The Highs and Lows of Growing Weed

Currently, 30 states and the District of Columbia have legalized forms of marijuana and more states are likely to follow. Marijuana sales have been on fire. In 2017, sales were expected to reach $9.7 billion, and analysts are predicting sales of $24.5 billion by 2021, as new states enter the market. Yet, behind the “green gold rush”, an insidious story is unfolding. One fostered by the green and the greed which comes with it. Ultimately one that kills.

Image Source: Getty Images

It’s well known that Mexican drug cartels are growing weed in remote locations of U.S. national forests. California has been hit the hardest by this illegal activity. As reported by Reuter’s, there are an estimated 50,000 grow sites in California which is believed to comprise about 90% of all illegal pot farming in the United States.  Even with the state’s recent legalization of marijuana, officials expect only about 16,000 of these growers to seek commercial cultivation licenses.

Lack of law enforcement in these vast, remote areas is exploited by growers. The illegal operators are emboldened by limited oversight and will defend their turf if they feel threatened. The Atlantic online article noting that “Growers have followed, detained, threatened, pursued, and shot at officers and civilians, including scientists and field techs. One Forest Service biologist who stumbled upon a grow site in Sequoia National Forest was chased for close to an hour by armed growers.”

Not only are these areas unsafe for any unsuspecting soul rambling about, they are often havens for extremely toxic chemicals used as pesticides or rodenticides. Reuter’s published an online article which details how growers are using “fertilizers and pesticides long restricted or banned in the United States, including carbofuran and zinc phosphide.”  These chemicals are so toxic that enforcement officials have been hospitalized after touching plants treated with these chemicals or handling equipment used in their application. Now imagine smoking or ingesting some of that.

Other lethal chemicals found on remote grow sites include aluminum phosphide, for killing rodents and insects; bromadiolone, a restricted-use neurotoxic rodenticide; brodifacoum, an anticoagulant rodenticide; and malathion, an organophosphate insecticide that’s been compared to a watered-down version of the nerve agent sarin.

There is concern that some of these toxin-laden plants are infiltrating legalized medicinal marijuana markets, potentially impacting people with serious health conditions like AIDS or cancer. The Atlantic article noted that “studies and investigations in Colorado and Oregon have found pesticides on marijuana in legal dispensaries, including in products that were supposedly certified pesticide-free.”

Unsuspecting wildlife has taken the greatest hit. In addition to the rodents targeted by growers, the toxic materials have worked their way up the food chain. Researchers at the University of California – Davis revealed that tissue samples from spotted owls and barred owls tested positive for rat poison.  This is a significant concern because the northern spotted owls are listed as a threatened species under federal and state Endangered Species acts.

Other animals found dead at grow sites include Pacific fishers, bears, vultures, foxes, and deer; presumably from ingesting one or more of these chemicals. There are even concerns about cattle being poisoned by marijuana farms. These illicit activities also impact and kill aquatic organisms; including fish.

Another pressing concern for California is the impact on local water supplies. California just came out of a 15-year drought. Conditions got so bad in 2015 that Governor Jerry Brown imposed mandatory water reductions of 25% on residents, businesses, and farms. The restrictions continued until March of 2017.

Marijuana is known to be a high-water crop. State officials suggest that growers are watering each plant with about 6 gallons of water per day. Multiply that by 50,000 grow sites and thousands of plants per site and you have monumental water use. As reported in The Atlantic, “the 1.1 million illegal pot plants removed in California in 2016 would have used somewhere around 1.3 billion gallons of water—as much as 10,000 average California households do in a year.” This water use figure becomes even more daunting when you consider enforcement officials consider that 50,000 grow sites state-wide is likely to be a low estimate.

To help regulate excessive water use for cannabis growers, the California State Water Board has established specific “Cannabis Cultivation Water Rights” to help protect stream flows, wetlands, aquatic habitats and even groundwater from negative impacts of cannabis cultivation. These regulations will be applied to legal cultivators of weed but it is extremely unlikely any illegal grower will even acknowledge such regulations.

Illegal growers are only interested in a successful harvest and not in helping the environment. Several reports have verified the intentional destruction of wetland areas, extensive diversion of stream flows, excessive pumping of groundwater as well as toxic chemicals leaching into soils and waterways, potentially impacting downstream users.

