Arizona has determined that there is not enough groundwater for all approved housing construction in the Phoenix area and will prevent developers from building some new subdivisions, a sign of trouble. imminent in the West and elsewhere where overuse, drought and climate change are straining water supplies.
The decision by state officials could very well mean the beginning of the end of the explosive growth that has made the Phoenix area the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country.
The state says it will not revoke its issued building permits and is instead relying on new water conservation measures and alternative sources to produce the water needed for approved housing developments. Browser.
On Thursday, Governor Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, said Arizona is not running out immediately and new construction will continue in major cities like Phoenix. The analysis prepared by the state looked at groundwater levels over the next 100 years.
“We will deal with this situation,” she said at a press conference. “We are not running out of water and we are not going to run out of water.”
Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and its suburbs, receives more than half of its water supply from groundwater. Most of the rest comes from rivers and aqueducts as well as recycled wastewater. In practical terms, groundwater is a finite resource; it can take thousands of years or so to be replenished.
The notice of a groundwater shortage means that Arizona will no longer grant developers in certain areas of Maricopa County new permits to build homes that rely on wells for water.
Phoenix and surrounding large cities, which must obtain separate permission from state officials for their development plans every 10 to 15 years, will also be denied approval for any homes that rely on resources. groundwater beyond what the state has authorized.
This decision means that cities and developers must look for alternative water sources to support future development — for example, by trying to buy river water rights from farmers or ministries. lost Native Americans, many of whom are facing water shortages of their own. The rush to buy water could rattle Arizona’s real estate market, make homes more expensive and threaten the relatively low housing costs that have made the area a magnet for everyone. people from all over the country.
“Home affordability is going to be a challenge going forward,” said Spencer Kamps, vice president of legal affairs for the Central Arizona Home Builders Association, an industry group. He noted that even if the state restricts housing construction, commercial buildings, factories and other types of development can continue.
Even so, the change should serve as a signal to developers, said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Water Policy Center at Arizona State University. “We see the horizon for the end of the contagion,” she said.
Ms. Porter said groundwater shortages likely won’t derail short-term growth plans in major cities like Phoenix, Scottsdale and Mesa.
“There is still room for development in the designated cities,” Ms. Porter said, referring to cities whose development plans have been approved by state water officials. Those cities won’t be able to get approval to build any homes that rely on groundwater beyond that amount.
The new restrictions will be most clearly and immediately felt in the small towns and unincorporated stretches of desert along the edge of the Phoenix metro area – where most affordable homes tend to be. built. “Those are hot spots for growth,” Ms. Porter said.
This announcement is the latest example of how climate change is reshaping the American Southwest. A 23-year drought and rising temperatures have lowered the Colorado River, threatening 40 million Americans in Arizona and six other states that depend on it — including residents of Phoenix, which gets its water from the Colorado River. by the aqueduct.
Rising temperatures have increased the rate of evaporation from rivers, even as crops need more water to survive at higher temperatures. The amount of water Arizona receives from the Colorado River has been significantly reduced through a voluntary agreement among seven states. Last month, Arizona agreed to conservation measures that would further reduce its supply.
As a result, Arizona’s water supply is being squeezed from both directions: groundwater is disappearing as well as the Colorado River shrinking.
And the water shortage could be more severe than the state’s analysis suggests because it assumes that Arizona’s water supply from Colorado will remain constant over the next 100 years, an uncertainty at best.
The Phoenix area occupies a valley in southern Arizona, bordered by mountain ranges and cut by the Salt and Gila rivers. The landscape is filled with lush golf courses, baseball diamonds, farm fields and pools, contrasting with the brownstone terrain that surrounds it.
Arizona’s water problems have begun to permeate state politics. When she took office in January, Governor Hobbs pledged first main address tighten controls on groundwater use statewide.
As proof of that commitment, Governor Hobbs release a report which she said was suppressed by the previous Republican-led administration. It shows that an area west of Phoenix, known as the Hassayampa sub-basin, does not have enough water for new wells. As a result, the Arizona Department of Water Resources said it would not issue new permits in that area to build homes that rely on groundwater.
But the Hassayampa is just one of several sub-basins that make up the larger groundwater basin beneath the municipality of Phoenix. Thursday’s state announcement essentially expands that finding across the Phoenix area.
One of the places most likely to feel the impact of the new restrictions is Queen Creek.
When Arizona created its groundwater rules more than 40 years ago, Queen Creek was still mostly peach and citrus orchards and extensive farmland. Today, it’s one of the fastest-growing places in Arizona, where families go fishing at an “oasis” lake fed with recycled wastewater. The town’s population of 75,000 is expected to grow to 175,000 by the time it’s built decades from now.
But to do that, the town needs to find more water.
“We’re looking at about 30,000 acres,” or about 9.8 billion gallons a year, said Paul Gardner, utility manager for Queen Creek.
Because there is not enough groundwater to supply future development needs, Queen Creek is looking for water wherever possible, exploring proposals such as channeling water from western Arizona, expanding the lake contain Lake Bartlett by joining other cities in a project to build a beat higher.
Unlike Phoenix, Queen Creek doesn’t have a “designation” from the state – essentially deciding that the city has enough water to support new homes. Without that designation, each proposed development must demonstrate to the state that it has a 100-year supply. Developers without that seal of approval will have to find sources other than groundwater.
Even as the state takes steps to try to slow the depletion, the Kyl Center has warned that Arizona is still pumping too much groundwater. New industrial projects are sucking up groundwater without restriction, and demand for water is outpacing any benefits from conservation efforts, the center found in a 2021 report.
Despite increasingly dire warnings from state and water experts, some developers note that construction won’t stop anytime soon. The Arizona Water Authority has issued construction permits for about 80,000 housing lots that remain unbuilt, a state official said.
Cynthia Campbell, Phoenix’s water resources management consultant, said the city relies heavily on river water and groundwater accounts for only about 2% of its water supply. But that could change dramatically if Arizona suffers a drastic cut to its allotments on the Colorado River, forcing the city to pump more groundwater.
Many outlying developments and towns in a large area of Maricopa County were able to build by enrolling in a state-mandated program that allows subdivisions to draw groundwater in one place if they pump it returns underground elsewhere in the basin.
Ms. Campbell said the idea that you could balance the water supply like that has always been a “legal novel”, an idea that is now unraveling as the state takes a closer look at where groundwater supplies come from. are in short supply.
“This is a hydrological disconnect that is approaching,” Ms Campbell said.
In remote areas, “a lot of developers are really nervous, they panic,” Ms. Campbell said. “In fact, they all came back to capture us.”