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State Senator Sine Kerr at a press conference for HB2509 at the Arizona State Capitol building in Phoenix, April 25, 2023. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Kerr and Gibson Win Salvo in State Water Wars

Oversee Senate passage of SB1221 after months of wrangling

By Steve Kirwan, March 1, 2024 5:00 am

For years, an “underground war has literally been bubbling up over Arizona’s precarious water situation, with Republicans winning the latest salvo with the passage of Senate Bill SB1221. Western Maricopa Senator Sine Kerr (R-LD13), herself a farmer operating a 4th-generation dairy and Chair of the Water Committee Rep. Gail Griffin (R-14), has been fighting tooth and nail to pass the bill. After extensive negotiations and compromises, the bill passed the Senate with measures to provide adequate water resources for farmers, home builders, and commercial needs while assuring sufficient groundwater for years.

Arizona Globe began reporting on Arizona’s ongoing water wars last September (Sacket v. EPA, Saudi Alfalfa, Housing Water Shortage), with statewide concerns culminating in the writing of Senate Bill SB1221. However, the bill met significant opposition from special interests, including foreign entities and the EPA. At the heart of the final bill version is local citizen oversight of Basin Management Areas, controlling bodies setting groundwater usage rules. Kerr’s experience as a farmer and her fierce support of rural water consumers proved invaluable to the effort.

In a press release dated February 29, 2023, Senator Kerr wrote, “From agriculture to commercial, and every industry in between, SB 1221 reflects the voices of our citizens from all across Arizona and empowers rural communities to take charge in safeguarding our most precious resource for generations to come.” She continued, “Our farmers and ranchers, who’ve cultivated Arizona and for decades, are some of the best stewards of water, as their livelihoods rely upon conservation. Their wisdom was critical in creating this policy. Because of a history of forward-thinking collaboration on water management demonstrated in Arizona, we use less water today than we did four decades ago, and I’m confident this tool will allow our state to continue on this trajectory. I look forward to watching this bill evolve as it continues its journey through the legislative process, and I’m urging the Governor to sign it.”

The bill goes to the House for approval and then to the Governor’s desk. Given Gov. Hobb’s penchant for vetoes, it’s unclear if she’ll sign it. However, given the wide-reaching ramifications of Arizona’s water policy, there will likely be significant political pressure to score a water war win.

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