On a sunny morning in southern Arizona this spring, members of the Arizona Water Defenders gathered at a park in the small town of Douglas to answer residents’ questions about water — and to collect signatures for a citizen-led ballot initiative that would, for the first time, regulate the region’s aquifer.

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Groundwater harvesting in the Willcox Basin is driving ground subsidence. This picture from the corner of Old Fort Grant Road and Ranch House Road in Willcox shows 9.7 feet — as marked on the telephone pole — of subsidence between 1969 and 2018.

The crowd that came was small but diverse. An hour into the community meeting, an artist arrived with a large, colorful map of the region’s geology that he was excited to show the Water Defenders. A retired educator and her grown son came on foot and offered to go door-to-door in their neighborhood in support of the cause. Two students from the local community college rolled up on their longboards, and a man out on a mission of his own — handing out flyers he’d written about the value of God's love — also stopped to listen. All signed in support of the initiative.

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Collapse of a road in Willcox, Ariz., into a void caused by erosion along an earth fissure first observed in 2010. This is the second time this portion of the roadway has suffered major damage due to collapse at this location.

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The water usage of mega-dairies like this one has been accused of contributing to shortages for smaller farmers and residents in Arizona’s Willcox basin.

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A new pivot irrigation system was installed by Riverview Dairy LLP near Elfrida, Ariz., in 2021.

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