Drought: Five Things You Need To Know About This Rainy Winter

By Warren Tenney

Many people are wondering what this rainy, snowy winter means for Arizona after more than two decades of drought. Here are five things we know right now.

1. It’s raining and snowing in the right places. So far, it has been raining and snowing in locations that have the potential to increase water in two major reservoirs, Roosevelt Lake and Lake Mead. These reservoirs are key to drinking water supplies for the majority of Arizona’s population.

  • Lake Mead relies on runoff from snow pack in the Upper Colorado River Basin, primarily from two main tributaries: the Green River in southwestern Wyoming and the Upper Colorado River in western Colorado. December snowpack in the Colorado River Basin has ranged from 50 percent to three times above normal.  The result of this above normal precipitation will likely boost the reservoir levels of Lake Mead.
  • Roosevelt Lake relies on rain and snow in the watershed that feeds the Salt River. This watershed reaches into the high country northeast of Phoenix. So far, the watershed has received about 45 percent more precipitation than normal. As of January 25th, 211,000 acre-feet of water had flowed into Roosevelt Lake. (One acre-foot of water is enough to serve three average Arizona households for a year.)

2. This is a good start. Weather in February and March must remain cold and wet to hold and increase the gains and potential gains in both reservoirs. Water resource managers are pleased with rain but prefer snow accompanied by extended weeks of cold temperatures. Low temperatures keep the snow on the ground longer, which stops the water in the ground from evaporating and helps to reduce the threat of summer wildfires. The slow flow from melting snow also delivers cleaner water and is easier to manage in a water delivery system. So while it has already been a good winter, we will have to wait until April to know if it has been a great season.

screen-shot-2017-01-27-at-2-38-24-pm

This is a map of the  watershed where the springs, creeks and rivers originate that feed into Roosevelt Lake, a key drinking water reservoir for the Phoenix Metro area.

3. The drought is not over. Research shows that drought cycles and wet cycles in Arizona run 20 to 30 years. A drought cycle has fewer wet years than dry and a wet cycle has a greater number of above average rainy years. The current record-breaking drought cycle began around 1996. The last six years have been the driest on record in the Salt and Verde rivers’ watersheds. If the weather follows historical trends, the current drought could be coming to a close within the next several years, but there’s no certainty and it does not factor in climate change. It would take a few years of greater than average snow and rain to begin to heal the wounds left by the current drought. This includes helping to replenish local aquifers used to back up water available in dams and reservoirs. Plus, two or three years of well above-average precipitation on the watersheds that feed the Salt and Verde rivers would help to re-establish depleted wildlife, such as quail and deer. That much precipitation would help to restore overgrazed grasslands and begin to create a healthier forest, with trees not as susceptible to diseases and bark beetle infestation.

snow_highway

4. AMWUA cities are built for drought. Sunshine is the norm in Central Arizona and rain is an event. We have never denied that we live in an arid part of the country and we plan for drought cycles. AMWUA cities save water underground for future use, keep leaks within their water distribution systems to some of the lowest rates in the country, and re-use 99 percent of their wastewater. Salt River Project (SRP) operates the system of reservoirs and canals that store water from the Salt and Verde rivers. After a rare rainy year in 2010, SRP has faced six dry years on the rivers’ watersheds. Despite record low precipitation, Roosevelt Lake has remained half full and SRP has been able to fill water orders for farmers, industries and cities. SRP was forced to limit water orders by 33 percent in 2002, the driest year in the Southwest in 1,200 years. That year, the SRP system was only 25 percent full and Roosevelt Lake alone was down to 10 percent full. It was the first reduction since the 1950s.

Central Arizona Project (CAP) operates the canal that brings Colorado River water released from Lake Mead to Arizona. CAP has not yet had to reduce water supplies due to a Colorado River shortage. The state’s cities, farmers and industries currently are working together to maintain and increase the level of water stored in Lake Mead and prevent a water shortage declaration next year. The recent increase in winter precipitation and snowpack in the Colorado River Basin decreases the chances that a shortage would be declared in 2018. So, while we regularly face metrological droughts, our water supply droughts are rare.

5. You can make the rain count. Homeowners, apartment managers and businesses make a contribution to our reservoirs when they turn off their irrigation systems and auto-fills on their pools each time it rains. More homeowners and communities also are harvesting the rain by contouring their landscapes to hold storm runoff. Swales built around trees and plants help rainwater stay in place longer so the water soaks deep into the landscape and stays available to plants and trees longer. All of this reduces the need to irrigate and the demand on city water supplies, which in turn saves more drinking water for drinking.

For 48 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 http://www.amwua.org. 

