2017 Legislative Session: Four Things That Went Right For Water

By Warren Tenney

So far 2017 has been a good year for water. The Southwest had a rainy winter, an official shortage of Colorado River water appears delayed another year, and there was broad support for water issues at the Arizona Legislature. The Arizona Department of Water Resources, Salt River Project, Central Arizona Project, Southern Arizona Water Users Association, counties, water professionals, agricultural interests and environmental groups joined AMWUA to make this a good Legislative session for water. It helps that Arizona’s Governor and a growing number of lawmakers recognize that water fuels our economy.

AMWUA worked hard this year to remind lawmakers that Arizona’s economic health is dependent on reliable water supplies. AMWUA sponsored two events for lawmakers to discuss the state’s water successes and the importance of continuing to plan, manage and invest in our water supplies. In addition to these events, here are a few highlights from the 2017 session.

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1. The Governor and legislators understand that the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) plays a key role in finding solutions to our current and future water challenges. To that end, AMWUA has long advocated for a well-funded water agency that can attract and retain the brightest water minds. This year ADWR received an operating budget of $15,990,100, an increase of $858,400 over last year. This modest increase will actually provide a good return for Arizona. Investing in the management of our water resources has always given us large dividends. This increase will help the agency address complex water issues facing the state. Here are just two examples:

  • Drought Planning: The water in the Colorado River’s largest reservoir, Lake Mead, is over-allocated among the states that share it. On average, Lake Mead doesn’t receive enough Colorado River water to meet the demand of water users in Arizona, California and Nevada, which results in a decline in the Lake’s water levels. If Mead continues to fall to pre-determined levels, the federal government will declare an official Colorado River water shortage. A declaration of shortage would first impact farmers in central Arizona, and further reductions eventually could impact cities. ADWR is working with representatives from other states and water users within Arizona towards a negotiated agreement to help protect and conserve water in Lake Mead. The approved State budget includes funds to help with this effort.
  • Water Rights Conflict: The state must also resolve the question of the extent and priority of water rights in the Gila River and Little Colorado River systems. This has been a source of litigation in the state for the last 40 years. This litigation complicates Arizona water policy because it makes it nearly impossible for thousands of water users – particularly in rural communities – to have legal assurance regarding their water rights. ADWR’s budget includes funds to hire staff to provide the technical support needed to move this issue forward.

2. The Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) is the legal name of the entity that operates the Central Arizona Project (CAP), the 336-mile canal that delivers Colorado River water from Lake Havasu to Phoenix and Tucson. The CAWCD Board of Directors is responsible for maintaining the more than 30-year-old CAP canal. Board members also set the rates Valley cities pay to receive their Colorado River water, determine the amount of property taxes you pay for the CAP system, and establish policies to manage CAP water. The election of CAWCD board members, who serve six-year terms, has always been non-partisan. This year legislation was introduced that would have, in part, made the CAWCD election partisan. AMWUA opposed making CAWCD elections partisan and the Legislature agreed to remove that part of the bill. AMWUA continues to stand for the principle that water in the desert should be a non-partisan issue.

3. AMWUA opposed legislation that would have limited the ability of cities and counties to enter into intergovernmental agreements (IGAs) with other cities, the State, Salt River Project, Central Arizona Project (CAP), and Native American Communities for more than eight years. It would also have required a review of all existing IGAs to verify that a termination date was included. AMWUA testified that cities enter into many water agreements that last for decades to ensure they have a 100-year water supply for all new development and AMWUA cities hold long-term contracts with the Central Arizona Project to assure delivery of their Colorado River water supplies. After several meetings of the bill’s supporters and those who opposed it, no compromise emerged and the bill failed to move to House floor action.

4. AMWUA opposed legislation that would have weakened the State’s authority in managing water in Pinal County and undermined the requirement for new developments to have an assured 100-year water supply before building. This would have threatened the effectiveness of the 1980 Arizona Groundwater Management Act, a key water law that prevents the depletion of the state’s aquifers and is credited with helping Arizona survive a 20-year drought. AMWUA sent a letter to the Speaker of the House of Representative asking him to hold the bill. With key opposition also within Pinal County, the bill never received House floor action. 

AMWUA will be active again next year advocating for sound water policy that builds on the 1980 Groundwater Management Act.  We do this because Valley residents and businesses recognize that managing and investing in water now means a healthy economy and a healthy way of life for their kids and grandkids. If you want to learn more, it’s all in AMWUA’s 2017 Legislative Review.

