By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor

Gilbert is crafting an ordinance to address potential future large-water users.

The water allocation policy would help ensure a dependable water supply for existing customers and manage the town’s remaining water supplies, according to staff.

“The trend in Gilbert is to build up supply that exceeds demand,” said Eric Braun, water resources manager. “But there is lot of uncertainly there. Doesn’t the future of Gilbert look like the past? Probably not.”

The town can have a situation in the future where demand outstrips the water supply, said Braun at last week’s Town Council Financial Retreat.

Gilbert’s current water policy is first-come, first-serve, which is an incentive for developers to come into town and build first, Braun said.

The ordinance would focus on non-residential users, who have big water demands. Landscape uses such as parks would be excluded from this.

In Gilbert, single-family homes represent 95,000 accounts and use 67 percent of the town’s water supply compared with the 5,000 non-residential accounts that use nearly 30 percent of the water.

Braun said some projects have come into the Valley that use 500 million gallons of water a day, which would impact Gilbert’s water supply.

Staff proposed when a non-residential development such as commercial, industrial or a public facility wants to come to Gilbert and the water demand for it goes beyond 100,000 gallons of water per day, it would trigger a review of the project, Braun said.

An existing development that might have multiple phases and add a meter also would trigger a review.

If a builder exceeds the water limit, it would need to negotiate with the town for additional water that Gilbert has available, or it must bring its own water and deed it to the town, according to Braun.

Vice Mayor Eddie Cook suggested the town enact conservation measures first before resorting to this approach. For instance, there are two planned communities in town that mandate homeowners have grass lawns and the town should prevent requirements like that, he said.

Braun said there has been an ordinance since 2001 that prevents HOAs from putting that requirement in their CC&Rs, but a few beat the town before the ordinance was adopted and were grandfathered in.

Town Manager Patrick Banger said if the state’s drought continues, the town will address the issue with those HOAs through water-rate settings.

Braun said there would be an annual audit process over three years to see if users exceed their base limit so there is no low-balling up front with anticipated water use.

Mayor Jenn Daniels asked if a non-residential builder were to overestimate its water use, can the cost be recouped.

Banger said if the developer overestimated its water need, it can always sell its extra supply.

Cook said the proposal was repressive and he wanted a policy that was more pro-business and without all the red tape.

He said the proposed policy would deter businesses from coming to Gilbert.

Banger said the policy’s intent was for the town not to get caught flat-footed with a  large-user, which would put pressure on the town’s water portfolio and ratepayers.

He pointed to Chandler, which made Intel bring its own water so there was no increase to that city’s ratepayers.

He added the big users of water would be data centers, Intel-type businesses.

Braun said the business community actually saw this policy as a good thing.

‘If you wait too long and a big user comes in, there’s no more water, so we look at this as pro-business,” he said.

Councilwoman Aimee Yentes said she was uncomfortable with the policy because it looked like the town was heading in the direction of rationing.

Staff was directed to move forward with developing the policy with outreach to stakeholders in May to September. The ordinance is expected to come before council for adoption in October.