 

Desert Edibles: Cities Offer Full Menu Of Landscape And Gardening Classes

By Warren Tenney

The Sonoran Desert is an incomparable place to hike, bike, run, horseback ride and bird watch. When it comes to foraging for food, it’s not so grand. Even those knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the topic admit that sifting and straining food from desert flora is labor intensive. It is, however, a labor of love for people who crave the tastes of the desert. If you think you may be one of them – or you’re just curious – the City of Glendale is presenting a free class in February called Desert Edibles. It’s the most distinct of dozens of free landscape and gardening classes offered this year by AMWUA member cities.

Those who love desert fruits hold several Sonoran Desert food festivals each year. If you’ve never heard of them it’s probably because they are held in June. It’s a hot month to attract a crowd to a desert festival but it is peak harvesting time for desert edibles.

saguaro-harvesting

The most common cactus food is called napoles in Spanish and are small, young prickly pear cactus pads picked in the early summer. Napoles is found on some Mexican restaurant menus and many grocery stores offer pickled napoles and napoles salsas. Tom McDonald, who is teaching Glendale’s Desert Edibles class, said they taste a bit like green peppers. He likes napoles in scrambled eggs and casseroles. Tom owns Smiling Dog Landscapes in Gold Canyon, where he designs and installs landscapes and offers free classes about eating native Sonoran desert foods.

Tom said the prickly pear’s bright red fruit, called tunas, are easiest for beginners to enjoy. Tom’s wife, Kathy, freezes the fruit and then blanches it – thorns, seeds, skin and all – in a stew pot with a little water. Once cooked she uses a potato masher to turn it into pulp and then strains it through sieves with decreasing pore sizes until it is pure juice, which Tom said has a wild tart taste. She uses the juice to make a rosy onion jam marinade, mixes it with coconut milk to make a sorbet and adds a bit to fruit smoothies.

photo-1

During Glendale’s class, Tom will offer ways to use 20 desert plants and trees, including milling flour from mesquite pods for pancakes that taste sweet and grainy like ones made from buckwheat and roasting jojoba beans with a little sea salt for a snack food.

A warning from Tom: Don’t attempt to harvest, cook or eat desert plants, fruits, seeds or pods without doing your research or attending classes. Just like foraging for mushrooms, the right ones at the right time of year are delightful delicacies but the wrong ones harvested incorrectly can make you sick. Remember those movie-cowboys who survived in the desert by cutting into a saguaro or barrel cactus and chewing the juice out of the pulp? In real life, they’d be goners. Most cactus pulp and juice make you sick.

Perhaps your tastes run toward more domestic fruits and vegetables. You may enjoy desert flora less for its food value and more for its beauty in low-water landscapes. If so, Glendale and most other AMWUA cities have plenty of classes to guide you to success. Here are a few examples.

Avondale: Trees for Small Arid Yards (6 p.m. April 13, Avondale City Hall, 11465 W. Civic Center Dr.) Find the tree that tolerates Arizona’s heat, is water efficient and fits that particular spot in your yard.

Chandler: Save Your Trees from Monsoon Damage (6:30 p.m. June 13, location TBA) Learn tips about growing a strong tree, including selecting, planting, staking, pruning and watering.

img_8180

Gilbert: Sprinkler Design and Installation (6:30 p.m. March 9, Southeast Regional Library – Gilbert, 775 N. Greenfield Road) Design and install a sprinkler system from start to finish like a pro.

Glendale: Cacti and Succulents for Desert Gardens (6 p.m. Feb. 22, Glendale Main Library, 5959 W. Brown St.) Get to know a wide variety of low maintenance cacti and succulents that add color, texture and interest to your desert landscape.

Mesa: Mesa’s water-efficiency professionals work with the Mesa Urban Garden and Mesa Public Library to provide landscaping and conservation classes. Watch for the release of their latest class schedules.

img_8051

Peoria: Growing Fruits in the Desert (6 p.m. March 8, Rio Vista Recreation Center, 8866 W Thunderbird Road) Learn more about desert-adapted fruit trees for a successful harvest, including planting, pollinating and creating microclimates. 

Phoenix: Rain Gardens (2 p.m. Feb. 11 Saguaro Library, 2808 N 46th St.) Design an earth-friendly yard using simple earthworks and low-water-use plants.

Scottsdale: Learn to Prune (10 a.m. March 17 Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden at Chaparral Park.) Learn basic pruning cuts from a certified arborist in a hands-on outdoor setting.

Tempe: Conversion from Lawn to a Beautiful Xeriscape (9 a.m. April 15, Eisendrath House – Tempe, 1400 N. College Ave.) Pick up information about Xeriscape conversion, its principals and design, drip irrigation and lawn care.

You will find a complete and up-to-date list of free classes on AMWUA’s website.

For 48 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.

Grease Coop: A Beautiful Solution To An Ugly Problem

By Warren Tenney

Grease sent down drains in restaurant kitchens has plagued city sewer systems since they were built. The Tempe Grease Cooperative takes an artful step toward better controlling the ugly problem. The program saves money for the City of Tempe and its businesses and transforms a government regulation into a government benefit.

