The Cochise County Board of Supervisors are playing a dangerous game of politics and policy if they’re serious about regulating water in eastern Cochise County.
What began as a few public meetings about how much water farm operations are consuming in the Willcox area has suddenly become the county board’s new initiative. There were suspicions when Supervisor Peggy Judd proposed a series of informational sessions that her inspiration was political. Ms. Judd faces a difficult re-election campaign next year and it’s not a secret that GOP insiders have been less than supportive of her expected candidacy. Getting people together to talk about a continuing concern among her constituents offers a way to stay relevant.
That perspective changed Tuesday when Judd convinced fellow supervisors Tom Borer and Ann English that Cochise County should foot the $22,395 bill for the meetings. Board members are now making a financial commitment to support the first step in a process that has the potential to establish limits on water consumption and well drilling in Cochise County.
Officials will likely scoff at that statement and caution that there’s a long legislative journey between informational meetings and a government body empowered to regulate water.
That’s true. Putting all the pieces in place to establish a governing group would be a challenge, as Supervisor Borer alluded to during Tuesday’s work session. That doesn’t mean county officials are giving up on the idea. For her part, Ms. Judd has already named the effort, referring to the “Willcox Water Project in the Upper Sulphur Springs Valley” as an organization that would advocate “ … for a change in policy” that could include a water district, a moratorium on well drilling, or a state-regulated Active Management Area.
Here’s the tricky part for county supervisors. Agriculture businesses, including dairy farms, pecan and pistachio growers, wine-makers and others, represent a sizable segment of the county’s economy and are dependent on pumping as much water as they need to sustain and grow their respective businesses.
Commercial interests appear to conflict with those of residents in eastern Cochise County when it comes to water. If county supervisors continue down the path of regulating this resource, they will inevitably put themselves in a position of deciding whose interests will be served.
Supervisors need to think long and hard on whether they should take on the responsibility of regulating water consumption in Cochise County. Choosing winners and losers on water is certain to breed conflict.