Cities And Gila River Indian Community Swap Water

By Kathleen Ferris

The cities of Mesa and Chandler provide the Gila River Indian Community with reclaimed water to irrigate its growing farm industry.

In exchange, the Gila River community gives Mesa and Chandler a portion of its Colorado River water that the cities can use for their customers’ drinking water.

This smart and mutually beneficial exchange was part of a 2004 settlement of water rights that was a long time in the making. The settlement required 34 water users to negotiate a complicated agreement. The water users included the Gila River Indian Community, south of the Valley, many Valley cities, irrigation districts, and mines.

Mesa and Chandler are located close enough to the Gila River Indian Community to make this unique direct water exchange possible.

Reclaimed water is wastewater from homes and businesses that has been treated to high standards for reuse. AMWUA member cities treat and reuse nearly 100 percent of their reclaimed water. Cities can store it underground for future use, send it to industries, or deliver it to irrigate parks, commercial landscaping or crops. Using reclaimed water saves drinking water for our faucets.

Water exchange with cities help Gila River Indian Community farms expand. Photo: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services

Water exchange with cities help Gila River Indian Community farms expand.
Photo: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services

Mesa sends about 46 percent of its reclaimed water to help cool the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station and stores up to 30 percent of its reclaimed water underground for future reuse. Retrofitting an older city with an infrastructure to deliver reclaimed water to irrigate parks and golf courses would be costly. It makes sense for Mesa to send its remaining reclaimed water to the Gila River Indian Community’s farms.

For every 1 gallon of reclaimed water Mesa sends to the Community, Mesa receives .8 gallon of the Community’s Colorado River water, which is delivered to Mesa by the Central Arizona Project.

The exchange began in 2008, when Mesa sent 7,000 acre-feet of reclaimed water to the Gila River Indian Community. (One acre-foot is enough to serve about 2.5 Phoenix-area households for a year.) The exchange increases each year.

In 2026, Mesa is scheduled to send the Community’s farmers 29,400 acre-feet of reclaimed water. In exchange, Mesa will receive 23,520 acre-feet of Colorado River water per year.

Chandler has the infrastructure to reuse more than 90 percent of its reclaimed water to irrigate parks, golf courses, landscaping and crops, and for industrial cooling towers. Chandler stores its remaining reclaimed water underground for future use.

Chandler’s exchange with the Gila River Indian Community began in 2005. Like Mesa, Chandler receives .8 gallon of Colorado River water for every 1 gallon of reclaimed water it sends to the Community. In 2014, Chandler sent 7,500 acre-feet of reclaimed water to the Gila River Indian Community.

By 2026, Chandler expects to exchange 11,200 acre-feet of reclaimed water for 9,000 acre-feet of Colorado River water annually.

This exchange is just one example of how AMWUA cities and Arizona Indian tribes are working collaboratively on sound water management programs that benefit our growing region.

Discover other ways AMWUA member cities assure their water supplies for homes and businesses.

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit

Leadership: Water Brings Phoenix And Tucson Together

By Kathleen Ferris

City water managers always think ahead. That’s why the Phoenix Metropolitan area has weathered a 15-year drought and is prepared for possible water shortages in the future. This habit of thinking ahead has prompted the creation of an unlikely collaboration. It is called the Phoenix-Tucson Water Partnership and eventually would help both cities bolster water supplies in times of shortages.

Right now, a pilot project is underway. This is the first time such a cooperative effort has been attempted. Here’s how it would work:

Different systems: Central Arizona Project (CAP) delivers Colorado River water to both Phoenix and Tucson.

The City of Phoenix takes the water directly from the CAP aqueduct and into its water treatment plants. From there the water is sent to homes and businesses. This is usually called “direct delivery.”

Tucson’s Colorado River water is delivered by the CAP into large pools called “recharge basins.” The water delivered to these basins percolates into the ground. Tucson then pumps it up through wells surrounding the basins, treats it and sends it to homes and businesses. This is usually called “annual storage and recovery.”

Different needs: Tucson ultimately needs to expand its recharge basins. Phoenix ultimately needs to store and recover water more cost-effectively.