The Problem: Grease, oils and fats from thousands of restaurants collect in cities’ wastewater systems. It requires expensive maintenance to stop all that grease from building up and blocking sewer lines. All AMWUA cities work hard to help businesses keep fats, oils and grease out of wastewater systems. They also encourage residents to save their own plumbing and their cities’ wastewater systems by cooling grease and then  putting it into the trash. A sewer line blocked by grease can cause sewage spills that are no fun to deal with.  Once grease-rich sewage reaches a wastewater treatment plant it also is more difficult and costly to clean and re-use. AMWUA cities treat and re-use wastewater to irrigate turf, store underground and cool the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.

grease-incepter

This is an industrial grease interceptor or grease trap.

 

It’s not the vats of oil left over in restaurants from French fries and fried chicken that create the problem. This is called “yellow” grease and is a valuable commodity picked up by vendors and used to create biofuels. The problem is “brown” grease  cleaned off dirty dishes and mopped off restaurant floors. It has to go somewhere and state and city regulations work to keep it out of sewers. Small restaurants must attach tanks to their sinks to trap the grease. Larger restaurants usually bury tanks, most often under their parking lots, to intercept greater amounts of fats, oils and grease. Cities require restaurants to hire companies to regularly clean and dispose of grease caught in these traps. Tempe inspectors find too many traps are not cleaned often enough or not cleaned to city standards and allow too much grease to enter the sewer system. This causes tension among restaurants, cleaning companies and the city.

The Solution: The city decided it wanted to offer restaurants an alternative way to comply with city requirements and kicked off the voluntary Grease Cooperative three years ago. The city’s Grease Coop hires vendors on behalf of local restaurants to clean the restaurants’ grease traps. The Grease Coop offers additional services to power spray a restaurant’s sewer lines, make repairs to its grease trap when needed, and pick up its yellow grease to sell for biofuel production. Tempe gains because it knows the job is done right and can reduce the number of grease trap inspections and improve relations with busy restaurant owners. The restaurants that join the coop enjoy the benefits of an economy of scale – an average 15 to 20 percent reduction in the cost of hiring their own vendors. The coop also saves restaurant owners and managers time by taking over the responsibility of monitoring the vendors’ work. Three years later, 173 restaurants are in the cooperative.

cleaner-with-truck

A City of Tempe vendor cleans a grease trap.

The Challenges: Tempe has 1,000 restaurants but, right now, the city is not actively recruiting businesses to join the Grease Coop. Tempe is working to grow the program in a manageable way so it can maintain the quality of its service. It has two challenges. First, administrative data, such as scheduling, billing, payments and compliance, are now entered by hand into electronic spreadsheets. The city is soliciting bids through January for a new software program that will allow administrative data to be recorded with a few clicks on a website. Restaurants, vendors and the city would have access to the program. The city expects the administration of the Grease Coop to be fully electronic by early to mid 2018. Second, Tempe also needs time to find, vet and procure more vendors who will do a good job at the right price.

The Future: Tempe operates the only city-managed Grease Coop in the country. Cities in California, Texas and Iowa are building programs and Dublin, Ireland, just launched a pilot program with Tempe’s guidance. Tempe hopes to inspire a regional Grease Coop joined by neighboring cities. A regional program would reduce costs for cities and restaurants and generate enough brown grease to begin transforming it into biogas at wastewater treatment plants where it can be used as a power source for plants or compressed into vehicle fuel.

We’re not the only people who think the Grease Coop is beautiful. The Alliance for Innovation is a partnership of 350 cities as large as New York and as small as Yuma. Every year the Alliance recognizes the country’s most innovative programs and in 2016 Tempe’s Grease Cooperative received the Alliance’s highest award. This little program that solves an ugly problem has a pretty brilliant future. Here’s a video that will help you learn more about the Grease Coop.

For 48 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.

AMWUA: Preparing For 2017 By Looking At 2016 Successes

By Warren Tenney

Like you, AMWUA and its member cities already are working toward 2017 goals. At the same time, we’re reviewing what went right in 2016. A look back provides a boost of confidence for us and we hope it will encourage you to get involved and help find ways to solve new and lingering water challenges. Here are a few examples of AMWUA’s work in 2016.

thelda-forum

Phoenix Councilwoman Thelda Williams,  AMWUA Board President, called the forum to order.

Legislature: AMWUA helped raise awareness about two state Senate bills that threatened to weaken Arizona’s requirement that new developments have a 100-year adequate water supply before building. Governor Doug Ducey ultimately decided to veto the bills. We also helped to stop or modify other bills that would have threatened the ability of our cities to deliver safe, reliable water. Just last month, AMWUA hosted a forum to inform lawmakers about current water issues and to explain the critical link between sound water policy and Arizona’s economic future.

