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The nation's largest environmental organization supports Nestle's bid to change Arizona water law. Here's why

"At the legislature, there seems to be no appetite to really address our groundwater issues," Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter Director Sandy Bahr said.

ARIZONA, USA — Editor's note: The above video aired during a previous broadcast.

A bill vying to change Arizona groundwater law to benefit industrial users now has unlikely supporters: environmentalists.

The Sierra Club and Chispa Arizona do not often support bills in line with growing the state's industry, which is why some were surprised at the organization's support of a bill backed by Nestlé, one of the world's largest food and drink producers. The support comes after multiple amendments added to Nestlé's bill seemingly transformed it from an aquifer threat into a step toward groundwater conservation.

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The bill, SB 1660, would allow factories, like Nestlé's new $700 million plant in Glendale, to treat their own water on-site without having to go through privately-owned utilities. Valley cities and the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association (AMWUA) are opposed to the bill over worries it would advocate for "more straws in the aquifer and more competition for limited resources."

However, Sierra Club Grand Canyon Chapter Director Sandy Bahr said the bill would be a positive step toward addressing groundwater issues in the state that lawmakers have previously skirted.

"At the legislature, there seems to be no appetite to really address our groundwater issues," Bahr said. "Year after year after year, we just keep going down the same road. That being said, this bill does have provisions in it that can benefit the aquifer."

The Nestlé's bill has three key points aimed at protecting the state's groundwater, including:

  • A 25% cut to the aquifer - One-fourth of the water that industries are required to put back into groundwater supplies must stay in the aquifer and cannot be redrawn.
  • Requirement of an Aquifer Protection Permit - Ensures water being pumped back into groundwater supplies meets safety standards.
  • 2025 cut-off - No new permits for industrial users can be accepted after 2025.

"We were not going to support the bill without these provisions," Bahr said. "If you're pumping, you have to mitigate that pumping. You have to leave some kind of public benefit, and the 25% cut to the aquifer would be that benefit."

AMWUA disagrees. Many of the association's previous objections still stand, with worries that the bill's passage would set a precedent for other industrial users that use municipal water utilities.

"This is the proverbial camel's nose under the tent," AMWUA said in response to the Sierra Club's support of the bill. "If this bill passes, expect other entities to push for their own exceptions."

Bahr believes any precedent set by the bill would be a beneficial and sustainable one.

"If the precedent is that there needs to be some benefit to the aquifer from all of these water machinations, then I'd say that's a good precedent," she said. 

"We understand why the cities have concerns about this, but the current system is not working. If we can find ways to get water back into aquifers and leave it there, then we should do that."

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