Several Cochise County officials have been ordered to appear in court Friday afternoon for a hearing on whether voters will get to decide if thousands of acres of private land in the Sulphur Springs Valley will be designated a Douglas Groundwater Basin Active Management Area (AMA) subject to new regulations regarding the withdrawal and use of groundwater.
The election challenge filed Aug. 10 by two members of Rural Water Assurance calls into question nearly all of the 2,218 petition signatures submitted last month by Arizona Water Defenders to get the creation of the Douglas AMA in front of voters in the 2022 General Election in November.
To make it on the ballot, a judge must find at least 1,346 of the petition signatures valid. However, Rural Water Assurance contends in its lawsuit that 2,094 of the signatures are deficient for one or more reasons.
Among the alleged deficiencies cited by Rural Water Assurance officers Heather Floyd and Sonia Gasho are petition signatures by non-registered voters, signatures from voters who do not live within the AMA boundaries, and signatures which do not match official voter registration records.
Other signatures should be rejected, the lawsuit argues, because some voter information such as city or town of residence appears to have been written by the same person instead of being written by each voter. And some of the petition sheets do not contain an affidavit signed by the circulator – the person who collected the signatures on the petition sheet.
Cochise County Recorder David Stevens is one of the county officials subpoenaed to appear for Friday’s hearing with Judge Laura Cardinal. Stevens and his staff have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to complete a review of each of the challenged signatures and submit a pre-hearing report for the judge and the parties.
Also subpoenaed to the hearing are the three members of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors as well as Elections Director Lisa Marra.
Currently, there are five AMAs in five Arizona counties – Prescott, Phoenix, Pinal, Tucson, and Santa Cruz. Each AMA must have a management goal designed to assist the AMA in reaching or maintain its management goal.
According to the Arizona Department of Water Resources, another feature of an AMA is that it is subject to assured water supply requirements for new subdivisions. Within an AMA, a developer of a proposed subdivision (six lots or more) must have a 100-year assured water supply in order to obtain plat approval and offer lots for sale.
Within the boundaries of the proposed Douglas AMA (which includes Douglas, Bisbee, McNeal, and Elfrida) is an existing Irrigation Non-Expansion Area (INA). Under Arizona law, the current regulations of the INA will be automatically replaced by the AMA’s regulations.
A number of restrictions for irrigation and groundwater use will be put into place if the Douglas AMA is approved by voters.
Additional information about the proposed Douglas Groundwater Basis AMA can be found at https://new.azwater.gov/ama/faqs-douglas-ama
A ballot initiative was also undertaken to create a Willcox Groundwater Basin AMA without an irrigation non-expansion area. Sufficient signatures have already been certified to get the proposed Willcox AMA on the Nov. 8 ballot for thousands of voters in northeast Cochise County.