Why Are We Still Using Flood Irrigation In The Desert?

By Warren Tenney

Flood irrigation can be a surprising sight in a desert Valley. Water comes pouring out of ditches, covering large parks, ball fields or yards in what looks like deep storm runoff. While the rest of us are using drip lines and sprinklers, this sort of watering is difficult to understand. Here are the facts about flood irrigation in the Valley.

A Little History: Flood irrigation is a vestige of the Valley’s agricultural roots. Phoenix area farmers and ranchers had been brought to near ruin by the devastating cycles of flood and drought. At the turn of the century, these farmers and ranchers pledged their land – totaling 200,000 acres – as collateral to obtain a loan from the federal government to build Roosevelt Dam.  The dam allowed the fledgling community to manage cycles of drought and flood.  Each acre of land that was pledged as collateral represents one share in the Salt River Valley Water Users Association (today part of Salt River Project), the public corporation formed to secure funding for the dam. Those shares are tied to each acre, or portion of an acre, and the shares transfer with the land.  Shareholders are entitled to vote in the SRP elections of governing representatives.

Irrigation brochure

PHOTO: Salt River Project

In Arizona, the rights to surface (river) water are tied to the land by law.  Those lands where the water was put to use first have superior rights, and court determinations affect the distribution of surface water supplies.  In 1910, a court decision called the Kent Decree determined which lands were entitled to receive water stored behind Roosevelt Dam in Roosevelt Lake.  These lands, totaling 240,000 acres, are the SRP service area. It spans portions of Maricopa, Gila and Pinal counties, including from the City of Mesa and west to the City of Avondale. SRP is responsible for accounting and delivering that water.  These lands are entitled to a predetermined allotment of water.

 

A Big Change: Over the decades, the SRP service area became increasingly urbanized. Farms were subdivided into residential neighborhoods.  The shares in the Salt River Valley Water Users Association transferred with the land to homeowners and businesses. The rights to water from SRP, also tied to the land, transferred to the new landowners.

The new landowners frequently decided not to take their water via flood irrigation.  Their allotment of raw water was instead delivered to growing cities and towns to treat and deliver to the residents and businesses within the SRP lands.  Over the decades, that trend continued. Today, the majority of the water delivered by SRP (about 85 percent) goes directly to municipal water providers.

lake in a park

PHOTO: Salt River Project

The water still provided by SRP for flood irrigation is untreated and delivered largely by gravity through open canals.  The cost of this raw SRP water is low because the investment in construction of the system was made long ago and the cost of water is subsidized by SRP’s energy sales. However, municipal drinking water is significantly more expensive. There is considerable cost to treat raw water to meet drinking water standards, to maintain the treatment plants and the massive miles of mains and pipes and meters, and to employ professionals to maintain and operate that system.

The Pros and Cons: Flood irrigation isn’t necessarily as bad an idea as it appears, at least not for turf and large trees. Many old and beautiful trees, including fruit and nut trees, wouldn’t survive without flood irrigation. The main benefit is it quickly irrigates at infrequent intervals. The water soaks deeper, limiting build up of salinity in the soil (which can damage turf and plants) and encouraging deeper roots.

Cities run on tight budgets and water is a huge expense.  Where they can, cities use recycled wastewater for irrigation, but that, too, requires costly treatment and a separate distribution system.  (Virtually 100 percent of Phoenix and Tucson area recycled water is put to beneficial use.)  If a city has the right to use cheap, untreated flood irrigation for ball fields and parks instead of installing an irrigation system that uses more costly drinking water, it is understandable they would take the opportunity to save taxpayers money.

2003 Annual Report

PHOTO: Salt River Project

The homeowners on SRP lands also have rights to flood irrigation, but most have opted to no longer take it. Only about 22,000 homeowners receive flood irrigation, about 5 percent of SRP lands. Using flood irrigation can be inconvenient.  Homeowners must get up in the middle of the night to open and shut the irrigation gate on their property. The ditches are the private property of homeowners. Some neighborhoods have abandoned flood irrigation because of the cost of maintaining and repairing aging delivery ditches. Other neighbors have come together to save flood irrigation and agreed to tax themselves to cover the cost of professional repair and maintenance of the ditches. (Arizona law permits special taxing districts. These particular taxing districts are called Irrigation Water Delivery Districts.)

