Five Water Challenges for Arizona from Avondale’s Councilmember Iwanski

By Warren Tenney

There wasn’t much David Iwanski didn’t know about Arizona water when he joined AMWUA’s Board of Directors in 2014. Avondale Councilmember Iwanski trained as an attorney, spent four years in the Army and served as an aide to the late Arizona U.S. Congressman Eldon Rudd. It was Rudd who instructed him to learn everything he could about water and energy in the West. That led to a job with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Since then, Councilmember Iwanski has served as Water Resources Manager for the cities of Glendale and Goodyear. He spent those years as a member of AMWUA’s Water Resources Advisory Group.

dave_iwanskiMr. Iwanski, 62, was appointed to Avondale’s City Council in 2014 but opted not to run for a seat this year. He preferred his current job as Executive Director of the AZ Water Association, which helps to educate and keep certified water professionals from across the state. Before he leaves the Board of Directors, we sat down and asked Councilmember Iwanski to list a few of Arizona’s immediate water challenges as he sees them.

Challenge 1:  Educate state elected officials about water. “The biggest immediate challenge is educating all our newly elected officials at all levels of government, including cities and towns, county boards of supervisors and state legislators about water issues.”

Challenge 2: Educate members of the new administration, Senate and Congress in Washington, D.C. about sometimes onerous regulations about water quality standards, endangered species, and coal-fired power plants: “When EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) sets standards, good science and good economics are not always adhered to.”

Challenge 3: Develop a comprehensive plan to increase the beneficial use of water cleaned at polluted Superfund Sites, known as remediated water. “We need to be able to develop that supply. There are two Superfund sites in Goodyear and a state Superfund Site in Avondale. We need to remediate that water and put it to better use. We’re doing this in Goodyear, but we need to do more of it. There will be other identified contamination and we’ll need to clean up those aquifers.”12508759_1704631389760727_3010237284477162292_n

Challenge 4: Arizona needs to quickly dedicate time, effort and money toward helping the state’s rural communities improve the quality and quantity of reliable and safe drinking water. This can’t be accomplished without hiring more water technicians and hydrologists at competitive salaries to gather data and find solutions. “Elected officials have to make that decision in terms of looking at salary and benefits for water professionals. If this is our most important issue, then we need to hire good talent.”

Challenge 5: Arizona’s leaders are going to have to accept the fact that our growth cannot outstrip our water supply. Most importantly, growth cannot rely on pumping the finite supply of water within our aquifers, known as non-renewable water. “You cannot build a sustainable economy on a non-renewable groundwater supply. So, here’s the policy question: Do you or do you not want 10-15 million people living in Central Arizona. No? Then cities and town have to look at their water portfolios and say: What can I afford at build out? People may have to make the decision that lower density or fewer people are viable options.”

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.

Gilbert Grows Program To Help HOAs Lower Water Bills

By Warren Tenney

In the last two years, the Town of Gilbert has more than doubled the number of Homeowners Associations enrolled in a free program that takes the guesswork out of landscape irrigation. The program walks HOAs through the steps that lead to thriving landscapes while using less water and saving money. That information fosters greater harmony among HOA board members, residents, property managers and landscape contractors.

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Vintage Ranch

Gilbert’s HOA Landscape Irrigation Assistance Program calculates the acreage of turf and desert-adapted plantings in each HOA’s landscape and, with other detailed information, determines the volume of water needed to keep an HOA’s landscape healthy. Here’s what happens next.

  • The Town then compares the volume of water needed to the current amount of water the HOA is using. The Town first contacts HOAs that are exceeding the recommended volume of water by the highest percentages.
  • If the HOA agrees, Gilbert irrigation expert Jeff Lee meets with a board member, the property manager and the landscape contractor to determine how, when and where to make changes that would help the HOA use water more efficiently and, likely, lead to lower bills.
  • It doesn’t end there. Each month, the three representatives receive an email from Gilbert that shows the actual volume of water the HOA is using compared with the recommended volume.

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    Cooper Ranch

Most enrolled HOAs immediately reduce their water use to the volume the Town’s calculations suggest. Soon, specific problems within the irrigation system become obvious when parts of the landscape begin looking stressed.

Jeff helps the HOA determine how to solve these problems and suggests improvements to the irrigation system.  These improvements could mean changing the space between sprinklers, using more water-efficient sprinkler heads, or adding drip emitters that control pressure and ensure even watering. The HOA uses the initial savings from the water bill to invest in improving and maintaining its irrigation system so it can work at peak efficiency.

Gilbert started the HOA Landscape Irrigation Assistance Program in 2007 and it operated until 2011 when it was suspended due to the recession and staffing cutbacks. The program restarted in 2014 and had 20 HOAs enrolled by the end of the year. There are 52 communities enrolled in the program today.  All but seven irrigate their landscapes with water treated for drinking. The others use highly treated wastewater, called recycled or reclaimed water. These 52 communities have about 500 acres of grass and 500 acres of desert landscaping.

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Val Vista Place

So how effective is this program at saving water? Here are the statistics from Gilbert.

