ADWR tours state touting water law

It may be a while before Mohave County adopts the new water adequacy law created by the state Legislature.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources held a presentation Oct. 1 on the new law, which gives counties the authority to require developers to prove a 100-year water supply before gaining approval of their plans.

A handful of local government officials attended the presentation, including Board of Supervisor Chairman Pete Byers, Supervisor Tom Sockwell, Kingman City Council members Janet Watson and Tom Carter, along with a number of city and county water and public works employees.

The original Senate Bill 1575 became law on Sept. 19, said Tom Whitmer, manager of the Regional Water Resource Planning division. The law was the culmination of two years of work by ADWR and the State Water Advisory Group, a collection of 52 representatives from cities, counties, developers and lobbyists.

Two problems that came up repeatedly during the SWAG meetings were the lack of authority that local governments had over their water and the lack of funding for rural water projects, he said.

The bill is supposed to address both issues.

Once a county adopts the bill by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors, it will be able to gain more control over its water by requiring developers to get a water adequacy report from ADWR in order to get approval for their projects.

Paying for it

Counties will also gain access to a special fund set aside for rural water projects once they adopt the bill, Whitmer said. If they don't adopt the bill, they don't get access to the fund. Currently, there is no money in the fund. The Arizona State Legislature is working on finding money to put in the fund.

If a county adopts the law, all the municipalities in the county must adopt it, he said.

Each time a developer applies for a water adequacy report from ADWR, public notice of the application has to be reported in the local paper and a hearing must be held.

Residents have 15 days from the posting to object to the application.

One on board

So far only one county, Cochise, has adopted the new law. Whitmer said Cochise adopted the law because of Fort Huachuca. The federal government has ordered Cochise to prove an adequate water supply for the fort or it will be closed by 2011.

More counties haven't adopted the bill because there are still some bugs to work out, according to Whitmer and ADWR Phoenix Water Resource Manager Scott Miller.

The biggest stumbling block, Whitmer said, is that there is no definitive set of rules and definitions in the law. Miller said the process a developer has to go through to gain an adequate water ruling from ADWR will not change. The only thing that will change is if a county requires the developer to have a water ruling or not.

Five rules

In order to get a water adequacy ruling, a developer must prove five things.

• First, they must prove there is adequate water for 100 years. This means that the depth of water in an aquifer must not exceed 1,200 feet after 100 years of pumping water.

The problem is that some aquifers are very deep and some are very shallow. Some aquifers are so shallow that they don't make the 1,200-foot mark.

ADWR doesn't currently take this into account when it determines water adequacy.

• The second criteria is that the developer must prove that they have legal access to the water. They either must own access to the water or have a contract or agreement to have access to the water.

• Third, developers must prove that their project will have a continuous supply of water for 100 years.

• Fourth, the developer must prove they have the financial ability to install the infrastructure to supply water to the project. A final plat must be submitted to ADWR showing access to water for each lot.

• Finally, the developer must show that the water is of good quality.

Should a developer miss any one of the five criteria, the development will not receive a water adequacy rating. This doesn't matter much right now, Miller said. Developers can still get their plans approved by the different counties and cities and start building with an inadequate water supply rating. However, before any homes can be sold, the developer must reveal to the first buyer that there is an inadequate water supply.

That will change if a county adopts the law. Once a county adopts the law, the Arizona Department of Real Estate cannot issue a public report to a developer in the county unless he can show a water adequacy report from ADWR.

Local reaction

Local resident Denise Bensusan asked if the new law put any limits on the amount of water a developer could take from an aquifer.

Miller said it did not. ADWR first checks to see if there is a demand for the number of homes or other sites the developer proposes in his project. If there is a demand, then ADWR looks at what is currently drawn out of the aquifer by surrounding businesses and homes. If there is enough to support the new development, the developer's request is approved.

"It's a first-come, first-served basis," Miller said.

Resident Susan Bayer asked what would happen if the board could not reach a unanimous vote on adopting the law. Whitmer said that cites and towns in the county would then be able to adopt the law to their specific areas.

All or none

Supervisor Tom Sockwell said he didn't like that the board had to approve the adoption unanimously. "Unanimous voting is minority controlled," he said.

Both Byers and Sockwell agreed that it would be in the county's best interest to wait until ADWR finished creating the rules and defining the requirements before placing the issue on the Board's agenda.

Whitmer said ADWR hoped to have the rules and definitions for the new law finished by the end of October or November.