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[EXCLUSIVE] $20M needed for Pinal County agriculture and water infrastructure

Posted by   /  March 29, 2019  /  No Comments

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From left Bret Esslin, water resource engineer with Arizona Department of Water Resources, Jordan Rose, Rose Law Group founder and president,
Representative David Cook, Senator Frank Pratt, and Ron L. Fleming, Global Water chairman, president and CEO

By Callan Smith | Rose Law Group Reporter

The big take away from this morning’s Pinal Partnership monthly panel breakfast event was the need for funding to support Pinal County water infrastructure for agriculture.

With the passage of the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP), Pinal County irrigation districts and agriculture lost the Central Arizona Project (CAP) water allotment beginning in 2023. To offset that, the county needs 70,000 acre feet of groundwater pumped yearly between seven water districts.

The DCP does provide language directing completion of infrastructure; it does not provide for the allotment of funds.  

Jordan Rose, founder and president of Rose Law Group, moderated the event and asked about the status of securing the $20million. In total, the county will need $50million for infrastructure and digging wells and Representative David Cook talked about a bill he is running that will allow for a portion of this funding. 

This twenty million dollars that we’re fighting for means fifty-six million dollars a year, every year, just to this county and the cities and towns in the county,” said Cook.

Cook also spoke about getting some of this money from the federal government.  He corresponded with Keisha Tatem, state conservationist, who advised an application process for the funding to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which is tied to the 2018 Farm Bill. Per Tatem’s response, there isn’t an exact date for the program to be finalized. The expectation is it will happen this fiscal year. Cook expressed concern that the hold up in funding may put the mandated 2023 deadline in jeopardy.

Cook is working to secure funding from the state legislature, putting it aside while the application process happens, so that water districts in Pinal County can get to work on building the necessary infrastructure. Additionally, each district will need to create a conservation plan, along with securing the land where wells will be dug.

The DCP is both good and bad for Pinal County, said Senator Frank Pratt, vice-chair of Water and Agriculture committees, “we’ve lost some ground in some areas particularly with Agriculture. We did the best that we could do for Pinal County.”

He described the DCP process as “let’s make a deal.”

egotiations were contentious. While Pinal County didn’t get everything, “we put together the best package that we had available to us.”

More work is continuing to be done throughout the state, such as in the Nogales area. Pratt indicated going forward the state will need a mix of conservation and new water sources.

The DCP is currently before a U.S. Senate panel, where Tom Buschatzke, director of Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) testified this week, urging Congress to take action.

“No one is going to come out ahead, everyone is going to have to take something away, in order for us to make sure we have water to save in Lake Mead, so we can stay out of shortage and ensure that Arizona stays in charge of how the water is distributed, and the federal government doesn’t come in,” Bret Esslin, water resource engineer for ADWR, said.

Arizona’s contribution into Lake Mead if it falls below 1095 and above 1075, will be 192,000 acre-feet into the lake each year. Before the DCP Arizona’s contribution was zero, unless it dropped below 1075, then the state would have contributed 300,000 acre feet. Now Arizona will contribute both.

There has been full agreement among the states with DCP, except the Imperial Valley District of California. They want $200million guaranteed from the federal government to rehabilitate the Salton Sea. The sea is receding, leading to health concerns due to dust and dead birds.

“Of course, everyone wants to help the Salton Sea; we just don’t want it tied to DCP,” Esslin said.

Once the DCP is approved by the U.S. Senate and the House, the seven states, including Arizona will sign the agreement.

Esslin spoke to a potential good development: increased rainfall, which would alleviate the concern for Lake Mead this year, if the weather cooperates.

Long term solutions for Arizona water will be a mix of conservation and new sources, Pratt said.

One ongoing problem developers are facing in Pinal County is the modeling for the 100-year assured water supply. They are having difficulty securing water for their projects. Rose advised that Pinal Partnership will be having an upcoming talk on the topic and intends to the help with the issue.

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