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Latest News in Buckeye, AZ

'All groundwater is spoken for': New West Valley construction can no longer rely on groundwater after release of new report

Recently released research shows there isn't any more groundwater new developments can claim in the West Valley. Here's what that means for the area's future growth.BUCKEYE, Ariz. — The middle of Arizona is turning grey.The brown desert landscape has been sprawling into a metropolitan expanse for decades, spreading outward in every direction from central Phoenix. The Valley welcomes a new resident every six minutes, and with them come new development.That spread may greatly slow or even stop in the West Valley afte...

Recently released research shows there isn't any more groundwater new developments can claim in the West Valley. Here's what that means for the area's future growth.

BUCKEYE, Ariz. — The middle of Arizona is turning grey.

The brown desert landscape has been sprawling into a metropolitan expanse for decades, spreading outward in every direction from central Phoenix. The Valley welcomes a new resident every six minutes, and with them come new development.

That spread may greatly slow or even stop in the West Valley after the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) released a new report on Monday.

All of the groundwater in the nearby Hassayampa sub-basin is spoken for, the report found. Any new home builders in the area who haven't already been approved will have to bring in their own source of water.

Developers looking to break ground in the area are now scrambling to conjure water in one of the driest places in the world.

As more people buy up portions of groundwater around the Valley, how much more grey growth can our groundwater reserves withstand?

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The report's release came after Gov. Katie Hobbs' State of the State address, when she claimed the "drastic announcement" was kept from the public by former Gov. Doug Ducey.

"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," Hobbs said during the State of the State. "However, my decision to release this report signals how I plan to tackle our water issues openly and directly."

The report found numerous alarming findings about the groundwater sub-basin's status over the next 100 years, including:

ADWR released the following in response to Hobbs' speech:

“ADWR previously worked with stakeholders in the West Valley that are subject to the Assured Water Supply program to seek solutions to the shortfall projected in the Hassayampa model. As Governor Hobbs signaled today in her State of the State speech, it is time to include legislators, the business community and all constituencies to address the challenges attendant to the Assured Water Supply program in the Hassayampa Basin and for all the water management challenges facing Arizona.”

Buckeye, a city that "relies almost entirely on groundwater," said it had not been made aware of the report's findings until they were released to the public on Monday.

"Since the ADWR report was just released and consists of nearly 300 report pages, plus various files, we are not able to provide any feedback at this time," a Buckeye representative said. "Once Buckeye has the opportunity to fully review the ADWR report, we will be able to respond and provide our input.

Records indicate that ADWR has at least partially known the report's findings since 2021, when the department told a West Valley retirement community there wasn't enough groundwater in the area for a planned expansion.

Sun City Festival, a "premier 55+ Active Adult community," was planning two expansions in north Buckeye in early 2021. Before it broke ground, the community had to prove its new expansions would have enough groundwater to last 100 years.

State law requires home builders to provide this century-long proof through an Assured Water Supply (AWS) certificate. The requirement only applies to residential subdivisions being built where groundwater is protected, called Active Management Areas.

If residential developers can't prove they have a 100-year-long water supply in these areas, they can't start building.

The retirement community sent two request letters to ADWR hoping to get that proof. Five months later, the department dashed the community's expansion dreams due to all of the Hassayampa's groundwater already being owned by other entities.

"The Department is finalizing a numeric groundwater flow model and model report for the Hassayampa sub-basin. Although the model and model report have not yet been finalized, the Department has information indicating that the proposed subdivision’s estimated groundwater demand for 100 years is likely not met," ADRW's response to Sun City Festival said.

12News reached out to Sun City Festival and its parent company, PulteGroup, multiple times for comment. They have not returned our request for comment as of the publication of this story.

The AWS program was created to push home growth toward renewable sources of water, like rivers or reclaimed water, rather than unsustainably draining the state's groundwater reserves.

It was also made to stop a very real problem in Arizona's history: Scammers selling people land that didn't have a water source.

"There was a period in the 70s in Arizona where there were swindlers who would sell land to people from the Midwest ... those people would get here and realize their land didn't have any water," said Kyl Center for Water Policy Director Sarah Porter.

