September 2013, Issue 75: Editor’s Notes

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For Pinal County, a pause in growth gave planners a rare opportunity to evaluate water supplies and prepare for the future.

Water management in many areas of Arizona is often complicated by rapid growth, diverse landowner interests, and overlapping regulatory jurisdictions. These challenges are readily apparent in Pinal County, where the population doubled in each of the last two decades, and where, by 2010, about 500,000 lots were entitled — in other words, zoned, but not yet built[1].

In the last few years, the recession has nearly halted development activity in Pinal County, giving planners an opportunity to evaluate options for supporting growth with limited water supplies. In 2010–2011, the Board of Supervisors convened a 10-member Task Force consisting of various landowner interests. [Editor’s note: M&A was part of the team that led this effort.] The Task Force dug deep to compile data on water demand and supply. It concluded that the projected demand in Pinal County is approaching the available 100-year supply of groundwater and that additional supplies would be necessary to sustain growth as projected.

To help bridge the supply-demand gap, the Task Force identified several opportunities for obtaining renewable water supplies. Many of these are not unique to Pinal County; they include increasing the use of local surface water and effluent and securing more CAP water through new leases, reallocation, and tribal water settlements. However, many renewable supplies are intermittent and can only be part of an assured 100-year water supply if other “assets” are included in the portfolio to dampen long-term fluctuations. Consequently, the Task Force also identified extinguishment credits, long-term storage credits, exempt groundwater, and CAGRD membership — all of which are readily available at a defined market price.

Based on the Task Force’s recommendation, in 2012 the Board of Supervisors passed an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan and an ordinance that requires zoning applicants to identify a source of water to serve the proposed development; if the source is groundwater, they must also submit a basic hydrogeologic study.

According to Pinal County staff, applicants appear to be unfazed by the new requirement. In fact, a developer starting the zoning process today has likely already performed a preliminary water supply assessment because it is a critical part of project planning. Access to such an assessment gives the County important information without placing a significant burden on the applicant. The result is that both the local planners and the developers have more certainty that water supply issues will not interfere with a project’s success down the road.

1—Pinal County Water Element Task Force, 2010–2011, Westland Resources and Montgomery & Associates

Juliet M. McKenna, MS, PG