Unfortunately, these destructive practices are likely to continue as long as there is a demand for illegal marijuana. Some advocates suggest that legalization in all states will stop or greatly reduce illegal cultivation since the industry will become highly regulated. Until that happens, conditions are likely to remain the same.

Right now, the best thing that legal marijuana users can do for themselves and the environment is to find out where and how their pot is grown. Any legitimate dispensary should be willing to provide that information. If they can’t, shop somewhere else. This issue is too important to go up in smoke.

Aquifer Exemptions – the Legal Way to Pollute Groundwater

There is a little known provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 (SDWA) called an “Aquifer Exemption” that allows oil, gas and mining industries to legally impact groundwater – including some aquifers set aside for drinking water.  While these industries have purported to install wells and perform activities with no leakage and permanent protection, in truth, nothing is ever permanent. Seals and casings can and will fail over time and begin impacting some of the more pristine aquifers the wells may already penetrate. How did this risky loophole get placed into the SDWA?? A quick look at history may be our guide.

In 1974 America was going through an energy crisis. The OPEC oil nations sanctioned an oil embargo which stopped the US in her tracks. People “frequently faced around-the-block lines” at gas stations when filling-up.1 Gas guzzling V-8’s and V-6’s were the standard American-made cars.

During the same time period, the country was suffering from self-inflicted environmental degradation. Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring”, published in 1962, brought the dangers of prolific pesticide use to light and initiated a grass roots movement to save the environment. By the early 1970’s, several legislative Acts focusing on protecting the environment were created. One of these was the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974.

The goal of the SDWA was to “ensure the purity of the water we consume.”2 However in light of the energy crisis, “Congress added language to the Act mandating the EPA not “interfere with or impede” oil and gas production unless it is “absolutely essential” in order to protect underground sources of drinking water.”3

To accommodate the Congressional mandate, the EPA developed a set of regulations for Underground Injection Control (UIC) in 1980. The UIC regulations included provisions for an “Aquifer Exemption” program which “allows water that would otherwise be defined as a source of drinking water to be exempted from the prohibition on injection.”4 Aquifer Exemptions were deemed necessary for the oil and gas industry to continue exploration.5 For every barrel of oil produced, 15 barrels of oil wastewater is generated and the easiest way to dispose of it is by underground injection.6

The original goal of the Aquifer Exemption program was to identify aquifers or portions of aquifers that are exempt from the definition of an Underground Source of Drinking Water (USDW); develop rules for EPA review and approval and describe delineation procedures for exempted aquifers.7 However, what has resulted over the last 36 years is a mish-mash of state Aquifer Exemption programs with limited Federal oversight allowing the oil and gas industry as well as the uranium mining industry to freely pollute drinking water aquifers.

A 2012 ProPublica investigation found “Federal officials have given energy and mining companies’ permission to pollute aquifers in more than 1,500 places across the country, releasing toxic material into underground reservoirs that help supply more than half of the nation’s drinking water.”8 Their investigation cited worrisome examples in Wyoming, California, Texas and Denver.

The travesty behind some of these examples is that Aquifer Exemptions are being allowed in areas where underground aquifers are at a premium. For example, some drought-stricken communities in Texas are so desperate for water they are looking to treat brackish water to make it potable and the cities of San Antonio and El Paso are considering building desalinization plants to supply drinking water. At the same time, environmental officials have “have granted more than 50 exemptions for waste disposal and uranium mining” in Texas.9 A similar situation has played out in California. Areas with the greatest need for groundwater are the same ones where underground injections of oil wastewater have been allowed.10

The misuse of the Aquifer Exemption program has been repeatedly brought to light in recent years.  The issue became so controversial that the General Accounting Office (GAO) was tasked to do a report for Congress. The GAO report found 1) EPA “safeguards do not address emerging underground injection risks, such as seismic activity and overly high pressure in geologic formations leading to surface outbreaks of fluids” and therefore may not “fully protect underground drinking water”11; 2) “EPA is not consistently conducting two key oversight and enforcement activities”12; 3) “EPA does not consistently conduct annual on-site state program evaluations”; 4) the data EPA collects is “not reliable”, meaning complete or comparable on a national basis13 and probably most frightening  5) the EPA has not incorporated state requirements and changes into federal regulations and “may not be able to enforce all state program requirements”14 In other words the EPA would have a hard time preventing individual states from doing what they are currently doing.

