Want A Lovelier Landscape? Master Your Irrigation Controller

By Warren Tenney

More than half the drinking water used in the Phoenix Metro area is used outdoors, mostly to irrigate landscapes. Desert dwellers irrigate a variety of plants, trees and grass all year long as the weather swings from extremely hot to freezing. Establishing a lovely landscape can mean a steep and expensive learning curve. It doesn’t have to. There are two important and easy lessons to maintaining a pretty and water-efficient yard in the desert. First, understand how much water your plants, trees and grass need to thrive. Second, learn to set your automated irrigation controller so it waters for maximum health, beauty and efficiency. AMWUA cities offer homeowners free classes, publications and videos to help.

The efficiency of an automated irrigation controller is directly related to the competence and knowledge of the person setting the controls. To keep any established desert-adapted landscape thriving the controller needs to be set to water infrequently but deeply. People who are not used to daily sunshine eagerly water their trees, cactus and shrubs a little every day. It’s a common practice that wastes water and threatens the life of any landscape. For example, you can program your controller to water your grass 15 minutes every day and your grass will stay green. The problem: you could be using two and half times the amount of water your grass needs to thrive. You can water your tree 15 minutes every day but frequent, shallow watering means your tree will never grow roots deep enough to stand up to monsoon winds. Here are general watering rules that help. AMWUA has links to more complete watering guides.

  • Water once a month in the winter, once every two weeks when temperatures begin to rise in the spring, and once a week in the hottest and driest part of the year, usually late May until the monsoon brings rain and higher humidity in early July.
  • When you do water, water to a depth of 3 feet for trees, 2 feet for shrubs, 1 foot for smaller plants and a half foot for grass. (You can measure the depth of your watering with something as simple a wooden stick.)

The second step is learning to adjust an automated irrigation controller to match what you’ve learned. Typical controllers are not difficult, but they can be confusing at first. People can’t tell the difference between station A and program A and don’t want to deal with it. They set it once and forget about it or leave it up to a landscaper. Watch the manufacturer’s how-to video designed for your controller. Then you can set it yourself and save water and money. Irrigation specialists recommend re-programming a controller at least four times a year to match the seasonal needs of your landscape.

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This irrigation controller can be programed with a cell phone app. Photos: Jeff Lee

Newer automated irrigation devices are known as smart controllers. If programmed correctly, these controllers adjust for seasonal changes on their own based on weather data. This technology has been used to irrigate city parks, golf courses and farms for decades. Now this technology is being perfected for back yards.

Some of these controllers adjust themselves according to historical weather patterns and an onsite temperature sensor that’s part of the control box. Many of them come with rain gauges attached or ones that you can add. Other types of smart controllers use a manufacturer’s cell phone modem to attain current weather conditions. These controllers are more precise but require a monthly subscription fee.

The latest smart controllers use your home’s Wi-Fi connection. They allow you to program and adjust them from an app on your cell phone and connect to the closest weather station for daily meteorological conditions. These controllers are easier to use but need more initial input to set up. Owners are asked to answer questions such as kind of plants being watered, type of soil (clay loam in central Valley, sandy loam in higher, northern parts of the Valley), sun exposure, sprinklers or drip, and slope. The manufacturer’s videos help answer these questions.

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This irrigation controller comes with a sensor.

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The sensor measures both temperature and rain.

You can find smart controllers that include soil sensors. These soil probes let the controller know exactly how much water is in the soil. Due to mixed landscapes – with different trees, plants and grass – and different sun exposures these can be more challenging to configure.

Some cities will offer homeowners, HOAs and businesses rebates for installing new WaterSense approved smart controllers. Residents can make an appointment with the Town of Gilbert’s irrigation specialist to come to your home and help you set a smart controller. One precaution: When buying any smart controller make sure it allows you to do more than just adjust run times. These types of smart controllers are made for other climates and will not water long enough in the winter to reach the roots of your trees and plants. Desert yards require a smart controller that adjusts both run time and frequency (or how many days between watering). This allows you to adjust the controller to meet the needs of desert-adapted landscapes by programming to water deeply all year but less often when it’s cooler.

