Several hundred bills were introduced at the Legislature before the session deadline. Only a few are relevant to water issues. Here are four:
HB2661 would extend the authority for the CAWCD to levy a four cent ad valorem property tax for water storage and other purposes through 2030; although after 2024 the tax could not exceed three cents. They have had this taxing authority since 1990 already, but it expires in 2017, and CAWCD doesn’t want to lose it. Chances of passage actually seem pretty good.
HB2263 and HB 2510 are related. The first allows groundwater pumped from a basin outside an Active Management Area but close to the CAP canal to be transported to an AMA if there is risk that Colorado River water deliveries may be reduced. The second allows groundwater in such a basin to be pumped from depths greater than currently allowed in statute if the ADWR Director declares that “special circumstances” exist. Both bills may be moot since no wheeling agreement between CAWCD and the Bureau of Reclamation has been negotiated yet, and Federal restrictions on wheeling could be substantial.
HB2570 place restrictions on cities’ authority to specify landscaping in developments. No city would be allowed to require a developer to leave desert vegetation in place if they file a notice with the Department of Agriculture to remove it. Here come the bulldozers and there go the saguaros and other protected plants. Cities would also not be allowed to specify density of landscaping, which is now done in most xeriscaping rebate offers, or to require specific types of vegetation potentially including low-water use plants. The last two prohibitions appear to be an attempt to restrict municipal efforts to use xeriscaping in new subdivisions as a water conservation technique. What a concept in the middle of a drought. While city governments oppose the bill, homebuilders support it, so it has legs.
Other bills related to water seem less likely to pass, although most of the striker bills haven’t shown up yet. Legislative attention to water issues may be heightened next year by declaration of shortage on the Colorado River—probabilities of a shortage declaration by the Bureau of Reclamation for 2016 are steadily ratcheting up past 20%, and past 60% for 2017. Next year may see a much larger number of water-related bills.