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.

Five Things You Need To Know Right Now About Drought

By Warren Tenney

Ongoing headlines about drought in the southwest are confusing and often seem contradictory. Two weeks ago, a panel of experts advised the Governor’s Office that Arizona’s drought is not over and will last, at least, another year. After a rainy winter, that’s a surprise for many people who follow the state’s drought status maps. These monthly drought maps show no portion of Arizona remaining in “extreme” or “severe” drought. Then there is the conundrum created by the decline of Lake Mead, the Colorado River reservoir critical to Arizona’s water supplies. This winter’s heavy snow in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming means Lake Mead will receive enough water to avoid a shortage declaration. Yet, the Lake’s levels remain a source of great concern among water professionals. Oh, and why has California, but not Arizona, declared its drought over?

Here are five questions and the answers you need to know about drought to help you cut through the confusion.

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Here is where to follow Arizona’s monthly drought conditions: http://www.azwater.gov/AzDWR/StatewidePlanning/Drought/DroughtStatus2.htm

1. What is drought?

A drought is not a moment in time. Drought is a cycle. Research shows that drought cycles and wet cycles in Arizona run 20 to 30 years. That’s why you hear water experts say: One rainy winter doesn’t end a drought. One rainy winter can temporarily ease “drought conditions” in some areas of the state. The current drought cycle began around 1996. If rainfall and snowfall continue to be above average over the next several years then Arizona’s climate experts would be more likely to call this drought finished. These same experts say there is a 50 percent chance of that happening. The wild card is climate change.

2. Why is Lake Mead still at worrisome low levels?

Lake Mead is a reservoir that contains Colorado River water behind Hoover Dam. The legal allotments of Lake Mead water given to states and communities outstrip the average amount of Colorado River water entering the Lake. Even without a drought, normal withdrawals of water from Lake Mead would cause it to fall an average of 12 feet every year.  The drought on the Colorado River Basin has exacerbated the situation.  Voluntary efforts by states that depend on Lake Mead have kept it from falling to a level where the federal government would declare a shortage. A shortage declaration would mean less Colorado River water would be delivered to Arizona. It would affect farmers first, but if Lake Mead levels fall farther, Colorado River water supplies to cities would eventually be cut.  So far, the Colorado River has been able to keep delivering, but living on the edge of shortage is unacceptable to water managers. The Arizona Department of Water Resources is working with the state’s cities, Native American communities, farmers and industries to voluntarily cut back on water taken from Mead. Once Arizona reaches an internal agreement it can finish negotiations with California, Nevada and Mexico to voluntarily reduce legal allotments of Colorado River water to match the reality of what the river can supply. Right now, Lake Mead is only 10 feet higher than it was this time last year.

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Lake Mead

3. After 20 years of drought, why are Arizona’s water supplies not critically low?

Drought is a normal occurrence in our arid environment. Central Arizona has built, planned, and managed water supplies to ensure reliability during drought cycles.  Massive reservoirs capture water during wet periods for times when precipitation is scarce. The Arizona Groundwater Act of 1980 requires cities and farmers in the most populated areas of the state to implement conservation programs, protect the groundwater from over pumping and rely on renewable surface (river) water instead. The majority of the state’s water supply comes from the Colorado River via the Central Arizona Project (CAP) and the Salt River via Salt River Project (SRP).  Virtually all wastewater is recycled and put to use, and water is stored underground for use in shortage.  A limited amount of groundwater is pumped from the aquifers for use, as well. Multiple sources of water allow cities to offset reductions in one or more supplies. For example, Arizona’s drought has reduced the amount of water in SRP reservoirs in the mountains east of Phoenix, but SRP has been able to offset possible shortages by pumping from its numerous wells. Arizona law requires Valley cities to offset every acre-foot of groundwater SRP pumps by recharging (or returning water to) the aquifers from their renewable water supplies, such as extra Colorado River water (ordered but not immediately needed) or recycled wastewater. This keeps the Valley’s aquifers in good condition and hedges against shortages.

