The 1994 Arizona Legislature established the Arizona Water Protection Fund (AWPF) and the Arizona Water Protection Fund Commission (Commission) to administer the AWPF (A.R.S. § 45-2101 et seq.). In passing the enabling legislation, the Legislature declared that their policy was to provide for a coordinated effort for the restoration and conservation of the water resources of the state. The policy was designed to allow the people of Arizona to prosper while providing financial resources for protection and restoration of this State’s rivers, streams and associated riparian habitats, including dependent fish and wildlife resources. The law mandates that financial resources be available through grants to appropriate public and private entities to assist in water resource management activities that are consistent with that policy (A.R.S. § 45-2101 (A)).
The Arizona Water Protection Fund was intended to be a proactive response to possible federal intervention in Arizona’s river and riparian resource issues. The program was partially created to promote the use of incentives emphasizing local implementation rather than regulation to address resource concerns. As such, the Commission’s philosophy has been to utilize a grass roots approach to improving river and riparian resources statewide. The program is operated through a competitive grant process that asks the public to propose local solutions rather than having the State dictate specific measures, priorities or areas of concern.
The primary purpose of the AWPF by statute is to provide an annual source of funds for the development and implementation of measures to protect water of sufficient quality and quantity to maintain, enhance and restore rivers, streams and associated riparian resources, including fish and wildlife resources that are dependent on these important habitats, consistent with existing water law and water rights. The Commission may also provide funding to develop and protect riparian habitats in conjunction with a man-made water resource project, if the man-made water resource project directly or indirectly benefits a river or stream and includes or creates a riparian habitat.
Rivers, streams and riparian areas are important resources to the people of Arizona. These resources have been significantly impacted from human uses such as industry, recreation and livestock grazing as well as from natural events such as floods, drought and fire. Proper land and watershed management strategies can make a profound difference in the health and economic value of our rivers and riparian ecosystems. To date, the Commission has invested in 246 projects and contributed over $48 million toward the restoration, protection and enhancement of river and riparian resources in Arizona. A wide range of projects have been funded including but not limited to channel restoration, riparian revegetation, wetland creation/restoration, fencing and other grazing management improvements, upland restoration, erosion control and applied ecological research. As a result, Arizona citizens have realized many benefits from these investments through improvements in water quality, in-stream flows/water supplies, biodiversity, fish and wildlife habitat, recreation, flood control and overall watershed health. In addition, important socioeconomic benefits such as jobs and revenue streams are realized by many local communities through the implementation of Arizona Water Protection Fund projects.