Goodyear: Working On A Green Solution To Its Salty Problem

By Kathleen Ferris

The City of Goodyear has a 500,000 gallons-per-day brine problem. That problem will only grow as the quiet little West Valley city along the Estrella Mountains expands. Goodyear is working on an innovative solution, but first let’s look at the problem.

What is brine? As groundwater slowly moves underground from the eastern edge of our Valley toward the west it becomes increasingly saturated with salts and other solids that must be removed before it may be delivered to municipal customers. Brine is the wastewater byproduct of treating this groundwater to drinking water quality. It is heavy in salts, metals and nitrates.

Goodyear found the right plants and mulch mix to clean brine.

Goodyear found the right plants to clean brine.

Goodyear’s solution: Goodyear has built the largest municipal reverse osmosis drinking water treatment plant in the state. The technology cleans the groundwater of its heavy microscopic solids by using a series of mesh screens. The leftover solids, some of them toxic, are flushed out as concentrated brine wastewater.

Why Goodyear? Large Phoenix Metropolitan Area cities get most of their water supplies from the Colorado, Verde, and Salt Rivers. This “surface” water is better quality water than the groundwater available to Goodyear and treating it to drinking water standards does not create concentrated brine. Goodyear has an allotment of Colorado River water, but stores it underground because the city does not have a surface water treatment plant. The city is currently working on the funding it will need to build a surface water treatment plant and related infrastructure.

The challenge: It is not easy or cheap to dispose of concentrated brine. No water agency is allowed to empty concentrated brine directly into a natural waterway because of the heavy salt concentration and toxic elements, in particular arsenic and selenium. Most solutions, such as desalination or evaporation ponds, are expensive to build and operate, consume large amounts of energy, and create environmental hazards. Right now, Goodyear mixes concentrated brine with wastewater from homes and businesses and cleans it at Goodyear’s wastewater reclamation treatment plant. The cleaned wastewater is then stored underground. The addition of concentrated brine makes cleaning wastewater a difficult and expensive process.

Despite its allocation of Colorado River water, Goodyear still will need to pump some groundwater to meet future water demands. When the city reaches build out capacity, Goodyear estimates its reverse osmosis plant will produce double the amount of brine it does today, or 1 million gallons each day.

The good news: With support from the federal Bureau of Reclamation, Goodyear built a research pilot project that determined it is possible to create manmade wetlands capable of cleaning metals and nitrates out of concentrated brine. These constructed wetlands would look more like marshes and would use particular salt loving grasses and reedy plants grown in a base of wood chips and green yard waste. The brine would be piped up through different levels of terraced wetlands and grasses. The end product still would be salty water but with acceptable concentrations of metals and nitrates. It could be released into the environment after it was blended with other water to reduce its salinity.

Now what? The city is in the middle of a two-year feasibility study to scale up the project. Goodyear estimates that at the time of the city’s final build out, it would need 45 acres of marshland to clean its output of brine waste. Right now the proposed acreage for the marshland is sited within Maricopa County’s Estrella Mountain Regional Park and an adjacent privately owned golf course along the south bank of the Gila River riverbed. Goodyear hopes to break ground for the project within five years. It envisions an intensely green wildlife habitat that would become a destination for hikers, bikers and birders. It would be part of a larger multi-agency wetlands and flood control project planned for the Gila River riverbed.

Yes, Goodyear’s marshland is a huge project that has been a long time in the making and has a long way to go. But that’s how things get done in the world of water management. Water managers always think 20 years ahead, and often much further.

For 46 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 www.amwua.org.

Water Security: Why There Are Two Different Arizonas

By Kathleen Ferris

When it comes to water supplies in this extended drought, there seem to be two Arizonas. Most Arizona cities are reassuring their residents and businesses that water supplies are secure. In other parts of the state, there are relentless headlines about homeowners, businesses and farmers who are desperate for solutions as the water table drops and wells run dry.

Why you should be happy if you live in one of these Active Management Areas.

Why you should be happy if you live in one of these Active Management Areas.

