Cecil Andrus was Secretary of the Interior from 1977-1981 and an important figure in the enactment of Arizona’s 1980 Groundwater Management Act. Then-Governor Bruce Babbitt privately urged Andrus to threaten to block funding for the Central Arizona Project if Arizona did not enact tough groundwater laws. The Legislature then approved the proposed law without amendment during a seven-hour session. Babbitt signed it into law on June 12, 1980.

Cecil Andrus: A “political accident” that shaped Arizona’s water history

(The story below is built around a recorded interview)

As a young father, Cecil Andrus became concerned about an incumbent state senator’s stance on education, so he took action and ran against him…and won.  He was re-elected twice and a new path of his life was set.

“I had no (political) intentions whatsoever, but I enjoyed it. I worked at it,” Andrus said. “We did make some corrections in the distribution formula for the funding of elementary schools in rural areas within the state.”

But his political career didn’t end there. Ten years later, he had the opportunity to become the first Democrat elected as Governor of Idaho in 24 years, where future President Jimmy Carter was also a newly elected governor.

“I got to know President Carter, then Governor Carter. He asked me to serve as his Secretary of the Department of the Interior, be a member of his cabinet. I did that,” said Andrus.

As Secretary, Andrus served a critical role in the passage of Arizona’s 1980 Groundwater Management Act, serving as the “foil” for then-Governor Bruce Babbitt.

“He’d write up some of the statements that I should make about if we’re going to do the Central Arizona Project, we’ve got to have some control over the groundwater, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah,” said Andrus. “Every time that somebody would say, ‘Well, we don’t need to pass this,’ he’d say, ‘But that damn Andrus…he’s going to come right at you,’” he said.

And it worked. The Groundwater Management Act passed in Arizona, proving to be an incredibly innovative water management law in the United States.

Read Cecil Andrus' Oral History Transcript
Listen to Cecil Andrus' Interview