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. 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.