There can scarcely be a more loaded subject in the arid Southwest these days than water: who has it, who needs it, and who gets to take it from someone else.
The Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has just published an analysis of the situation in that state. Although it’s specific to Arizona and the arrangements in place there, it offers some useful definitions and discussion of the implications of water transfers that are applicable elsewhere as well.
The report covers three general categories of transfer: transfers of entitlements to use water from the Colorado River, transfers of groundwater, and transfers of in-state surface water rights. Of particular interest is the situation involving groundwater, including the effects on local economies, and the common situation of moving water from rural areas to urban ones.
As the report notes, the large central cities of Phoenix and Mesa purchased farms in other areas of the state decades ago—as did some land speculators—with the intent of transporting groundwater from them. As it turned out, neither city ever used or transported that groundwater, but even the possibility of their doing so had repercussions: “The purchase of these ‘water farms’ in the 1980s created a backlash in parts of rural Arizona that feared the mining and export of local groundwater. As a result of this backlash and after several years of discussion, the Arizona legislature passed the Groundwater Transportation Act in 1991. The Act restricted the right to transport groundwater. The primary purpose behind the groundwater transportation restrictions was to protect distinct groundwater basins and rural economies by ensuring that local groundwater primarily goes to local uses.” Under slightly different circumstances, however, other Arizona cities, including Scottsdale, have been able to legally acquire farmland and transport the groundwater from it.
Other states, including California, have complex regulations involving the pumping and distribution of groundwater, as well as controversies over how it should be replenished. How well defined are the rules regarding groundwater in your state?