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

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s plan to create a new state agency to boost the desert state’s increasingly strained water supply morphed into a plan to give an existing state entity the authority to leverage and dole out a new $1 billion appropriation.

The entity is an obscure agency called the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority, which will now be a standalone agency with oversight from a new board and some from the Legislature.

The final plan was working its way through the House and Senate on Thursday as the Legislature moves to enact its final pieces of legislation of the year.

The new agency has the backing of a host of water users and entities that are increasingly concerned as long-term drought imperils the supply from the Colorado River. The state is already taking less water from the river for delivery to metro Phoenix, Pinal County and Tucson, and federal officials are warning of even steeper cuts soon.

MORE: Gov. Doug Ducey proposes Arizona Water Authority, an agency to boost water supplies

Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, called the legislation "the next critical step to ensuring that Arizona continues to the tradition of adapting our water management strategies to address the supply challenges before us."

Ducey called for a major new investment in water in his January state of the state address, implying some of that money would be used to build a desalination plant in Mexico. While the money may be used for that, it also can be used for conservation, developing groundwater or possibly importing water from other states.

MORE: What you should know about desalination, proposed by Gov. Doug Ducey as a solution to Arizona's water crisis

House Speaker Rusty Bowers acknowledged that while the legislation provides a structure to address the water shortage, its details remain sparse.

"No one says this is perfect. We understand what we have to get done," Bowers told a House committee Thursday. "And I do not envision a willy-nilly approach to assessing the projects, both the smaller conservation projects as well as the larger augmentation efforts."

While Bowers and Ducey at first wanted the water resources department to oversee the new money and identify projects, Bowers said senators wanted to separate development of new sources from the ADWR’s regulatory role.

Democrats on the panel questioned whether the agency that helps finance local water and wastewater projects would be able to handle the expanded role.

Daniel Dialessi, WIFA’s executive director, said his agency can easily swivel to a larger role in reviewing and financing projects to boost the state’s water supply,

"We have 30 years of history and experience solving problems," Dialessi said. "We go out there and we get to the solution."

In addition to a current cut of Arizona’s Colorado River allocation which has hit farmers and tribes, Buschatzke said the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation last week said another two to four million acre feet of water deliveries will need to be cut to states because there’s just not enough water to deliver to the states along the river.