Groundwater, electric school buses are among the environmental issues at the Legislature

By Zayna Syed | Arizona Republic

Environmental groups host an event at the State Capitol on Feb. 9, 2022, to talk about issues like groundwater in the 2022 state Legislature.

A new bill that would allow private utilities to extract water from a rural area west of Phoenix is stirring controversy in the Arizona Legislature this session, with legislators from both parties unsure of how to vote. 

It’s one of several environment-related measures on the table, including one proposal that would give kids the opportunity to ride electric school buses and another that would transfer coal ash regulation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to state environmental regulators.  

Environmental activists and elected officials turned their attention to the issues Wednesday at the annual environment day at the Capitol. The day’s program included speeches from the mayors of Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa and a spirit circle by a faith-based environmental group.  

Dozens gathered at the Capitol’s rose garden to listen to speeches about green legislation, environmental racism and a spiritual approach to the climate crisis. 

“It’s easy for most of us to forget that we live in a desert,” said Rep. Judy Schwiebert, D-Phoenix, speaking of the importance of protecting Arizona’s natural resources and water supply.

As the state deals with dwindling water resources and increasing issues related to climate, here are some of the bills legislators are working on at the capitol and which ones environmental activists are keeping their eyes on.  

Groundwater 

A storage tank helps deliver water using gravity on Bill Perry’s Harquahala Valley farm on Aug. 19, 2021.

House Bill 2055, sponsored by Rep. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, chairperson of the House Natural Resources, Energy and Water committee, would allow public service corporations to extract water from the Harquahala irrigation non-expansion area, where irrigation restrictions have been in place since 1981. 

Cities, counties and municipalities were already allowed to pump water from the district, but haven’t, since the water’s poor quality meant that it would be costly to extract and treat. 

Rep. Regina Cobb, R-Kingman, said the bill was “tailor-made” for Epcor, a Canada-based utility company that provides water to Arizonans. 

The Yuma Water Users Association supports the bill, saying it could alleviate pressure on Colorado River water, which has suffered a historic drought. The association asked Rep. Brian Fernandez, D-Yuma, to vote for the bill, although he said he remains undecided. 

Environmental activists have strongly opposed the bill, and even some of Griffin’s own party members have raised concerns, saying the measure creates winners and losers. 

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