Even more telling are the sheer numbers of class II underground injection wells in some states. As of 2012, Texas had 52,977 class II wells, California had 49,783, Kansas had 16,965, Oklahoma had 11,134 and there are thousands in many other states. While only a small number of these wells have Aquifer Exemptions, the primary concern for any injection well over the long term is leakage and cross contamination of aquifers. In spite of what well-drillers might say, no well cap, casing or seal is permanent. Time always gets its way and when it does, we better be ready.



  1. Myre, Greg. “Gas Lines Evoke Memories of Oil Crises In The 1970s”, NPR 10 November 2012, Web. 13 December 2016.
  2. Agee, James L. “Protecting America’s Drinking Water: Our Responsibilities Under the Safe Drinking Water Act”, EPA Journal, March 1975, EPA Archives. Web. 12 December 2016.
  3. Thorp, Lynn W. and Noël, John. “Aquifer Exemptions: Program Overview and Emerging Concerns”, Journal American Water Works Association, 107:9, September 2015, p. 53.
  4. Ibid, p. 53.
  5. “Aquifer Exemptions in the Underground Injection Control Program”, USEPA, No date. Web. 13 December 2016.
  6. Bramucci, Steve. “Is Oil Wastewater Our Next Big Ecological Crisis?” Uproxx Media. No date. Web. 14 November 2016.
  7. “Aquifer Exemptions in the Underground Injection Control Program”, USEPA, No date. Web. 13 December 2016.
  8. Lustgarten, Abrahm. “Poisoning the Well: How the Feds Let Industry Pollute the Nation’s Underground Water Supply”, ProPublica Inc. 12 December 2012. Web 12 December 2016.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. General Accounting Office. “Drinking Water – EPA Program to Protect Underground Sources from Injection of Fluids Associated With Oil and Gas Production Needs Improvement” GAO-14-555. July 2014.
  12. Ibid, GAO Highlights.
  13. Ibid, GAO Highlights.
  14. Ibid, GAO Highlights.

What to do with Fracking Wastewater?

Wastewater from hydraulic fracking has been in the news quite a bit lately and not for good reason.  Concerns over wastewater injections creating or inducing earthquakes and contamination from chemicals in fracking wastewater are a growing concern.

In mid-November, released a story about wastewater from oil production being sold to drought-stricken California farmers in Kern County at a discount for use on food crops.1 The main concern is the chemicals in the wastewater are considered “proprietary.” Therefore no one really knows what chemicals are being applied to our foods and whether or not they are making their way into the food chain.  Since California grows 40% of our nation’s food should we be concerned?

Andrew Grinberg, Special Project Manager at Clean Water Action, considers the application of oil wastewater on Kern County crops a “chemical experiment on our food supply.”2 Adam Scow, California Director of Food and Water Watch, believes “it’s a bad idea to use water contaminated with chemicals, such as benzene, on crops and to recharge groundwater.”3 This practice has apparently been going on for 20 years.

This isn’t the first time the oil and gas industry has been under scrutiny in California.  In 2015, the California’s Department of Conservation, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources came under fire because they “inadvertently allowed oil companies to inject wastewater — from fracking and other production operations — with high levels of benzene, a carcinogen, into hundreds of wells in protected aquifers, a violation of federal law.”4 The EPA found this oversight of the Safe Drinking Water Act “shocking”.5

In Oklahoma and southern Kansas underground wastewater injections from hydraulic fracking processes have been linked to earthquakes.  A article noted “some areas in north-central Oklahoma and southern Kansas now have hazards from fracking-related induced earthquakes that are similar to parts of California where earthquakes are caused by natural tectonic forces like plate collisions and volcanism.”6

Residents of those two states have responded to the tremors by purchasing earthquake insurance. Insurance purchases in Oklahoma are “up 500% from just five years ago in 2011.”7 Unfortunately coverage of man-made earthquakes is a grey-area for many insurance companies. So it’s best to do some digging and confirm any policy or endorsement covers earthquakes resulting from fracking activities.8

The oil and gas industry is the Titan of the American economy. For every barrel of oil produced, 15 barrels of wastewater are created.9 Given the immense volumes of oil, gas and the resulting wastewater produced, it is imperative we find better solutions for disposal. We can’t continue to pretend that current techniques aren’t impacting the environment. Clearly they are and its time for a change.