Here is what makes all the difference: Active Management Areas or AMAs. Water users inside Active Management Areas live under the regulations of the 1980 Arizona Groundwater Management Act. There are five Active Management Areas that take in most of Maricopa, Pinal, Pima and Santa Cruz counties as well as the City of Prescott and surrounding communities. About 83 percent of the state’s population lives in Active Management Areas.

Many other parts of the state were excluded from the Act’s reach because landowners in those areas voiced concerns in 1980 about regulating groundwater supplies.

Here are five reasons why you should be happy you live in an Active Management Area:

1. Unrestricted groundwater pumping is not allowed. That means groundwater has been preserved for emergencies. It’s a water savings account. Just like a savings account at a bank, life is a little more comfortable when it’s there and gets precarious when it’s depleted.

2. Water conservation programs and practices are mandatory. Cities, industries and farms have invested for decades in ways to use water more efficiently.

3. Builders can’t create new subdivisions without a 100-year assured water supply and farmers can’t irrigate new fields. That protects the consumer and land values.

4. Cities and other water agencies have made significant investments to assure water supplies for the future. These investments include building the capacity to store large amounts of water underground for future use and to reclaim wastewater for reuse.

5. New businesses and industries are more likely to locate in Active Management Areas because the water supplies are secure. That means economic growth and jobs.

What can you do if you don’t live in an Active Management Area? Well, you can help your city, town or county work with the state to create reasonable regulations that allow homeowners, businesses and farmers to prosper. Here are the three regulations that will make the most difference.

1. Stop the expansion of irrigated farmland in areas where groundwater levels are falling. This will help ensure that existing farmers can continue to prosper.

2. Require developers to have an assured water supply in hand before building new subdivisions. Like farmers, water supplies for homeowners should be secure.

3. Put limits on the drilling of new wells to ensure that new wells don’t harm existing well owners.

These three actions may seem a tough political act of will now, but if they are not put in place soon, the future will be far more difficult.

For 46 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 www.amwua.org.

Phoenix Partners With Forest Fund To Protect Valley Water

By Kathleen Ferris

Every time a truck, an ATV, or a motorbike travels along a dirt road in Arizona’s high country it churns up the ground, creates ruts and gullies, and degrades the edges of the road. When there is a storm, these dirt roads become conduits for runoff that carry the churned earth into streams and rivers.

Prescribed burn in Coconino National Forest

Prescribed burn in Coconino National Forest

Eventually, that sediment reaches familiar lakes, such as Roosevelt, Canyon, and Bartlett. These recreational lakes also serve as reservoirs that hold the water Phoenix and other Valley cities receive, treat, and send to homes and businesses. The more sediment in the water the more difficult and expensive it is for cities to create drinking water for all of us.

Wildfires also exacerbate the problem by leaving behind thick layers of sterile soil that can’t absorb water. Storm runoff brings tons of that soil into streams, rivers and, eventually, into reservoirs. After large fires, such as the Wallow in 2011 and Rodeo-Chediski in 2002, the sediment also contains ash and carbon making it even more difficult to treat.

This is why last month the Phoenix City Council unanimously approved a three-year, $600,000 grant to the Northern Arizona Forest Fund. The fund, established in 2014, is a partnership of the U.S. Forest Service, National Forest Foundation, and Salt River Project.

The fund is dedicated to maintaining healthy forests and trails that surround the Salt and Verde rivers, the source of half of the Valley’s drinking water. So far, contributors to the Northern Arizona Forest Fund include businesses, utilities, and philanthropic organizations. The City of Phoenix is the first municipality to contribute to the fund.

The Northern Arizona Forest Fund works with its partners, local non-profits, and private contractors to identify and finance specific projects that help to keep creeks, streams, rivers and lakes clean. This year, the Northern Arizona Forest Fund is supporting two projects in the Coconino National Forest.