How the cities could help each other: Phoenix (and possibly other partners, including other Valley cities) would help to fund the expansion of Tucson’s recharge basins. Phoenix would store a portion of its unused Colorado River water at the expanded Tucson facility. The additional water in storage would help to raise the groundwater table in the Tucson area. A higher water table means pumps wouldn’t  need as much energy to work and that saves Tucson money.

In times of future water shortages, instead of using its own Colorado River water, Tucson would pump Phoenix’s stored water. In exchange, an equivalent amount of Tucson’s Colorado River water would be delivered to Phoenix’s water treatment plants. Phoenix would save money by not building and operating additional underground storage and pumping facilities.

What’s happening now? Phoenix has signed agreements to initiate a pilot project this year with Tucson and Metropolitan Domestic Water Improvement District, a smaller water provider north of Tucson.

This year, Phoenix is sending Tucson and the smaller water agency 1,000 acre-feet of its CAP water to be stored in their existing recharge basins. (One acre-foot of water meets the needs of about 2.5 average Phoenix-area households annually.)

In the next year or two, Phoenix’s stored water will be recovered and delivered to Tucson and Metro water customers. In return, Phoenix will receive an equal amount of water from Tucson’s and Metro’s allocations of CAP water. The water would be delivered directly to Phoenix water treatment plants.

Phoenix likes to say it is a city built for drought. That means, it is a city always looking ahead.

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit

Arizona Isn’t California: Why We Are Better Prepared For Drought

By Kathleen Ferris

Facing unprecedented water shortages, California Gov. Jerry Brown has imposed mandatory urban water use reductions of 25 percent. The Governor’s order followed years of low snowpack and runoff that resulted in slashed deliveries to cities and farms.

We are not seeing such draconian measures in central Arizona, because Arizona leaders have had the foresight to make tough decisions to prevent a water crisis.

Decades ago, we built large reservoirs on the Salt and Verde rivers that can hold a total of 2 millionOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA acre-feet, enough for about 5 million households for a year. But even when the reservoirs are full, the Salt River Project doesn’t deliver all of the water it can. Instead, it saves supplies for future years, so despite the 15-year drought, Salt and Verde reservoirs are currently about 58 percent full.

While dams and smart management decisions help us to maintain a steady water supply, state laws passed nearly 35 years ago play a critical role in preventing us from suffering like Californians.

In 1977, the Arizona legislature established a commission to write a comprehensive groundwater law for the state. Composed of 25 legislators and governor-appointed members, it was given 3 years and only $450,000 to complete this essential job.

That same year, California Gov. Jerry Brown created a much better funded commission to review California’s water laws, following a severe drought that forced the state to reduce water deliveries by 50 to 75 percent. Sound familiar?

In December of 1978, the California commission issued its final report, which recommended extensive changes to state laws. The report found few fans, was blocked by special interests and produced no reforms. It rained the next year, so no one paid much attention, until now.

Arizona’s legislature and governor, on the other hand, had the grit in 1980 to pass the landmark Groundwater Management Act.   While the Act aims to halt the overuse of the state’s groundwater supplies, its ultimate impact has been even more profound.

Since agriculture uses about 75 percent of our state’s water supplies, the Act prohibits the irrigation of new farmland in the state’s most heavily populated areas.   This limitation preserves water for other uses, but also has been good for agriculture, because our farmers are not competing with each other for water.   In central California – where there are no limits on new farmland or how much a farmer may pump – farmers are racing each other to drill ever-deeper wells in search of dwindling groundwater supplies. This over-pumping is causing underground water aquifers to collapse (forever limiting their ability to store water), and the surface of the land is sinking in some places as much as one foot per year. Ironically, Governor Brown’s recent mandatory water use reductions don’t apply to farmers at all.

Arizona’s Groundwater Management Act doesn’t just limit new farmland. It requires developers to demonstrate a 100-year assured water supply before lots in new subdivisions may be sold. This groundbreaking provision, unique in the United States, means that new houses cannot be built without water to serve them. It encourages cities to plan for growth and to invest in the infrastructure needed to provide sustainable water supplies to their customers.

