequate supplies of water for 100 years.
So far only two counties, Cochise and Yuma, and two municipalities, Clarkdale and Patagonia, have adopted the adequacy rule.