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Hobbs reveals West Valley current water supply cannot support planned development

Posted at 10:21 PM, Jan 09, 2023

Every new home built by a developer in Arizona must be able to show that it has 100 years of assured water supply.

On Monday, in her State of the State address, Governor Katie Hobbs revealed a large area of the far West Valley is far short of that requirement and accused former Governor Doug Ducey's administration of keeping the information secret from the public.

The area is the Hassayampa sub-basin which sits underneath much of the Buckeye city planning area about 50 miles west of Phoenix.

It's also where the city gets all of its water.

A study conducted by the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) released on Monday concluded that the sub-basin is 4.4 million-acre feet short of water for future development.

For context, a one-acre foot provides a year of water for three families.

Kathleen Ferris of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University told ABC15 the report confirmed something she has long suspected and worked to convince stakeholders to act on.

"There is not enough, not nearly enough groundwater in the Hassayampa sub-basin to support the massive level of homebuilding that people want to go on there," she said.

Ferris, one of the architects of Arizona's 1980 Groundwater Management Act, has been sounding the alarm over the past several years about the growth and groundwater in the Buckeye area.

She said she is happy the information is being brought to light.

"I am thrilled that Governor Hobbs has recognized right out of the box, the need to really be transparent on groundwater issues. And this Hassayampa sub-basin model report needed to be released," Ferris said.

But during her State of the State address, Hobbs said former Governor Ducey's office instructed ADWR to keep the report under wraps from the public.

"I do not understand, and do not in any way agree with, my predecessor choosing to keep this report from the public and from members of this legislature. However, my decision to release this report signals how I plan to tackle our water issues openly and directly," Gov. Hobbs said.

In a press conference after the address, Hobbs speculated as to why the report had not been made public.

"There are a lot of developers who don’t want that information to come out because it will affect the projects that are in the pipeline," she told reporters.

ADWR Director Tom Buschatzke who served under Ducey and will continue the role under Hobbs, told ABC15 the department was "directed to work with the stakeholders to try to find solutions, and to release the report, essentially at that point in time when a solution set was available to us, but we didn't get there before the end of the Ducey administration."

Now he says the department is following the directive of Gov. Hobbs who he said, "wants to expand the conversations on those potential solutions to a broader group of constituents, legislators, the business community, the development community, all the stakeholders in Arizona that are involved with looking at a resilient, sustainable water future for the state."

Regardless of the timing of the release of the report, the director said as it stands now "few 1000s of homes" will have the water supply certification to be built, "but new approvals will not be forthcoming until those solutions arrive. Those solutions need to include things like new water supplies, new water supplies from outside the active management areas."

A task he says will be difficult, but not impossible.

"It will certainly cost money. But...money itself isn't going to solve the problem. You've got to find the water supplies, you have to move them to the right place in the right time," Buschatzke said.

Annie DeChance, spokesperson for the City of Buckeye says, "since the report was just released yesterday (Monday), and is nearly 300 pages, we need time to review it before providing any input." DeChance added that "any current or new development underway has a guaranteed 100-year water supply. Buckeye remains committed to responsible and sustainable growth and working to ensure we have adequate water for new businesses and residents, while protecting our existing customers."

In October 2021 the Howard Hughes Corporation purchased 37,000 acres of desert west of Buckeye for $600 million. Originally called Douglas Ranch, Teravalis is a master planned community that could grow to 100,000 homes. Currently, HHC has secured 100-year assured water rights for 7,500 homes.

Heath Melton, the President of the Phoenix Region for the Howard Hughes Corporation said, “We support the governor’s initiative to proactively manage Arizona’s future water supply and will continue to be a collaborative partner with our elected officials, civic agencies, and community stakeholders to drive forward the most modern water management and conservation techniques and help ensure a prosperous and sustainable future for the West Valley, Arizona and the greater Southwest.”