Jan 16, 2024 - News

Hobbs pitches water plan to resolve housing moratorium that hit Buckeye and Queen Creek

An aerial view of a canal running alongside housing subdivisions and vacant desert land.

New homes under construction in Buckeye last year. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Plans are in the works to renew certification for new housing that was halted over groundwater shortages in two of the Valley's fastest growing areas.

Catch up quick: Gov. Katie Hobbs last June announced a moratorium on new subdivisions in the Phoenix area that rely solely on groundwater, a policy that primarily affected the booming suburbs of Buckeye and Queen Creek.

  • Arizona's 1980 Groundwater Management Act requires subdivisions in several major population centers to show they have at least a 100-year water supply.
  • The announcement raised questions nationally about whether Arizona has enough water to support its population growth.

Driving the news: In her State of the State address on Jan. 8, Hobbs touted a program her administration has been working on called Alternative Designation of Assured Water Supply (ADAWS).

  • Cities or other entities with adequate water resources can be designated by the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) to provide the 100-year supply to new housing.
  • Avondale, Chandler, El Mirage, Gilbert, Glendale, Goodyear, Mesa, Peoria, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Surprise and Tempe have that designation, as do several utilities.
  • ADAWS, which originated last year with the Governor's Water Policy Council, would provide new options for cities that don't already have that designation if it's implemented.

Why it matters: Thousands of unbuilt homes in Buckeye and Queen Creek already have certificates, but there are thousands of other "stranded" projects without them, said Spencer Kamps, a lobbyist for the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona.

  • He said the lack of new water certificates makes it difficult to plan for and fund infrastructure spread among numerous subdivisions.
  • Arizona faces a massive housing shortage that's driving up prices and exacerbating its homelessness problem.

Of note: Queen Creek has 10,000 lots that already have 100-year certificates and are ready to build, while Buckeye has about a decade's worth of unbuilt single-family homes with certificates.

  • "This is looking more down the road," Queen Creek water and utility director Paul Gardner told Axios Phoenix regarding the impact ADAWS will have on housing in his town.
  • Buckeye spokesperson John O'Halloran said becoming a designated water provider has been a long-term goal and "allows the city to more effectively manage its water supplies and plan for a sustainable future."

Details: ADAWS will benefit both the municipalities that want to become designated providers and the Phoenix-area aquifer, ADWR director Tom Buschatzke said.

  • Entities that aren't designated providers have no requirement that they replenish groundwater pumped for non-housing purposes or from uses that predate the 1980 law.
  • But if they became designated providers, the towns would need to replenish some groundwater they pump for other purposes like rental housing, commercial and industrial uses.
  • It's a win-win situation, Buschatzke said, but not without a cost because municipalities will have to find other water supplies and build infrastructure.

Zoom in: Buckeye and Queen Creek are looking at a number of new water supplies to use for ADAWS, such as the Harquahala groundwater basin, a plan to expand Bartlett Dam, increased use of effluent water for outdoor use, treatment of currently unusable groundwater, and the purchase of water from tribes, private landowners and communities that aren't using their allocations of Colorado River water.

What's next: Hobbs and ADWR can implement ADAWS administratively, without legislative approval, and Buschatzke expects that process to be completed in September or October.

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