  • The Oak Creek Erosion Control Project is improving 20 miles of dirt roads around this popular recreational area. The $200,000 project is repairing gullies and ruts and restoring areas where vehicles have pulled off the designated road to avoid obstacles. In a few places, the trail will be rerouted. Then the trails will be stabilized with sealants, gravel and other structures to minimize erosion.
  • The Upper Beaver Creek Forest Health Project is located about 30 miles south of Flagstaff. This $300,000 project thins the forest by removing small trees and underbrush. Firefighters call this underbrush “ladder fuel” because it carries fire up to the crowns of the largest pines where the flames grow hotter, move faster and are more destructive. Most of this 48,000-acre area will be thinned manually. A prescribed burn will clear a small portion of about 1,000 acres.

With the help of Phoenix’s contribution, the Northern Arizona Forest Fund will be able to fund at least five more thinning and erosion control projects beginning in 2016. These projects are within four National Forests near important water sources.

  • Coconino: Thin about 25 acres of forest near Stoneman Lake, 30 miles south of Flagstaff. The area surrounds a habitat area for the endangered Mexican Spotted Owl. Improve 11 miles of Schnebly Hill Road to decrease sediment flow into nearby Oak Creek.
  • Kaibab: Thin 200 acres of piñon-juniper forest 10 miles south of Williams.
  • Prescott: Fill gullies and remove trees and invasive weeds in 100-acres of natural meadow 10 miles northwest of Cottonwood.
  • Apache-Sitgreaves: In partnership with the White Mountain Apache Tribe, reconstruct four and a half miles of fence 20 miles south of Greer. The fence was destroyed in the Wallow Fire. It prevents feral and domesticated horses from damaging a 2,000-acre riparian wildlife habitat area.

Phoenix has the foresight to understand that distant forests are its vital link to a clean and steady water supply. More Valley cities will likely join in this effort.

For 46 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 amwua.org.

Smart Growth: Chandler Links Development Benefits To Water Use

By Kathleen Ferris

Businesses that use an exceptionally high volume of water and want to set up shop in the City of Chandler will have to prove they bring significant benefits to the city, or pay more for their water. The ordinance, passed by Chandler’s council in May, is another step toward smart economic growth.

Considering water supply when developing land seems as if it should come naturally. It doesn’t.

The recent Moving Forward report on municipal and industrial water conservation in the Colorado River Basin points out that local planning departments in the seven basin states often don’t coordinate with water departments and utilities. The report recommends cities increase the integration of land use with water supplies.

The background: Arizona became a leader in municipal water management 35 years ago when it passed the 1980 Groundwater Management Act. The law pushed cities to shift from pumping non-renewable groundwater to using mostly river water, called renewable surface water.

The majority of the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area’s water supplies now come from the Colorado, Salt and Verde rivers and from reclaimed water, which is treated and recycled wastewater. AMWUA member cities store some surface water and reclaimed water underground for use when needed. The Act also requires developers in the state’s most populous areas to show a 100-year water supply is in hand before they may sell subdivision lots.

The challenge: Chandler has secured enough water to ensure it meets and surpasses the 100-year supply the state requires as the city develops the final 15 percent of the land within its boundaries. The city has accomplished this through water contracts, storing water underground, and building infrastructure to widely distribute reclaimed water.

Now Chandler wants to get the most value from its water supply as it develops the city’s remaining land and grows its community and businesses.

The solution: Chandler’s new ordinance helps the city make decisions about land use and water useCityHall_courtyard_twilight_11-20-10-a simultaneously. The new ordinance allots water to new businesses based on the square-footage and the type of their building or buildings. If a business needs more water than the base allocation, the business must demonstrate it benefits the city commensurate to the extra water it requires to operate.

Those benefits could include such things as creating jobs, developing the downtown corridor, revitalizing neighborhoods, or providing a new amenity, such as a park. New businesses (or expanding businesses that require new water meters) that cannot demonstrate benefits that balance an outsized demand for water will pay more for water. Here are a couple examples of how the new ordinance works.