Importantly, the Act requires all sectors of the economy to participate in sound water management.   For over three decades, the Arizona Department of Water Resources has adopted mandatory water conservation requirements for all water users—cities, industries and farmers. These entities must also measure their water use and file annual reports. This critical data allows the Department to determine if conservation measures and efforts to reduce groundwater pumping are effective. The Act also puts limits on new well drilling to decrease the impacts of competing wells.

Today, Arizona is reaping the benefits of the Groundwater Management Act as California plays catch-up with desperation laws to limit groundwater pumping that can best be described as too little too late.

But Arizonans are not home free. As desert dwellers, we never will be. We must follow the example of those who led the way by continuing to make difficult choices to ensure water security for our future needs. The health of our society depends on it. New laws will be required, and our governor and legislature will need to act again to meet the conditions of our time. It’s up to all Arizona voters to make sure that happens.

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit

Aim Low: Make Tiered Water Rates Work For You

By Kathleen Ferris

Are you paying more for your water than your neighbor? It’s a real possibility.

All 10 AMWUA member cities have tiered residential water rates. That means the more water you use, the more expensive it gets. Tiered rates encourage conservation, and allow your family to measure its water savings.

Since some cities expect water rates to increase in the next couple of years, residents will find this information increasingly valuable. The tiered water rate system is a little different for each of the AMWUA member cities of Avondale, Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale, Goodyear, Mesa, Phoenix, Peoria, Scottsdale, and Tempe. Some cities charge more or less for each tier depending on the season. Here is how tiered water rates work in the City of Peoria.

The City of Peoria's Utility Rate Calculator helps you estimate your water costs.

The City of Peoria’s Utility Rate Calculator helps you estimate your water costs.

Peoria has four tiers of water rates for single-family residences. Costs include a fixed “base rate” of $15.54 through $18.39, depending on the size of your water meter. The majority of residential meters qualify for the lowest base rate.

  • Tier 1: If you can cap your household water use to less than 4,000 gallons in one month, you pay $1 for every 1,000 gallons. That’s right. Keep your use under 4,000 gallons a month, and you pay the base rate plus $4.
  • Tier 2: When a family exceeds 4,000 gallons a month the cost of water begins to rise. The next 5,000 to 10,000 gallons cost $2.59 per 1,000 gallons or 2.5 times the price of the first 4,000 gallons.
  • Tier 3: The next 11,000 to 20,000 gallons of water used cost $3.66 per 1,000 gallons.
  • Tier 4: Any volume above 20,000 gallons costs $4 per 1,000 gallons, 4 times the cost of first-tier water.

To stay at 10,000 gallons a month, or at least within Peoria’s second tier, a family of two would use a maximum of 166 gallons of water per day per person. For a family of four, each member would use a maximum of 83 gallons of water a day. So, did you check your latest water bill? How far over the lowest tiers are you – 5,000 gallons, maybe 10,000 or more? Now ask yourself this: Where is all that water going? Here are some things you can do that would make a significant difference in the water and money you save.

  • Check for leaks. According to EPA WaterSense, leaks cost the average home 833 gallons a month. Try the AMWUA free online Smart Home Water Guide, a step-by-step manual for finding and fixing leaks. (It’s also available as a 24-page booklet in both Spanish and English. Just call your city’s water conservation office.)
  • Check your irrigation system. In the Phoenix area, as much as 50 to 70 percent of household water is used outdoors. Examine sprinkler heads and drip systems for puddles and broken or missing emitters. There are now products on the market that can make your irrigation system more efficient.
  • Cut the size of your lawn in half. Some cities will help you pay to remove turf and replace it with low water use plants and trees. Learn how to create a garden of colorful plants, shrubs and trees that offers beauty and shade for dogs and kids and thrives with much less water.
  • Look for the WaterSense label. The label guarantees new fixtures and appliances will use at least 20 percent less water than traditional products and perform equally well or better.

Want to learn more about saving water and money? Your city has a conservation program and experts to help.

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit