Republican bill allows developers to challenge AZ's water determinations

Published: Wednesday, March 27, 2024 - 3:18pm

The Arizona Legislature passed a bill that would allow people to challenge models used by the Arizona Department of Water Resources to determine whether new developments can be built. 

Arizona law requires that most new developments in the state’s five Active Management Areas — areas where “significant groundwater depletion has occurred” — must prove they have a 100-year supply of water before construction can begin.

House Bill 2019, which passed out of the Arizona Senate along party lines on Wednesday, would require the Department of Water Resources to allow the public to inspect groundwater modeling the department uses to make that determination. And it would require the department’s director to create a new process for a person to challenge that model.

Rep. Gail Griffin (R-Hereford), who sponsored the bill, was critical of a groundwater model for the Phoenix area released last year that led to a pause on development in places like Buckeye.  

Griffin said the bill was designed to give property owners an avenue to challenge those models if their project is derailed by a new report.

“They’ve done everything and they’re waiting on their certificate, and they're stalled and stalled and stalled, and then the rug is pulled out from under them,” Griffin told a legislative committee earlier this year. 

But Democrats said the bill would politicize decisions that should be left up to water experts. 

“We need to keep our scientists and our experts insulated from that kind of politicization,” Sen. Priya Sundareshan (D-Tucson) said.

Ben Alteneder with the Department of Water Resources told Griffin’s committee in January that the department had some concerns with the bill.

“The model or any released information from our hydrology division is already available online for public review, public inspection,” he said.

Alteneder said applicants can already dispute the department’s findings. That dispute would be resolved through an administrative review process and could also be challenged in court.

“That really prevents an individual from making a dispute that will affect all users in the AMA; it just addresses their specific concern with their application,” he said.  

The bill, which passed the Arizona House of Representatives in January with only Republican votes, will now go before Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs. 

A spokesman for Hobbs declined to comment on whether she plans to sign the bill.

“Don’t have anything to share at the moment, but of course she’ll take action in the coming days,” spokesman Christian Slater said.

The Legislature had not officially sent the bill to Hobbs’ desk as of Wednesday afternoon. Once that happens, she will have five days to either sign or veto the bill. If she does not act within that time frame, it will become law without her signature. 

Politics Water