For more than 35 years, AMWUA members and its partners have worked toward more water-efficient, environmentally friendly landscapes. We have made considerable progress.  Back in the 1980s, 70 percent to 90 percent of residential properties in the city of Phoenix had turf landscapes.  Only 15 percent do now.  Flood irrigation is becoming a thing of the past.

The downside of eliminating flood irrigation is that it is more expensive and energy-intensive to treat raw water to drinking standards and then use it to irrigate turf and plants. Even if plants are drought tolerant, they will likely require some irrigation in an arid, urban and increasingly hot environment. Trees, plants, and turf provide shade, reduce energy demands (and the water needed to produce energy), filter pollutants from storm water, improve air quality, and provide places to rest and recreate. Learn more about flood irrigation from Salt River Project. 

For now, flood irrigation is part of our history that saves money and energy.

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 amwua.org.

Pure Brew: Campaign Promotes Future Source Of Drinking Water

By Warren Tenney

A couple dozen Arizona craft breweries will bring their beers to Phoenix in September to vie for a professional judge’s choice award and a people’s choice award. Here’s why this particular beer competition is big news: The competing brewers are making their beers with purified recycled wastewater for the 32nd Annual WaterReuse Symposium being held in Phoenix. The competition is the culmination of a statewide traveling campaign called the Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge created by a Pima County Southwest Water Campus partnership. The campaign’s goal is to help people understand and trust the technology that creates purified recycled water, a renewable source of future drinking water.

Recycling wastewater is nothing new. AMWUA member cities put virtually all of their wastewater to beneficial use. Since 1973, much of the recycled water has been sent to cool the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, a power station southwest of Phoenix that provides energy for 4 million people in four states. Cities use recycled water to create fishing lakes, restore or construct riparian areas, and irrigate large turf areas, such as parks and HOA common areas. Cities also store recycled water underground for future use. The Arizona Department of Environment Quality sets the standards for recycled water and cities treat recycled wastewater to A+ quality, which means it is treated and disinfected until there are no detectable disease-causing bacteria.

Pure Brew Truck

There is now technology to clean A+ wastewater beyond drinking water standards. This water is called purified water. It is recycled water that is further treated using ultra filtration, reverse osmosis, ultraviolet disinfection with advanced oxidation, activated carbon filtration and chlorine disinfection. Professionals view purified water as an important part of solving drinking water shortages in the future, but it has one major problem standing in its way: public perception. Imagining where the water originated is a hurdle many people find difficult to overcome.

The Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge was designed to help people get over that hurdle. The project was created by a partnership that includes Pima County Southwest Water Campus, a team of water professionals, University of Arizona scientists, local municipalities, including Tucson Water and the Town of Marana, and consulting organizations. In November 2016, the concept won the $250,000 New Arizona Prize competition and its $2,500 people’s choice award. The project received an additional $50,000 in assistance from the WaterNow Alliance and about $50,000 in donated time and equipment.

Team members who created the Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge knew it wasn’t enough to simply tell people purified water was safe and tasted good, they had to show people. The idea of a beer contest was appealing but the Arizona team was looking for something more ambitious, something that would reach a wider audience and showcase the technology that produces purified water. The partnership decided to build the technology used to process purified water inside a semi-trailer truck. The truck has traveled around the state and used local water professionals to explain to visitors how the technology works. The truck includes looping videos explaining the basics of Arizona water, such as where drinking water comes from and how it’s treated.

Pure Brew Open Truck

The truck travels to festivals and events, such as the Arizona Great Outdoor Festival in Flagstaff. People who visit the truck are asked to fill out a 15-question survey about their perception of purified recycled wastewater. So far, the majority of the 1,300 surveys completed show people are open to the idea of drinking purified water – but are more enthusiastic about drinking beer made from purified water.

The Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge project included recruiting small and large independent craft breweries to compete in a taste challenge using beers brewed with purified water processed in the truck. The team has worked closely with the Arizona Craft Brewer’s Guild and participating breweries come from across the state, including the cities of Yuma, Sedona, Flagstaff, Oak Creek, Tucson and Phoenix. In July, the truck received its permit to create purified water from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and was hooking up to a wastewater treatment plant and purifying water for participating brewers. The team also was filling a tank with purified water to take to a bottling company to have samples ready to hand out to visitors at the campaign’s next stops and at the week-long WaterReuse Symposium.

