Study: Arizona has Longest Clean Water Permit Wait Times in Southwest

PHOENIX — Receiving a decision on a construction permit under section 404 of the Clean Water Act takes longer in Arizona than in any other Southwestern state, a new study found.

Before construction can begin on almost anything — from a highway to a housing development — companies and states have to receive a 404 permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It’s a provision under the Clean Water Act to track what contaminants are ending up in America’s waterways in what amounts.

The University of California study looked at 404 permits for projects submitted in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas and Utah.

“I would have expected California would have been the slowest state because California has a lot more environmental regulations,” said researcher Nícola Ulibarrí.

However a project in Arizona takes about 67 percent longer to receive a permit decision from the Army Corps of Engineers, who processes the permit before it’s approved or declined by the EPA.

Ulibarrí said the difference was a mystery even though her study accounted for type of project, population density and income.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is aware of the study but does not comment on studies where USACE has not been involved in the study process,” said a spokesperson in an email.

Ulibarrí said that, while regulations are important to protect human health and the environment, long wait times increase costs for businesses and taxpayers.

“If they are driving on roads or are drinking water or are buying into a new housing development, all of those things take 404 permits, so if it takes longer to permit the process, then that’s going to drive up the overall cost of the project,” she said.

There are changes coming to the system. In 2017, the Arizona state legislature passed a bill that would transfer permitting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.

AZDEQ is currently conducting stakeholder meetings and expects to submit their full implementation plan to the EPA by May of 2020.