Arizona Supreme Court Ruling Reinforces State’s Right to Pump Groundwater

The Arizona Supreme Court decided with a 4-3 ruling on August 9 in favor of construction of a new 7000-home development located near the San Pedro River called Tribute. The new development will require the pumping of an additional 3400 acre-feet of water to serve the community and will be provided by a groundwater system based in nearby Pueblo.

To proceed with construction of the development, Tribute had to receive an “adequate water supply” designation from Arizona’s Department of Water Resources (ADWR), ensuring a water supply would be continuously available to serve Tribute for 100 years.

The application for an adequate water supply designation caused federal entities to pursue legal action, arguing the increased groundwater pumping would adversely impact the Bureau of Land Management’s federal reserved water right.

The Arizona Supreme Court sided with Tribute in its ruling, arguing ADWR does not need to factor the impact of Tribute’s development on BLM’s federal reserved water right. Instead, ADWR only must ensure the water supply is available, the developer has a legal right to the water, and they are financially able to supply it.

This ruling upholds Arizona’s long-standing tradition to not restrict groundwater pumping to preserve river flows. The court ruled any modifications to the state assesses adequate water supply must be taken up in the state legislature, rather than via the court system.

Several efforts to ensure adequate groundwater and surface water supplies are underway in the area near the San Pedro. Plans for additional groundwater recharge and water reuse projects will supplement existing groundwater and surface water supplies.

The ruling will likely be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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