Phoenix has new water rules, and penalties, for businesses using 250K-plus gallons a day

New companies in Phoenix that use a lot of water will have to draft conservation plans and, in some cases, use recycled water after the City Council unanimously passed new a new regulation March 6. Here's what you need to know.

What the regulation is: The large water user ordinance separates developments into two categories: those who use more than 250,000 gallons of water per day and those who use more than 500,000 gallons per day. Developers in the first category will now have to submit water conservation plans to be able to build in Phoenix. Developers in the second category will do the same, plus more.

More restrictions for the largest water users: Developments that use more than 500,000 gallons of water per day must ensure 30% of their water usage comes from recycled or conserved water. They must also show the city can handle their water demands with existing water availability.

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The point: The city's water department says the regulation will foster a water conservation mindset and help reduce water use without enacting harsh, one-size-fits-all restrictions that may not make sense for every development.

Why it's happening: Phoenix relies heavily on the Colorado River to supply water customers, but the river is shrinking due to severe drought, which experts say results from climate change. That's led all river users, not just in Phoenix, but around the Valley and in neighboring states, to cut back and think more about efficiency.

Phoenix City Hall building.
Phoenix City Hall building.

What to know: Where does Phoenix's water come from?

Does it go far enough? The ordinance isn't guaranteed to save a set number of gallons of waters, nor does it enact specific restrictions. Instead, the requirements are more subjective. The "water conservation plan" is defined as deploying best practices to use water "as efficiently as is practicable." But city officials say the rule is flexible by design: Maybe developments will save more water by developing their own plan than the city could have thought possible. On the other hand, the diversity of developments makes it hard to regulate, they say.

Who determines if the user's conservation plans are strong enough: The city's water services director.

Any penalties? Large water users have to submit estimates of monthly water use to the city and lay out technologies that will ensure efficiency. If the user doesn't deploy promised technology or consumes more than 120% of expected water use, there are penalties:

  • The city's water director may suspend services to a user.

  • 200% charge for the first violation and if the violation lasted less than a year.

  • 500% charge for the second violation or if the violation lasted between one to two years.

  • 1,000% charge for the third violation or if the violation lasted between two to three years.

  • 2,000% charge for the fourth violation or if the violation lasted between three to four years.

Who it affects: Few companies use 250,000-plus gallons of water per day, but some big water users include the technology sector, hospitals and the beverage industry. The ordinance, however, will only affect future developments or developments that request larger water meters to upscale use. It will not be applied retroactively.

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What Mayor Kate Gallego said: "This new policy will ensure we are balancing our economic development priorities with the critical need to secure our water supply for generations to come. Phoenix will continue to lead the way both in policy and practice to ensure we sustain our most precious resource.”

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Taylor Seely covers Phoenix for The Arizona Republic / Reach her at or by phone at 480-476-6116.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: New Phoenix rules require businesses with high water use to conserve