Rift grows between Gov. Hobbs and Arizona Farm Bureau

In January, Gov. Hobbs created the Water Policy Council to help reduce the state’s use of groundwater, which accounts for 41% of Arizona’s drinking water.
Published: Nov. 3, 2023 at 3:28 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - The president of the Arizona Farm Bureau says the governor’s Water Policy Council was not listening to input from the agriculture community. So the Bureau withdrew from the Council, causing a widening rift between the organization that represents 30,000 Arizona farming families and the administration that is looking at ways to conserve water across the state.

Arizona is facing a looming water shortage, with a growing population and a drier future. Agriculture accounts for just over 70% of water use in the state. Cities use a little more than 20%.

In January, Gov. Katie Hobbs signed an executive order creating the Water Policy Council. Its goal is to take input from stakeholders and find ways to reduce the state’s use of groundwater, which accounts for 41% of Arizona’s drinking water.

“There was really no opportunity for us to offer our ideas, and we’ve been working on this for quite a few years,” said Stefanie Smallhouse, the president of the Farm Bureau. “And so at some point you just have to determine, is this a good use of your time and are we going to be able to properly represent agricultural producers, farmers and ranchers in this setting. And we decided that we could not,” she said.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office released a statement that reads in part, “We are disappointed Water Policy Council members have chosen not to participate in a bipartisan process that engages communities from across Arizona and gives a voice to a wide range of viewpoints. By refusing to work with the diverse stakeholders at the table, the exiting members are doing a disservice to rural farmers and depriving them of a voice at the table while alternatives to AMAs and INAs are being considered. These alternatives could give communities a greater voice in their local groundwater management and any characterization otherwise is incorrect.”

The Water Policy Council is expected to forward recommendations to the governor and the Legislature. Those recommendations could become the basis for new state laws that regulate how much groundwater farmers and industry are allowed to use in rural Arizona.

Right now, in most of the state outside Maricopa, Pinal, Pima and Santa Cruz counties, there are no limits to the amount of groundwater property owners are allowed to pump out of the ground. In some areas, excessive groundwater pumping has depleted the water table and led to aquifers drying up.

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