  • At the end of 2015, 36 communities were enrolled.
  • In 2013, these 36 communities were using 1.2 billion gallons of water for irrigation.
  • By the end of 2015, they were using 990 million gallons. That’s a savings of 235 million gallons.

That’s an impressive number, but some of the 36 communities didn’t enroll until the end of 2015, so the potential savings is even greater.

HOA boards are more comfortable knowing their communities are using just the right amount of water for irrigation and knowing what to expect in their water bills each month. More HOAs require their landscape contractors to have similar water-efficiency programs. At least one management company requires their landscape contractors to join Gilbert’s HOA Landscape Irrigation Assistance Program.

Josh Dupper of R.H. Dupper Landscaping Inc. said he has worked years perfecting his own computer program that estimates and irrigates the amount of water an HOA should be using to keep its landscape healthy. Josh has worked closely with Gilbert’s HOA Landscape Irrigation Assistance Program and calls Gilbert’s Jeff Lee a “wealth of knowledge” who has helped Josh improve the efficiency his own irrigation management program. Josh said creating a water-efficiency program for an HOA is complicated with a lot of math and science and Gilbert’s program is needed to help landscapers create better programs.

“You need the city to double check the accuracy for accountability,’’ Josh said. “It’s good to have checks and balances.”

Gilbert isn’t the only city that helps HOAs irrigate more efficiently and save money. Check with your city’s conservation professional for help.

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.

Lawmakers Get Answer To Arizona’s Biggest Water Question

By Warren Tenney

When I meet people and they find out I work in water, they always ask me this question: When are we going to run out of water? Arizona legislators – particularly those who were just elected – have the same concerns and questions about the state’s water supplies. Many of these lawmakers from both urban and rural communities attended AMWUA’s legislative forum on December 7th to get answers. AMWUA assembled leaders from the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Central Arizona Project, Salt River Project and the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry to make sure legislators have the latest and best information. Here’s some of what the legislators learned.

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The crowd begins to gather at the Desert Botanical Garden for the AMWUA legislative forum.

Arizona is one of the most successful states in the country at managing its water resources. We have never shied away from the fact that we live in an arid place.  Since our water supply is limited, out of necessity we have managed it very well by wringing out every drop. Despite a 17-year drought, Arizona is not in a water crisis and the state has planned for extended drought. Much of the credit goes to Arizona’s forward-thinking leaders who passed the 1980 Arizona Groundwater Management Act. Among other things, this law regulates wells in the state’s most populous areas, requires a 100-year assured water supply before development, and helps to save water in the state’s aquifers for the future. The Act also motivated AMWUA to create a regional water conservation program.  As a result of this regional effort and municipal water conservation programs, water demand in the Valley is the same today as the late 1980s despite a rapid increase in population. AMWUA member cities want to ensure the strong foundation built by the Groundwater Management Act is always strengthened by new legislation and never—intentionally or unintentionally—weakened.

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I talk with City of Phoenix Councilwoman Thelda Williams, president of AMWUA’s Board, who called the forum to order.

Despite our successes, there are challenges ahead for us to overcome. Valley cities are supplied mainly with water from the Colorado, Salt and Verde rivers. These rivers are experiencing drought that is affecting state water supplies. For example, flows in the Salt and Verde rivers are down by 35 percent. The rivers are suffering from over-pumping in rural areas not regulated by the Groundwater Management Act and from catastrophic wildfires in overgrown forests where the rivers’ originate.  Furthermore, the AMWUA cities also receive almost 40 percent of their water from Lake Mead, a reservoir behind Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. The water level in Lake Mead determines if and when the U.S. Secretary of the Interior will declare an official Colorado River water shortage. Without continued conservation efforts, there is a 50 percent chance of a shortage declaration in 2018, which would reduce Arizona’s available supply.

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Arizona Chamber’s Glenn Hamer said water is a top issue for the Chamber.

At the forum, the Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, Thomas Buschatzke, assured legislators the state is working with cities, farmers, industries and Native American communities to reach an agreement to keep more water in Lake Mead and prevent a shortage declaration. If a comprehensive agreement can be reached in time, Director Buschatzke said he would present the plan to state lawmakers for their approval during the 2017 legislative session. A successful Arizona plan is key to Nevada and California agreeing to plans that would protect Lake Mead on a larger scale.

Arizona Chamber CEO Glenn Hamer told lawmakers that he supports Director Buschatzke’s efforts. He also called for the same kind of arduous negotiations and political will that created the 1980 Groundwater Management Act—this time to create a plan that protects our current water supplies in all three rivers.

“We may be at the point where we’re going to have to come together in a bipartisan fashion to protect the state,” Mr. Hamer told the forum. He named water as one of the Chamber’s top three issues. “Water security means economic security,” Mr. Hamer said.

The AMWUA cities have worked hard to help Arizona remain a leader in water management. As a result, the Valley has grown from a dusty outpost into a major economic growth center. But wise water management isn’t just for the AMWUA cities.  Water is a statewide concern.  Rivers and aquifers do not recognize political boundaries. What happens in one part of the state can have a ripple effect in other parts. We are in this together, whether we reside in urban or rural Arizona and whatever our political affiliations.

