Originally published Thursday, February 13, 2020 at 07:09p.m.

A new bill proposed by Arizona Rep. Regina Cobb (R-Kingman) aims to halt a water crisis in Mohave County.

According to Mohave County predictions, groundwater in the Hualapai Basin, near Kingman, could be depleted in less than a century. And although county officials have requested a moratorium on continued irrigation into the basin by new farmers, state statutes do not allow the Arizona Department of Water Resources to set such limits based on predicted use. An amendment by Cobb would allow the department to make such a decision, with credible evidence, and preserve groundwater supplies from over-irrigation.

According to Mohave County Manager Mike Hendrix, Cobb’s bill is a step forward in addressing issues in groundwater that have long plagued rural Arizona. Last week, the Mohave County Board of Supervisors submitted a letter of request to declare the Hualapai Basin as an Irrigation Non-Expansion Area – the second such request made by the board in the past three years.

“Counties have no statutory authority over our groundwater,” Hendrix said. “This is moving toward local control of our groundwater.”

Under the proposed legislation, known as HB 2895, counties or property owners with at-risk groundwater supplies will be permitted to file a petition to be heard by the director of the Department of Water Resources. That petition would require an accompanying numeric groundwater flow model and hydrologic report. The director would still be allowed to deny a county’s request to protect its groundwater if he or she feels the provided evidence is insufficient.

“There are only two avenues for this,” Hendrix said. “It will happen, whether through the Director of Water Resources, or through legislative action. We’ve tried requesting this through the director, and we hope the department will designate the Hualapai Basin as an Irrigation Non-Expansion area. But if he doesn’t, it could force legislative action.”

Another bill proposed by Cobb, HB 2896, would allow counties such as Mohave to determine specific groundwater basins – even basins outside of an active management area – to be eligible for protection as “rural management areas.” Under HB2896, this could be done if there have been significant increases in recent water use, or projected increases in use of one or more basins that exceeds that basin’s ability to replenish.

HB 2896 would also apply if, as with the Hualapai Basin, groundwater is expected to run dry in less than 100 years.

Mohave County would only be able to do so if county officials notify all surrounding municipalities, provide notice of resolution to the Department of Water Resources, allow at least 30 days for public comment and hold at least two public meetings in communities affected by the proposed resolution.

“We think (Cobb’s) work is fantastic,” Hendrix said. “Regina is a true champion for Mohave County on water issues, and has been the only one successful in passing anything water-related for this county.”

HB 2895 and 2896 were each introduced into the Arizona legislature this week. According to the legislature’s website, a reading of the bills has not yet been scheduled.