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.

Tempe Offers Residents And Businesses Online Access To Water Use

By Warren Tenney

Imagine watching your water consumption online in real time as easily as you access your checking account or medical records. By Spring 2017 about 5,000 City of Tempe homes and businesses will have online access to their hour-by-hour water use. Tempe will continue to add more customers until every Tempe business owner and resident with a water meter can monitor their water use by early 2019. The new water meter reading system is known as “advanced meter infrastructure” or AMI. While some cities are piloting AMI systems, Tempe is pursuing the most ambitious meter conversion in the Valley. Here are five things you should know about the system.

1. A giant step: There are two common ways most Valley cities read your water meter. The first: an employee drives past each home and a computer inside the vehicle reads each meter. The second: a water department employee drives into a neighborhood, parks a specially equipped van on a street or in a parking lot, and uses a computer to read each water meter within a half-mile or so. Some cities use a combination of both of these electronic systems, which are called “automatic meter reading” or AMR. Tempe tested but never committed to either of these AMR methods. Right now, Tempe water employees still read meters the old fashioned way – by opening the lid of your water meter box (which is usually in the ground in your front yard or in the alley), checking the dial, and entering a number into a handheld computer.  

2. How it will work: If your water meter is more than 7 years old, Tempe will install a new meter compatible with the new electronic system. If you have a newer meter, the city will place a new register on your existing meter. A network of “collectors and repeaters” will be attached mainly to city-owned light poles. This network will relay water use from each meter directly to a computer inside Tempe’s Customer Service Division for billing. The new system is flexible. In an emergency, such as a power or computer failure, Tempe would switch to an AMR system and each meter would be read by an employee from a specially equipped vehicle as it passes a home and business. Tempe selected a vendor to operate the system. The vendor also will be responsible for such things as system upgrades and data storage.

3. The rollout: Tempe’s 44,000 water meters are divided into four sections with about 10,000 to 11,000 meters in each. Each of these four sections has 20 routes consisting of varying numbers of meters, up to 1,000. The City will convert 5,000 meters within two sections by January. As each route is completed and tested, Tempe will notify water customers when they have the option of registering for an online portal that will allow them to watch their water use in real time on an hourly basis.

4. What the City gains: Tempe’s goals are improving water conservation and customer service. For example, monthly bills to customers are based on 30 days of water service, but that number can change. When meters are read manually, the number of days it takes to complete a route can vary because of unpredictable circumstances, such as sick days and rainy days. Adding one or two days of water usage to a bill can mean a noticeable increase in what customers pay that month. Fluctuating bills make it harder for customers to budget and often cause customer complaints and questions. The new system will provide Tempe with more accurate data within a uniform period of time, generating more uniform monthly bills. The new system also will provide data for planning purposes, such as tracking the water saved due to home and business water audits, rebates and other conservation programs. Tempe now has four regular employees and four temporary employees responsible for reading meters. Once the conversion is complete, the four regular employees will be assigned new responsibilities, such as fixing broken meters, responding to customer concerns, or completing disconnects.

5. What you gain: The AMI system helps to alert you sooner to a change in your water use. Being able to see patterns in your hourly water use gives you a better opportunity to pin point a problem.  For example, if your water use is suddenly higher than usual between 5 a.m. and 6 a.m. when the irrigation system is running, you know the first place to look for a leak.

 

Advances in technology continue to help residents use water more efficiently.  Water meters are key to accounting for water used by customers and in turn can help customers find leaks quickly. If you need help fixing leaks, AMWUA’s Smart Home Water Guide has the answers.

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.

Cities Offer Classes To Help You Reimagine Your Yard

By Warren Tenney

Monsoon storms brought temperatures down and brought more desert dwellers out to their patios. It’s the time of year when homeowners begin to reimagine their yards: a new tree here, some flowering shrubs there, perhaps a new irrigation controller or some contouring to retain more rain water. AMWUA cities understand this and are offering dozens of free landscape classes that can help you create the look you want.

A few  weeks ago, the City of Avondale presented “Fall and Winter Splashes for Desert Landscapes.” Those who attended learned how and where to plant 60 drought-tolerant trees, shrubs and vines to maximize their colorful foliage, fruit and flowers throughout the fall and winter. Here are a few of the trees and plants that were discussed. 

  • Cascalote Tree:  This hardy, moderate-growing evergreen offers yellow, lightly fragrant flowers throughout fall and winter.

    Cascalote Tree

    Cascalote Tree Photo: Kirti Mathura

  • Mexican-buckeye: This large shrub provides bright yellow foliage before it drops its leaves for the winter. (It also provides rose-pink flowers in the spring.)
  • Dalea: These bright shrubs come in several varieties that bloom purple, pink or yellow through the fall or winter.
  • Purple Prickly-pear: This low-maintenance cactus turns a dramatic deep purple during the winter.

    Purple Cactus

    Purple Prickly-pear Photo: Kirti Mathura

  • Queen’s Wreath: This fast-growing vine will keep its clusters of pink flowers deep into the fall.