It’s not really about the beer created from this campaign. It’s about introducing Arizona residents to the technology that can help augment future water supplies. Once the craft brew challenge is completed the team will have just enough money left to take the truck to a half-dozen more festivals through December. The team is looking for funding to keep the Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge campaign on the road in 2018.

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.

On The Job: Phoenix Team Protects Miles Of Water Lines

By Warren Tenney

The City of Phoenix has 6,922 miles of water lines and 4,865 miles of sewer lines buried about four feet under our feet. It wouldn’t be hard for a contractor digging a pool in someone’s backyard or a crew widening a street to hit and damage one of those lines. It’s Tammie Burkett’s job to make sure they don’t.

Tammie is one of two Utility Foremen who work with 15 employees who protect water and sewer lines throughout Phoenix’s 540 square miles. Each week, Tammie and her team respond to about 3,000 requests to mark the location of water and sewer lines before someone digs. These lines are marked by those colorful doodles that appear from time to time on your street and sidewalk. Tammie said some people mistake these markings for graffiti and will even paint over them. Please don’t. The blue markings indicate there is a water line within 2 feet on either side and green markings indicate sewer lines. The lines show where workers must hand dig and gently expose the pipes. These underground water and sewer lines share space with gas lines indicated by yellow markings, electric by red and communication lines by orange.

Tammie behind truck

The requests for Tammie’s team to mark water and sewer lines come through Arizona 811, a statewide agency that takes online reports or calls at 8-1-1 from anyone who is going to dig into the ground. Most contacts are from contractors who need to dig into city streets or sidewalks. Arizona 811 prevents accidents by requesting each utility to mark the ground showing the location of its underground lines before the digging begins.

 

Some calls come from homeowners putting in a pole for a driveway basketball hoop or from nurseries planting trees in yards.  The city will locate and mark any city-owned water or sewer lines under a yard, but will not mark the water line that runs from a water meter into a home. These lines are owned by the homeowner and are not the city’s responsibility.

Once alerted by Arizona 811, Tammie and her crew must respond and mark the area within two working days. In an emergency, such as an automobile accident that damages a power pole and shuts down electricity to a neighborhood, Tammie’s crew must respond within two hours. A team member always is on call for after-hour emergencies, which happen an average of 15 times a week. The on-call team member is particularly busy during monsoon season. 

If anyone damages one of Phoenix’s water or sewer lines without calling Arizona 811 or damages a correctly marked line, that person may be responsible for paying for the repairs or possibly fined. It’s Tammie’s job to investigate what is known in her business as “contractor hits.” Sometimes the city makes a mistake when marking a line, but more often the person digging failed to contact Arizona 811 or was careless. Sometimes contractors dispute the findings and the case ends up in court. 

 

Tammie Demo

On the June day we visited, Tammie was working with a contractor who was putting in a swimming pool for a homeowner and sheared the top off a sewer line. The contractor had called the Arizona 811 number and knew where the sewer line was located.  “He just miscalculated while he was digging with his backhoe,” Tammie said. No sewage escaped, but it was a smelly mistake until a Phoenix crew repaired the hole the next day.

It’s rare that homeowners damage water and sewer lines, but it does happen. In some Phoenix neighborhoods 6-inch water lines are set back about 3  feet from the edge of the sidewalk and run under the front yards of homes along the street. On this same June day, Tammie was investigating a homeowner who had removed a large tree from his front yard. He had called Arizona 811 and received a “ticket” to show he had made the call but he removed the tree before the markings were placed. When he ripped up the tree, a 6-inch water line came with it.

Tammie cleaned trails and fought wild fires in Arizona and California before she began working for Phoenix 22 years ago. She started as a Parks and Recreation Department landscaper. Then Tammie decided she wanted to drive bigger trucks, so she earned her Commercial Driver’s License, transferred to the Phoenix Water Services Department and joined a team that cleaned and repaired wastewater lines.

For nine years, she vacuumed sewer lines and climbed into trenches to repair the lines, handling jackhammers, shovels and saws. “It’s not for everyone,” Tammie said. “It can be stinky – and dirty.” Tammie liked what she did then and likes what she does now, because she enjoys the people she works with. Tammie is from a military family that settled in Southern Arizona, where she graduated from Douglas High School.  She is ready to retire in a few years and return to that part of the state with her husband of 25 years.

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.

Get To Work: How To Qualify For A Job In Water

By Warren Tenney

Skilled people who treat and distribute drinking water and collect and treat wastewater are retiring at a high rate. Jobs are opening up in Arizona’s small towns and big cities. It takes smart, ambitious and persistent job seekers to get started in these public health jobs. Utilities will hire people who trained just after high school and those who opt to change careers. Cities have hired veterans, former health care providers, chemists, environmental study graduates, food workers, sales people, construction workers, auto mechanics, warehouse workers, janitors and police officers. Arizona has about 1,500 water systems and 800 wastewater systems. Interested? Know someone who might be? Here are the basics.

91st Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant Phoenix

91st Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant in City of Phoenix

What do I need? To start as an entry-level water or wastewater operator you need a high school diploma or a general education degree (GED) and Grade 1 certification in one of four areas:

  • Water Treatment or Water Distribution certification qualifies a person to work for a public water system.
  • Wastewater Treatment or Wastewater Collections certification qualifies a person to work in a plant that treats wastewater for reuse, such as irrigation or direct injection back into Arizona’s aquifers.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) grants these certifications. To earn Grade 1 level certification in any of these four areas a candidate must receive a 70 percent grade on a three-hour, 100-question, in-person, proctored exam. These exams are given throughout the year and throughout the state. Once you earn Grade 1 certification, you can advance by earning Grade 2, Grade 3 and Grade 4 certification in each of the areas. 

How can I prepare for the exam? Gateway Community College, 108 N. 40th St. in Phoenix, offers a two-year and a one-year program in Water and Wastewater Treatment. 

  • Two-year program: This program’s goal is to teach students the knowledge and skills needed to pass a Grade 1 certification exam and up to a Grade 2 certification exam. Students who complete the two-year program earn an Associate of Arts degree in Water and Wastewater Treatment.
  • One-year program: This program’s goal is to teach students the knowledge and skills needed to pass a Grade 1 certification exam in either Water or Wastewater Treatment.

The programs include online and in-person courses taught by local water managers, hands-on experience at local utilities, and internships. The program accommodates working adults, so most in-person classes are in the evening or on Saturdays. Graduates from both programs still must pass the ADEQ certification exams.

You don’t have to attend college to earn Grade 1 certification. There is information about study guides and classes at ADEQ’s website, AZ Water Association and Rural Water Association of Arizona.

Practice operator tests at ADEQ

Operators take water treatment operator practice exams at the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.  Photo: ADEQ 

What does it cost? In August 2016, Gateway Community College opened the Surprise Gateway Training Center dedicated to Water and Wastewater Treatment courses. The facility is open to anyone wishing to take courses through Gateway Community College. There are currently 14 one-year scholarships available for people living in Surprise or Luke Air Force Base. West Valley residents also are encouraged to apply. Without a scholarship, tuition is $2,781 for Gateway’s one-year certification course and $6,736 for the two-year degree. AZ Water Association in partnership with the American Water Works Association also has a scholarship program that offers $2,500 for water operator training and educational expenses.

It costs about $100 to take the ADEQ exam, depending on the location. Once you pass the exam there is a $65 fee to apply for certification.

Where can I work? ADEQ grades each water and wastewater treatment plant in Arizona from 1 through 4 depending on the complexity of its equipment, the number of people it serves and its size. The grade of the plant determines the grade of the operator needed to run the plant. Many large treatment plants also hire Grade 1 and Grade 2 level operators as staff members.

Mesa treatment

City of Mesa water treatment plant.

If you plan to move, it’s best to plan ahead because each state has its own requirements for accepting out-of-state certifications. Arizona uses exams created by the Association of Boards of Certification (ABC), which are used in many states. 

What does it pay? The median wage for treatment plant operators nationally is about $45,000 a year. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the 2016 median wage in the Phoenix Metropolitan Area is $52,370 and ranges from $47,000 to $40,000 throughout the rest of the state.

How can I get hired? All the cities hire differently. Gateway Community College makes internships part of its course work, while some cities have their own internship and trainee programs. Some cities allow you to volunteer or intern a few days a week to get an idea of what the job is like before going through the training and certification process.

