PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5/AP) — Gov. Katie Hobbs announced on Thursday a new report regarding Phoenix’s groundwater situation and new restrictions that will impact new construction in the Valley. The study, Phoenix Active Management Area Groundwater Model, revealed that about 4% or nearly 5 million acre-feet of the groundwater demand needed for the Valley would not be met if nothing is done. So, as required by law, Hobbs said the state is pausing new construction in the Phoenix area that relies on groundwater. She also announced a $40 million investment to help with water conservation.
According to the Arizona State University’s Kyl Center for Water Policy at Morrison Institute, the new construction pause won’t affect new developments in areas with a Designation of an Assured Water Supply (DAWS), which is most of the Valley. “This pause will not affect growth within any of our major cities where robust water portfolios have been proven to cover current and future demands,” Hobbs said.
2 Valley communities impacted
But two communities in Phoenix that don’t have a DAWS and are growing fast are Buckeye and Queen Creek, according to ASU. Buckeye told Arizona’s Family it continues to “enhance” its water portfolio and there’s no single solution to get more water. But the city says it’ll grow for decades. “Currently, Buckeye has the water resources available to sustain our existing customers and the projected growth that already have Certificates of Assured Water Supply (CAWS) issued by ADWR. Buckeye’s water future is secure and the amount of CAWS already issued will support another 20-25 years of growth,” the city said in a statement. Queen Creek made a statement assuring residents it has a 100-year assured water supply and that it’s working to diversify where it gets its water. “Today’s announcement by the Arizona Department of Water Resources does not impact any current Queen Creek water customers nor any projects under development. The announcement impacts a small number of undeveloped properties in Queen Creek that do not have an assured water supply – those properties must find a renewable source of water before they can develop,” the town said.
ASU researchers say the Valley will continue to grow in population, but the rate and pattern will likely change. Developers who wanted to build in those communities used to get a Certificate of Assured Water Supply, but with this new construction pause, that’s no longer the case. Planned subdivisions that already have a CAWS can build, but developers of proposed subdivisions can’t rely on local groundwater to obtain a CAWS. So now, real estate investors who used to build on less-expensive land outside areas with groundwater will likely go to more expensive land with a DAWS.
Still, Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy, said she doubts the Valley will see a population slowdown for three reasons. “First, there are planned developments that have already obtained a Certificate of Assured Water Supply, and those developments can proceed. Second, the vast majority of Phoenix area cities have a Designation of Assured Water Supply, and the new groundwater model does not directly impact growth in such cities,” she said. “Third, in time, new water supplies will be developed to serve additional growth.”
Hobbs said during her news conference the model only applies to groundwater, not surface water supplies. “Model shows our water future is secure, assured water supply program is working,” the governor said.
The $40 million to help with water conservation will come from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The Arizona Department of Water Resources will manage the cash and develop grants and other financial support to preserve the state’s groundwater. “Families and businesses from around the world come to Arizona in part because they know we are serious about water management, and that we are the leader in safeguarding groundwater supplies,” said Hobbs. “My message to Arizonans is this: we are not out of water and we will not be running out of water because, as we have done so many times before, we will tackle the water challenges we face with integrity and transparency.”
Thursday’s news conference comes on the heels of the Phoenix City Council voting to leave 150,000 acre-feet of the Colorado River entitlement in Lake Mead over the next three years. It’s a water resource the city has used consistently in the past.
Colorado River usage
Water has been on the minds of state leaders for most of the year. Just last week, Arizona was one of three southwestern states to reach a historic agreement to cut millions of gallons of Colorado River water usage over the next four years. As Arizona’s Family previously reported, at least 3 million acre-feet of water needs to be cut through 2026. About half of that amount is slated to be cut by 2024. CNN reported that the four states that comprise the river’s Upper Basin, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, said they supported reviewing the plan.
Earlier this year, Arizona’s Family reported how the City of Phoenix has plans to build a new treatment plant to turn wastewater into drinking water as the state prepares to deal with the cuts. “Conserving water and using it efficiently is in our DNA, and we will continue our efforts to bolster Western water security,” said Mayor Gallego in a statement issued just hours after the vote. “We recognize that safeguarding the Colorado River is not just about protecting our city’s water supply but also about ensuring the future viability of the Southwest.”
According to the Arizona House Committee on Natural Resources, Energy & Water, the state has invested over $360 million of the state’s general fund dollars toward water security. “Never before in our state’s history has water been as important to our state’s economic prosperity and individual liberty as it is today,” said Committee Chair Rep. Gail Griffin (R-HD14).
Some of the investments highlighted by the Republican-controlled House include several infrastructure projects, statewide water cleaning, new irrigation systems, rural water studies, and PFAS mitigation.
The Associated Press contributed to this story through previous coverage.
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