Arizona measure that would speed conversion of thirsty farms to subdivisions is a ‘win-win’ all around, says Rose Law Group Water Law Department Chair David Johnson, who represents private developers and farmers on water issues

By Tony Davis | Arizona Daily Star

Arizona officials often boast that total water use statewide hasn’t grown since the late 1950s, partly because many farms have been gobbled up by developers to build less thirsty subdivisions.

Now, a hotly debated bill moving through the Legislature would accelerate the transfer of a farm’s water rights to new subdivisions. The bill would overturn the impact of existing state bans on using groundwater for new subdivisions in the Phoenix area and Pinal County — if they’re built on farmland.

The proposal is part of a broad package of water legislation that cleared the Senate on Wednesday and is headed to the House to consider in early June. It’s one of the most sweeping packages of water proposals before the Legislature in several decades.

Advocates say the farm-to-urban measure would be a “game-changer” to enhance Arizona’s water conservation practices, in line with the 1980 Groundwater Management Act. Critics say the promises of savings could well be illusory and that the bill would undercut that landmark law.


“Absolutely agree that this bill would be a game changer in helping to address the existing construction halt in Phoenix and Pinal counties. Many of the areas subject to the halts are heavily agricultural which frequently use three times as much water as domestic uses. Allowing farms to transition to non-agricultural uses would lessen the burden on the aquifer.’

‘Criticism of the bill that the savings are “illusory” neglects to mention that the farms that could be replaced following passage of the bill are themselves permanent pumpers of finite groundwater supplies and unless there are economic or other reasons to transition, and a practical way to do so, there is no reason to suggest that those farms would stop pumping at any point in the future. Win-win for developers, farms, the aquifer, and water management.”
-Rose Law Group Water Law Department Chair David Johnson

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May 2024