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Granite Reef Underground Storage Project   Photo: Mark Durben

4. So, if we’re in good shape, do we still need to conserve water?

We live in a desert. Long-term, ongoing conservation efforts are something AMWUA member cities promote tirelessly, and for good reason. Drought is an uncontrollable weather phenomenon and the impact of climate change is unknown. Our groundwater supplies are finite. Once used, aquifers replenish over decades, not years, and usually not to previous capacity. Using less water on a daily basis means leaving more water in the ground and storing more water for a time when river water supplies are short. If shortages were to prevent cities from meeting normal, everyday demands for water, all AMWUA cities, by law, have shortage-preparedness plans ready to go. These plans are designed to incrementally reduce water use to bring demand in line with available supplies while protecting our quality of life and the economy. Despite that, no city wants to declare a water shortage. So for now, keep taking those short showers, keep watering those shade trees efficiently, and keep using water wisely. Your city will let you know when it needs more help.

5. Why is Arizona’s drought continuing while California has declared that its drought is over?

California has declared an end to the drought’s State of Emergency, but that doesn’t mean it is entirely out of the drought that has gripped the state since 2012. Due to the economic impacts of ongoing drought, record low reservoir levels, and snowpack at 20 percent of normal levels, California’s governor declared in January 2014 a State of Emergency. In January 2015, with no end to drought in site, cities and towns across the state were required to reduce water use by 25 percent. Recent record-breaking precipitation freed the northern part of the state from drought and refilled the majority of reservoirs, allowing the state to rescind the mandatory water use reductions and lift the emergency declaration for all but four counties. However, almost half the state remains in severe drought.

Arizona’s current drought began around 1996.  Arizona’s Drought Emergency Declaration has been in effect since June 1999 and still remains in effect. We haven’t yet seen enough wet weather across the state to lift either the drought or the declaration. 

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.

Regional Partnerships Keep Water Affordable

By Warren Tenney

It is not easy for cities to build, staff and operate water and wastewater treatment plants and still maintain water and wastewater rates all residents can afford. That’s why Central Arizona cities traditionally work together to build regional treatment plants that can deliver more water for less money.

Valley cities treat two kinds of water for drinking: most of it is surface water, which is Colorado, Salt and Verde river water delivered by canals, and some groundwater pumped by wells. Cities also treat and recycle wastewater. The treated wastewater is stored underground for future use and also used to irrigate large expanses of turf, such as at schools, parks and golf courses. One of the Phoenix Metropolitan area’s oldest joint water projects is the 91st Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant built in 1968. It is operated by Phoenix but owned and used by AMWUA’s five original member cities: Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tempe. Most of the treated wastewater this plant produces is shipped through a pipe to cool the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station 36 miles west of the plant.

 

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Pyramid Peak Water Treatment Plant is jointly owned by the cities of Peoria and Glendale.  Photo: Black & Veatch

 

For the next 50 years, joint water and wastewater plants were built all over the Valley to expand capacity, reduce costs and add redundancy. Water professionals are never satisfied with “enough” water. Cities build redundancy into their water supplies and systems to ensure water flows to their residents and businesses despite shortages, infrastructure failures or large fires. For example, the City of Peoria’s goal is to have a six-year supply of water stored underground and the city is about two thirds of the way to meeting that goal.

Right now, the cities of Peoria and Glendale are working on an upgrade and expansion of a water treatment plant they jointly own just north of Happy Valley Road near N. 63rd Avenue. Pyramid Peak Water Treatment Plant was originally built by Glendale in 1986 to provide drinking water to homes and businesses on the city’s growing north end.

 

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Inside the Pyramid Peak Water Treatment Plant   Photo: City of Glendale

 

In 1996, the City of Peoria needed to bring its allocation of Colorado River water through the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal to the homes and businesses growing on its north end. Peoria already had the Greenway Water Treatment Plant where it treated its supply of Salt and Verde river water (delivered by Salt River Project) and had numerous wells located throughout the city.

Peoria faced the expense of building, staffing and operating its own plant, including the extended process needed to create a separate turnout into the CAP canal. Seeking a better solution, Peoria approached neighboring Glendale with a plan. Peoria would pay Glendale to expand the existing Pyramid Peak Water Treatment plant to increase production from 30 million gallons per day (mgd) to 39 mgd.  Peoria paid for and received the capacity to produce drinking water at the rate of 9 mgd and meet Peoria’s current and future needs. Glendale would continue to operate the plant but the two cities would be co-owners and share operating costs proportionally. The agreement was signed May 15, 1996 and the expansion completed by July 21, 1998.