This exploitation was so prevalent in Arizona that legislators feared it would become the national narrative of the Phoenix and Tucson areas. The AWS program, and the larger Groundwater Management Act of 1980, was legislators' attempt to stop that story from being written.

"Part of the reason for all of these rules is to ensure that never happens again," Porter said. "Growing on a finite supply of water is not a wise strategy."

That unwise strategy has been gaining popularity over the past few decades as builders have moved further westward from the Valley. The megadrought-fueled dry up of other water sources, including the Colorado River and local rivers, has only made groundwater more appealing to prospective builders.

Construction won't stop in the West Valley immediately. ADWR approved numerous AWS certificates for developments that may not be built for years.

But, now that groundwater in the area has been closed off to new construction, builders without the certificate must find a new water source for their developments.

That's harder than ever in Arizona's current climate, a fact Porter believes builders in the area have known.

It's been a year and a half since Sun City Festival was given the news about the lack of groundwater. Since then, teh community hasn't brought another source of water forward to ADWR, the department's database of pending AWS certificates shows.

"People who have been paying attention to this have been expecting an announcement. This shouldn't be a surprise to people in the West Valley," said Kyl Center for Water Policy Director Sarah Porter.

"All of the groundwater is spoken for. What really needs to happen is that people who want to develop need to bring in a new water supply."

FILE -This photo shows Colorado River water running through farmland on the Colorado River Indian Tribes reservation, Feb. 19, 2018 in Parker, Ariz. President Joe Biden has approved three bills that will improve access to water for three tribes in Arizona amid an unrelenting drought. One of the measures that Biden signed Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023 settles longstanding water rights claims for the Hualapai Tribe, whose reservation borders a 100-mile stretch of the Colorado River as it runs through the Grand Canyon. Hualapai will have the right to divert up to 3,414 acre-feet of water per year, along with the ability to lease it within Arizona. (AP Photo/Felicia Fonseca, File)

The AWS program was meant to specifically deter home builders from using groundwater.

The certificate, however, isn't required for other types of development, including build-to-rent communities.

"The standard only applies to for-sale housing," said Spencer Kamps, vice president of legislative affairs at the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona.

"[Other] developments can still mine groundwater and there are no assurances that the well they use will pump for 100 years, nor are there assurances that the well they're using would impact adjacent wells."

The loophole allowing build-to-rent homes to continue pumping groundwater will be a problem that cities like Buckeye, Palo Verde and Tonopah have to grapple with in the near future, the same kind of problem that Casa Grande is facing now.

ADWR announced a similar cut-off for Pinal County in 2021. Since then, there have been more than 700 built-to-rent units approved in Casa Grande alone.

The spike in build-to-rent developments shows that ADWR's cutoff won't change builders' habits immediately and the pumping of groundwater will continue, at least in the short term.

"We can't rely on groundwater forever," said Doug Maceachern, ADWR's communications administrator. "The days of relying exclusively on groundwater extraction are coming to an end."

Water levels are dwindling across the Southwest as the megadrought continues. Here's how Arizona and local communities are being affected.

Arizona says developers lack groundwater for big growth dreams in the desert west of Phoenix

A newly released state report on groundwater supplies under the desert west of Phoenix signals difficulty ahead for developers wishing to build hundreds of thousands of homes there.It also signals the start of an effort by Arizona’s new governor to shore up groundwater management statewide.Gov. Katie Hobbs released the modeling report Monday afternoon, and it shows that plans to add homes for more than 800,000 people west of the White Tank Mountains will require other water sources if they are to go forward...

A newly released state report on groundwater supplies under the desert west of Phoenix signals difficulty ahead for developers wishing to build hundreds of thousands of homes there.

It also signals the start of an effort by Arizona’s new governor to shore up groundwater management statewide.

Gov. Katie Hobbs released the modeling report Monday afternoon, and it shows that plans to add homes for more than 800,000 people west of the White Tank Mountains will require other water sources if they are to go forward.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources had developed the model showing inadequate water for much of the development envisioned as far-west suburbs, but had not released it during then-Gov. Doug Ducey’s term. Hobbs mentioned it during her State of the State address, along with other initiatives, including a new council dedicated to updating the state’s 1980 groundwater protection act for a new era of scarcity.

Hobbs also announced a new Governor’s Office of Resiliency, coordinating agencies, tribal governments and experts in finding land, water and energy solutions for the state.

