Water Professionals Take On Role As First Responders

By Warren Tenney

The important role of water professionals as first responders was a lesson relearned after 9/11 and, again, after Hurricanes Katrina in 2005 and Sandy in 2012. These events prompted many water utilities throughout Arizona and the country to intensify disaster training for their employees, including lab and computer techs, plant operators, engineers and repair crews. With water so critical to our health and safety, water professionals are part of emergency response teams in many cities and counties. This responsibility creates a crew of well-trained employees that water customers can rely on if the unexpected happens.

Water utilities in each of the AMWUA cities have emergency plans in place.  For example, Scottsdale Water employees face complex disaster exercises multiple times a year, with a series of surprising and simultaneous problems to solve. A recent drill involved two water and sewer line breaks. Then two pump failures caused a temporary shortage of water flowing into a drinking water treatment plant and the other failure disrupted water service to several hundred customers. Preliminary tests also discovered a possible contamination in one water line. This exercise lasted about four hours with an additional hour for debriefing. During the debriefing staff members evaluate strengths and weaknesses of each department’s reaction, each piece of equipment, overall communications procedures and other components essential in a disaster to keep clean water flowing to customers and sewage out of the streets.First Responders2

Scottsdale Water drills often include an extreme event that aggravates or initiates the situation. Disaster scenarios have been intensified by three days of temperatures above 120 degrees and increased water demand by customers. Other disaster drills have included a solar flare that took down power and a 6.3 earthquake. Scottsdale Water also conducts smaller, more local exercises throughout the year. These can involve unusual events at a pump station or reservoir, such as an unexplained open hatch or an unusual find by staff conducting a safety and security inspection.

For the last 12 years, Scottsdale Water has created what it calls an “emergency toolbox.” The toolbox is a set of standard emergency procedures that sits as an icon on everyone’s computer, along with a hardcopy for various work groups. The information inside is a step-by-step guide to each employee’s role in case of a specific emergency at specific locations, such as a water main break, power loss or a computer failure. The emergency toolbox specifies the chain of command and who gets notified, such as the city manager, police or customers, how they get notified and when. The toolbox is updated regularly and changes are made, if necessary, after each training exercise.

Water and wastewater utilities have enhanced security and response measures in other ways, as well. Here are a few examples.

  • Walls, gates and cameras secure exposed water infrastructure, such as small pump stations and reservoirs. Even visitors to Scottsdale Water’s administrative offices must show an identification card (usually a driver’s license) and be photographed.
  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security encouraged a movement toward “inherently safer technology.” This means hazardous or explosive materials used in the treatment of water and wastewater are more carefully protected or eliminated. For example, many utilities are eliminating the use of potentially explosive chlorine gas, which is used as a disinfectant and delivered on tractor-trailers and in smaller tanks.
  • AZWARN is part of a national movement toward cooperation among water and wastewater utilities in time of need or a disaster. If Scottsdale Water has an emergency, such as a power outage, and requires a generator then the city can communicate that information to an alert system. Another city within the AZWARN network, such as Phoenix, can respond and rush to deliver a generator. The 23 Arizona utilities, including eight of the AMWUA cities, have a standing agreement about how to reimburse the cost of delivering that assistance once the emergency is over.

AMWUA cities recognize that water professionals are an integral part of emergency planning for large and small emergencies and make sure their employees are ready to respond.

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.

Keeping It In Perspective: Bottled Water And Other Industries

By Warren Tenney

Recently, Phoenix announced a water-bottling plant was opening in a vacant warehouse on the city’s west side. The plant reportedly will bottle about 35 million gallons of Phoenix tap water a year and employ 40 to 50 people. To many people – and for many reasons – a water-bottling plant in a desert city seems like a bad fit. Some people question how this Valley can support manufacturers and industries that require ample amounts of water to do business, such as biotech, data centers or breweries. While we applaud activism, here are four points that may better inform all of us who care about water and the economy.

One: Every city needs to grow within its water supplies and that is what all AMWUA cities are doing. Millions of gallons of water may seem like a large water-use business, but it is small compared to each city’s water supply. Consider this: Phoenix’s annual water supply is 100 billion gallons and 66 percent of the city’s customers are residential. Only a third of Phoenix’s customers are non-residential, meaning they are hospitals or restaurants, churches, schools or manufacturers – or water bottling plants. Both residents and businesses have taken steps to use water efficiently and continue to look for more opportunities to conserve. Phoenix reports that while its population and gross domestic product rose from 2007 to 2015, water use in the city declined by 17 billion gallons. Arizona’s population has grown steadily since 1957, but the volume of water we use today is about the same as it was in 1957. That’s because Arizona, including AMWUA cities, invested in conservation programs, infrastructure and water recycling. We have a conservation culture in Arizona, especially here in Maricopa County.

