State official addresses loophole in water supply to developments

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February 7, 2023 – “Wildcat developments” in rural areas are often blamed for situations such as the one faced by Rio Verde Foothills, an unincorporated community outside of Scottsdale, Arizona in a water crisisOpens in a new tab..

Typically, a developer of six or more lots in a subdivision must obtain an assured water supply certificate or show that they will get water from a designated water supplier that has demonstrated a 100-year assured water supply.

What is a wildcat development?

Cochise County published an article from the University of Arizona’s Cooperative Extension that gives a good overview of what a wildcat development in a rural area Opens in a new

In Arizona’s counties, Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS  §32-2101Opens in a new tab.) allow large properties like ranches or farms to be surveyed into many parcels no smaller than 36 acres and sold with only minimal state public report requirements, namely disclosure of legal access, floodplains, etc. Furthermore, the statutes permit any individual buying one or more of those parcels to further split that acreage up to five additional times and sell each one without going through any formal subdivision review process. Subsequent owners of parcels can also continue to split their property up to five times, as long as the resulting new parcels meet the minimum zoning requirements of the county. This process of lot-splitting results in what are commonly called “wildcat subdivisions,” although the term “subdivision” is a misnomer since no formal subdivision plans are required, reviewed or recorded. The informal term “wildcat” is also confusingly applied to illegal lot-splitting, i.e. splitting more than five times, or acting in concert with other individuals to profit from multiple lot splits.

Local zoning plays an important role in the number lot splits that may actually happen on any given property. Zoning in Arizona’s counties stipulates a minimum lot size needed in order to obtain a building permit for a home or other structures. Minimum lot sizes in rural areas vary county by county but generally range from one acre to ten acres. Logic dictates that the greater the minimum lot size, the fewer times a property can be split, and the fewer homes will occupy the landscape.

High County NewsOpens in a new tab. points out that some of these wildcat developments, with no services such as paved roads or utilities, are costly, citing an example of one costing a county more in sheriff’ department expenditures than it brought in with tax revenues.  But the water issue looms in concerns, with Rio Verde Foothills constantly in the news.

Addressing another loophole.

Developers of subdivisions of six lots or more — not necessarily wildcat developments — have found another loophole, according to Arizona’s ABC News 15.  To get around the assured water supply regulations, they are saying the homes being constructed are for lease, not sale.

ABC reports that State Representative Selina Bliss (R-Prescott) is sponsoring HB 2048Opens in a new tab. in an effort to curb the practice.  The bill, which is currently not assigned to committee, would require proof of a 100-year assured water supply for developers subdividing land into six lots or more, regardless of the terms of a lease.

Watch the news story on YouTubeOpens in a new tab..


Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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