“We must talk about the challenge of our time: Arizona’s decades-long drought, over-usage of the Colorado River, and the combined ramifications on our water supply, our forests, and our communities,” the governor said.

In the case of development on the western edges of the urban area, the information her team released makes clear that developers who own desert expanses largely in Buckeye’s planning area north of Interstate 10 and west and north of the White Tank Mountains will need more water to make their visions come true.

The report, called the Lower Hassayampa Sub-basin Groundwater Model, finds that projected growth would more than double groundwater use and put it out of balance by 15%. The state’s groundwater law requires developers in the Phoenix area to get state certificates of assured water supplies extending out 100 years before they can build.

Arizona Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke on Monday said he would not issue new certificates for the area unless developers find secure water sources in addition to the local groundwater.

New homes will need new water sources

Some of the Buckeye subdivisions in the area already have certifications for homes that Buschatzke estimated number in the thousands, and that will combine to add 50,000 acre-feet of demand in a basin that already uses 123,000 acre-feet. The aquifer apparently can bear that amount, but not the 100,000 acre-foot demand that department analysts have attributed to hundreds of thousands more homes envisioned for the zone.

The Howard Hughes Corp. is a major player in the area, with 100,000 homes planned on 37,000 acres in the Teravalis development, formerly called Douglas Ranch.

The question of where developers might get the water to support such vast housing tracts has previously presented a mystery, with some developers merely saying they were confident in their prospects. The report the state released this week provides an initial answer: They won’t be finding that water solely in the aquifer below the land. Instead, they will have to find new ways of importing and possibly recycling water if they want to build out the property.

“Some of the big plans that are out there for master-planned communities will need to find other water supplies or other solutions,” Buschatzke said.

Contacted on Tuesday, Howard Hughes Corp. did not respond to an interview request, but did provide a statement from Phoenix Region President Heath Melton: “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.”

For now, the groundwater deficiency could stall much building on the Valley’s far west side. But it also could foreshadow a push for big new infrastructure projects, such as an ocean desalination plant and pipeline proposal that a state water finance board has agreed to evaluate. That proposal, led by an Israeli company that has built or operated desalination plants around the world, would pipe water north from Mexico and through Buckeye on its way to the Central Arizona Project canal.

Other options include moving water from other areas, such as the Harquahala Valley to the west, or recycling wastewater, Buschatzke said. Those options could take years, though.

Buckeye officials sent a statement to The Arizona Republic saying they need time to study the report but will work to ensure sustainable growth: “Buckeye is committed to responsible and sustainable growth and working to ensure we have adequate water for new businesses and residents, while protecting our existing customers.”

New growth:Where will water come from for the massive community planned for Buckeye?

Researcher: Finding water won't be cheap or easy

Arizona State University water researcher Kathleen Ferris had called for the groundwater report’s release, and on Tuesday said she was delighted that Hobbs made it public. Ferris, with the school’s Kyl Center for Water Policy, is a past director of the Department of Water Resources and helped craft the 1980 groundwater law that requires a 100-year supply for new development.

“It’s a hugely important step,” Ferris said. “As the governor said, It’s about transparency and knowledge. We should not be allowing this growth to occur when the water isn’t there.”

Ferris said she counts herself among skeptics who don’t believe a desalination plant will come online quickly. The Colorado River’s drought-reduced storage means it can’t provide excess water to soon fill the gap in groundwater supplies, either. It doesn’t mean Buckeye can’t grow, she said, but finding the water to do so won’t be cheap or easy.

She cautioned, too, that other cities with stronger water portfolios are also on the lookout to snap up new water to secure their own futures.

Beyond Buckeye, Ferris said, Hobbs is right to push for better groundwater management statewide. The 1980 law applied mostly to urban areas, leaving vast areas of rural Arizona unregulated. The whole state doesn’t necessarily need the same 100-year-supply rule, Ferris said, but groundwater users everywhere should be responsible for tracking and reporting what they use. That would help the state know when it must act to conserve stressed aquifers, as it did this winter by halting expansion of irrigated farming around Kingman.

