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Moderating power: municipal interbasin groundwater transfers in Arizona

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The act of moving water across basins is a recent phenomenon in Arizona water policy. This thesis creates a narrative arc for understanding the long-term issues that set precedents for

The act of moving water across basins is a recent phenomenon in Arizona water policy. This thesis creates a narrative arc for understanding the long-term issues that set precedents for interbasin water transportation and the immediate causes--namely the passage of the seminal Groundwater Management Act (GMA) in 1980--that motivated Scottsdale, Mesa, and Phoenix to acquire rural farmlands in the mid-1980s with the intent of transporting the underlying groundwater back to their respective service areas in the immediate future. Residents of rural areas were active participants in not only the sales of these farmlands, but also in how municipalities would economically develop these properties in the years to come. Their role made these municipal "water farm" purchases function as exchanges. Fears about the impact of these properties and the water transportation they anticipated on communities-of-origin; the limited nature of economic, fiscal, and hydrologic data at the time; and the rise of private water speculators turned water farms into a major political controversy. The six years it took the legislature to wrestle with the problem at the heart this issue--the value of water to rural communities--were among its most tumultuous. The loss of key lawmakers involved in GMA negotiations, the impeachment of Governor Evan Mecham, and a bribery scandal called AZScam collectively sidetracked negotiations. Even more critical was the absence of a mutual recognition that these water farms posed a problem and the external pressure that had forced all parties involved in earlier groundwater-related negotiations to craft compromise. After cities and speculators failed to force a bill favorable to their interests in 1989, a re-alignment among blocs occurred: cities joined with rural interests to craft legislation that grandfathered in existing urban water farms and limited future water farms to several basins. In exchange, rural interests supported a bill to create a Phoenix-area groundwater replenishment district that enabled cooperative management of water supplies. These two bills, which were jointly signed into law in June 1991, tentatively resolved the water farm issue. The creation of a groundwater replenishment district that has subsidized growth in Maricopa, Pinal, and Pima Counties, the creation water bank to store unused Central Arizona Project water for times of drought, and a host of water conservation measures and water leases enabled by the passage of several tribal water rights settlements have set favorable conditions such that Scottsdale, Mesa, and Phoenix never had any reason to transport any water from their water farms. The legacy of these properties then is that they were the product of the intense urgency and uncertainty in urban planning premised on assumptions of growing populations and complementary, inelastic demand. But even as per capita water consumption has declined throughout the Phoenix-area, continued growth has increased demand, beyond the capacity of available supplies so that there will likely be a new push for rural water farms in the foreseeable future.

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  • 2013

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Water management and justice in the borderlands: perspectives from and analysis of the Santa Cruz River Basin

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The Santa Cruz River Basin shared by Northern Sonora and Southern Arizona is one example of transboundary water resources in the borderlands region that accurately portrays the complexities of binational

The Santa Cruz River Basin shared by Northern Sonora and Southern Arizona is one example of transboundary water resources in the borderlands region that accurately portrays the complexities of binational management of common pool resources, such as water. Industrialization fueled by trade liberalization has resulted in migration to and urbanization along the border, which have created human rights issues with the lack of water and sanitation, groundwater overdraft of the shared aquifers, and contamination of these scarce resources. Effluent from wastewater treatment plants continues to play increasingly important roles in the region, the use of which has been a source of tension between the two countries. Contributing to these tensions are the strains on binational relations created by border militarization and SB 1070. A shift in water management strategies to increase pubic participation within decision-making, increase the flexibility of the water systems, and increase cross-border collaboration is needed to ensure human and ecological sustainability in the Santa Cruz River Basin. By incorporating direct communication and local capacity as per common pool resource theory, recognizing the connections and implications of management actions through socio-ecological systems understanding, and promoting the organic drivers of change through ecologies of agents, just and vigorous futures can be envisioned and advanced.

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  • 2015