Arizona Implements Construction Restrictions due to Drought and Water Overuse

by Andrew Wright
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Construction restrictions

Governor Announces Limitations on Housing Construction in Fast-Growing Areas

In a news conference held on Thursday, Governor Katie Hobbs of Arizona unveiled new restrictions on housing construction in the rapidly expanding outskirts of metro Phoenix. These limitations primarily target areas that rely on groundwater, which has been overused for years, exacerbating the impact of a prolonged drought that has depleted the region’s water supply. The implementation of these restrictions could have significant implications for some of the fastest-growing regions within the fifth-largest city in the United States.

Alternative Water Sources Required for New Construction

Under the new restrictions, developers are still allowed to build in the affected areas; however, they must identify alternative water sources to meet their construction needs. These alternatives could include utilizing surface water or recycled water. The decision to impose these requirements stems from a projection indicating that, without further action, the demand for nearly 4.9 million acre-feet of groundwater in metro Phoenix would go unmet over the next century. It is worth noting that an acre-foot of water is roughly sufficient to meet the annual needs of two to three U.S. households.

Assurances for Existing Homeowners and Unbuilt Homes

Governor Hobbs emphasized that existing homeowners with assured water supplies would not be impacted by these measures. Furthermore, approximately 80,000 unbuilt homes will proceed with construction as they have already obtained assured water supply certificates within the Phoenix Active Management Area, a designated region responsible for regulating groundwater usage.

Drought and Climate Change Heighten Water Concerns

Years of drought exacerbated by climate change have intensified the pressure on Western states to conserve water resources. While attention has largely focused on the dwindling Colorado River, a vital water source for Arizona and several other Western states, the impact of the drought extends beyond this river alone. Phoenix, as a major city, depends on imported Colorado River water, as well as water from in-state sources such as the Salt and Verde rivers. Groundwater and recycled wastewater contribute a smaller portion to the city’s water supply. The scarcity of water resulting from the drought has underscored the importance of groundwater, which is stored in underground aquifers and takes a considerable amount of time to replenish.

Strengthening Groundwater Protections

Under a 1980 state law aimed at safeguarding aquifers, cities in Arizona, including Phoenix and Tucson, face restrictions on groundwater pumping. However, rural areas have had fewer limitations on its usage. Recognizing the need to protect the state’s groundwater supplies, Governor Hobbs and other officials have recently pledged to take additional measures in this regard.

Impact on Developers and Future Development

Developers in rapidly growing Phoenix suburbs like Queen Creek and Buckeye have relied on unallocated groundwater to demonstrate adequate water supplies for the next century—a requirement imposed by Arizona for building permits in certain areas. However, the new restrictions now eliminate this option. Consequently, developers will face the decision of whether to continue purchasing relatively inexpensive land and develop new water sources or invest in costlier land without the constraints of designated cities.

Note: This information was reported by Naishadham from Washington, D.C.

Q: Why has Arizona implemented construction restrictions in certain parts of Phoenix?

A: Arizona has implemented construction restrictions in specific areas of Phoenix due to the combination of overuse of groundwater and a prolonged drought. The aim is to address the depletion of water resources and ensure a sustainable water supply for the future.

Q: Can developers still build in the affected areas?

A: Yes, developers are still permitted to build in the affected areas; however, they must find alternative water sources instead of relying solely on groundwater. Examples of alternative water sources include surface water or recycled water.

Q: Will existing homeowners be affected by these construction restrictions?

A: No, existing homeowners with assured water supplies will not be impacted by the construction restrictions. The restrictions primarily apply to new housing construction in fast-growing areas that rely on groundwater.

Q: How many acre-feet of groundwater demand is projected for metro Phoenix over the next 100 years?

A: The projection indicates that metro Phoenix will have a demand for almost 4.9 million acre-feet of groundwater over the next century. The implementation of the construction restrictions aims to address this demand and ensure it can be met sustainably.

Q: Is Arizona running out of water?

A: According to Governor Katie Hobbs, Arizona is not running out of water. The state’s decision to implement construction restrictions is a proactive measure to manage water resources more sustainably and ensure a reliable water supply for the future.

Q: How has the drought and climate change affected water concerns in the Western states?

A: The drought exacerbated by climate change has intensified water concerns in the Western states. This includes Arizona, which heavily relies on water sources like the Colorado River. Reductions in the Colorado River’s water supply, along with the impact on other water sources, have prompted the need for water conservation measures and sustainable management practices.

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