Right now, AMWUA cities are offering free landscape classes about watering and irrigation systems. These classes can make maintaining a lovely and water-efficient yard far easier.

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.

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.

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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.

Dirty Secrets: Backyard Composting Among Cities’ Free Landscape Classes

By Warren Tenney

AMWUA cities offer more than 70 free landscape classes throughout the year to help you grow a more beautiful yard with less water. Local experts introduce you to a wide variety of desert plants and how to use them to design shady and colorful spaces that attract birds and butterflies. Topics also include how to select, plant and nurture trees, how much and when to water, how to grow vegetables and herbs in the desert, and how to operate your irrigation controller. This fall the City of Glendale is offering five classes, including one called “Backyard Composting.” 

There are several reasons why desert dwellers put time and energy into becoming backyard composters. Some talk about the magic of science that turns their kitchen scraps and yard trimmings into something that looks like rich, dark soil. For others, it’s about growing the best tomatoes on the block or creating a booster for container gardens. People who take the time to compost will tell you they want to decrease the amount of garbage they pack into large plastic bags and send to landfills. When compost – officially called a “soil amendment” – is used on trees, plants and vegetables the water is more readily absorbed. That can make deep, infrequent irrigation more effective and help you use water more wisely.

Here are just a few tips about basic backyard composting that you’ll learn at the Glendale class offered 6 p.m. Nov. 8 at the city’s Main Library. 

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Composting containers can be bought at any gardening store.

Container: Compost containers must be at least one cubic yard (3 feet by 3 feet by 3 feet) to get the kind of microbial activity you need to create compost. You can buy a container specially made for composting through a gardening outlet. You also can check with your city’s solid waste department. Some cities recycle old trash and recycling cans into inexpensive compost bins. They remove the bottoms, drill holes in the sides to facilitate aeration, and keep the lid on to help prevent evaporation.

Composting material: Anything that once grew roots and leaves – or is made from something that once grew roots and leaves – is a suitable composting material. You need nitrogen (often green) and carbon (often brown) to create compost. Nitrogen is most likely supplied by your kitchen waste, such as the woody stems on asparagus and broccoli, a celery stump or the lettuce you forgot about in the back of the refrigerator. Dried landscape materials supply carbon, such as wood chips from a trimmed tree limb, dried leaves or a pile of lawn clippings left in the sun for a week. (Fresh, green lawn clippings are a source of nitrogen). The smaller the size of the composting material the quicker it changes into compost. Never use bones, grease or meaty leftovers in a compost pile. These food items need different microbes to decompose. Never use cat or dog droppings, or droppings from any animal that consumes meat. These droppings harbor unhealthy bacteria that composting does not destroy. It’s fine to add manure from cows, horses, goats, rabbits or llamas. 

Oxygen: The composting material changes into compost through the work of microbes. These microbes need oxygen. They get that oxygen when the compost is “turned” or churned. The more frequently the compost material is turned the more oxygen the microbes get, the harder they work and the faster the compost is finished. Some composting containers come with a handle that turns and tumbles the composting material. Other gardeners prefer to simply transfer their material from one container to another with a shovel. 

Water: Composting microbes also need water. In the desert, compost bins tend to dry out. (Turning your compost by hand lets you find dry spots.) Your compost material should be warm in the middle and as moist as a wrung sponge. If you squeeze it and water comes out, it’s too wet. Add carbon with some dry materials. If the pile is crispy, it’s too dry. Sprinkle it with water and add some nitrogen.

Patience: Finished compost equals 40 to 50 percent of the volume of composting material used. A single typical compost bin could produce one to two wheelbarrows of compost in 6 to 10 weeks. Finished compost is rich, dark, soft and earthy. If your compost still has chunks, microbes are still working. Instead of helping your plants, microbes in unfinished compost will draw nitrogen from plants and soil to stay alive.

So, you just can’t see yourself chipping, shredding, collecting and turning your way to compost? AMWUA has a list of free city landscape classes on its website. Take a look. You’re likely to find a class you need. Some cities are offering classes right now. Others will be posting soon.