  1. Bramucci, Steve. “Is Oil Wastewater Our Next Big Ecological Crisis?” Uproxx. Uproxx Media. 14 November 2016. Web. 6 December 2016.
  2. Uproxx Reports. “Oil Wastewater”- video. Uproxx. Uproxx Media. 14 November 2016. Web. 6 December 2016.
  3. Uproxx, Ibid.
  4. Cart, Julie. “Lawmakers grill state oil regulators on oversight failures.” Los Angeles Times. 10 March 2015. Web. 6 December 2016.
  5. Cart, Ibid.
  6. Conca, James. “Thanks To Fracking, Earthquake Hazards in Parts of Oklahoma Now Comparable To California.” Forbes Media LLC. 7 September 2016, Web. 6 December 2016
  7. Conca, Ibid.
  8. Hickman, Bobby. “Fracked! Are you covered for man-made earthquakes?” com. Quinnstreet Inc. 10 May 2012. Web. 6 December 2016
  9. Bramucci, Steve. “Is Oil Wastewater Our Next Big Ecological Crisis?” Uproxx. Uproxx Media. 14 November 2016.

“Protein Gets Out Protein”

Do you remember the Era Plus detergent commercial from 1987 which touted the use of protein as an ingredient to help get out protein stains like grass and food? Essentially what they were saying is “like dissolves like.”  Even though water is known as the “universal solvent” because it has both a positive and negative charge, there are some things water simply won’t dissolve, like oils and grease.

So why am I mentioning it? Fracking is occurring at alarming rate around the country. The process uses a water-based concoction of chemicals to force oil and natural gas out of tight shale formations. If oil and water don’t mix then what are the chemicals they include to help extract the oil from the formation? Well most of the oil companies will tell you that’s “proprietary” information – meaning they it’s a trade secret and they don’t have to tell you.

Dr. Dave Healy of the University of Abedeen, U.K. noted in a July 2012 study that while there isn’t a lot of peer reviewed scientific research into the potential environmental impacts of fracking, he believes “there are potentially significant risks from the nature and fate of the fluids used in the drilling and fracturing processes as well as the effects of the natural gas released.”

The FracFocus online chemical disclosure registry states “although there are dozens to hundreds of chemicals which could be used as additives, there are a limited number which are routinely used in hydraulic fracturing.”  On their website they list 58 chemicals commonly used in hydraulic fracking.1 Some of these are petroleum distillates or oil derivatives that act as “carrier fluids” or lubricants to help transport materials into or out of the wellbore; essentially they are petroleum products which help get out petroleum products.

Petroleum distillates are a class of hydrocarbon solvents which include mineral spirits (paint thinners), kerosene, naphtha (used in moth balls), and Stoddard solvent (dry cleaning solvent). They are controversial among environmental and water advocates because of known or suspected health impacts. Naphtha, for example, may have chemical components which are carcinogenic or teratogenic such as benzene and toluene.

Do these chemicals sound like anything you’d like deliberately pumped into the ground under high pressure?


  1. Healy, Dave. “Hydraulic Fracturing or ‘Fracking’: A Short Summary of Current Knowledge and Potential Environmental Impacts”. University of Aberdeen, UK. July 2012.
  2. “What Chemicals are Used?” FracFocus. No date. Web. 27 November 2016.

Is Fracking America’s Crack Cocaine?

Most of us know the horrors of crack cocaine addiction.  Many of our jails, half-way houses and streets are filled with people who cannot get enough of this dangerous drug. The Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) website reports “a person can become addicted after his or her first time trying crack cocaine.” Users quickly develop a tolerance for the drug and need more and more to sustain their high. They often resort to all sorts of risky behaviors to obtain their drug of choice.1 Is America doing the same thing with its dependence on oil?

Gone are the easily accessible oil fields which fueled our nation in the late 19th and the 20th centuries. Prolific reminders of their powerful influence scatter the country side with their rusted, iron bones. Abandoned oil and gas wells are everywhere.  NPR’s StateImpact website reported “There are probably around 200,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania. We know where just a slim fraction – probably four percent – of these wells are.”2 How many more are there across the country? No one knows for sure.

As America’s dependence on oil continues to grow, our nation engages in riskier and riskier behaviors to get its oil fix. No one can forget the havoc created by the Deepwater Horizons incident that began on April 20, 2010 and continued a full 6-months until September 19, 20103. That one spill delivered a toxic shock of 154,000,000 gallons of crude oil to the Gulf of Mexico.4 According to a news story released November 15th, 2016, “researchers in Louisiana have discovered traces of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill in the feathers of birds eaten by land animals.”5 In other words, oil has entered the Gulf’s food chain.

