Developers want water policy changes in response to construction limits on metro Phoenix’s fringes

Dec 22, 2023, 5:30 PM | Updated: 5:43 pm

Developers want to built on lands without adequate water supplies...

Arizona receives 2.8 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River, pictured above, every year. (Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

(Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

PHOENIX — Developers plan to seek changes to Arizona’s decades-old laws restricting construction in areas without adequate water supplies after the state said this summer that it won’t issue permits for new subdivisions in some areas on metro Phoenix’s fringes.

Capitol Media Services reported that the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona wants lawmakers to remove what it calls a “moratorium on home buildings in the most affordable parts” of metro Phoenix, saying the move is leading to escalating home prices.

Spencer Kamps, the group’s executive director, said provisions of the state’s 1980 Groundwater Act and related laws don’t recognize what homebuilders have been doing to ensure their new developments don’t have a net negative effect on the supply of water.

Kamps called for “sensible modifications” to remove hurdles, though he declined to detail what changes his group wants.

Any change in laws would need the approval of Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs, whose office disputed that she enacted a moratorium and instead insisted she was following the 1980 law when the state announced the restrictions in June.

The state had concluded areas around Buckeye and Queen Creek don’t have the 100-year assured water supply required under the 1980 law to allow new subdivisions

Why areas without adequate water supplies pose a hurdle for developers

Hobbs spokesperson Christian Slater said the governor is working with business leaders and “responsible homebuilders” to find a sustainable and long-term solution that protects the water supply while making housing more affordable. But Slater said there are limits.

“She will not sacrifice Arizona’s sustainable future growth,” Slater said.

The issue of what’s required in water supply to build new homes affects only certain areas of the state – those inside “active management areas” where there are limits on groundwater use but outside the service areas of cities that have their own assured supplies.

The Governor’s Water Policy Council is looking at whether new laws should be imposed statewide, especially as some rural areas that currently have no or few restrictions on groundwater pumping, leaving cities and some small farmers concerned their wells will run dry.

Despite the Hobbs administration’s policy change, development in the Phoenix metro area has continued.

That’s because all existing municipal water companies are currently presumed to have their own 100-year supply. So anyone seeking to build homes within that service territory is credited with having the amount of water required and can start construction.

And even Hobbs said that in and around Buckeye and Queen Creek, not served by municipal water companies, nothing in the policy change had affected 80,000 lots where the state already has provided the required certificate of assured water supply.

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Developers want water policy changes in response to construction limits on metro Phoenix’s fringes