Population and Water Use 2014

City of Phoenix: Water Use vs Population Growth

Two: A 16-year drought, a looming water shortage on the Colorado River and the uncertainty of climate change make every drop of water precious. We agree. But it takes water to manufacture all of the commercial goods and food that each of us either needs or wants. (In Arizona, 74 percent of water is used in agriculture to grow food for consumers and animal feed, in this country and outside of this country.) It takes water to operate a hospital or resort, conduct biomedical research or to manufacture various products we use daily. Consider these numbers from the 2012 Beverage Industry Environmental Roundtable: It takes about 1.4 liters of water to bottle 1 liter of water (including the liter for drinking) and 4 liters of water to bottle 1 liter of beer. We are back to the old adage that whiskey (or beer) is for drinking and water is for fighting, especially considering the number of breweries throughout Maricopa County.  So then comes the very personal and tricky math: what product is worth the expenditure of water, how much water is that product worth, and who makes that decision? Most of the time, it’s left up to the consumer.  The good news is consumers have choices because the Valley’s robust water portfolios can support diverse businesses.This BOTTLE PIC 2    

Three: Paying for drinking water in plastic bottles is an environmentally unsound practice. We hear you. Paying for bottled water baffles many water professionals because they work so hard to provide safe, good tasting, and very low-cost water to their customers’ taps. The best conservationists among us drink only tap water and carry refillable containers. Other people buy bottled water and refill the plastic bottle with tap water several times before throwing it in a recycling bin. Many people drink nothing but bottled water. The inescapable fact is that bottled water is a well-marketed industry and it’s growing. No matter where you stand on bottled versus tap, people in this country – including those living in Arizona  – want and use bottled water. Here are a few numbers from the International Bottled Water Association about the demand for bottled water in the United States.

  •  In 2015, consumption averaged 36.5 gallons for every American up from 25.4 gallons in 2005.
  • In 2015, sales totaled $14.2 billion, up 8.9 percent from 2014.
  • People consume slightly more bottled water than beer or milk.

Bottled water consumption in the United States will soon outstrip soda consumption. While this makes healthy eating advocates happy, it also raises environmental questions.  For example, is it better to reduce the carbon footprint of distributing bottled water locally or from Fiji?

Four: There is an issue called “optics.” Some people worry that opening a water bottling plant in a desert city simply looks bad and muddles the message to customers to use water more efficiently in their homes and yards. Here’s another message that Phoenix and all the AMWUA cities want to send: Large and small businesses are welcome and this region has a secure and resilient water supply that calculates the need for new businesses to thrive and expand. The Phoenix metropolitan area wants to be the choice for diverse and growing industries, such as healthcare and biomedical research, manufacturing, aerospace and aviation, and emerging technologies. The Valley cities can welcome all types of economic development and our economy is growing because cities wisely manage their water supplies. Cities’ supplies can support large industrial water users as well as their residents. The AMWUA cities also have created policies that build strong economies that won’t outstrip their resources, including energy and water. These policies protect residents, as well as provide new jobs and a solid tax base for services and amenities that make our cities livable, such as police and firefighters, parks, free concerts and firework displays. 

The recent debate about water and industry enlivens concern about water, and that’s a good thing. It moves people to action. We need people willing to protect and advance Arizona’s leadership in policies that protect our water supplies, such as the 1980 Arizona Groundwater Management Act. But now you have the facts should concerns about industrial water use come up for discussion at work, at an HOA meeting, or at your next backyard barbecue. And about that barbecue, will there be bottled beer or bottled water in your ice chests for your guests – or a little of both?

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.

Living Classroom: AMWUA Plant Pages Come To Life

By Warren Tenney

In a 3.2-acre space hemmed in by traffic noise, office buildings and warehouse construction sits a living classroom. The University of Arizona’s Maricopa County Cooperative Extension is a place to learn by doing – plant and nurture desert landscapes, grow vegetables and herbs, or create a rainwater harvesting system.

The Maricopa County Cooperative Extension has been at 40th Street and Broadway Road in Phoenix since the early 1970s. It was built before desert landscaping was popular in the Valley, yet its grassy landscape already included seven desert-adapted trees.

A year ago, the Extension embarked on the second landscape redesign of its demonstration garden. This time its goal is to plant every vine, succulent, shrub, groundcover and cactus – and some of the 44 trees – described in AMWUA’s plant pages. When finished, it will be a living adaptation of AMWUA’s mobile online version of the publication Landscape Plants for the Arizona Desert.  The interpretive signs are expected to link visitors to the AMWUA plant pages for more information. The redesign will include 269 species of desert-adapted plants.


That number is not unprecedented. As part of the garden’s last redesign in 1998, most of the grass was removed and replaced with 300 species of desert-adapted plants. The goal then was the same as it is now: education. It was a place where homeowners, landscapers and designers could view an array of desert-adapted plants to help them select, install and nurture desert landscapes. The Extension’s garden is one of several free demonstration gardens the Phoenix Metropolitan area, including eight built and nurtured by AMWUA cities.

It’s been 18 years and along the way that beautiful 1998 Extension demonstration garden was left behind. It lost its status and suffered from neglect. The irrigation system grew so frail it was no longer fixable and it overwatered some plants – and an acacia tree – to death. The system left others without enough water to survive. The number of species dropped by more than half leaving only the strong and the lucky.