Financing: In September, AMWUA partnered with the national Alliance for Water Efficiency to host a workshop that provided technical resources to help cities and private utilities develop and implement reasonable water rates. Reasonable water rates are fair to the customer, cover the cost of operating water and sewer systems, and promote conservation. In addition, AMWUA encouraged and participated in discussions to analyze financial issues impacting the Central Arizona Project (CAP) . CAP operates the 360-mile canal that delivers Colorado River water to Arizona cities. Understanding CAP’s finances helps the AMWUA cities prepare for future challenges that could affect the cost of Colorado River water they deliver to their citizens and businesses.

Tonopah Recharge 28

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

Research and Analysis: In 2016, AMWUA provided cities and their partners with practical and useful research outlining immediate water issues, such as recovering and distributing the water that Arizona has banked in underground aquifers. AMWUA also acted as the eyes and ears for our cities and kept them informed about current and pending water issues. You’ll find AMWUA staff at every major water meeting, such as CAP Board and Committee meetings, Salt River Project (SRP) Board meetings and the Groundwater Users Advisory Committee. I also serve on Governor Ducey’s Water Augmentation Council. We’re working to make sure the state has the water it needs to serve its cities, small towns, agriculture and industries well into the future.

Drought: The biggest ongoing topic among our city members – and all Arizona water professionals – for 2016, for 2017 and beyond is how Arizona can best respond to ongoing drought. The drought is affecting flows in the Colorado, Verde and Salt rivers, which supply the majority of Arizona’s residents with drinking water. Collaboration is the key to keeping our rivers healthy and our supplies reliable. In 2016, AMWUA regularly brought the cities’ water resource managers and water conservation professionals together with Arizona Department of Water Resources, CAP and SRP staff members to share information, challenges and ideas for solutions.

Conservation: In 2016, AMWUA’s assistant director joined the Board of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, which advocates for the efficient and sustainable use of water throughout North America. AMWUA’s Board of Directors also adopted a resolution to support exempting conservation rebates from federal income tax, just as energy rebates are exempt. AMWUA sought help from Arizona’s congressional delegation, encouraged Arizona communities to join the effort, and coordinated with the national coalition working to address the issue. AMWUA also updated its Xeriscape: Landscaping with Style Guide and provided copies to its members to distribute within their communities. 

Partnerships: If anyone knows the benefits of collaborating to solve problems, it’s a 47-year-old organization that helps 10 cities work together to assure a safe and reliable water supply. That’s why AMWUA spent 2016 continuing to build strong relationships with the Legislature, the Governor’s Office, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, The Nature Conservancy, the AgriBusiness and Water Council, the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense Program and many others.

img_8063You may know us best through this AMWUA Blog. Our readership is growing every year. We have spent much of 2016 working on a new website that will premier in 2017. Throughout 2016 we continued to keep you informed about regional, state and city water news through our Facebook and Twitter pages. In September, we also started having fun on Instagram, where we share water facts and useful tips with pretty – and not so pretty – pictures. Come take a look at amwua.arizona, #conservationculture.

So, 2017 is going to be an interesting year for water. We’re hoping you’ll join us and use your voice to ensure safe, reliable water supplies remain at the forefront of policy decisions. We want our children and grandchildren to raise their families in a thriving state.

For 48 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.

 

In Memoriam: Steve Olson, 35 Years Dedicated To Water

By Warren Tenney

Steve Olson arrived at AMWUA in the summer of 2005. He had the unenviable task of assuming the job of executive director from Roger Manning, who had been an institution at AMWUA for more than twenty years. Steve would face the challenge of guiding a non-profit through a difficult economic recession. But Steve was not new to the world of water policy or to city issues. His career in water spanned thirty-five years and included stints at the City of Scottsdale as its chief lobbyist and at the Arizona Department of Water Resources as its legislative liaison. Through the years, he worked on numerous water issues for Arizona.

image

Steve knew everyone involved in water politics and everyone knew Steve.  He was not the type to call you on the phone. He preferred face-to-face meetings, often over lunch. 

Steve left AMWUA in January 2012 after having surgery for his then recently diagnosed cancer. But he did not stop. He went on to serve at The Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund and was active until he no longer could be.  

AMWUA is a small office and staff members have always kept up with each other’s lives.  Because of this, we will remember Steve as a caring husband and father who worried most about the well being of his wife and children and celebrated their successes with great pride.

SONY DSC

Steve Olson with former AMWUA Executive Directors Kathleen Ferris and Roger Manning.

Steve was a presence at every water related meeting, conference and event. With his signature white beard, tousled hair, affable smile and hearty chuckle, he stood out from the crowd. We couldn’t help but notice his absence from the Colorado River Water Users Association Conference this December, and we will feel it for a long time to come.

For 48 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 http://www.amwua.org