Our insatiable thirst for oil has led us to create some controversial technological cures to support our habit – fracking being the main one. Conflicting health and environmental reports are everywhere. It should come as no surprise that a recent comprehensive report prepared for the American Petroleum Institute (API) by Catalyst Environmental Solutions plainly stated it found “Quantitative Support for EPA’s Finding of No Widespread, Systemic Effects to Drinking Water Resources from Hydraulic Fracturing.”6 Yep, as the title suggests and the US EPA has reported there’s no drinking water impact from fracking!7 Seems a little unbelievable to me.

Also released this month was a report prepared by two groups of physicians the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and the Physicians for Social Responsibility with completely different results. Their document titled “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction)”8 highlights several public health concerns. Their article reviews the “scientific literature available from 2009-2015—which… included 685 peer reviewed papers—69 percent of original research studies on water quality found potential for, or actual evidence of, water contamination; 87 percent of original research studies on air quality found elevated air pollutant emissions; and 84 percent of original research studies on human health risks found signs of harm or indication of potential harm.”9

Doesn’t it make you wonder how the EPA did their assessment? 



  1. Patterson, Eric, “Crack Abuse”; Drug Abuse. No date. Web. 19 November 2016
  2. “Perilous Pathways: The Danger Of Drilling Near Abandoned Wells”; StateImpact NPR. No date. Web. 19 November 2016
  3. “Deepwater Horizon oil spill”; Wikipedia. no date. Web. 19 November 2016.
  4. Gill, Victoria, “BP Deepwater Horizon oil in land-animal food chain”; BBC News.  16 November 2016. Web. 19 November 2016.
  5. Ibid, Gill.
  6. “Quantitative Support for EPA’s Finding of No Widespread, Systemic Effects to Drinking Water Resources from Hydraulic Fracturing”; report for American Petroleum Institute by Catalyst Environmental Solutions, November 2016.
  7. “U.S. EPA. Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources (External Review Draft)”. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, EPA/600/R-15/047, 2015.
  8. “Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction)”, compiled by Concerned Health Professionals of New York and Physicians for Social Responsibility, Fourth Edition, November 17, 2016.
  9. Ibid, p. 4

Is water a God-given right?

Most people think access to water is a God-given right, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. History is filled with legal precedents trying to resolve basic water rights; essentially sorting out the “haves versus the have nots”. Even today, in water-scarce areas like South Africa and the Middle East, unstable governments are allowing private companies to provide water services. Unfortunately many of these large corporations are callously controlling limited water resources making access to this life giving substance an economic burden for the poor.

Here in Arizona, a new “land rush” has begun in rural areas with the express intent of gaining access to aquifers virtually unregulated by Arizona state water law. Farmers from drought stricken areas of California, outside investors and even corporations from Saudi Arabia are purchasing large tracts of land in rural counties to grow water intensive crops, often for international export. Counties which have already been impacted include Mohave, Cochise and La Paz.  Could Yavapai County be next?

The intentions behind these new land investments have provoked controversy. One of the better-known investors of property in Willcox (Cochise County) is Howard G. Buffett, son of billionaire Warren Buffet. He was quoted in a January 27, 2016 Arizona Public Media article saying “You don’t buy land here. You buy water.”  Buffet’s Arizona holdings include 4,400 acres in the Willcox area and he’s leasing another 4,500 acres from the state of Arizona for a family foundation engaged in agricultural research.  He says they’ll keep the research going unless they run out of water.

Tempers flared in Mohave County when a Modesto California nut company moved into the Kingman area amassing more than 5,800 acres of land to grow pistachios, walnuts and almonds. A January 21, 2016 Havasu News online article estimates a potential drawdown of 24,000 acre-feet of water annually – that’s over 7.8 billion gallons a year!

What was troublesome to some Mohave County locals was the seemingly clandestine approach used to purchase the land. The company bought the land under three separate limited liability companies, including “Mohave Valley University LLC,” “Valle Vista Environmental Studies LLC,” and “RB Ranch Development LLC”; company names which hardly suggest large-scale farming operations.

In La Paz County, hackles have been raised by foreign entities purchasing land to export high water use crops, such as alfalfa, to Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates.  In a January 15, 2016 article, Keith Murfield, CEO of Tempe-based United Dairymen of Arizona, believes the Saudi alfalfa shipments are basically “exporting water,” because in Saudi Arabia, “they have decided that it’s better to bring feed in rather than to empty their water reserves.”

