Arizona governor signs $1.2B water infrastructure bill as state faces cutbacks

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed legislation Wednesday that will provide $1.2 billion over three years to boost long-term water supplies for the desert state and implement conservation efforts that will see more immediate effects.

The new legislation will put the money toward the new Water Infrastructure Finance Authority, which will be focused on buying new sources of water and building new infrastructure to import water into Arizona.

The legislation that was hammered out over months during the just-completed legislative session is viewed as the most significant since the state implemented a groundwater protection plan in 1980.

Climate change and a nearly 30-year drought forced the move, which comes as Arizona faces cutbacks in its Colorado River water supply and more loom. The Central Arizona Project canal system is already delivering less water from the river to metro Phoenix, Pinal County and Tucson, and federal officials are warning of even steeper cuts soon.

"These challenges made it necessary for us to act," the Republican governor said at a signing ceremony in the historic Capitol rotunda. "So today we are taking action to do what the men and women of Arizona hired us to do — position our state for success today, tomorrow and for generations to come."

The legislation Ducey touted in January to allow the Department of Water Resources oversee the investments morphed over the session and now gives an obscure state entity the authority to leverage and dole out a new $1 billion appropriation.

State Senator Karen Fann says that $200 million will go towards saving the conserving the current water the state has. Another $200 million will go toward short-term goals, such as irrigation and reusing water, and $800 million will go toward building new water projects such as desalination and refilling aquifers.

MORE: Arizona lawmakers rewrite Ducey’s plan for $1 billion for new water

"These actions have the potential to preserve millions of gallons of water every year… this is crucial for our continued growth and prosperity, it's no secret industry leaders are moving to our state in droves," Ducey said. "This legislation will ensure Arizona remains a magnet for revolutionary companies, and it will ensure Arizona industries will continue to grow and prosper."

House Minority Leader Rep. Reginald Bolding ticked off a list of measures the new water conservation fund could pay for: groundwater recharge, drought resistant landscaping, watershed protection, and efficiency upgrades, as well as rooftop rainwater capture.

The longer-term investments range from pie in the sky to conservative. They include a canal and pipeline to move floodwaters from western Kansas to southern Colorado and into watersheds that end up in Arizona and a nascent plan to help fund a Southern California effort to wastewater and trade it for some of that state’s river supply.

Ducey started off the year touting a massive new desalination plant that would augment the state’s water supply, but did not mention that in Wednesday’s formal remarks.

"Three potential opportunities in the Sea of Cortez. Two different plants, one plant with different technology," said Tom Buschatzke, Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. "I can honestly say that maybe 8 to 10 years is the horizon for a plant up and running for delivering water. It could happen sooner."

Several Valley cities have already implemented Stage 1 of their drought management plans by alerting residents of water shortages and asking people to voluntarily conserve water. Buschatzke says major cities are looking to use the new funding to boost the use of reclaimed water, or used water that has been turned into safe drinking water.

"I know that cities have plans for improvements in their wastewater treatment plants. Tucson and Phoenix, for sure, have stated their desire to go to direct potable reuse, which requires a very high level of treatment," said Buschatzke.

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