From Arizona Central (Ian James):
The House Natural Resources, Energy and Water Committee held a marathon meeting Tuesday on a series of bills that outline how the state will share cuts as part of the Drought Contingency Plan.
They voted 12-0 to pass the plan, which is expected to head to the House floor Wednesday for debate. A Senate committee also is set to begin work on the deal Wednesday.
More than 100 people filled the hearing and watched the discussion from two overflow rooms as lawmakers debated for five hours, stretching into the evening.
There was little doubt the bills would clear their first hurdle and get the committee’s approval. Lawmakers from both parties have signed on to sponsor the bills — a rare sign of bipartisan cooperation.
“We’ve heard from other speakers about how important this is,” said Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. “We know we are dealing with a drier future.
“We, Arizona, want to avoid going at it alone.”
While lawmakers agreed on the bulk of the plan, tensions ran high as farmers, business owners, lobbyists and conservationists spoke during the hearing.
Nothing in the bills was new for the parties, but lawmakers were meticulously reviewing the details after months of careful negotiations about how water cutbacks will be spread among affected areas.
House Speaker Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa, said he’s hopeful the deal will be finished on time. He had previously said meeting the deadline wasn’t his chief concern.
Pinal County farmers get deepest cuts
One of the most controversial pieces is House Bill 2540, which would affect Pinal County farmers who would be hit hardest by the cutbacks.
The bill would earmark $5 million from the state’s general fund for groundwater irrigation projects to help those farmers lessen the economic burden. A few dozen farmers, many wearing plaid shirts and baseball caps, filled the hearing to express their reluctant support for the change…
HB 2540 is one of five bills that make up the plan. Another, HB 2541, would create a fund to repay those who forfeit some or all of their water in order to keep Lake Mead’s levels from dropping too low…
Other bills include changes in how water users can earn and exchange long-term storage credits for groundwater stored in aquifers.
The Arizona Senate will begin this same process with identical bills…
Sierra Club: Plan does little for conservation
But the plan was not without its critics. Some, like Sandy Bahr of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, called the plan shortsighted and said it does not address long-term problems.
Bahr said the bill does little to address water-conservation efforts, adding that there had been no mention of climate change in the hearing.