Exchange: The problem of water supply in Casa Grande takes a new turn | National government and new policies

PHOENIX (AP) — Nearly a year after the Arizona Department of Water Resources announced it would not approve new certificates of supply for groundwater use in the active management area de Pinal, local groups are pushing back against the agency’s findings, and developers have found a way to continue building homes without the need for certificates.

A report submitted on behalf of a group of stakeholders in the Pinal region argues that the ADWR should revise the model it used for a study that found demand for water will exceed supply by millions of acre-feet over the next 100 years, the Arizona Capitol Times reported.

Meanwhile, developers began to build homes for rent rather than sale, eliminating the need for an ADWR Assured Water Supply Certificate. In Casa Grande alone, about 700 building units for rent received final permits in recent months, something the city rarely saw before the ADWR’s decision to scrap new certificates of supply.

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It shows how a cut in assured water supply certificates does not necessarily lead to a change in development patterns – at least not immediately.

In June, ADWR officials said the department would stop granting Certificates of Assured Water Supply in the Pinal Active Management Area to applicants who want to use groundwater. “Solutions include importing non-groundwater and direct delivery. …Those wishing to expand into the Pinal Model area will need to bring their own non-groundwater supplies,” said Clint Chandler, Deputy Director of ADWR.

The move was not designed to immediately stifle new groundwater-based development in the area – tens of thousands of lots already had ADWR certificates for construction that remained valid. Still, it was a sign that the usual development was no longer viable.

The Pinal AMA encompasses approximately 4,000 square miles in central Arizona between the Phoenix and Tucson AMAs, significantly overlapping Pinal County. A shake-up in the local development industry would mean big changes for the region’s economy. Pinal is one of the fastest growing counties in the state, attracting workers commuting to metro Phoenix, baby boomers moving into new retirement communities and the workforce local work that fuels a growing manufacturing sector that now includes companies like electric vehicle maker Lucid Motors.

Since last summer’s ADWR report, a stakeholder group led by Pinal County Supervisor Stephen Miller has commissioned its own study that challenges the ADWR’s findings and encourages the department to change assumptions. underlying its water consumption model.

The authors of the report, dated April 4, specify that they have developed a model that “simulates (s) conditions representing more faithfully the hydrological conditions and the management practices of the water suppliers within the AMA of Pinal”. And the new model detects no unmet water demand, implying that the ADWR may still be able to grant more certificates of assured water supply after all.

Tom Buschatzke, director of the ADWR, expressed some skepticism about the outside study, noting that it did not take into account issues such as the maximum depth of the well, but said it would take the department several months to review the submission.

“We really need to look at the weeds and look at whether what they’ve done complies with both the engineering modeling requirements, but more importantly the rules and statutes related to assured water supply,” did he declare.

Miller himself said the developers won’t just pump groundwater. Eventually, he said, they will provide water for new commercial and residential construction through more expensive methods like recharging sewage, buying desalinated seawater or buying rights. water to Native American tribes.

But for now, a shift towards built-for-rental developments allows homebuilders to continue pumping wells and avoiding Assured Water Supply certificate requirements entirely.

A new certificate is required when a lot is divided into six or more lots, which is what developers need to do to sell individual properties in a typical residential development that includes dozens or hundreds of new homes. But if the same residential development is instead reserved for rental, there is no subdivision and therefore no need for new certificates.

Casa Grande, which along with Maricopa is one of the two largest towns in Pinal County, has more than 4,500 new rental units on offer in 20 developments currently in the permitting process; three developments with a combined total of approximately 700 units have obtained final approval to build.

Joe Horn, a Casa Grande town planner, said there wasn’t much demand for rental development before the ADWR was announced – all rental development proposals were submitted in the past six months. last months.

“It’s basically a cop-out from that because you can put 300 units on a lot when you’re doing multi-family/rental construction,” Horn said.

The city still has a pipeline for built-to-sell projects — another dozen projects totaling about 2,000 units are in that permitting process.

Miller said the shift to rental development is a trend happening across the county, though he predicts state lawmakers could act next year to limit developers’ ability to avoid certificate requirements. water supply ensured by building rental properties. “These guys (developers) are just going faster than the Legislative Assembly,” he said.

Buschatzke, for his part, challenged the idea that the build-to-let strategy bends the rules. “The legal framework has been put in place to regulate specific activities. I do not, legally, consider activities that fall outside of this framework as circumventing the law or as a loophole,” he said.

Horn said it was a dilemma for local planners like himself. “There are certainly concerns for the water supply and what the future may hold,” he said. But, he added, the area is growing: “We’ve created a lot of jobs, and that usually brings in a lot more residents, and so it’s a way of meeting the demand we’re seeing for housing. .”

For residents and builders outside Pinal, the choices facing the municipalities of Pinal could be a taste of what awaits them.

“What is happening in Pinal’s AMA is a harbinger for other AMAs,” researchers from Arizona State University wrote in a May 2021 report. They specifically pointed to problems with the AMA of Phoenix that could cause groundwater supply problems in the future.

This is something Buschatzke agreed with.

“Sooner or later we will touch the situation in Pinal in all areas of active management,” he said. “So it’s going to be somewhere else and hopefully people from other AMAs have been paying attention.”

Miller said there are no easy answers to the trade-offs his community faces between taking actions that enable additional growth and actions that will ensure future water availability.

“How do you justify this balance? How do you achieve this balance? It’s difficult,” he said.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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