By Christopher Flavelle, Jack Healy | New York Times
Arizona has determined that there is not enough groundwater for all of the future housing construction that has already been approved in the Phoenix area, and will stop developers from building some new subdivisions, a sign of looming trouble in the West and other places where overuse, drought and climate change are straining water supplies.
The decision by state officials marks the beginning of the end to the explosive development that has made the Phoenix metropolitan region the fastest growing in the country.
Maricopa County, which includes Phoenix and its suburbs, gets more than half its water supply from groundwater; most of the rest comes from rivers and aqueducts as well as recycled wastewater. In practical terms, groundwater is a finite resource; it can take thousands of years or longer to be replenished.
The announcement of a groundwater shortage — what the state calls “unmet demand” for water over the next hundred years — means Arizona would no longer give developers in areas of Maricopa County new permits to construct homes that rely on wells for water.
Phoenix and nearby large cities, which must obtain separate permission from state officials for their development plans every 10 to 15 years, would also be denied approval for any homes that rely on groundwater beyond what the state has already authorized.
The decision means cities and developers must look for alternative sources of water to support future development — for example, by trying to buy access to river water from farmers or Native American tribes, many of whom are facing their own shortages. That rush to buy water is likely to rattle the real estate market in Arizona, making homes more expensive and threatening the relatively low housing costs that had made the region a magnet for people from across the country.
“It’s important to remember this does not affect industrial development and there are still hundreds of thousands of lots in central Arizona that can be developed without any water challenges. We have enough supply for some time, until we solve this problem for good through technological advance.” – Jordan Rose, Rose Law Group founder and president