Speaker reportedly appoints committee to revise water legislation
In a signal that he apparently won't continue to push for passage this legislative session of his controversial water bill, House Speaker Andy Tobin reportedly has appointed an ad hoc committee to work over the summer on a more acceptable version of the legislation.
His decision was reported Wednesday morning by Reps. Darin Mitchell and Lisa Otondo, whose districts include Yuma County. Both of them were appointed to help head up the committee after a meeting with Tobin Tuesday, the two representatives said.
Tobin didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
Also appointed to serve on the ad hoc committee are Rep. Frank Pratt, who represents Pinal and Gila counties, and Rep. Brenda Barton of Payson.
As chairman of the House Agriculture and Water Committee, Barton held Tobin's bill, HB 2338, after hearing concerns about it from a large delegation from Yuma as well as the state's other rural areas and agriculture interests who are opposed to the legislation as it is currently written.
Pratt, whose brother and nephew farm in the Yuma area, is vice chairman of the Ag and Water Committee. Mitchell also sits on that committee.
In addition, noted Otondo, Arizona water guru Herb Guenther will be actively involved in the discussions as an advisor.
Guenther was assistant manager of Wellton-Mohawk Irrigation and Drainage District for several years before being elected to represent Yuma County in the Arizona Senate. He then served as director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources for eight years. Today, he remains involved in water issues around the state through his company, Troubled Waters Consulting.
HB 2338 would have authorized water augmentation authorities that could buy and sell water. Yuma County officials and agriculture leaders worry the action would target their Colorado River water supplies primarily to benefit northern Arizona communities in Tobin's Yavapai County legislative district.
That water is critical to Yuma County's $3.2 billion agriculture industry, the leading sector of the area's economy.
“Agriculture is such an important part of our economy,” Otondo said.
“I'm very pleased with the new development,” she said. “I think it's a positive move.”
This time around, Yuma will be in on the discussions, she said. “People from Yuma felt like they weren't at the table before ... they weren't included. We want to make sure Yuma is protected.”
Mitchell and Otondo emphasized that the ad hoc committee will work in the public arena, with open meetings that will include all the stakeholders in the issue of the state's water resources.
“Everyone has to have a seat at the table and have their voice heard,” said Mitchell. “This is all about transparency. Yuma is a big focus, so we want to make sure it's included.”
To that end, the ad hoc committee will be meeting Tuesday with an agriculture group from Yuma.
Another important stakeholder, Mitchell said, is the state's Native American reservations.
During the 2013 Southwest Ag Summit held in Yuma last week, Guenther told the gathering that Tobin had indicated he wouldn't continue to press for passage of HB 2338 this session and instead would work with stakeholders to come up with a more acceptable version of the bill for next year's session.
After Guenther's comments were published in an article in the Yuma Sun, however, Tobin told other media he felt there was still a chance his bill would move this year.