How Queen Creek is impacted by the recent Arizona groundwater study

The town’s Water Division says if you live in Queen Creek now, you’ll continue to get water.
Queen Creek has been a sticking point for many after Katie Hobbs paused the use of groundwater for new developments. Queen Creek tells residents not to worry.
Published: Jun. 9, 2023 at 11:30 AM MST
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QUEEN CREEK, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) — It was the headline of the week: Governor Katie Hobbs announces pause for new home builds that rely on groundwater. The announcement came after a new study revealed that about 4% of the groundwater demand needed for the Valley would not be met in the next 100 years if nothing is done. As required by law, Hobbs said the state is pausing new construction in the areas that rely on that groundwater.

Queen Creek is a town that’s often brought up in the discussion. How does the groundwater study impact people currently living in Queen Creek?

If you live there right now and you currently get water from the town, you’re in the clear — you will continue getting water. That’s according to the director of the Queen Creek Water Division and state officials.

What makes Queen Creek different?

Most cities in the Valley, like Phoenix and Scottsdale, have what’s called an assured water supply designation. That means leaders there can prove they have enough water to support current and future development for the next 100 years. Queen Creek is not one of them. However, Paul Gardner, the director of the Queen Creek Water Division, says about 92% of the people who live there, as well as the land, have assured water supply certificates. While the town as a whole doesn’t have the designation, those with certificates have enough water for at least the next century.

Gardner says what’s left in Queen Creek is about 4.5 square miles of planning property that needs a water source. Gardner says he actually embraces the recent announcement and groundwater study, saying the town has been working for years to bring in other water resources for that remaining 8%. “We don’t think it’s an overwhelming task,” Gardner told Arizona’s Family this week. “We have in the pipeline about 15,000 plated lots to build out that already have certificates. So it will be these last 10,000 lots that we really need to marry a renewable supply with their development needs.”

How has the Queen Creek community grown?

Queen Creek has been one of the fastest growing communities in Arizona, and the country, according to Gardner. He says in 2008, the town’s population was about 26,000. Town officials say it’s now around 75,000, and the water division covers even more folks in the county areas: around 125,000 customers. People move to Queen Creek because of the quality of life, the schools and the open space, Gardner says.

What does the water future hold for Queen Creek?

Among one of the projects to secure more water, the town is spending millions of dollars on 2,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water from a small farm in Cibola, which is more than 200 miles west at the Arizona-California border. Just one acre-foot of water is enough for two average homes per year, according to the state water resources department. Gardner says the purchased water will be delivered through existing Central Arizona Project canals to replace groundwater pumping.

“Our goal for the last 7 years has been to go out, find renewable supplies, and to become a designated provider,” Gardner says. “That’s a heavy lift. We’re about 35% of the way there at acquiring supplies and over the next decade we feel like we will be a designated provider and well have enough renewable supplies in our portfolio to move forward.”

The Cibola water sale took years and did not come without controversy. It included court hearings, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Arizona Department of Water Resources had to approve. La Paz County was among one of the Arizona counties that filed a lawsuit to stop the transaction. Holly Irwin is a longtime supervisor in La Paz County who lives in Cibola. She doesn’t think any water off the Colorado River should be transferred to metro areas to support their development and believes it should stay in the small community of about 350 people. Irwin also tells Arizona’s Family she also thinks it sets a bad precedent.

Officials with the town of Queen Creek say they’re expecting that water sometime this summer. Despite the opposition, officials contend this was the correct move to ensure renewable water for their community’s future.

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