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.

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.

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. 

 

Lawmakers Get Answer To Arizona’s Biggest Water Question

By Warren Tenney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For 47 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

Water: A Conversation With Chandler Councilmember Rick Heumann

By Warren Tenney

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

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

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

 

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

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

For 47 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

This Year’s Least Known Election Is One Of The Most Important

By Warren Tenney

Various races are competing for your attention on the ballot this election season. You know the high profile races for President of the United States, the U.S. Congress and the State Legislature. Yet, near the bottom of your ballot is one of the most important races – one that will directly impact you and your water. It is the election of five new members to the Central Arizona Water Conservation District Board of Directors. If you are wondering what that is, you are not alone.

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The Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) is the official legal name of the Central Arizona Project (CAP), the 336-mile canal that delivrs 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 rates charged to its customers (including Valley cities), determine the taxes you pay to finance the CAP system, and establish policies to manage CAP water.

The CAWCD Board is a 15-member board with 10 elected from Maricopa County, four elected from Pima County, and one from Pinal County.  This year, Maricopa County voters will elect five of the Board positions. You are electing them to a six-year term, the same as for U.S. Senate. It’s not a high-profile race, so you may have to do a little more homework on the candidates. It is worth taking the time.

The CAWCD has the authority to set two property taxes for Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties. For the median priced home in Maricopa County – valued at $174,000 in 2016 -these taxes amount to roughly $24 a year.  These taxes are used primarily to repay the Federal government for constructing the CAP canal, operation and maintenance of the CAP system, and storage of Colorado River water for times of shortage. This is a nominal amount for the wise, long-term effort to keep our water future secure. 

During the next six years, many critical issues will be facing the CAWCD Board—in particular, setting the rates that utilities pay for Colorado River water delivered through the CAP.  Those costs are eventually passed on to you, the utility customer.  And those costs are likely to increase. Here are some of the reasons why.

1. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation could declare an official shortage of Colorado River water as soon as 2018.  A shortage would initially result in less Colorado River water delivered to CAP’s agricultural customers. Cities would still receive their full allocation of Colorado River water under an initial shortage declaration but cities also would pay more for their water. CAP must continue to generate enough money to maintain its delivery system, so cities would pay more to make up for lost revenue from agriculture customers.

2. It takes a lot of energy to move and lift Colorado River water uphill.  Ninety percent of CAP’s power comes from the Navajo Generating Station located on the Navajo Indian Reservation near Page, Arizona. New land and coal leases will be in place in 2019, which will increase the cost of CAP’s delivery of Colorado River water.

3. CAP must determine how it will recover Colorado River water stored in underground aquifers by the Arizona Water Banking Authority.  If shortages do become more serious, municipalities would need that stored water, and recovery of that water by CAP could be expensive. 

4.   CAP rates are directly linked to the operation and maintenance of the canal.  As the CAP’s infrastructure continues to age, maintenance costs will rise.

The cities are key CAP customers. Maricopa and Pima County cities with CAP contracts provide water to more than 85 percent of Arizona’s population.  CAWCD Board and the cities receiving CAP water will be facing important issues over the six-year terms of the candidates you are electing.  It will be critical that we work together for solutions that ultimately ensure you have secure, safe water at a reasonable price.

The CAWCD Board is a voluntary non-paid, non-partisan position.  It truly is public service and it remains important not to mix partisan politics into water.  So, do a little research.  Talk to water professionals if you know any. Search online to find out more about the candidates and who and what groups are endorsing them. Make a well-educated selection.  Above all, please do not just randomly vote or pick names that sound good. Share what you have learned with family, friends, and co-workers so they can also understand the importance of the CAP election.

The Board of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District will be making a big imprint on your future and Arizona’s.  It is important to have Board members who are committed to the wise management of the CAP system to ensure Arizona has a strong water future.  This means having Board members who are active and engaged in all the issues facing CAWCD.

Here are the ten candidates who are running for the CAWCD Board with a link for those who have a campaign website.  Kudos to the candidates for running and for understanding the importance of CAP water to Maricopa County and the rest of Arizona.   

Alexandra Arboleda 

Jennifer Brown

Frank Fairbanks                  

Michael Francis

Thomas Galvin           

Ben Graff

Rick Heumann           

Jim Holway

Mark Lewis

Rory Van Poucke

Warren Tenney was elected twice to serve as a member of the 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 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 http://www.amwua.org

Defying Mother Nature: Creative Solutions To Avoid Shortages

By Warren Tenney

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently confirmed Arizona would not face a declared shortage of Colorado River water in 2017. This is good news but Arizona’s cities, farmers and industry leaders must continue to plan for an eventual shortage on the Colorado River, which could come as soon as 2018.

The U.S. Secretary of the Interior has the authority to declare shortages on the Colorado River. Under current agreements, this occurs when the Bureau of Reclamation projects that water levels of the Colorado River’s primary reservoir, Lake Mead, will be below an elevation of 1,075 feet in January of the following year. Lake Mead is currently right at 1,075 feet as the result of a sixteen year drought. Water levels are further exacerbated by the long-standing imbalance created from more water being taken from Lake Mead than what flows into it.

The primary reason we averted a shortage declaration in 2017 is because we did not rely solely on Mother Nature. This may sound audacious, but we avoided shortage in large part because Arizona and Central Arizona Project (CAP) led a successful effort to get CAP customers, the federal government, our neighboring Colorado River basin states, and Mexico to consider ways to slow Lake Mead’s declining water levels. The goal has been to keep water levels in Lake Mead from declining and jeopardizing the health of the Colorado River system. This is especially critical for Arizona because Central Arizona Project (CAP), the state’s main delivery system for Colorado River water, has what is called “junior priority” and must take the first cuts when a shortage is declared. This is why Valley cities are closely following what happens on the Colorado River and in Lake Mead.

CAP canal brings water to central Arizona. Photo: CAP

Here’s how Arizona has pushed back a shortage for now.  Over the last couple of years, CAP asked its agricultural and municipal customers to voluntarily leave water in Lake Mead. The target was to store 345,000 acre-feet of water in Lake Mead. This goal will be achieved by the end of this year. As part of this effort, the Cities of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Glendale and Peoria agreed not to take their full allocations of Colorado River water.  Also, 11 agricultural irrigation districts in central Arizona agreed to reduce their use of Colorado River water.  These voluntary efforts have collectively conserved water in Lake Mead and helped prevent a shortage.

Efforts to conserve and intentionally create additional water in Lake Mead should continue and be expanded to slow Lake Mead’s falling water levels.  Municipalities are willing to continue to find ways to leave more water in Lake Mead. There are rules about how much water a state can intentionally save in Lake Mead. Despite this obstacle, Arizona should continue to work with its Colorado River partners to find more ways to protect Lake Mead and strengthen the overall health of the Colorado River. This includes finding creative arrangements going forward that provide incentives for cities to leave even more water in Lake Mead.

A look inside CAP’s control room. Photo: Philip A. Fortnam

Addressing water challenges is complicated with the devil always in the details. This will certainly be the case as we seek to strengthen our preparation for a shortage declaration.  Key to that preparation will be creativity and collaboration, which were central to our efforts to hold back a shortage for another year. 

Arizona leads the nation in creatively managing its water resources.  Among all the western states, Arizona is in the best position to weather the challenges faced by municipal water utilities. That’s because Arizona’s water professionals and leaders in industry, agriculture and municipalities have a long history of working together to solve water problems. Arizona’s responsibility is to continue to collaboratively and creatively tackle our current challenge of how best to protect Lake Mead and the health of the Colorado River so we can continue to use this important water source.

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