This week we talk to Zach Sugg, who has worked extensively in Texas and Arizona so he is able to expand on the differences between state groundwater policies, and get us into the nitty gritty of how states water management policies, especially concerning ground water, can vary wildly.
Zach Sugg, is a Ph.D. Candidate in the School of Geography and Development at the University of Arizona, and is a water resource geographer researching groundwater governance, with a focus on the western U.S. His education and experience are centered around water governance, including the history of groundwater law and policy, political economy of water, rural-urban environmental issues in the American West, as well as applications of GIS and remote sensing for management of freshwater resources. Zach was the lead author of “Conjunctive groundwater management as a response to socio-ecological disturbances: a comparison of 4 western U.S. states” published in the Texas Water Journal. And Zach was also a Visiting Scholar at Texas State University.
In this episode we cover a lot of ground. Zach was one of my fellow cohort in graduate school and we shared advisors and classes. One of the draws of a geography degree is it encourages a student to focus on different part of the world and draw contrasts and comparisons to other regions, and in this episode we do just that. Zach and I talk about how groundwater is managed in Texas, and explore the disconnect between surface water and groundwater management for both Arizona and Texas. Instead of the Central Arizona Project and the Arizona Department of Water Resources managing the majority of water resources in Arizona, Texas has over 100 different Water Conservation districts that manage water but typically have no regulatory teeth. This is because unlike Arizona groundwater is private property in Texas and any restriction on its use can be legally viewed as a regulatory taking.
Texas with its distinct history of being a country unto itself at one point in history means that its rules surrounding water are affected by the laws and traditions established during Texas’s autonomy from the United States. With a history that involves Mexico, the Confederacy, and the evolving laws of the United States comes a unique set of political jurisdictions that shape the water management of the state.
But nature plays a hand too. The unique ecology and hydrology of the Edwards aquifer in San Antonio forced the state to establish an even more unique set of rules governing the management of water for that specific and special aquifer. San Antonio is experiencing sprawl, and in this case the sprawl means managing more than just one aquifer but different aquifers, different water conservation districts, and different political jurisdictions. The Edwards Aquifer Authority acts as more of a regulatory agency than the districts, but the complexity of the state’s water laws leads to more conflict and lawsuits as we will see. Zach and I compare Arizona’s top down management with Texas’s bottom up management and the strengths and weaknesses of each. In his dissertation research he is examining the contrast between San Antonio and Phoenix, and takes into account many factors such as public drought awareness, water markets, local connection to water authorities and ease of access to power, and we get to touch on each of these in this interview.