By Warren Tenney
Here’s a dare: Spend a day without water. The truth is you can’t. Even if you are willing to give up showering, brushing, flushing, washing your hands, doing laundry, using your dishwasher, watering your yard, jumping into your pool, cleaning your house and car, it’s not enough. That tee shirt you just pulled on, the gas in your car, the hops for your beer take many gallons of water to produce.
The Value of Water Coalition’s “Imagine a Day Without Water” is one of the more thoughtful national water awareness campaigns. The campaign’s goal is to help people understand where their water comes from and how important it is to maintain the infrastructure that delivers clean water to businesses and homes – and takes away wastewater. The official day to imagine your life without water is Thursday, September 15, but AMWUA embraces the campaign’s goals every day.
Where does our water come from? Most of the water delivered to Valley homes and businesses is river water. Colorado River water is transported through a 360-mile canal operated by Central Arizona Project and water from the Salt and Verde rivers is stored in reservoirs and transported through canals operated by Salt River Project. The cities pump some groundwater from the aquifer. They also use highly treated wastewater – called recycled or reclaimed water – to irrigate turf and supply Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. Cities’ water portfolios also include water they have stored underground for future use. These multiple sources mean you will not have to live a day without water as long as we remain vigilant in managing these sources and the infrastructure that moves the water.
How does water get to our homes and businesses? The infrastructure that transfers water from the canals to treatment plants and into homes or businesses is underground or behind walls. So is the system that removes and treats wastewater. Unlike other infrastructures, such as roads and sidewalks, residents can’t monitor the aging of treatment plants, water pipes and pumps. However, just like roads and bridges, these water and wastewater systems fall into disrepair and cost money to maintain and replace. If this infrastructure breaks down it can mean hours or longer without water delivered to homes and businesses. That’s when a day without water becomes reality and no one is left untouched, homes, schools, hospitals, power plants, aquariums, or manufacturers.
A recent article in Scientific American reported the nation suffers 240,000 water main breaks a year caused mainly by age. Estimates for upgrading the nation’s water infrastructure range from $682 billion from the Environmental Protection Agency to more than $1 trillion from the American Water Works Association.
The Phoenix Metro area is more fortunate than many older metropolitan areas. Many of our cities are younger with newer infrastructure or they are big enough and prosperous enough to fund well-functioning water departments. Water departments in most AMWUA cities are expected to pay for themselves, charging residents enough to pay for water resources plus operating and building expenses. The money you pay every month is used for two main purposes:
1. To cover increasing energy costs to transport and treat water and wastewater.
2. To build, maintain, repair and replace infrastructure to keep clean water flowing into homes and businesses and wastewater flowing out.
Without strong voices to advocate for investment in our water infrastructure, our water systems will remain out of sight and out of mind. There are places in the country, such as Flint, Michigan, where people don’t have to imagine days without water. They have suffered through the ugly reality. The good news is city and private water utilities that invest in continual maintenance save money in the long run, protect the health of their customers, prevent disruptions in daily living, and sustain economic growth.
Community leaders, elected officials, business owners, residents and you need to advocate for continual support for our water systems. We need to plan and invest in our water and wastewater systems today, so we may imagine a day without water, but never live through such a day.
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 www.amwua.org.