LOS ANGELES - Plans for a Pinal County, Ariz., water augmentation authority are on hold pending legislation to straighten out conflicts over local water control and representation on the agency's board of directors.
The Pinal County Water Augmentation Authority would be able to issue tax-exempt bonds to finance capital projects. SB 1260, which calls for creation of the authority, was signed by Gov. Fife Symington this April, but now the follow-up bill is needed before all the pieces of the project can fall into place.
SB 1260 was sponsored by state Sen. Ann Day, R-Tucson, and supported by the Pinal County Governmental Alliance, a nonprofit economic development and planning coalition.
Pinal County, located in rural south-central Arizona, has a population of about 116,000.
Phoenix attorney Bob Lynch, a lobbyist for the alliance, said the authority would act as an "umbrella agency" on behalf of small irrigation districts and cities in Pinal County.
"When those agencies go to the bond market to capitalize water-related projects, investors would be looking at a bond issue supported by several revenue streams," Lynch said.
But more legislative action is needed before the Pinal County Water Augmentation Authority will see the light of day.
The law creating the water agency "needs some tweaking to make it work better," Lynch said. The legislation that will do so is expected to be introduced in January.
David Snider, secretary of the Pinal County Governmental Alliance. said the legislation is needed so that the proposed authority's board of directors will include representatives from two irrigation districts in Coolidge. Ariz.
SB 1260 "inadvertently" excluded the two districts, Snider said. As a result, they have withheld resolutions of support for creation of the authority.
The county's other two irrigation districts and its four cities have passed resolutions for the authority, but unanimous approval is needed before the Pinal County Board of Supervisors can authorize formation of the agency.
Cleanup legislation would also give the authority the responsibility for local groundwater resource management. Currently, groundwater management is in the hands of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District.
"It is a local-control issue," Snider said. "We would like the authority to be given the right to act on [Pinal County's] behalf, as opposed to the Central Arizona Water Conservation District managing our groundwater resources without us having direct input."
If the proposed legislation becomes law, Pinal County supervisors would then appoint a 12-member board for the new authority, Snider said.
The authority's board could issue long-term bonds backed by revenues from local governments.
"We are looking at financings to obtain additional renewable water resources for this county," Snider said. Population and industry growth would be stymied without additional water resources, and there is "the long-term possibility of running out" of water, he said.
The authority will probably consider ways to give Pinal County more access to the Central Arizona Project, which Snider called "a renewable water resource."
Water from the Central Arizona Project "for the most part can be used directly on many kinds of agriculture," Snider said. Because it is not potable water, "there needs to be treatment" for municipal and industrial use.
One issue to be decided by the Water Augmentation Authority is whether to fund construction of treatment plants that cost "hundreds of millions of dollars," Snider said.
A less costly alternative would be to implement recharge and recovery programs, Snider said.
Recharge and recovery is the process by which water is injected into the ground and "mother nature is used to clean it," Snider said. "Then we pull it back out."
Recharge and recovery "would keep the water table static so that we can maintain a balance," he said. "You put in what you pump out."
Other projects requiring long-term financing could include water delivery systems, Snider said.
"Canals are very popular. particularly in the agriculture sector," he said. "The authority might work with farmers to line their ditches."