The City Council unanimously approved changes to its policy for providing water service outside the city limits, giving a priority to developers who create high-paying jobs and invest $5 million in new or expanded facilities.

City Attorney Chris Avery said the policy changes put Tucson on a path to require annexation in order to receive water service.

Ultimately, making water service a carrot for annexation is the goal. But you can't overhaul a policy overnight, he said.

Since 2010, city policy limited who was eligible for a water line extension beyond the existing service area. The new changes are designed to protect interests of longtime customers while identifying new targets for annexation, Avery said.

Other changes include mandating water availability be considered with deciding who qualifies for a service extension, and establishing a review board to hear appeals over Tucson Water denials.

Environmentalists were pleased with the changes.

Carolyn Campbell, executive director of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, said she was pleased the council added a water availability component and an avenue for public participation before the Tuesday's vote.

"Those were the two things of concern, and they added those in," Campbell said. "I think it's a good water policy."

Councilman Paul Cunningham said the updates to the policy continues the primary aim of protecting the water supply so Tucson can remain sustainable for future generations.

Contact reporter Darren DaRonco at 573-4243 and