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Controversial water bill held
After hearing from both opponents and proponents for 3-1/2 hours, the House Agriculture and Water Committee held a controversial bill that would have authorized establishment of authorities with the power to buy and sell water to their members.
Yuma City Administrator Greg Wilkinson, one of several Yuma-area people who attended the crowded hearing and expressed their concerns about HB 2338, said that in the end, the committee didn't have enough votes to send the legislation to the floor of the Arizona House of Representatives.
Yuma presented a united front before the committee, including representatives for the city of Yuma, Yuma County, farmers, the Yuma County Chamber of Commerce and all the Yuma-area irrigation districts. That united front also included all four members of the House who represent Yuma County.
“They all did a great job,” Wilkinson said. “They all really stood up for Yuma County.”
He especially commended Reps. Darin Mitchell and Steve Montenegro, two Litchfield Park residents who were elected to represent Legislative District 13 that includes parts of both Yuma and Maricopa counties.
“They were extremely helpful and deserve a lot of credit,” Wilkinson said.
Mitchell sits on the Ag and Water Committee, as does Rep. Juan Carlos Escamilla from San Luis.
Wilkinson said he outlined for the committee his fears that Yuma County could lose its rights to water from the Colorado River to central Arizona if HB 2338 were to become law and a Regional Water Augmentation Authority was formed. Loss of that water would turn fields that now produce food and fiber for the entire nation into wasteland, he said, pointing to Yuma's neighbor to the west for proof of what can happen to a once-vibrant agriculture industry if a politically powerful municipality obtains that area's water.
Farmland in Imperial County now lies fallow, and many farmers have never been paid for their water while their legal bills are mounting, Wilkinson said. He fears the same could happen to Yuma County and its $3 billion agriculture industry.
And if farmers aren't farming, they don't need trucks or tractors or seed or fertilizer, he said. “It would have a significant impact on businesses.”
About half a dozen speakers, primarily representing the central corridor that includes such cities as Flagstaff, Prescott and Phoenix, defended the bill and argued that creating authorities would provide a tool to improve the water supply for everyone.
They denied Yuma County's assertions that HB 2338 would result in a water grab and said the bill has protections for existing water rights.
With Arizona's need for more water, another Colorado River wouldn't help, said one speaker. Rather, he said, meeting the state's future water needs will require such tools as conservation, reclaimed water, sustainable groundwater management and in some cases moving water to where it is needed.