Last year the cities signed an agreement to once again expand Pyramid Peak Water Treatment Plant. The new expansion will produce an additional 15 million gallons per day (mgd) to serve Peoria’s growing northwest neighborhoods. This expansion will increase the plant production from 39 mgd to 54 mgd.  The entire project includes the expansion and upgrades to the existing facility and will cost about $72 million. Glendale and Peoria will proportionally share the $22 million cost to replace and upgrade the older equipment in the plant, such as pumps and tanks. Peoria will pay $50 million for the expansion and fund this part of the project through the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority (WIFA). WIFA is a small federal agency that provides revolving loans to utilities to improve, build or expand water infrastructure.

Glendale held its first open house in April to gain input from the plant’s neighbors. The cities expect construction to start in the summer of 2019 and the plant to be operating by the summer of 2021. This partnership is just one more example of how water professionals consistently collaborate to solve large and small water challenges.

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.

So, Exactly How Much Water Are We Talking About?

By Warren Tenney

When it comes to meeting the water needs of a thriving desert economy, the amounts can really add up. Communicating these amounts in a way we can relate to sometimes misses the mark. We’ve all read or heard something like “That’s enough water to fill 200 Olympic size swimming pools.” It’s not an easy example to imagine, other than to think, “I guess that’s a lot of water.”

Trying to understand water news or even your water bill can be a challenge given the different measurements used. Just like we have feet, kilometers and miles for distance and Fahrenheit, Celsius and kelvin for temperature, water is measured with different units depending on the context. No one would talk about the distance between Phoenix and Tucson in feet and water professionals do not generally talk about the amount of water stored behind Hoover Dam in gallons.

Here’s a quick guide to some of the ways you see water measured in media reports, research, and your water bill.

Gallon: This is the easiest one but the most important. Everyone knows what a gallon of milk looks like. Nearly all water bills display usage in gallons. The average single-family home in Phoenix uses an average of just over 10,000 gallons per month (more in the summer, of course, and less in the winter). These 10,000 gallons of water per month are a real bargain. They’re delivered to your home ready to drink for one-third of a penny per gallon. If average cost-conscious water consumers tried to replace the water service to their homes with generic refillable five-gallon jugs at their local grocery store, their water bills would be around $2,500 per month. Not to mention the transportation costs of moving over 2,000 of those jugs.

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91st Avenue Waste Water Treatment Plant  Photo: City of Phoenix

MGD (million gallons per day): This measurement is used most often in the context of water delivery and sewer systems. For example, the City of Goodyear recently announced it would construct an eight “mgd” water treatment plant to treat a portion of its supply of Colorado River water. An average flow of just one mgd is enough water to supply nearly 3,000 average single-family homes in Phoenix annually. On the larger end of the scale, the state’s largest wastewater treatment plant at 91st Avenue in southwest Phoenix treats an average of 140 mgd but has the capacity to treat 230 mgd. Much of the treated wastewater from this facility is used to cool the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.

AF (acre-foot): This measurement takes a little imagination. It is the volume of water it would take to cover one acre of land in one foot of water  – or 325,851 gallons. If it helps, it takes two “AF” to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool and is how much water three average Phoenix metro households use in a year. Acre-feet are usually used to measure huge volumes of raw, untreated water, such as how much water is in a reservoir. Here’s an incomprehensible number: each year 1.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water flows through the Central Arizona Project canal delivering a renewable supply of water to Arizona’s cities, industries and farmers. 

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CAP Canal near Picacho Peak  Photo: Central Arizona Project

ccf (centum cubic feet): For us non-Latin speakers, “ccf” is 100 cubic feet. One hundred cubic feet would fill a 5-by-5 feet box that is 4-feet tall  – or 748 gallons. While most AMWUA cities calculate water bills in gallons, if you receive a water bill from the City of Phoenix and examine it closely, you’ll see it is based in ‘units’ of water with each unit being one ccf. The average Phoenix single-family home uses 13.6 ccfs per month. Why use ccfs and not gallons? The city’s old water meters were designed to track your usage in ccfs and it is too costly to change the billing system.

cfs (cubic feet per second): “Cfs” is used to measure rates of flow, such as in rivers, canals, or large pipes. For example, the Mississippi River discharges an average of 600,000 cfs into the Gulf of Mexico. The Central Arizona Project canal, by comparison, delivers an average of 2,100 cfs to the state’s cities, industries and farmers. Cfs numbers vary widely depending on their context but even very low numbers can really add up. Consider this, a flow of just one cfs means 7.5 gallons every second. A flow rate of only one cfs over the course of a single day equals the amount of water used by about five average Phoenix single-family homes during an entire year.

