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Arizona Drought Pushes Phoenix to Hit Pause on Construction Projects

If developers can't prove that they can provide water for years into the future, their subdivisions are on hold.

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A construction worker continues building at a large housing development, April 21, 2020, in Phoenix.
A construction worker continues building at a large housing development, April 21, 2020, in Phoenix.
Photo: Ross D. Franklin (AP)

Arizona officials may not be able to approve new construction in some of the fastest-growing parts of the Phoenix metropolitan area that rely on groundwater in response to dwindling supply. the Associated Press reported.

The Associated Press reports that Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs made the announcement this Thursday in response to a new report from the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR). The new report outlined how the groundwater supply in Arizona is going to continue declining without further intervention. Demand for almost 4.9 million acre-feet of groundwater could be unmet in the Phoenix area over the next 100 years. It’s a significant amount because a single acre-foot of water is enough water for about two U.S. households in a year, according to the ADWR.


About 80,000 unbuilt homes on sites that have a “Certificate of Assured Water Supply,” which is used by the state’s water agency to regulate water, will not be paused. Those sites have proven that they can provide water well into the future. “This pause will not affect growth within any of our major cities where robust water portfolios have been proven to cover current and future demands,” Hobbs said this week, according to AZFamily.

However developers in proposed subdivisions that have not yet attained a certificate, cannot rely on groundwater as a water source to obtain one, AZFamily reported. Construction can still occur in the affected areas if developers find alternative sources of water, like surface water or recycled water, the Associated Press reported. Officials wanted to emphasize that these construction pausing measures are necessary, but not an emergency. “We are not out of water and we will not be running out of water because, as we have done so many times before, we will tackle the water challenges we face with integrity and transparency,” Governor Hobbs tweeted on Thursday.


Officials are addressing groundwater in Phoenix because it is a finite resource and could take thousands of years to replenish in underground aquifers, the New York Times reported. Developers in the state have relied on groundwater access for building projects in the past because it has been cheaper and easier for them, Nicole Klobas, chief counsel for the ADWR, told the Associated Press.

The drought situation out in the Southwest, including in Arizona, is much improved compared to how dry the area was this time last year. Currently, most of Arizona is not experiencing any drought at all, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. Last May, the state was seeing moderate to extreme drought conditions. But the depletion of groundwater in the state comes after years of overuse, a quickly growing metropolitan area, and several years of drought.

Arizona has other sources of water, but they’re strained too. The Colorado River, which provides water to Arizona and other surrounding states, is still drought-stricken even though conditions aren’t as dry as last year. Last month, officials in Arizona, California, and Nevada proposed a plan to significantly reduce water usage from the river through the end of 2026, CBS News reported. Arizona was the state to forgo the largest portion of water allotment from the Colorado River. This week, Governor Hobbs also announced a $40 million investment to further help the state with water conservation.

Want more climate and environment stories? Check out Earther’s guides to decarbonizing your home, divesting from fossil fuels, packing a disaster go bag, and overcoming climate dread. And don’t miss our coverage of the latest IPCC climate report, the future of carbon dioxide removal, and the un-greenwashed facts on bioplastics and plastic recycling.