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Water supply in Arizona threatened by new suburban developments

This March 26, 2019 photo shows the water level of the Colorado River, as seen from the Hoover Dam, Ariz. For the seven states that rely on the Colorado River that carries snowmelt from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of California, that means a future with increasingly less water for farms and cities although climate scientists say it's hard to predict how much less. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

TUCSON, Ariz. — A new report by an Arizona State University think tank says it’s questionable whether Arizona can find enough water to replenish aquifers for pumping to new homes in fast-growing suburban areas without access to Colorado River water.

The Kyl Center for Water Policy report also suggests that the state revamp a landmark 1980 setting current policy on groundwater management, the Arizona Daily Star reports.

The report warns that some suburbs of Tucson and Phoenix will struggle to find enough water to keep growing without damaging underground aquifers by overpumping groundwater.

According to the report, the result could be land subsidence, including ground fissures, lower water quality and even the possibility of wells drying up.

And it said there’s a prospect of further hiked water rates for homeowners and financial problems for a three-county agency responsible for finding renewable water supplies for development in suburban areas and in Pinal County located between the two metro areas.

The report suggests that the landmark 1980 Groundwater Management Act is environmentally unsustainable and requires an overhaul.

Under the law, new homes can be built in the three counties only if renewable supplies can be found to compensate for the water pumped to serve them.

“Failure to find solutions to these problems could have devastating consequences down the road. Taking action to address them is the only way to protect Arizona’s water supplies for its current and future citizens,” the report said.

While the replenishment district contends there’s plenty of water potentially available for future development, the report says the availability is questionable.

Environmentalists and others contend the district’s practices have encouraged unsustainable urban sprawl, but report co-author Kathleen Ferris said the district isn’t to blame because it has followed state law.

“The problem is that the statutes are too lenient,” said Ferris, a former state Department of Water Resources director.

The district declined to comment on the report but said in a statement that it has fulfilled its legal duties effectively, “demonstrating fiscal responsibility while securing a robust water supply portfolio that will be available through the mid-2030s.”

University of Arizona law professor Robert Glennon, who has written two books about water supply issues, said the new report’s authors, “convincingly demonstrate that it’s a broken system that will cause great economic and personal hardship if the Legislature and DWR don’t act to implement their recommendations.”

Southern Arizona Home Builders Association President David Godlewski said the groundwater replenishment district and Arizona’s economy are undeniably linked and that, “everything in our power must be done, including acquisitions of additional water resources, to protect and enhance it.”

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