EXT Before pruning

Overgrown Maricopa County Cooperative Extension suffered from neglect.

A year ago, the Extension began to slowly redesign, rebuild and replant this section of its living classroom. Its landscape committee is now working on the project’s first phase, which includes upgrades to the irrigation system with help from Ewing Irrigation and Landscape Supply, hardscape pathways, and a rainwater harvesting system for its trees. Planting will begin in the Fall. The extension is looking for volunteer grant writers, storytellers, and landscape professionals to help move the project along. Mostly it’s looking for people willing to use a rake or shovel and eager to learn great tips for their own landscape projects. Here is some of the work being done to revamp the demonstration garden.

  • Create wider pathways with steel edges filled with ¼-inch-minus gravel (that means ¼-inch gravel not strained to remove smaller pieces and dust) stamped with a plate compacter so the surface is hard enough for wheelchairs but still permeable to rain.

    EXT steel edging

    Building  wider, permeable garden paths

  • Extend a 2-foot gravel border along the Extension’s building that contains no plants or water emitters.  This discourages cockroaches, crickets, spiders, and even termites, from living under the foundation.
  • Dig rainwater harvesting trenches along the roofline and direct rainwater runoff into large basins around the garden’s trees. The trenches are being lined with black plastic nursery pots cut in half and stabilized by rock fill. This half-pipe of plastic pots prevents the trenches from eroding and keeps the pots out of the landfill.
  • Use rough-cut compost, the chunky bits from wood chippers, to dress the garden instead of gravel. This chunky compost looks more natural, creates better and cooler soil and helps retain moisture. The plants will need less water to survive.

Want to get involved in rebuilding a demonstration garden, join Master Gardeners at work and learn a little along the way? Send an email to Rebecca Senior at rsenior@email.arizona.edu and put “Volunteer” in the subject line.

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.

Arizona Water Facts: A New Website Built For Everyone

By Warren Tenney

AMWUA works to provide reliable and useful water information and now we have help from a new website called Arizona Water Facts. The website offers a realistic guide to where the state’s water comes from, how it is conserved, what problems the state faces in the future, and what fixes are in the works. The Arizona Department of Water Resources, the state’s top water agency, developed Arizona Water Facts.Water Facts 2

Every time there is a media story about drought or California water restrictions or Lake Mead’s falling water levels the Arizona Department of Water Resources is flooded with calls. The most common questions: Is Arizona running out of water? Why doesn’t Arizona have water restrictions like California? Why are farmers allowed to grow crops in Arizona? By the end of 2015, the Arizona Department of Water Resources began developing a website dedicated to helping residents understand basic water facts and challenges. It debuted June 1.Water Facts 5

There was a time when Arizona water agencies and utilities quietly – and without much publicity – went about the daily and complex business of conserving water, shoring up water supplies, reliably delivering drinking water to customers and removing wastewater from their homes. Then came a 16-year drought, a water crisis in neighboring California, and the very public decline of Lake Mead, a reservoir on the Colorado River that provides 40 percent of Arizona’s water. Suddenly water was everyone’s business.Water Facts 6

Arizona’s quietly vigilant water community was in the spotlight trying to explain the intricacies of water- with its legal complexities, acronyms, and technical jargon – to a public that wanted quick answers in language they understood. Cities began to expand their customer relations, AMWUA started its weekly AMWUA Blog, water experts began appearing more often on news shows and in news articles. Everyone took to social media. Now, the Arizona Department of Water Resources is adding a website to help state residents understand water.

Yes, the Department already has an agency website, but it’s a technical site built to serve water utilities and water experts. Residents can find answers to their questions on the agency website, but the answers are often buried in studies and reports. Arizona Water Facts is a place where anyone can get quick answers to their water questions and find links to information and other organizations if they want to know more. Here is how the new Arizona Water Facts website can help you, your organization, or your business.

  •  Get the Facts: Here’s a chance to get straight talk from the experts about the latest water news. The site also offers facts about Arizona’s history as a leader in regulating and conserving water and how that far-sighted work has helped the state cope with a 16-year drought.
  • Understand the Challenges: The site points out the challenges the state faces to maintain water supplies in urban, agricultural and rural areas, why the state faces these problems, and what is being done to fix them now and over the next 25 years and beyond.
  • Meet the Experts: Hear from water professionals working with state agencies, city utilities, community groups and non-profits around the state. These experts are helping people in urban centers, agricultural communities, and rural areas to work together and find ways to live within their water means. Some have been successful for decades, while many are developing new and innovative programs to meet immediate needs.
  • Get Involved: The new website provides a quick and easy guide to water in Arizona but it also offers links to information if you want to go deeper into a particular subject. There are links to workshops, events and water conservation rebates so visitors know what is available and can find a way to help.

The new website makes it quick and easy to have the facts in hand when the topic of water comes up in a conversation at a party or an HOA meeting, with your next-door neighbor or your boss. Take a look at Arizona Water Facts and see how it can work for you.

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.