Any effort to address rural groundwater with statewide regulations is bound to face resistance in the Arizona Legislature, where lawmakers for several years have declined to extend state regulations to areas including Kingman. Voters in Cochise County approved a limited management area in November for one groundwater basin.

Whatever happens, Ferris said, the state is due for an honest conversation about where and by how much it can grow. She hopes the governor’s announcement is the start of such a reckoning. “We just can’t have subdivisions approved (solely) on groundwater,” she said.

One advocate for updating and strengthening groundwater protections around the state says she is encouraged that Hobbs has started her administration with moves to do just that.

"We are really encouraged and grateful that water is a top priority," said Haley Paul, an Audubon Society regional policy director who co-chairs the Water for Arizona coalition.

The Hassayampa groundwater report demonstrates that Arizona needs to do something different now that it can't rely on excess Colorado River water to backfill pumped groundwater, Paul said. Following a similar finding that has led groundwater depletion to limit Pinal County growth, she said, the report is "a reality check" on unlimited growth in the desert.

Brandon Loomis covers environmental and climate issues for The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com. Reach him at brandon.loomis@arizonarepublic.com or follow him on Twitter @brandonloomis.

Environmental coverage on azcentral.com and in The Arizona Republic is supported by a grant from the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust. Follow The Republic environmental reporting team at environment.azcentral.com and @azcenvironment on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.

Hobbs reveals West Valley current water supply cannot support planned development

Copy This Embed Code: Ad 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....

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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.”

Copyright 2023 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

20 Years of Severe Drought Impede Huge Developments in Southwest

By Keith Schneider Circle of BlueBUCKEYE, AZ. — The White Tank Mountains were the backdrop in October when senior executives of the Howard Hughes Corporation broke ground for Teravalis, the largest planned community ever proposed in Arizona. Hughes’ plan is to turn 37,000 acres of Sonoran Desert west of Phoenix, nearly 60 square miles, into 100,000 homes and 55 million square feet of commercial space where 300,000 people will live and 450,000 will work.Modeled after Irvine Ranch in California, the l...

By Keith Schneider Circle of Blue

BUCKEYE, AZ. — The White Tank Mountains were the backdrop in October when senior executives of the Howard Hughes Corporation broke ground for Teravalis, the largest planned community ever proposed in Arizona. Hughes’ plan is to turn 37,000 acres of Sonoran Desert west of Phoenix, nearly 60 square miles, into 100,000 homes and 55 million square feet of commercial space where 300,000 people will live and 450,000 will work.

Modeled after Irvine Ranch in California, the largest planned community in the United States, Teravalis is seen by local and state elected leaders as a crowning achievement in a booming real estate market. Jay Cross, the company’s president, assured gathered guests that Teravalis “will provide an exceptional quality of life and opportunities for growth.”

But Teravalis also expresses the intensifying challenge in Arizona and four other fast-growing desert Southwest states to build huge mixed use residential projects in an era of water scarcity. Persistent dry conditions are driving up the cost of water and prompting more resistance from government and citizens to new development. Those trends, in turn, also are prompting innovations in community design and installation of expensive infrastructure to use less fresh water and recycle more wastewater.

The source of concern, confrontation, and new practices is the deep drought that has settled on the Southwest since 2000 that is exacerbated by climate change. Water flow has dropped precipitously in the Colorado River and other surface water supplies that serve Arizona and its neighboring states. That is putting more pressure to supply homes and businesses from finite water reserves held in aquifers.

The consequences are being felt across the arid West. In Arizona, groundwater levels are falling so fast that thousands of residential wells are going dry all over the state. In 2021 the Arizona Department of Water Resources halted new residential home construction in Pinal County, south of Phoenix, because groundwater pumping exceeded the supply.

Impediments to New Development

Because of scarcity it now costs $65,000 to $75,000 to connect new homes on Colorado’s Front Range to water suppliers, according to home developers. In New Mexico, two proposals for big planned communities outside Albuquerque have languished due to concerns over available water.

Campbell Ranch proposed more than a decade ago to build 4,000 residences for 12,000 people, a commercial and retail center and two golf courses on 8,000 acres in the mountains east of the city, according to planning documents. Groundwater use will total about 400 million to 500 million gallons annually, and local governments and citizen groups have objected.