Water professionals have a few tips. Whether you are interviewing as a potential volunteer, an intern or a job candidate, come prepared to talk the language of water and wastewater treatment, water distribution and wastewater collection. Study the plant where you want to work and understand how it works. Take a class in interviewing skills so you can express yourself clearly and concisely. The City of Peoria recently had an opening for a Grade 1 Water Treatment Plant Operator. The City interviewed candidates that had shown interest in the job, such as those who interned at any city or private water or wastewater plant, completed online courses, or were Gateway students or graduates. Peoria hired a former warehouse worker who had volunteered at a treatement plant on his days off, earned an Associates degree from Gateway and passed the ADEQ Grade 1 certification exam in both water treatment and wastewater treatment.  

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

 

The Whys Behind Changes In Your Water Bill

By Warren Tenney

You may have noticed from time to time changes to your city’s water bill. A city makes adjustments to water and sewer rates to ensure the rates charged to homes and businesses cover the city’s expenses. Such adjustments only happen after being approved by your city council. Here are a few of the rising expenses that impact the cost of a city’s water and sewer services.

Water. Cities are paying more for this precious commodity. For example, the cost of Colorado River water delivered by the Central Arizona Project (CAP) has increased an average of 6.8 percent annually for the last 15 years. The cost for Salt River water delivered by the Salt River Project (SRP) also has increased even if at a lower rate.  Both will continue to rise. For Valley cities, the cost of raw water can be between 10 to 25 percent of their water budget.

Canal Signage Zanjero Gate Shoot

Salt River Project canals deliver water to city treatment plants.   Photo: Michael McNamara 

Energy. Water and wastewater plants and distribution systems use enormous amounts of energy. Energy costs have risen. The extent of this impact is different for all AMWUA cities because each city has a different treatment processes, different elevation changes, and different energy programs. Two AMWUA cities report their energy costs rose about 30 percent over the last 10 years. Cost increases for energy are expected to continue.

Infrastructure. Water runs to homes and businesses 24/7 365 days a year with little interruption. That’s because the pipes, pumps, valves, tanks and meters it takes to make that happen are regularly maintained, repaired and, when needed, replaced. Other infrastructure costs, like expanding or building new treatment plants, occur less frequently but are very expensive.

PEORIA Replacing a water service 1

City of Peoria utility crew repairs a leak in water infrastructure.

Chemicals. The cost of chemicals needed to treat water and wastewater also are  increasing. Again, the extent of this impact is different for all AMWUA cities. One city reported a 33 percent increase in the cost of chemicals over the last 10 years.

Quality. Standards for safe drinking water evolve as scientific knowledge increases. For example, in 2006 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) changed the level of arsenic permitted in drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion. That required new equipment in the treatment plants and new pipelines to be built.  EPA is continually assessing non-regulated contaminants to determine if they should be added to safe drinking water standards, which result in higher costs for water providers.

Security. Government regulations to keep water systems safe are increasing as new threats are identified. It costs to secure infrastructure and to train staff to respond effectively in case of emergencies, such as vandalism or a terror attack.

First Responders2

City of Scottsdale utility crew participates in a drill to keep water flowing during an emergency.

Debt Service. Building and upgrading infrastructure is very expensive and often funded by bonds. These bonds smooth out rate increases by allowing water departments to pay back the debt over long periods of time. Cities work hard to keep their financial houses in order to receive high bond ratings. High bond ratings result in lower interest costs on these debts.

There are costs involved in running a water department that most city residents don’t think about. For example, consider the vehicles necessary to transport water professionals to read meters, take water quality samples, make planned and emergency repairs, and everything else involved to ensure you have water.  One AMWUA city reports that it costs $600,000 a year to maintain its fleet of vehicles.

City water departments want residential and commercial customers involved in helping to maintain water systems that provide reliable services. Some cities have citizen water advisory boards, citizen water information seminars and citizen tours. Learn more about your cities’ water systems and help your neighbors understand that a well maintained water and sewer system that is staffed by knowledgeable professionals is vital to maintaining your city’s economy.

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.

current_az_trd

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.

Lake Mead NO CREDIT required

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.

Aerial shots of GRUSP

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.