Scottsdale Offers Arizona’s First Pool Removal Rebate

By Warren Tenney

As you fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport bright blue dots mark thousands of backyard pools. For decades, backyard pools have been as common as sunshine in Valley neighborhoods. Many families can’t imagine living in the Phoenix Metro area without a swimming pool, while others have outgrown their pools. Over the last 20 years the rate of new pools being put into homes has declined. Unused pools have begun to languish in backyards demanding to be cleaned and repaired. Some are empty, others leaking from neglect.

A recent study showed that between 2006 and 2013 for every five new residential pools built in Maricopa County, three were removed. In another indication of this downward trend, one Phoenix-based excavating company reported that its pool removals had increased 25 percent each year since 2014. The City of Scottsdale wants to encourage this trend. Scottsdale is the first City in Arizona to offer residents a water conservation rebate to remove their pools and spas. The water conservation rebate provides up to $1,500 to offset some of the expenses.

This dirty pool

Unused pools languish in backyards. Photo: City of Scottsdale

This new water conservation rebate gives extra incentive to a tough challenge. Pools lose water through leaks and evaporation. A pool will lose its entire volume of water to evaporation within one year. During the summer, a 400-square-foot pool will lose 10 inches a month or about 2,500 gallons to evaporation. Pool leaks can be hard to spot. Leaks are most often found in pool equipment and can leave a wet spot (that can evaporate quickly) or white crusty mineral deposits on pipes. (Here’s help from AMWUA’s Smart Home Water Guide to locate pool leaks.)

If you’re thinking about removing your pool, here are three things to consider.  

1. Check with your city to determine if you need a permit. Each city has different rules. Some cities, such as Scottsdale, will require that you pay for a permit. Removing a pool means disconnecting pool equipment from your electrical panel. A Scottsdale city inspector will review the final project to assure the electrical work was done correctly. You are also required to put holes in the bottom of the pool, as the holes allow rainwater to drain into the ground.

2. The least reliable way to remove a pool is to do it yourself unless you have equipment that can compact each foot of dirt used to backfill the pool. Without proper compacting, the fill dirt can settle within six months and create a depression or sink hole where the pool was. Any irrigation equipment and landscaping you planted to cover the pool area will be damaged or lost.

3. Contractors will give you a few options for ways to remove your pool. Here are the three options offered by one Phoenix excavating company. 1.) The least costly is to create a hole in the bottom of the pool, cap off plumbing, disconnect electric and remove pool equipment, then backfill and compact the dirt.  2.) The second least costly technique includes removing decking and about 12 inches to 18 inches of the top of the pool shell, place it into the hole and then backfill and compact the dirt. These techniques cost less but some cities may not permit you to build on top of the pool area or require further soil compacting. 3.) The most expensive option is to remove the deck and pool shell completely. Check with Arizona’s Registrar of Contractors and Better Business Bureau before hiring help to remove your pool.

So what is it going to cost? We put that question to the folks at Imperial Excavating, a Phoenix-based company that removes two to three pools a week throughout the Valley during the busy winter season. The first two partial removal techniques typically cost $2,800 and $3,800. The total removal is about $6,000. That makes Scottsdale’s pool and spa removal rebate look pretty good. Here are basics about the rebate.


Leaks in pool equipment can be hard to spot. Photo: City of Scottsdale

  • The amount of the rebate is 50 cents per square foot based on the surface square footage of your pool. Once completed, your rebate will appear on your bill.
  • Expect the City to ask for photos and to conduct pre and post inspections.
  • You must landscape the space where the pool had been.
  • You have six months to complete the project after the pre-inspection date.

This new rebate is based on a first-come-first-served basis. If you are considering removing your pool, Scottsdale is waiting for your application. You could start a new trend in your neighborhood.

Each city develops and updates its conservation programs to address its customers’ unique situation. Rebates available through cities will vary. Here is a list of rebates offered by AMWUA member cities.  

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


Peak Demand Dictates How Cities Build Water Infrastructure

By Warren Tenney

It’s no surprise that demand for water in the Phoenix Metro area reaches its peak during the summer months. What may be surprising is that demand nearly doubles from the winter months to the summer months. In February 2015, City of Peoria customers – businesses, apartment buildings and homes – used 2,940 acre-feet of water. In July, Peoria’s peak rose to 6,516 acre-feet of water. (One acre-foot of water is enough to cover an acre to the depth of one foot or enough to serve an average of three Arizona households for a year.) In December 2015, City of Mesa water customers used 5,899 acre-feet of water. In July 2015, Mesa water customers used 10,503 acre-feet.