The Office of the State Engineer also objected because it found that Campbell Ranch would not meet a New Mexico requirement for developers to demonstrate that their projects have a 70-year supply of water. “It’s fundamental. You’re not doing that development without water,” said Kathy Freas, co-founder of East Mountain Protection Action Coalition, a citizens group.

Similar concerns are buffeting Santolina, a 13,700-acre planned development proposed in 2014 by Western Albuquerque Land Holdings. Located between the city and the Rio Grande River, Santolina is the focus of active public opposition because it would need 7.3 billion gallons of water a year to serve its 90,000 residents. Bernalillo County required the developer to install expensive wastewater treatment and recycling infrastructure to reduce water use and waste. The developer has submitted a new development plan that would convert hundreds of acres from housing to solar energy development, a change that significantly reduces water consumption but could also require WALH to restart the planning process.

“In the West water has always been an issue, right? People are just much more alert now,” said Enrico Gradi, deputy county manager for Bernalillo County, who is overseeing the review of the Santolina project.

Neither Campbell Ranch nor the Land Holdings company responded to interview requests.

Developers Respond With New Designs For Growth

Another unmistakable result of water scarcity is the changing design of Southwest’s planned communities. They no longer feature big lakes, irrigated lawns, golf courses, and open drainage canals. One example is Sterling Ranch near Littleton, Colorado. Under construction since 2015, the 3,400-acre project is spending $350 million for a closed-loop water supply system that collects, treats, and recycles wastewater for over 12,500 residences that are planned, plus commercial and retail spaces. The development has no golf course because of the 130 million gallons Front Range courses typically use each year. Its roads and parks are designed to collect and store stormwater for reuse. The developers, Harold Smethills and his son Brock, are studying how to most efficiently collect and use rainwater from rooftops.

“Until there’s scarcity most developers aren’t incentivized to conserve water,” said Brock Smethills. “For us, the incentives were aligned day one to use less water and conserve as much as possible.”

Another example is Verrado, an 8,800-acre planned community 25 minutes south of Teravalis in Buckeye. Opened in 2004 by DMB Associates, an Arizona-based developer, the community has 60,000 square feet of office and retail space in a town center, and is permitted to build 14,000 residences. Just over 6,000 are completed and house 16,000 residents. Along with 30,000 trees for shade and to slow evaporation, Verrado features a water recycling system that collects all of the wastewater from homes and businesses and directs it to a treatment plant capable of recycling 1.5 million gallons a day that is stored and used to irrigate two golf courses.

“Every responsible developer in Arizona knows water is a constraint,” said Dan T. Kelly, DMB’s chief operating officer and general manager. “It’s the first question you deal with.”

Photo © Keith Schneider / Circle of Blue

Path Forward is Tricky For Hughes

The intensifying attention to water supply is especially relevant to the Teravalis project. Hughes paid JDM Partners and El Dorado Holdings $600 million to purchase the property. The previous owners proposed to build Trillium West, a 3,000-acre planned community that would rely on the Hassayampa Basin, an aquifer beneath the project, to supply water. In 2006, the Arizona Department of Water Resources issued two certificates for 4,228 acre-feet of water – 1.35 billion gallons — to build 7,000 homes. The certificates are still valid so long as Hughes adheres to its terms.

But Hughes does not have access or certificates to supply water to the other 34,000 acres – 90 percent of its property. The Department of Water Resources has put the Hassayampa Basin off limits to new development while it studies how much water the underground reserve actually holds. It’s such a sensitive topic that Hughes cancelled a scheduled interview about the project and its water supply.

Arizona’s development community is confident that Hughes Corporation has the capacity to build Teravalis. The company, which developed six other big planned communities in four other states, has 32 years of experience in managing water for a big desert community. Its first planned project is Summerlin, a 22,500-acre development with 100,000 residents outside Las Vegas.

Hughes water supply options for Teravalis, some available now, others that will require a change in state law and regulation, include tapping another aquifer and delivering water by pipeline. It could lease water from one of Arizona’s Native American tribes that have extensive water rights.

Hughes also could buy rights to Colorado River water. Queen Creek, a Phoenix suburb, secured state permission and is preparing to spend $27 million to draw 2,000-acre feet annually from the river– nearly 750 million gallons – for its 66,000 residents. Whatever the company decides, the cost of water for Teravalis, typically a few hundred dollars an acre-foot in Arizona (nearly 326,000 gallons) will be much higher than it is today.