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

Inside Job: Water Efficiency A Fixture In City Buildings

By Warren Tenney

Central Arizona’s desert cities offer rebates, outdoor water audits, videos, free publications and landscape classes to help customers use water more efficiently outdoors. Cities also lead by example, creating beautiful, well-kept and efficiently watered landscapes around their public buildings and in their parks.

What may be less obvious are the improvements the cities have made inside the facilities they maintain. For decades, cities have taken the lead on adopting water efficient fixtures and practices inside their public buildings. The City of Glendale, Arizona, was the first major U.S. city to adopt a code requiring water efficient fixtures.  The ordinance took effect January 1, 1988. It applied to all new construction, as well as replacement of fixtures in existing structures.  Many of the Valley cities adopted similar ordinances in the years following. The federal government adopted water efficiency standards for fixtures in 1992. At the same time, cities began converting to more efficient fixtures inside their own facilities. 

STUDENT GILBERT

A student swaps out a 2.2. gallon per minute faucet aerator for a 0.5 gallon per minute faucet aerator in the Gilbert Police headquarters. 

 

Cities continue to evaluate how they can further improve water efficiency inside their public buildings. The EPA WaterSense Program is a voluntary labeling program that promotes fixtures that are 20 percent more efficient than the federal standard. Thanks to the EPA WaterSense Program the market offers a growing number of increasingly efficient fixtures. Cities are once again upgrading.

The Town of Gilbert is retrofitting its public buildings with more water efficient toilets, urinals, showerheads and faucets. Gilbert has done work inside its courts building and two municipal office buildings, two fire stations and the fire administration building, three recreation centers and one library.

Here are the fixtures Gilbert has installed:

  • 200 – .5 gallon-per-minute faucet aerators
  • 122 – dual-flush handles on toilets
  • 39 – 1.5 gallon-per-minute showerheads
  • 38 –  .5 gallon-per-flush urinals (and two waterless urinals)
  • 2 – 1.1 gallons-per-minute rinse spray valves.

Prior to the conversion, the town’s urinals used 1 gallon-per flush, the current federal standard. The town was able to cut in half the amount of water used by the urinals without purchasing and installing new fixtures. It simply replaced the urinals’ diaphragms. 

 

Date Log

A Water Conservation Specialist downloads a “data log” to check for leaks at a Gilbert building. 

 

When Gilbert’s conservation professionals crunch the numbers from the latest indoor plumbing upgrades, they project an annual savings of more than 1.6 million gallons of water and $6,000 in reduced water and sewer bills. (Yes, cities and towns must pay water and sewer bills, too.) The work in Gilbert is really just beginning. Water efficient upgrades still need to be made to 12 additional public facilities, including eight fire stations.

In 2011 the City of Scottsdale Council voted to focus on converting toilets installed in City Hall, North Corp Yard, Scottsdale Stadium, Civic Center, Mustang Library and Scottsdale Center for the Arts. The 1.6 gallon-per-flush (the federal standard) toilets will be replaced by more efficient 1.28 gallons-per-flush toilets as money becomes available. Compare that to the old 1980s toilets that used 5 gallons-per-flush or more. That’s a 74 percent reduction in water use.

For the past three years, Scottsdale also has reused 1.9 million gallons of what is known as “blowdown water” annually from its municipal buildings’ evaporative coolers. This wastewater would normally be discarded directly to the sewers, but it now replaces potable water used for fire truck testing in the North Corp Yard.

Other cities are finding additional savings in their facilities. The City of Glendale just finished an inventory of two libraries, two community centers and a fire station documenting the types of fixtures currently installed and making note of leaking toilets and missing faucet aerators. The city will continue to inventory buildings to prioritize water-saving changes. The City of Avondale is beginning a similar inventory of appliances and fixtures this year, and the City of Phoenix recently completed an extensive facility inventory. More water-efficient plumbing will be installed as cities remodel older buildings or as old fixtures and appliances break. New city buildings will be fitted with more water-efficient plumbing, such as a new City of Tempe fire station. 