The annual pattern of peak demand can look slightly different from year to year, depending on fluctuations in heat and when monsoon storms arrive. The chart below shows Mesa’s annual water production for the past 5 years. Peaking in Mesa happens most often in July, but a hot June and a good July monsoon can mean that the peak month could be June.Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 8.10.27 AM

Watching water-use trends and peak demand is critical to planning and building water infrastructure. Here’s why:

  •  Annual Peak Demand: Cities build infrastructure to meet annual peak demand. It would be cheaper to order just enough water and build just enough pipes, pumps and small reservoirs within a water system to meet average water use but that would make water delivery to your faucets unreliable during peak demand times. More is invested in water treatment and distribution systems to ensure they are built to provide water for the hottest days when landscape irrigation systems, pools and cooling towers are working at maximum capacity.
  • Daily Peak Demand: Each day, demand for water peaks in the morning and, again, in the evening hours. That means water managers are diligently filling a water system’s reservoirs overnight to make sure enough water is ready to be pumped to homes when hundreds of thousands of residents step into their showers between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Then water managers dial back around 9 a.m. when demand lessens and to prepare for the after work demand.


    Small reservoirs keep water available for peak demand. Photo: City of Mesa

  • Safety Peak Demand: Being ready for daily and seasonal water demands isn’t enough. Water managers must maintain water supplies and build water systems for the what-ifs. What if it’s 6 a.m. on a July morning and firefighters call for more water to fight two house fires and a brush fire? What if the system is just dialing back to accommodate a low demand time when a water main breaks spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of water meant for customers into the street instead? A water distribution system must have supplies, pipes, reservoirs and pumps in reserve to keep water running to customer faucets while employees fix the break or provide water for fire suppression.

Most cities, including Mesa and Peoria, use a computer program called Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition or SCADA to track water demand throughout their systems. The program allows city employees to keep their eyes on each part of the water distribution system remotely and in real time. Operators use this innovative computer program to review water distribution continually throughout their service area and to track peaks in demands. For example, a sudden change in pressure could mean firefighters need high volume and increased pressure to put out a fire, a construction site is filling a large water tank, a reservoir is overflowing or there is a break in the system and the city is losing water.  Utility workers can quickly respond to investigate and correct the problem to significantly reduce any disruption to your water service. 

Mesa Canal Connection

Photo: City of Mesa

During the last two decades, while Mesa and Peoria have grown by hundreds of thousands of people, the water used by city customers, even during peak demand months, has remained nearly flat. Cities helped to fuel this accomplishment by promoting a conservation culture, which includes encouraging drought-tolerant landscapes and the use of water-efficient appliances and fixtures, and helping residents find and fix leaks. Want to help lower your city’s peak demand? Start outside where as much as 70 percent of a home’s water is used. AMWUA’s Smart Home Water Guide can help you find and fix leaks. AMWUA’s landscape pages can help you select drought-tolerant plants and trees, design a lovely yard, and efficiently water your landscape for maximum beauty.

For 47 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

Water: A Conversation with Scottsdale’s Mayor Lane

By Warren Tenney

Jim Lane’s resume is packed with past and present memberships on important governing boards, such as the League of Arizona Cities and Towns and Maricopa Association of Governments. After becoming the City of Scottsdale’s Mayor in 2009 he added one more, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association’s Board of Directors. Since then, he has been a regular at the monthly meetings, has served as AMWUA’s Board president and is now the Board’s secretary/treasurer. He is AMWUA’s longest serving Board member. During his 43 years living and working in Scottsdale, the Mayor has taken an interest in the Valley’s efforts to secure water supplies, in particular from the Colorado River, and the progress cities and the state have made saving and cleaning once-polluted aquifers. His active role as Scottsdale’s mayor comes first, but the Mayor said AMWUA is second. “Water is foremost in my mind, “ he said. “A resource so vital to our ability to grow and to be productive.” We thought it was time to sit down and talk water with the Mayor.

Q. What’s with all these golf courses in Scottsdale? It’s a desert city after all. 

A. “Golf is an industry. It is one of our primary industries. We have come to recognize it as one of our primary exports. People come here, buy an experience, and take it home. In order to accommodate that, we were the first – and maybe the only – city in the state to have 23 of those golf courses on a separate recycled water system. It’s a separate system the golf courses paid for themselves to water their golf courses. So, it waters their turf and keeps them in water at a competitive rate. It’s highly treated, but it’s reclaimed water.”

