Rural counties should take charge of groundwater, former Gov. Bruce Babbitt warns

Babbitt spoke at a conference of county supervisors from across the state Tuesday, calling for legislation that would give county officials the authority to manage groundwater.
/Tom Tingle/Arizona Republic

By Ian James | Arizona Republic | USA TODAY NETWORK

Nearly four decades ago, Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt enacted major changes in the state’s system of water regulation when he signed the Groundwater Management Act of 1980 into law. Now, the 81-year-old former governor is speaking out about water again, this time making his case that it’s time for Arizona to update how it manages groundwater.

Babbitt spoke at a conference of county supervisors from across the state Tuesday, calling for legislation that would give county officials the authority to manage groundwater. He said while the 1980 law has had “a lot of success” in managing groundwater in urban areas from Phoenix to Tucson, its main flaw has been leaving groundwater pumping unregulated in rural parts of the state.

“What we need to remember is it doesn’t cover the state of Arizona. It covers parts of several counties,” Babbitt said. “And when we passed that legislation, I’ve got to tell you, we didn’t pay enough attention to the rest of the state.”

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