If you’re stuck inside during the summer, it’s a great time to inventory your own interior for ways to save water. Adding aerators to your faucets is an easy way to save water and money. Consider replacing older toilets, which can use as much as 6 gallons of water per flush and are prone to silent, continual leaks. See if your city offers rebates to help offset the cost of replacement, and look for the WaterSense label when you make your purchase. The label ensures fixtures are more efficient and that they meet strict performance guidelines.

For information about finding and fixing household leaks, check out Smart Home Water Guide.

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.

Desert Landscape School: Professional Training Available For Everyone

By Warren Tenney

There are people who love desert trees and plants and want to learn more about them. Then there are those who want the knowledge and skills to confidently take charge of any desert-adapted landscape – design it, lay the irrigation, select and plant the trees, shrubs and groundcover, prune, tend and keep it thriving. These are the people who put in the money, time and effort to earn a credential from the Desert Botanical Garden. The Garden’s Desert Landscape School just became a bit easier to fit into your schedule and your budget.

The Desert Botanical Garden in the City of Phoenix has offered a professional landscaping course since 1997. More than 1,200 people have earned the Desert Landscape School credential. The Garden was eager to train landscapers in the techniques that have kept its 55-acres of plants flourishing for more than 70 years. Many Valley cities were designing desert-adapted landscaping into their buildings and parks and sent their landscaping crews to sharpen their skills. Some professional landscapers still take the course but the course has attracted a variety of people over the years. Students have included accountants, lawyers and administrators who wanted to change careers and start new landscaping businesses. Professional landscape designers and architects who move from other states have attended to learn about desert-adapted trees, shrubs and groundcover plants. Homeowners now make up the majority of students taking the extensive landscape course.  Some come seeking information about how to care for their own yards. Others come specifically to learn the skills and knowledge they will need to redesign and install their own landscaping.

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In the past, the Desert Landscape School program was taught over seven months. It met for four hours every week, included six exams and cost $1,250. That was a lot of money and a tough schedule for working adults with families. Drop out rates ranged from 10 percent to 20 percent.

For the past two year, the Desert Botanical Garden piloted a new idea with help from a Flinn Foundation grant. The Garden broke down the seven-month Desert Landscape School into six certificate courses. If you successfully complete all six courses you earn a Desert Landscape School credential. So far, the dropout rate has been less than 2 percent.

These new courses are two hours every week for 10 weeks and costs range from $259 to $374 depending on the course and whether the student is a Desert Botanical Garden member. Cities can now send their landscaping crews without the expense of becoming a corporate member of the Garden.  In September 2015, a storm (later determined to be a microburst) caused $100,000 worth of damage to the Tempe Center for the Arts landscaping.  The City of Tempe turned to the Desert Botanical Garden for help with specific plantings and to minimize damage in the future. Six members of the Tempe Center for the Arts maintenance and landscape team began the Desert Landscape School courses this spring as part of that effort.

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Desert Landscape School  Photo: Desert Botanical Garden

The six courses in the program are offered twice a year.  One track is offered 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, the other at 10 a.m. to noon Saturdays. The classes have up to 30 students. The more hands-on courses have fewer students because it allows instructors to spend more one-on-one time with students. All classes are designed to be primarily outside, with students working and walking in the Garden. When students visit the Garden with family or friends, they can point to trees they’ve pruned or planted or irrigation systems they’ve installed.

There is a proctored exam at the end of each course. If it is an installation course, the exam is performance-based to determine if a student gained the knowledge and skills needed to plant a desert tree correctly and install an irrigation system that works. If it is a knowledge-based course, then there is a written exam. For example, the exam that follows the Desert Plant Palette course includes identifying the scientific and common names of 50 plants set up in an exam room.

No, it’s not for the weekend gardener, but if you successfully complete all six courses you will earn a credential from the Desert Botanical Garden’s Desert Landscape School. That credential gives homeowners the confidence to take charge of their own landscape and gives landscapers the knowledge and skills to better serve their clients.

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

2017 Legislative Session: Four Things That Went Right For Water

By Warren Tenney

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

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

marked capitol

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

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

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

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

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

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

For 48 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.