So here’s the answer to that pervasive question from all water users, whether or not they have the power to make laws. When will Arizona run out of water? We will run out of water when we stop planning, managing, and investing in it.

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.

Water: A Conversation With Chandler Councilmember Rick Heumann

By Warren Tenney

When City of Chandler Councilmember Rick Heumann joined the AMWUA Board of Directors six years ago he knew this about water: “I drank it.” He knew Chandler had a water treatment plant and a wastewater treatment plant – and that he had been assigned to the board of an important regional water agency. When it came to water management, Mr. Heumann called himself a blank slate – but he wasn’t really. The business executive arrived on the AMWUA board without much water knowledge but with two convictions that make up the core of water management: you need a plan today to reach your goals in 20 or 30 years and successful plans require collaboration. Mr. Heumann also had insights gained from 20 years of community service, including sitting on Chandler’s Planning and Zoning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission. The Councilmember, who ended up serving as president of the AMWUA Board, will attend his last meeting in December, so we sat down and talked to him about water.

The Surprises: Mr. Heumann worked to understand the complexities of the Central Arizona Project, the 360-mile canal that brings Colorado River water to the Phoenix Metro area and Tucson. He had to learn about the condition of the nation’s largest reservoir known as Lake Mead, the laws that allowed cities, Native American communities and small-heumannfarmers to share Colorado River water, the debt owed to the federal government for building the canal, and the energy needed from the coal-burning Navajo Generating Station (NGS) to lift the water uphill. “Why do you need all that power?” was Mr. Heumann’s first thought. “Just stick the canal there and it will flow down hill over hundreds of miles,” he now recalls. “Well, it’s not downhill it’s uphill, too. NGS is where the power comes from.” Mr. Heumann knows the NGS has been under scrutiny by the Environmental Protection Agency, but without it delivery of Colorado River water would stop. “You just can’t shut it down. You can’t build enough solar power to generate the power to move water uphill. But what’s the comprehensive approach over the next ten years?  Maybe we can use less of NGS, reduce the need for that by using wind, or nuclear, or solar or clean coal.”

The Big Question: There is one question about water that Councilmember Heumann gets most often: Are we going to run out of water? “When I talk about water, whether it’s a council meeting, a subcommittee meeting or chamber meeting, that’s one of the big things that come up. People read snippets and little tidbits of things and hear all the doom and gloom.” Mr. Heumann said there are two things people need to know: “One is that there is not an abundance of water, but there’s enough water if we use it right.” Small things people do add up, even if it’s not letting the water run when brushing your teeth or shaving or using a broom instead of a hose to regularly clean your driveway or patio. “It’s a restaurant not serving water unless you ask for water. How much does that save? Well, you know what, that glass of water may be 8 ounces, but if your restaurant serves 200 people a day that’s 1,600 ounces. Think how many gallons were wasted. Of those 200 customers, did 50 of them drink it? That’s 150 people you didn’t serve water to and all the dishwashing that goes along with it. So you start doing those incremental things.”

 

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The Progress: Councilmember Heumann is well aware it will take more than incremental conservation for Arizona to have enough water to thrive. He helped Chandler to become the first city in the state to pass a policy that ties land use to the city’s 100-year water supply. Here’s how it works: If Chandler residents benefit from a new high-water-use commercial development, such as providing a lot of jobs, the City will provide the new development with water. If a development uses a great deal of water but provides only a few jobs, such as a data center, it must buy its water on the open market. The policy’s goal is to ensure that once Chandler’s entire available land is developed, the last people to buy homes or build businesses still will have a 100-year supply of water. “Some people get offended and say, ‘You should let people do whatever they want.’ Well, no. Chandler has 64 square miles. When that last guy wants to build his subdivision or his business he has to have that water.” Mr. Heumann has only one regret about the policy: It should have been in place 20 years ago. “What I hope is that cities like Goodyear and Gila Bend and Buckeye, high-growth cities, like Gilbert, that they really take a look at this policy. Because it’s not a policy designed to say you can’t have water. It’s a policy designed to say we’ve allocated our water resources, we know how much we have now, we know our 100 year supply.”

The Future: In the six years Mr. Heumann has been on the AMWUA Board he has watched AMWUA’s role change. “It has changed and should change to really a marketing arm.  I think it’s really important our cities are educating our citizens about conservation, on the right way to use water, where it comes from, thinking for the long term. Your grandkids are going to live here. Are they going to live here in a sustainable manner?” He wants to see the successful water management practices developed by AMWUA cities shared with non-member cities, such as Prescott and Payson. Mr. Heumann also sees a need for AMWUA and others to educate members of the Arizona Legislature about water so they know how to balance the state’s water resources with demands for new development, particularly on the outskirts of the Valley and in rural areas where water tables are dropping from over pumping from too many wells. “The Legislature needs to understand we (AMWUA) represent 3.5 million people. This is about sustainability, so my kids and grandkids will be able to live here. The legislators need to get out in the water to fully understand what really drives the lifeblood of the valley and understand it isn’t just about what we do today. What we do today affects us long term. You’ve got to think about a plan.”

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.