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Gov. Ducey vetoes two measures easing water rules for developers

Gov. Ducey vetoes two measures easing water rules for developers

  • Updated

PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed two measures today that could have eased water-supply requirement for developers.

"We're not going to allow bills that get in the way of the 1980 Groundwater Management Act or take away from the work of the people that have come before I came into office in protecting Arizona's water,'' Ducey told reporters.

In a separate veto letter, the governor said Arizona has "a proud and longstanding reputation as a global leader in water management.'' And he acknowledged that Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, the sponsor of both measures, was concerned about the claims of the federal government to the water supply in Cochise County.

"While I appreciate the sponsor's efforts to protect Arizona from federal overreach, I'm concerned that SB 1268 and SB 1400 would encourage a patchwork of water ordinances throughout our cities and leave our water supplies in peril,'' he wrote.

"Ensuring the certainty and sustainability of Arizona water is a top priority,'' Ducey continued. "I will not sign legislation that threatens Arizona's water future.''

The actions are the second and third vetoes of the session. Ducey earlier this year rejected a measure to mandate that students be taught cursive writing, a measure that, coincidentally, also was sponsored by Griffin.

Griffin did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The decision is a slap at not only Griffin but the two other Republican lawmakers who represent Cochise County, House Speaker David Gowan and Rep. David Stevens, both of who had pushed for the changes. It also marks a defeat for a developer who had hoped to make an end-run around its legal problems that have so far thwarted its efforts to construct a 7,000-home development in Sierra Vista.

But Ducey called the two measures "some bad bills.''

One measure, SB 1400, would have required counties that have chosen to require developers to show they have an assured water supply to revisit and revote on the mandate. Only Cochise and Yuma counties fit that definition.

The more far-reaching measure would allow any city within either county to simply declare itself not subject to those county requirements.

Both have their roots in that 1980 law that has resulted in the creation of five "active management areas.''

For the Phoenix, Prescott and Tucson areas, the goal is "safe yield'' by 2025, when the amount of groundwater withdrawn is no more than recharge. Pinal and Santa Cruz have other goals.

Outside those areas, developers must get a determination from the Department of Water Resources of whether there is a 100-year assured water supply.

But the lack of that does not prevent them from building. They do, however, have to disclose that fact to initial buyers.

At issue here is a change in the law that allows counties to mandate that 100-year showing, which Cochise and Yuma counties have done.

Castle & Cooke, who is proposing the Tribute development, got such a finding from DWR. But that was overruled by a trial judge who said the state agency did not properly consider competing claims to the groundwater, including the Bureau of Land Management, which wants to protect the flow of the San Pedro River for the riparian area there.

That ruling is on appeal.

In the interim, Griffin introduced two measures designed to short-circuit the need for the developer to win the lawsuit.

SB 1400 originally would have required county supervisors to review and unanimously re-enact its water-supply requirement within two years. Facing stiff opposition, she diluted it.

It still required review. But it would take a unanimous vote of the board to scrap the mandate.

The potentially more far-reaching measure would have allowed any city in either county to simply decide it was no longer subject to the county ordinance.

There were some conditions a city would have to meet. But SB 1268 was crafted in a way to ensure that Sierra Vista could fit within the law.

The measure drew sharp criticism and calls for vetoes from many environmental interests.

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