Why Securing Water Resources is an Urgent Priority for Land Development

The southwestern U.S. is facing a dire water crisis. Yet, the pace of recent land development in the region has drastically increased. Real estate investors, land developers, ranchers, farmers, urban planners, and other large groundwater users are urgently working to secure water resources for long term stability.  Where does that leave you? 

In this blog, Senior Hydrogeologist Jim Davis explains why water rights are an urgent issue and how you can get started before you purchase or sell any large land parcels. 

Decreasing Groundwater Supply Availability 

Scientists know that groundwater supplies to meet the needs of future land developments are very limited and decreasing rapidly.  This situation is aggravated by the occurrence of drought, the associated reduction in groundwater recharge throughout the region, and anticipated shortages of Colorado River water in the immediate future.  The US Drought Monitor reports 57% – 90% of land in the region is afflicted by extreme to exceptional drought.  The presence of land subsidence and earth fissures in heavily pumped basins renders many lands unsuitable for future development. There is truly limited and declining potential for securing scarce groundwater supplies for sustainable land development. 

Decreasing Legal Availability 

There are also unknown factors related to future changes in water resource regulations which add uncertainty to the process of securing legal rights and access to water sources.  Your lands could have substantial groundwater potential now that could be entirely or partially eliminated if changes in the legal framework were to be implemented before development occurs. 

Urgency in Securing Water Supplies 

Many developers and real estate investors are in a race to secure water supplies for their lands before other interests seek to grab water out from under them. If you delay investigation and securing your available water supplies, you may completely lose or compromise the possibility of developing the land in the future.   

Your First Step:  Groundwater Assessment 

Fortunately, a due-diligence determination of water adequacy and sustainability can be established quickly and affordably for most properties.  Often, a certified hydrogeologist can use existing hydrologic data to answer basic questions.  In some cases, a more extensive groundwater investigation involving drilling, testing, and modeling may be required. An experienced hydrogeologist can also help you navigate the complex regulatory framework related to land development and water rights in your state. 

The groundwater investigation can answer questions like: How much groundwater is available to my property? Is it sufficient for what I’d like to do 10 years from now? What is needed to secure the water so development can proceed? What regulatory approvals are needed and how quickly can they be obtained? Are additional studies needed?  Will groundwater pumping on my lands affect surface water supplies or other groundwater users? Are there groundwater quality issues that would prevent or affect development of the lands? What water-use and conservation options are available to enhance developability of the property? 

See how groundwater assessment and flow modeling was used in the development of an innovative pumped storage project in Arizona.
Groundwater Assessment and Flow Modeling in Support of Big Chino Valley Pumped Storage Project, ITC Holdings Corp., Yavapai County, AZ

Don’t Delay 

Water users are in a race to establish a viable water supply now because it may be physically or legally unavailable or less available in the future. Before you purchase or sell any large land parcels, you should determine if the anticipated water use is sustainable and then legally secure it.  Avoid getting shut out because other groundwater users secured the water before you. 

To increase, or even maintain, your land values and future development options, it is critical to establish that the anticipated water use(s) is physically available. But more importantly, take the actions necessary to legally tie the water supply to the property before other developments or changes in the legal framework eliminate or reduce your options. 

Let us help you identify your options and secure the water supply for your properties before time runs out.    


James S. Davis, PG, CHG 
Senior Hydrogeologist 
Hargis + Associates, Inc. 
James S. Davis | LinkedIn

Mr. Davis is a registered professional geologist in Arizona and California.  He has extensive experience conducting groundwater and surface water investigations in support of water supply projects, including hydrogeologic investigations for mining projects. He works with both public and private sectors in Assured and Adequate Water Supply studies and applications. Jim has helped clients navigate the complex regulatory framework with his comprehensive knowledge of groundwater and surface water laws, water rights, environmental and groundwater permitting, and regulatory requirements and procedures.