Bruce Babbitt was Arizona’s Governor from 1978-1987 and Secretary of the Interior from 1993-2001. He signed Arizona’s Groundwater Management Act on June 12, 1980, which mandated that central and southern Arizona pump no more water from aquifers than they put back in.

Bruce Babbitt: Tackling Arizona’s groundwater issues

(The story below is built around a recorded interview)

In 1978, Bruce Babbitt was finishing up his first term as Arizona’s Attorney General and putting together a re-election campaign when he got a call that would change the course of his life.

“I learned of that (the death of then-governor Wes Bolin) with a phone call from Bill Riley at 6 o’clock in the morning. In effect, I don’t remember the precise words but, ‘You’re the Governor, what’s next?’”

What came next became history. Not only did Babbitt finish Bolin’s term, but he ran and was elected for two more terms, leaving office in 1987. During that time, he tackled one of Arizona’s biggest water issues: groundwater.

“It’s all lore now, but it’s correct. I called the leaders of the water establishment together on the day after Thanksgiving in 1979,” Babbitt said. “I personally sat them down and met with them once or twice a week for nine months and just kind of shut the door and said we’re going to reform our way out of this problem and we’re going to draft a meaningful water management system for the State of Arizona.”

The result was the creation of the Arizona Department of Water Resources and the Groundwater Management Act of 1980, forward thinking water legislation that hasn’t been duplicated since.

Read Bruce Babbitt's Oral History Transcript
Listen to Bruce Babbitt's Interview