Arizona Legislature passes historic Colorado River drought plan

"This bill is not the end, it's just the beginning," said House Democratic Leader Charlene Fernandez, D-Yuma. "They say politicians think about the next election, but statesmen, think about the next generation. This is a moment for statesmanship, and I'm proud to stand with each and every one of you. We will face many more challenges like this. If we work together going forward like we have today, I have nothing but confidence in our future."

Arizona Legislature passes historic Colorado River drought plan hours before deadline

Arizona lawmakers passed a historic Colorado River drought deal Thursday afternoon, about seven hours before a midnight deadline set by the federal government.

Gov. Doug Ducey promptly signed the legislation, clearing the way for Arizona to join in the three-state Drought Contingency Plan together with California and Nevada.

"There’s a lot more work to be done to ensure that Arizona is prepared for a drier water future," Ducey said as he signed. A crowd of policy advisers and lawmakers applauded in the old state Capitol building.

He said the deal represented "the culmination of years of discussions" and called it a "historic bipartisan achievement."

The hours of rushed work by Arizona lawmakers could still be overshadowed, as a California irrigation district's demands threaten to delay efforts to finish the Drought Contingency Plan, which aims to protect levels in Lake Mead.

Nevertheless, Arizona officials were eager to meet the midnight deadline set by federal Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman.

In a major act of bipartisanship, lawmakers in the Arizona House and Senate voted almost unanimously to approve a plan aimed at stopping reservoirs from plunging to critical levels.

Ducey and leaders across the state had urged swift action on the plan given a 19-year drought that could lead to drastic water cuts for Western states.

The governor hailed the deal as the most significant piece of water legislation in Arizona since the Groundwater Management Act of 1980.

"Today is also a historic day," Ducey said. "We’re not going to wait 40 years for the next thing that’s going to happen on water. We’re going to continue it in this legislative session in terms of discussion and action."

He signed an executive order to create a new water-conservation council that will recommend ideas to reduce the state's use and prepare for future shortages.

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