The adage in the West that “water runs uphill to money” applies. Earlier this year Arizona lawmakers approved a $1 billion, three-year appropriation, essentially a down payment to secure stable water supplies. “We’re at the very start of a new era of innovation and investment,” said Greg Vogel, founder and chief executive of Land Advisors Organization, a national brokerage and development consultancy based in Scottsdale. “Teravalis will be in the making for 50 years, maybe 70 years until buildout. They’ll have enough water.”

By no means, though, is that a consensus view.

The city of Buckeye, where Teravalis is located, uses 11,000 acre-feet of water annually – nearly 3.5 billion gallons — for its 115,000 residents. At current rates of use in Arizona, Teravalis’ water consumption could amount to three times as much.

In 1980, Arizona enacted a groundwater conservation law that requires developers to assure buyers that their homes and businesses have a 100-year water supply. The law also requires developers to replenish aquifers with the same amount of water that they withdraw.

Bruce Babbitt, who in the first of his two terms as Arizona’s governor signed the 1980 groundwater law, is not reticent. He asserted that Teravalis will not meet the 100-year water supply requirement. Nor will it be able to replenish the aquifer with the billions of gallons of water it will use annually. “My conclusion, based on a lot of analysis, is the project is not viable on the scale they are talking about,” Mr. Babbitt said.

Featured image: Water scarcity is intensifying the challenge in Arizona and four other fast-growing desert Southwest states of building mixed use residential projects, like this one south of Phoenix. Photo © Keith Schneider / Circle of Blue

Parents, Education Association speak on Buckeye Elementary District superintendent overcompensation

Copy This Embed Code: Ad BUCKEYE, Ariz. — Nearly $2 million. That’s how much extra pay the Arizona Auditor General said the Buckeye Elementary School District Superintendent received in extra pay.Just last week, former Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a lawsuit against the school district and its Superintendent, Kristi Wilson, for overcompensation.It stems from a report from the auditor in 2022, saying that Wilson was paid more than $1.7 million in additional compensation over the last five years. ...

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BUCKEYE, Ariz. — Nearly $2 million. That’s how much extra pay the Arizona Auditor General said the Buckeye Elementary School District Superintendent received in extra pay.

Just last week, former Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed a lawsuit against the school district and its Superintendent, Kristi Wilson, for overcompensation.

It stems from a report from the auditor in 2022, saying that Wilson was paid more than $1.7 million in additional compensation over the last five years. According to the lawsuit and the state audit, Wilson made about 100% more than the state’s three largest school district’s average compensation for its superintendents.

“Something has to change. I’m not sure if it’s the board that needs to change, she needs to go in my opinion,” Shannon Hiner, a mom of BESD students, said of Wilson.

Hiner is frustrated with the district and was shocked to find out about the lawsuit. She feels the pay for Wilson is not justified and feels her kids are not getting the education she believes they deserve. She is thinking about pulling her kids out of the district and wants to put them in a micro-school.

The lawsuit is demanding that Wilson returns all money that was “illegally paid.” Since the audit was released, the district has maintained that it does not agree with the findings.

“What we want is accountability for the entire system. So, 360 accountability. If we're going to be held accountable which we are, we understand that's part of our job, then so should our employers,” said Marisol Garcia, the president of the Arizona Education Association.

Garcia said it’s “disappointing” and “disheartening” to see the audit findings

ABC15 reached out to Superintendent Wilson and the school board for further comment about the lawsuit but did not hear back. However, the district responded:

“The District is aware of a lawsuit filed by the Arizona Attorney General’s Office. However, until the complaint is served, and the Board has been afforded an adequate opportunity to review it with the assistance of its legal counsel, providing a public comment would be premature.”

It’s important to note, the lawsuit was filed by former Attorney General Mark Brnovich. With Kris Mayes taking over as attorney general in 2023, the office tells ABC15 all cases under the previous administration will be reviewed.

ABC15 also reached out to the Arizona Department of Education to see if anything else would be done with the district, and a spokesperson said the department does not plan on any additional action and that “the matter is already being handed in the court system.”

You can read the lawsuit and the full audit here.

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