Petitions submitted for new groundwater management district

In this Aug. 13, 2021, file photo, Buchanan Dam holds back water in Eastman Lake in unincorporated Madera County, Calif. At the time of this photo, the reservoir was at 11 percent of capacity and 20 percent of its historical average. The sweeping $1 trillion infrastructure bill approved by the Senate this week includes funding for Western water projects that farmers, water providers and environmentalists say are badly needed across the parched region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, File)

A proposal apparently headed to the November ballot would have voters in rural southeastern Arizona decide whether to create a new regulatory district to manage large-scale groundwater use for agriculture in an area where aquifer levels have dropped in recent years.

A grassroots group collected sufficient voter signatures on petitions required under state law for a ballot measure on the creation of an active management area in the Willcox basin in Cochise and Graham counties, reported.

The management area would be Arizona’s first created through a petition drive. Five others were created under the state’s 1980 groundwater law or added later by the Legislature.

The Cochise County Board of Supervisors was briefed Friday on the application. It isn’t known when the board will formally put the measure on the ballot.

The Willcox area has attracted a growing agricultural industry, and the grassroots group, Arizona Water Defenders, was formed to protect groundwater levels as residents’ wells went dry and fissures were created by land subsidence.

If an active management area is created, irrigation water rights would be managed by the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Arizona’s other AMAs are located in metro Phoenix, the Tucson and Prescott areas, and in Pinal and Santa Cruz counties.

Republished with the permission of the Associated Press.