Understanding and relating to water information is crucial to participating in the ongoing discussions about how Arizona can ensure we all have clean, reliable, affordable water supplies. Numbers make up a big part of that discussion.

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.

Good Connection: Goodyear Brings Its Water Home

By Warren Tenney

The City of Goodyear is a 189-square-mile West Valley community with 78,190 residents. Goodyear expects its population to grow significantly. These big city dreams and big city plans present both opportunities and challenges. One challenge relates to water: Goodyear never had direct access to its renewable supply of Colorado River water – until now.

The Problem: Instead of river water, Goodyear has grown with a water supply pumped from its aquifers. The city has known for years that it cannot build a long-term water plan based on finite, non-renewable and state regulated groundwater. In addition to limits on groundwater supplies, groundwater pumped from aquifers in the Southwest Valley is extremely salty. The salinity level in one Goodyear well tested at one-third the salinity of ocean water. Living with salty groundwater has forced Goodyear to build the largest reverse osmosis water treatment plant in the state. The plant leaves behind 500,000 gallons of brine each day. While the plant is a necessary part of Goodyear’s water operations, the city has been looking at other options as it plans for future growth.

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Central Arizona Project canal   Photo: CAP

Goodyear has an allotment of renewable Colorado River water, but the city has never built a system to transport and treat the water for drinking. Instead, the city has been storing some of its Colorado River water in underground or “recharge” facilities. Storing the water in aquifers outside its city gives Goodyear a limited right to pump and deliver a roughly equivalent amount of water in the city. Arizona law also allows cities to use a limited amount of “native” groundwater. For Goodyear, this comes out to 13,191 acre-feet of water per year. (One acre foot is enough to serve three average Arizona households for a year.) Goodyear estimates that it will approach that limit by about 2020.

Goodyear understood that it had to get its full allotment of Colorado River water into its city, build a plant to treat the water, and curtail its groundwater pumping. Goodyear’s first challenge was to find a way to bring its Colorado River water into the city. The Central Arizona Project (CAP) operates a canal that delivers Colorado River water to the Valley, but the canal is 35 miles to the north and 45 miles west of the city. Building a water pipeline from the CAP canal to the city would cost $200 million and require expensive easements either through other cities or along Interstate 10.

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Granite Reef Dam  Photo: SRP

The Solution: For years, Goodyear has been studying less costly options and, as with most water successes, compromise and collaboration proved to be the solution. Here’s how the problem was resolved:

  • The Salt River Project (SRP) provides water to cities in a nearly 400-square-mile area of the Valley. This service area was defined more than 100 years ago by the farmers and ranchers who offered their land to the federal government as collateral for financing and building the Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River. Roosevelt Lake is the largest reservoir in a system of reservoirs and canals that brings Salt and Verde River water into the Valley. Property within SRP’s service area is called “on project” land.
  • Goodyear is just outside of the area served by SRP or “off project” and has no access to SRP water or its canals. Just next door to Goodyear, the City of Avondale is within the SRP service area. The SRP canal that brings water to Avondale is 5 miles from Goodyear.
  • SRP’s delivery system intersects with the CAP canal near Granite Reef Dam in the East Valley. This means it is possible to transport CAP water through SRP’s canals.

To address Goodyear’s challenge, the Salt River Project (SRP) recently agreed to convey Goodyear’s share of CAP water in its canals as far as Avondale and, from there, Goodyear will build a pipeline to a new drinking water plant. This is the first time SRP has agreed to convey Colorado River water for an “off project” city. Now that Goodyear will have access to its Colorado River water, it will proceed to build a short pipeline from Avondale to Goodyear’s new drinking water treatment plant.

 Phase I of the project is estimated to cost $110 million. Impact fees, new growth, and construction sales taxes are expected to fund about 75 percent of the costs. Operational changes in the city’s water system will pay for 20 percent, and 5 percent will be covered by existing water rates. Goodyear expects to be treating and distributing Colorado River water in the next three to five years.

Finding creative solutions to challenging problems is a hallmark of the Valley’s water providers. Goodyear’s innovative project is just one more example of how the AMWUA cities work to find solutions every day to provide reliable and clean water to the Valley’s homes, businesses, and communities.