“Nearly a quarter of our general fund dollars comes from tourism, not to mention the fact that people who have second homes here are paying property taxes. It pays for basic services, police, fire, streets, roads, and libraries. Our direct tourism dollars – this would be bed-tax funds – enable us to off-load from our citizens the cost of maintaining TCP (Tournament Players Club), WestWorld, to build the Museum of the West and those kinds of things that end up enhancing our tourism traffic.”

Q. What question about water do people ask you the most?

Mayor Lane HeadshotA. “What is a little, sometimes, bothersome is that now I’m getting questions like: We have a water crisis. What are you doing about it?  I don’t ever want anyone to think we’re in la-la land, and in denial of challenges ahead of us. And so I try to say, look, we are as ready for this as anybody is. And we’re working every day on fine tuning and planning, not only solutions but conservation and growth. Another thing I share with them: In five years of increasing population our (City of Scottsdale’s) water consumption is flat.”

Q. Are you worried about climate change and what it could mean to our water supplies?

A. “No. I guess I’ve got to say I’m still a skeptic. I’m always concerned when the government is trying to assume more and more control over something, either to control or to tax. I concern myself with the motivation. Have we had cycles in our weather? When I was a younger man, the new ice age was coming. Then it changed to global warming. Then when things weren’t going that way, then we’re talking about climate change. I think we do have climate change, and I think we’ve always had climate change. But, nevertheless, I guess I’m a bit of a skeptic. I know some consider me a knucklehead because of my thinking and my skepticism on this subject.  Whatever the case may be, we still have to respond and manage our water according to the conditions before us.”

Q. Your city has worked hard to encourage residents to use water efficiently and provide innovative incentives to help residents conserve, such as rebates to remove water softeners and pools. Do you see cities as partners with environmentalists?

A. “The contrast we have with the environmentalists  – and I’d say maybe with the purest of the environmentalist’s side – is that we’re still advocates of growth. It has to be managed. I don’t mean managed in the sense of growth. I mean we have to manage our resources to make sure we can sustain our economy and our growth. That doesn’t mean by abusing our resources, it means by conserving our resources and making it work. But we’re not going to tell everybody to leave. We don’t see humans as the problems. We see them as something we have to accommodate and grow with.”

Q. So you’ve been in your home for 29 years. Have you made any changes to make it more water efficient?

A. “When the kids were home, we had a small soccer field out there (the back yard) so we went (with grass) from wall to wall. When they were all gone we decided to rein it in a little bit. We like the grass but it works out fine for us as it is right now, probably sometime we’ll change that configuration again. All the edges are Xeriscape. The front yard and most around the pool is all Xeriscape and has been from the beginning. When I built this house we hired a guy from ASU. He was a specialist in Xeriscape so all our vegetation was adapted. We weren’t into a lot of non-indigenous plants. We have over-seeded (the grass) in the winter a couple of times. When our oldest son got married we reseeded and we had the wedding here. And there have been a couple of times since then that I’ve done that, but it’s not a matter of course. It looks great but it’s just not worth it.”

Q. What are the water issues we haven’t talked about that you think are important?

A. “One thing is a concerted effort to get rid of salt cedar (also known as Tamarisk) in our watershed areas and primarily the Colorado River basin – 30 gallons (of water each tree uses) a day for millions of trees. It’s not indigenous to the area. It’s not right for our area. That’s a huge problem. I know it’s been a futile effort up until this time. Totally inadequately funded and I think that’s a major problem. It’s an outrage.”

Prescribed burn in Coconino National Forest Photo: SRP

“The second is forest management, which directly affects the water we receive in the Valley. I’ve spent the last several years trying to partner with environmentalists and you realize that we are looking for the same thing, ultimately. There will be differences in how we get there. But forest management is one of those critical things in which environmentalism – in the purest form – has really worked against us. It’s created the wildfire scenario where high-intensity flames just burn things to dust and destroy the watershed and pollute with biomass materials coming down in the drainage. This creates a monumental addition to (water) processing costs, which is a further carbon footprint as far as the power used to reprocess this (polluted water).  And then there is, frankly, the pollution of the water to boot and the inadequacy of soil conservation and, therefore, a denigration of the watershed and its development. Those are huge areas. The Four Forest fund initiative we actually contributed to at my suggestion. The City of Scottsdale will contribute $120,000 over the next three years to that fund as a participant. And my constituency would ask me: why are we contributing to that? Frankly, it’s our watershed.”