  • A new business with a five-story building might use 200,000 gallons of water a day and provide 500 jobs to the city. That’s 400 gallons per day per employee. Under the new ordinance, the city would provide water to the business at the normal water rate because its jobs benefit the city and its residents.
  • A new business with a five-story building might use 100,000 gallons a day, but provide only 100 jobs to the city. That’s 1,000 gallons per day per employee, not enough of a contribution to the city to balance the business’s water consumption. Under the new ordinance and to make sure other water customers are not subsidizing the business, Chandler could ask this business to pay more for its water.

The ordinance does not have a jobs-per-gallons-of-water formula that a business must meet. It is flexible depending on where a business is built and what benefits it offers the city and its residents.

Once again, an AMWUA member city steps out to lead. The new ordinance demonstrates that AMWUA cities not only understand how to stay one step ahead of their water supplies, but have the will to act on that knowledge.

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 www.amwua.org.

Does Anyone Want To Drive On An Ugly Freeway?

By Kathleen Ferris

Remember the first time you saw Phoenix? If you weren’t born here, you most likely flew in and then drove down a freeway. The desert landscaping that lines our freeways is one of those cultural distinctions that make new arrivals think: We’re not in Kansas anymore.

But palo verde, ironwood and mesquite trees weren’t always what visitors saw along the Phoenix Metropolitan Area’s freeways. The Valley’s first freeway, I-17, was lined with concrete slopes. In the 1970s, landscaping along U.S. 60 included a thin layer of Bermuda grass kept green with rotating sprinklers. Shrubs were watered by hand. California freeways, not the Sonoran Desert, drove the esthetic.

That changed in 1974 when the Arizona Department of Transportation hired native plant enthusiast LeRoy Brady as its Chief Landscape Architect. ADOT began experimenting with drip irrigation systems at its research nursery and testing desert-adapted trees and shrubs along new sections of U.S. 60.

Each mile of freeway requires 40 to 60 acres of landscaping. ADOT’s growing demand for drought-tolerant trees and shrubs began to reshape the inventory of local wholesale nurseries eager for contracts.

It’s taken decades of trial and error to develop the Valley’s freeway landscaping. For example, drip irrigation could not keep honey locust and ash trees alive. Indigo bush and groundcovers, such as trailing acacia and trailing dalea, required too much maintenance. Hop seed bush couldn’t survive the constant turbulence of rushing traffic and the heat radiating off the asphalt.

Conservation requirements within Arizona’s 1980 Groundwater Management Act gave a boost to desert landscape champions and pushed technology that made outdoor irrigation more efficient.

By 1986, ADOT had adopted an automated irrigation drip system for freeways throughout the Phoenix and Tucson areas. A year later, the Department of Water Resources required any landscaping in public medians and rights-of-way to use approved low-water use plants. (Grass remained on the older parts of US 60 until the early 1990’s when the freeway was widened.)

Cities provide water for the sections of freeway that are within their boundaries and cities want those roadways to be attractive and water efficient. For decades, ADOT has worked closely with Valley cities to create the most beauty using the least amount of water. The City of Mesa tracked freeway water use between 1996 and 2004. Thanks to the joint work of ADOT and city staff, water used per mile of freeway dropped by 73 percent during those years.

After I-17’s concrete banks, there was never any consideration given to not landscaping freeways. A sustainable landscape prevents erosion on the steep slopes and stops invasive plant species, such as tumbleweed and buffelgrass, from taking hold. The landscaping also serves as a green billboard advertising the beauty and possibilities of desert trees and plants for yards.

LeRoy Brady is one of those quiet champions that had the patience to slowly help grow the Valley’s culture of conservation. He served as president of Arizona Native Plant Society in late 1980s. His department is also responsible for creating the wall art that serves as a backdrop for much of ADOT’s freeway landscaping.

And one more fact about LeRoy: 41 years after his arrival he remains ADOT’s Chief Landscape Architect. He still drives down the freeway thinking about how a section of landscaping could be designed better or look prettier.

“Does anyone want to drive on an ugly freeway?” he asked.

For 46 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 www.amwua.org.