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.

Power Switch: Economics Driving New Energy for Moving Water

By Warren Tenney

In 2009, I was a new member of the Board overseeing the Central Arizona Project (CAP) and energy, not water, was the primary focus. I was surprised with my sudden immersion into the ins and outs of energy. Yet, there was a good reason for concentrating on energy.

As one of the largest energy users in the state, energy is crucial for CAP. CAP needs to pump water uphill from the Colorado River through the 336-mile canal that delivers water to cities, Native American communities, and farmers in Central Arizona and south to Tucson. Since the 1970s, nearly 90 percent of CAP’s primary energy source has been the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) in Page, Arizona near the Utah border. The plant is one of the country’s largest coal-fired power plants.

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So in 2009 and 2010, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pushed hard to reduce the haze NGS produced in the scenic Four Corners area. It was estimated that NGS would need over a billion dollars in capital investment to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions to EPA’s satisfaction. Many felt EPA’s unspoken aim was to shut down NGS. CAP and the Salt River Project (SRP), the operator and part owner of the plant, took this attack on NGS seriously.

It was frightening to think of NGS shutting down or being forced to take on huge capital costs to meet EPA’s regulatory demands. The rallying cry was that NGS was critical to make sure CAP had power to operate and to keep energy costs low. At the time, many prominent voices correctly observed that keeping NGS open was important to Arizona’s economy, particularly to the City of Page and the surrounding Navajo Nation. NGS also provided CAP with a key revenue source. CAP sells surplus energy produced by the plant and uses the revenue to repay the federal government the loan it made to finance the construction of the CAP.

A concerted effort was made to find a compromise that EPA would accept to keep NGS open until 2044.  To the relief of many, in July 2014 the EPA and owners of NGS reached an agreement that would lower the levels of nitrogen oxide emission and keep NGS open until 2044.

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Inside the Navajo Generating Station  Photos: CAP

So fast-forward three years to today.  Many of us who followed the NGS story since 2009 are surprised with the news that the owners of NGS voted to close the power plant at the end of 2019. What has caused the 180-degree turn in the effort to save NGS?

Pure economics is driving the decision. The utilities that own NGS now are dealing with a power plant that is significantly more expensive than other energy options. Natural gas prices have dropped to record lows to become a viable long-term and economical alternative to coal power. This means pursuing the regulatory upgrades that were part of the compromise with EPA are even less cost-effective today. However, even if EPA loosened its coal regulations, the energy industry is headed towards having natural gas generation as the fuel of choice for many years to come.

So what does this mean to Arizona and particularly the Valley cities that utilize CAP?

First and foremost, CAP will have access to the energy necessary to move water through the CAP system even without NGS. In recent years, CAP has been looking at alternatives to NGS to be prepared for what is now happening. CAP can easily buy energy from the open-market power grid. Based on today’s energy market, CAP’s power costs would actually be significantly lower. Energy costs on the open market are much less than the cost to generate power at the NGS. This means CAP’s pumping energy rate – charged to the Phoenix area cities and others CAP users – will decrease.  Again, this new economic reality of the energy market is much different than just seven years ago when we were worried that an NGS closure would mean higher costs for CAP and its customers. 

NGS has been a reliable energy source for CAP.  While going on the open energy market will mean lower costs today, CAP faces the new challenge of how to best utilize the right energy sources to take advantage of low-cost power alternatives.

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Central Arizona Project canal.

While the decision to close NGS is not the dire situation we assumed it would be in 2009 and 2010, the closure of NGS still remains an enormous challenge for the Navajo Nation, Hopi Tribe and the community of Page. NGS has been a primary economic driver and major employer. Assuming the Navajo Nation extends the existing land lease for the plant through the end of 2019, the plant’s owners should have time to explore ideas to lessen the negative impact to that region.

The decision of the utility owners to close NGS – and the challenges it creates – reemphasizes the critical nexus between water and energy.

Warren Tenney was elected twice to serve as a member of the Central Arizona Project (also called the Central Arizona Water Conservation District or CAWCD) Board from Pima County. He served as Vice-President of the Board and as Chairman of the Board’s Finance, Audit & Power Committee. He resigned his board position in January 2016 to become Arizona Municipal Water User Association’s executive director.

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

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.

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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.

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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.