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Wed, Oct. 16

Proposal would nullify 100-year water supply requirement

PHOENIX - State lawmakers are balking at a proposal to let cities approve new subdivisions despite the lack of an assured water supply.

Rep. Brenda Barton, R-Payson, told House colleagues the Senate-approved measure would simply provide options for cities in Cochise and Yuma counties to make their own decisions about whether there is sufficient water. She even offered some concessions to require the cities to implement water-saving measures, ranging from xeriscaping along roads to requirements for low water use toilets.

But Barton had to yank SB 1268 bill from consideration Thursday amid bipartisan opposition from those who said it would set a bad precedent and ultimately undermine the historic 1980 Groundwater Act designed to ensure that there is enough water to meet long-term needs.

Whether she will try again remains to be seen.

Arizona law has strict requirements for new construction in each of the state’s five “active management areas.”

For the Phoenix, Prescott and Tucson areas, the goal is “safe yield” by 2025, when the amount of groundwater withdrawn is no more than what replaces it. Pinal and Santa Cruz have other goals.

Outside those areas, developers are required to get a determination from the Department of Waster Resources whether there is a 100-year assured water supply.

But the lack of that does not prevent them from building. The only requirement is that they disclose any potential inadequate supply to the initial buyers. That option, however, is not open to developers in counties where the supervisors have voted to mandate a showing of a 100-year supply, something Cochise and Yuma counties have opted to do.

Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, introduced SB 1268 after a judge ruled that the developers of the proposed 7,000-home Tribute subdivision in Sierra Vista could not prove that 100-year supply, at least in part because of claims over the San Pedro River. But that ruling could have broader implications for the long-term growth of the city.

Griffin’s legislation would allow the city to opt out of the county requirement.

Barton, who is carrying the bill for Griffin in the House, told colleagues there is no reason for developers to have to do more than file the report with the Department of Water Resources. And she said cities are in the best position to know what works for their own areas.

The idea, however, provoked a firestorm of objections.

“In Arizona, the biggest issue we have is water,” said Rep. Rusty Bowers, R-Mesa. He detailed the various efforts already undertaken to ensure the state has enough water for future growth beyond the 1980 law, from communities treating brackish water to the construction of the Central Arizona Project to bring Colorado River water to the state’s interior, a project on which the state still owes $1 billion.

And Bowers rejected the suggestion this is only a small exception to the 1980 law.

“This could set a precedent that other cities that are looking for commercial support, that want to have a strong, viable economic base that may be tempted to put their water supply at risk,” he said, approving new developments for short-term financial gain without the assurances that the water will be there to sustain not only the new homes but the ones already there.

Rep. Ken Clark, D-Phoenix, said that requirement for a 100-year water supply “should be held sacrosanct.” He was not impressed by Barton’s willingness to add water-conservation requirements to the measure.

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