What’s disconcerting to county officials in all three areas is this “water farming” phenomenon is entirely legal under Arizona state law. When Arizona established the once ground-breaking 1980 Groundwater Management Act, it established “Active Management Areas” (AMAs) in mostly urban areas (Prescott being one) and “Irrigation Non-Expansion Areas (INAs) in three rural areas where over-pumping was already a concern. The rest of the state was left to “reasonable and beneficial use” – which essentially means unlimited use.

County supervisors and municipal officials have limited authority to stop land investors from mining groundwater for crops. In the same article cited above, La Paz County Board of Supervisors Chairman Holly Irwin voiced strong opposition to this export practice noting “It’s very frustrating for me, especially when I have residents telling me that their wells are going dry and they have to dig a lot deeper for water.” A similar situation has already occurred in the Pierce and Sunsites area of Cochise County.

How would you handle this dilemma if you were a County Supervisor in rural Arizona?


* Portions of this article were published in The Daily Courier’s “Talk of the Town” column on November 1, 2016. (Prescott, AZ)

“Honey, go check the pump”

As you head to the kitchen to make your first pot of morning brew, imagine turning on the faucet and no water comes out.  How would you feel? What thoughts would go through your head?

If you’re a rural homeowner, you may wonder if the circuit breaker got tripped for your water pump or worse, maybe you need a new pump.  How flabbergasted would you be to find out there’s no water in your well?  This is not a scene from some apocalyptic movie. It’s already happened in several communities in Arizona due to groundwater overdraft.  Overdraft occurs when the level of water under the ground (the water table) is lowered often due to excessive groundwater pumping.

On June 7 2015, featured a story on a similar scenario in the Willcox area of Cochise County.  Jen and Ralph Score came home from church to find their well had run dry. Willcox farmers John Hart and Jim Graham both noticed groundwater levels dropping and mentioned increasing costs to pump water for their crops.

This was not the first time homeowners turned on their taps to find nothing there. In 2014, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) responded to concerned Cochise County residents by conducting a survey of well conditions in the Willcox Basin area. The results were startling. Of the 60 responses, 18 wells had gone dry, 9 had declining water levels or lowered production and 27 reported nearby wells going dry and/or concern over current conditions. Only 2 respondents had no current well problems.  (

Much to his credit, newly elected Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced the formation of the Arizona Water Initiative in the Fall of 2015. The initiative continues the work of ADWR’s 2015 “Strategic Vision for Water Supply Sustainability.” In Track One of his plan, called the Planning Area Process, “ADWR will identify and prioritize the 22 planning areas” with the express intent to “work together with local stakeholders to create solutions that Arizona can then implement to meet future water demands.”

At the first Arizona Water Initiative meeting for the Cochise Planning area in March 2016, Frank Corkhill, Chief Hydrologist for ADWR, rattled off a litany of declining ground water levels determined from index wells in the area. The four largest declines being Willcox  144 feet decline since 1966, San Simon 174 feet decline since 1962, Bowie  181 feet decline since 1947 and Kansas Settlement 186 feet decline since 1964. Also of concern, the rapid decline in Sunsites at 100 feet since 1990.

At the same meeting ADWR Assistant Deputy Director Gerry Walker gave a general outline of ground water management tools under the State’s 1980 Groundwater Management Act. She talked about Active Management Areas (AMAs) established for five urban areas and Irrigation Non-expansion Areas (INAs) in three agricultural areas where over pumping was a concern at the time the Act was established.  In the rest of the state, mostly rural areas, wells must be drilled legally but are only subject to “beneficial use” – essentially allowing a well owner to pump as much as they want.

Most rural well owners are alright with beneficial use – as long as the water continues to flow. What caused the biggest concern for the audience that day was Walker’s comment that groundwater is a “public resource.” You see in Arizona’s early water history that simply wasn’t the case. Water was granted to pioneers and settlers under a system called Prior Appropriation – basically first in time, first in right.

That public resource comment really irked some of the long time ranching families and others sitting in the room. Many of whom strongly feel that if the State tries to regulate rural water they’ll just drill more wells and drill them deeper which will only add to the water problem.  To these folks, it’s a property rights issue and the water under their property is not a public resource – it’s theirs.

If you were a water policy expert in Arizona, how would you handle such a challenge?


© Sandra Hurlbut,  2016