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May 14, 2021

Advocacy: Arizona Legislative Session Results in Wins for Ag Community

By Robert Medler, Arizona Government Affairs Manager

As the 2021 legislative session nears sine die, Arizona agriculture will reap the benefits from a handful of wins.

On top of the list is SB1448, which outlines how a court should award costs, expenses and punitive damages in a nuisance action against an agricultural operation conducted on farmland. It also prohibits a political subdivision of the state (cities, towns or counties) from declaring an agricultural operation a nuisance if its operations are consistent with legal requirements and other best practices. In addition, Western Growers worked to ensure protections remained for claims involving pathogenic contamination, leaving a nuisance claim as a viable recourse.

Other wins for WG members include the passage of H2441 and H2289. H2441 allows a property owner to permanently retire acreage from irrigation and substitute the same amount of acreage if those retired lands were damaged by a flood or have a limiting condition (i.e., inability to implement more efficient irrigation practices). H2289 increases the maximum fee that the Arizona Citrus Research Council is required to assess to five cents per standard carton or 40 pounds of equivalent weight in bulk bins of citrus produced. This is important since the council funds programs and projects that focus on varietal development, citrus pest eradication, and harvesting and moving produce to market. Similar legislation failed in 2020 due to its inability to garner the two-thirds majority required for a revenue increase.

Notable legislation that WG expressed concerns over were two bills that would have severely restricted, or outright banned, the use or sale of neonicotinoids, clothianidin, imidacloprid, thiamethoxam, and chlorpyrifos throughout Arizona. Both H2093 and S1201 never received a hearing in committee. Another bill not receiving a hearing was S1314/H2209, which would have required the use of a water measuring device on all nonexempt wells under any circumstances and in any location. Because of the political dynamic in the Arizona Legislature, it appears likely that these policy proposals will be introduced again in the future and may eventually start moving through the legislative process.

Water policy in Arizona is also facing additional challenges as the western U.S. suffers increasing drought conditions. Looming on the horizon is the recently announced expectation of a water shortage being declared on the Colorado River. This would result in the largest mandatory cutbacks of river allocation. On Friday, April 2, 2021, the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Central Arizona Project released a joint statement on Colorado River water shortage preparedness. Currently, the river is at a “Tier Zero” stage, which has resulted in Arizona proactively contributing 192,000 acre-feet to Lake Mead. This proactive approach was a result of the Drought Contingency Plan approved in 2019 to stave off further cuts.

A “Tier 1” shortage declared on the river will result in an additional 320,000 acre-feet cut, for a total of 520,000 acre-feet reduction per year starting in 2022. These expanded cuts will impact agriculture operations in central Arizona, namely Pinal County, the hardest. Delivery of Colorado River water will be reduced by nearly 50% in 2022, then terminated in 2023 and thereafter. Arizona’s plan for the cuts will allow an increase in groundwater pumping within the region, but the construction of the necessary infrastructure has been slow since the state allocated $50 million toward the effort in 2019. Existing rules and agreements for management of Arizona’s Colorado River allocation expire in 2025; all eyes are on the efforts starting for 2026 and beyond.

The 2021 legislative session once again exhibits why Arizona is one of the best places to live and work. Agriculture remains a critical component of Arizona’s economy and ensuring adequate water resources for agriculture is paramount. As we continue to face drought conditions, the current legislature has shown it will work to assist in the needs of agriculture throughout Arizona.