Q. How has AMWUA changed in the seven years you have helped to lead it?

A. “When I first came onto AMWUA it was a very different organization. It was just sort of a much lower profile organization doing the basics of representing the municipalities with SRP (Salt River Project) and CAP (Central Arizona Project). Now we’ve become more of a policy advisor for a wider group of folks, or I’d like to think we are. The credibility and reputation we’re building is a positive thing.”

For 47 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

Monsoon Season: 5 Common Landscape Mistakes

By Warren Tenney

In writing about the monsoon season, I’m hoping we do not jinx having more storms. The monsoon season in the Valley is a great time of year for suddenly cooler temperatures and extraordinary sunsets, but it makes caring for desert landscapes a bit more mysterious. There’s more weather than usual: humidity, dust, rain and high winds. With lots of anticipation for more monsoon activity, we asked conservation specialists from a few AMWUA cities about the five most common landscaping mistakes during the monsoon season. Here’s what they told us.

1. Watering too often. Some people are so concerned with rising temperatures they make the mistake of watering plants every day. Watering too frequently can keep the soil too moist and lead to rot, fungus and other diseases. Plants thrive on monsoon humidity.  They do better when you water less frequently but with deeper soakings, about 2 feet deep for shrubs and three feet for trees. (You can measure by sinking a pointed wooden stake into the ground.) Watering deeply and less frequently creates an underground reservoir of water for plants and trees that will not easily evaporate and will encourage healthy roots. Large desert trees do best with very little water during the summer. This discourages heavy top growth and soft wet soil, which makes it easier for them to uproot and fall over in high winds. When you do water trees, water out to the edge of the tree’s canopy. This gives trees a longer, deeper and stronger root system to steady them in a storm. Landscape Watering by the Numbers offers you more precise information.

2. Wasting rainwater. If it has rained about a half inch in your neighborhood, you can turn off your watering system. That saves you money on your water bill and saves water for all of us. Better yet, you also can contour your yard to help your plants and trees get the most out of each storm. Sunken gardens and deep wells around your trees help to slow, to spread and to sink rainwater instead of allowing it to run off your property.  It’s the simplest rain harvesting technique and takes nothing more than a shovel, a little energy and thoughtful placement of plants. Consider this: 1 inch of rain on a 1,000 square-foot roof produces 600 gallons of runoff. The Valley receives an average of 7 inches of rain a year. It makes sense to plant at the roofline and to build swales to direct runoff toward trees and plants.

ma_tree down

 Photo: City of Mesa

3. Leaving trees without proper support. Swaying in the wind can help young trees grow stronger. The wind also can uproot them if they are not staked properly. To properly stake a tree use two stakes 6 inches from the trunk and gently attach them to the trunk with looped ties that allow the tree to sway in the wind. Allowing the tree to move with the wind creates a dense wood and strong trunk that will help keep mature trees standing despite the weather. Properly pruning helps established trees stand up to monsoon winds. Here are four pruning tips to help keep an established tree standing and avoid losing limbs during storms: 1) do not cut off lower limbs, 2) do not top a tree (shear off the top), 3) do not cut it into an umbrella shape, and 4) do not aggressively thin a tree leaving excessive foliage on the end of branches.

4. Applying herbicides during rainy weather. Rain is rarely gentle during the monsoon. Hard and fast rain rushes across your yard carrying any herbicides you’ve applied into the streets. From there it flows into storm drains or catch basins, which are usually located along street curbs, and into storm drain pipes deep underground. Most of this untreated runoff empties directly into riverbeds, washes and retention basins in city parks. Herbicides only add to the pollution the runoff carries with it. You can learn more about the importance of storm water at Stormwater Outreach for Regional Municipalities (STORM). Hand pulling weeds out of moist soil after a storm is easier and best for the environment.

Broken Spray Head

Photo: City of Mesa

5. Abandoning an irrigation system. No one can blame you for getting out of town for most of the summer and never experiencing the monsoon. (Perhaps you’d just prefer to stay indoors and abandon the yard work for a few months.) Here’s the problem: many homeowners trust their yard to an automated irrigation controller. Electrical storms can get your irrigation timer off schedule or even set your controller back to a default schedule (and sometimes cause irreparable damage). While the controller may be reliable, your pipes, sprinkler heads and drip lines are less so. Drip lines are particularly susceptible to weather. High temperatures, dust, and rain can clog, crack and break emitters and lines so each time that reliable controller comes on plants don’t get watered or gallons of wasted water pools in your yard. Pooling water gives mosquitoes a place to breed, wastes your money and everyone’s water. Check sprinkler heads for mower damage. Grass and leaves also can clog sprinkler heads. If you leave for part or most of the summer, make sure a neighbor, friend, family member, or a gardener regularly walks your yard while the irrigation system is running and is prepared to spot and stop any leaks. AMWUA’s Smart Home Water Guide can help.

