Arizona has decided to stop building new homes in the fast-growing areas of metro Phoenix, which rely on groundwater. This is due to a decade-long drought and years of excessive use of water.
At a press conference held on Thursday, Gov. Katie Hobbs announced restrictions that may affect some of the fastest growing suburbs in the fifth largest city of the United States.
Officials stated that developers can still build in affected areas, but will need to find alternate water sources such as surface water or recycled water.
Hobbs explained that the decision was driven by a projection showing that the demand for groundwater in the metro Phoenix area would not be met without additional action over the next century. A acre-foot is enough water to supply two or three U.S. homes per year.
The governor insisted that the state does not run out of water despite the decision. Hobbs stated that “nobody with water will lose it.”
Officials have said that the change will not affect homeowners who already receive water from a reliable source.
Hobbs said that 80,000 homes are still unbuilt but will be able move forward as they have already been granted a certificate of assured water supply within the Phoenix Active Management Area. This designation is used to regulate groundwater.
Climate change and years of drought in Western countries have increased pressure on Western states to reduce water use. The Colorado River has been the main focus of attention, as it is a major water source for Arizona and other Western states. Arizona’s water supply has been reduced twice in the last two years from the 1,450 mile powerhouse of the West.
Phoenix uses imported Colorado River water as well as water from the Salt and Verde rivers in Arizona. The city gets a small portion of its water from recycled wastewater and groundwater.
Groundwater, which is stored in underground aquifers and can take years to replenish, has become even more important due to the drought.
A 1980 Arizona state law that aims to protect the aquifers of the state limits how much water can be pumped by Phoenix, Tucson, and other Arizona cities. In rural areas there are fewer restrictions on the use of groundwater.
Hobbs, along with other state officials, recently pledged to protect Arizona’s groundwater resources.
Developers in Phoenix suburbs Queen Creek and Buckeye have used unallocated water to demonstrate that they will be able to meet the Arizona requirements for building permits for 100 years.
“Developers depend on groundwater, because it is cheaper, easier, and allows them to move much faster through the process,” said Nicole Klobas.
This is not possible under the new restrictions.
Kathryn Sorenson is the director of research for the Kyl Center for Water Policy, Arizona State University.
Sorenson explained that the rule would primarily affect cities and towns outside Phoenix, and the larger cities of the metro area. Developers will have to decide whether to purchase cheap land and pay for a new water supply or to purchase land which is more expensive and without the boundaries of designated cities.