Water Shortages Threaten Development in More Western Cities

By: - May 17, 2022 12:00 am

A boat cruises along Lake Powell near Page, Ariz., where water levels have hit a historic low amid a climate change-fueled megadrought. Officials in St. George, Utah, are grappling with questions about how the city can grow if a pipeline to pump water from Lake Powell is not approved. Rick Bowmer/The Associated Press

As the Western United States endures an ongoing megadrought that has spanned more than two decades, an increasing number of cities, towns and water districts are being forced to say no to new growth.

There’s just not enough water to go around.

Last month, the California Coastal Commission urged San Luis Obispo County to stop all new development requiring water use in the communities of Los Osos and Cambria.

“The Commission has repeatedly made it abundantly clear that the required [local coastal permit] findings for water supply cannot be made,” read one letter to a county official, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.

The Los Osos groundwater basin is being depleted at an unsustainable rate, the Tribune reported, while Cambria relies on a limited water supply under creeks that could threaten fish and riparian species if depleted.

Meanwhile, a water district serving mountain communities in Arizona announced in March that it had issued a moratorium on new connections. Pine-Strawberry Water Improvement District has struggled with increasing demands from residential and vacation rental properties, The Arizona Republic reported. The water table has fallen below most of the district’s shallower wells, and much of the water that is pumped is lost to leaky infrastructure.

The district is seeking to drill deeper wells and fix its leaks, but it said the moratorium was necessary to buy time to address the problems.

In Utah, the city of St. George has expressed concern about its ability to grow if a pipeline to pump water from Lake Powell is not approved.

“We cannot afford to build beyond what our water supply will allow,” City Manager Adam Lenhard told the St. George News.

Lenhard said the city could ban new building permits, but such a restriction could only last six months under state law. Several other communities in Utah have paused construction due to water shortages.

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Alex Brown
Alex Brown

Based in Seattle, Alex Brown covers environmental issues for Stateline. Prior to joining Stateline, Brown wrote for The Chronicle in Lewis County, Washington state.