Enjoy the monsoon season along with your plants and trees and keep this in mind: the monsoon season means Fall weather is getting closer.

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


Water Bank Recovery: Preparing for Shortages on the Colorado River

By Warren Tenney

For many years, the State of Arizona has been storing water underground to prepare for times of drought. One way Arizona has accomplished this is through the efforts of a little-known state agency called the Arizona Water Banking Authority, commonly known as the Water Bank. Since its establishment in 1996, the Water Bank has stored Arizona’s unused Colorado River water underground, rather like a savings account. This savings account acts as a buffer if shortages cut water supplies from the Central Arizona Project (CAP). The CAP is a 336-mile canal that transports Colorado River water across the state to central Arizona and the Valley.  If necessary, the Water Bank will use this stored water to replace certain water supplies needed by cities, industrial users, and tribes when drought and shortage hits the Colorado River.

Central Arizona Project canal  Photo: CAP

The creation and operation of the Water Bank is one of Arizona’s water success stories.  Arizona has done an excellent job storing water underground.  Since its establishment 20 years ago, the Water Bank has stored 3.4 million acre-feet of CAP water. One acre-foot is enough water to supply 3 average Arizona households for one year. This water is in addition to the water Arizona cities have stored underground for decades within city limits or in regional underground storage facilities.

The next challenge is to complete the plan for the eventual pumping or “recovery” of the Water Bank’s water. How this water is recovered is one of the most important issues facing municipal water providers in the Phoenix area.

It is important to know that the Water Bank’s primary responsibility to date has been to store water. The agency is not equipped to transport, recover or distribute water. Arizona law states the Water Bank and CAP are to work together on recovering stored water. CAP has significant infrastructure in place and the ability to develop more, so CAP’s involvement is critical to ensure the eventual recovery of this water.

Understanding the importance of defining how recovery would occur, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR), CAP, and the Water Bank in 2014 jointly developed basic principles about how to recover stored water during a shortage. While the respective agencies have made progress in planning for recovery, additional work is needed so municipalities have greater certainty as to how recovery of this stored water will occur and meet their needs.

AMWUA recently identified and analyzed the outstanding issues that need to be resolved to provide a complete recovery plan and give the cities greater certainty.  Here is a brief summary:

Tonopah Recharge 28

Tonopah Desert Recharge Project Photo: CAP by Philip A. Fortnam

  • Distribution of Water Credits: Every acre-foot of water stored by the Water Bank creates a credit so the Arizona Department of Water Resources can track the amount of water stored. It is not clear how these credits would be distributed during a shortage and in what amounts.
  • Roles of CAP and the Water Bank: Arizona laws state that the Water Bank and CAP are to work together on recovering saved water, but it doesn’t provide specifics on their individual roles. Over the past several years, the Water Bank and CAP have worked on an agreement to clarify their roles, but that agreement is not yet final.
  • Infrastructure and Costs: Pumping and delivering the water would require expensive infrastructure, such as wells, treatment facilities, and possibly the use of canals. Existing infrastructure could be used, but many water experts anticipate that additional infrastructure would be necessary.
  • Water Quality: There are some unknowns about the quality of recovered water based on where the Water Bank has stored it. Testing and possible treatment of water may be required.
  • Water Exchanges: Another question is whether cities and the Water Bank could engage in exchanges of water that would decrease the costs of recovering water. For example, some experts have suggested that the Water Bank could store water underground in Tucson now for the City to use during shortages. When shortages come, Valley cities could then receive Tucson’s allocation of CAP water at their existing canal-side water treatment plants. This is similar to the current agreement Phoenix has with Tucson and Metro Water District.    

This is a simplified summary of a complex issue. The importance of this issue, however, is clear: While the first shortage cut won’t affect the cities, cities still want to be as well prepared as possible with their water supplies for when a shortage may impact them.  The Water Bank and CAP working to clarify outstanding questions regarding recovery of stored water will give municipalities greater certainty.  This is one more way in which Arizona continues to plan and be ready for whatever water challenge it must face.

For 47 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