There are still plenty of classes to attend. Avondale is offering free classes about landscape design, watering schedules and irrigation repair, pruning and vegetable gardening. Here is a sample of what is available in other cities in the coming months. (You’ll find a full list on the AMWUA website.) All the classes are taught by landscape experts and most require that you sign up ahead of time.

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Dalia blossom Photo: Kirti Mathura

City of Mesa: “Hydrate Your Plants” – Create a beautiful, lush landscape with rainwater harvesting.

City of Peoria: “Homeowners Guide to Lush Lawns” – Receive easy, practical advice to help you maintain a healthy, beautiful and water-efficient lawn. 

City of Phoenix: “Rain Gardens” – Learn how to design an earth-friendly yard using simple earthworks and low-water-use plants.

City of Goodyear: “Meet Your Irrigation System”  – Take charge and learn the ABCs of controllers, emitters, valves and zones.

City of Glendale: “Happy Soil=Happy Plants” – Improve your soil to improve the vigor of your plants and reduce the need for excessive watering.

City of Chandler: “Create Your Own Oasis” – Learn the concepts of design, how to plan for small spaces, the desert plant palette, plant selection and plant combinations.

Mexican buckeye

Mexican-buckeye Photo: Kirti Mathura

Town of Gilbert: “Hummingbird and Butterfly Gardens” – Explore the numerous options for a colorful and water-efficient yard that will attract nature’s pollinators. 

City of Tempe: “Drip irrigation” – Get advice from a pro to help you design, install and maintain a drip irrigation system. 

City of Scottsdale: “Managing & Reducing HOA Water Use” – Learn how much water your HOA’s landscape needs and identify opportunities to improve water efficiency.

There are three things to remember about your yard in fall. 1) It’s a great time to plant. The soil is still warm but the coldest temperatures are still months away. 2.) Stop fertilizing your plants. Fertilizing encourages new growth that is susceptible to damage by colder temperatures. 3.) Continue to water deeply but not nearly as frequently as summer. Trees and plants don’t absorb as much water in cooler months and the cooler soil retains water longer.

Get ready to open your windows to fall and open your door to winter visitors. It’s the beginning of the end of an especially long hot summer and time to get free advice from your city about maximizing the beauty of your desert landscape.

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.

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  

Scottsdale Offers Arizona’s First Pool Removal Rebate

By Warren Tenney

As you fly into Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport bright blue dots mark thousands of backyard pools. For decades, backyard pools have been as common as sunshine in Valley neighborhoods. Many families can’t imagine living in the Phoenix Metro area without a swimming pool, while others have outgrown their pools. Over the last 20 years the rate of new pools being put into homes has declined. Unused pools have begun to languish in backyards demanding to be cleaned and repaired. Some are empty, others leaking from neglect.

A recent study showed that between 2006 and 2013 for every five new residential pools built in Maricopa County, three were removed. In another indication of this downward trend, one Phoenix-based excavating company reported that its pool removals had increased 25 percent each year since 2014. The City of Scottsdale wants to encourage this trend. Scottsdale is the first City in Arizona to offer residents a water conservation rebate to remove their pools and spas. The water conservation rebate provides up to $1,500 to offset some of the expenses.

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Unused pools languish in backyards. Photo: City of Scottsdale

This new water conservation rebate gives extra incentive to a tough challenge. Pools lose water through leaks and evaporation. A pool will lose its entire volume of water to evaporation within one year. During the summer, a 400-square-foot pool will lose 10 inches a month or about 2,500 gallons to evaporation. Pool leaks can be hard to spot. Leaks are most often found in pool equipment and can leave a wet spot (that can evaporate quickly) or white crusty mineral deposits on pipes. (Here’s help from AMWUA’s Smart Home Water Guide to locate pool leaks.)

If you’re thinking about removing your pool, here are three things to consider.  

1. Check with your city to determine if you need a permit. Each city has different rules. Some cities, such as Scottsdale, will require that you pay for a permit. Removing a pool means disconnecting pool equipment from your electrical panel. A Scottsdale city inspector will review the final project to assure the electrical work was done correctly. You are also required to put holes in the bottom of the pool, as the holes allow rainwater to drain into the ground.

2. The least reliable way to remove a pool is to do it yourself unless you have equipment that can compact each foot of dirt used to backfill the pool. Without proper compacting, the fill dirt can settle within six months and create a depression or sink hole where the pool was. Any irrigation equipment and landscaping you planted to cover the pool area will be damaged or lost.

3. Contractors will give you a few options for ways to remove your pool. Here are the three options offered by one Phoenix excavating company. 1.) The least costly is to create a hole in the bottom of the pool, cap off plumbing, disconnect electric and remove pool equipment, then backfill and compact the dirt.  2.) The second least costly technique includes removing decking and about 12 inches to 18 inches of the top of the pool shell, place it into the hole and then backfill and compact the dirt. These techniques cost less but some cities may not permit you to build on top of the pool area or require further soil compacting. 3.) The most expensive option is to remove the deck and pool shell completely. Check with Arizona’s Registrar of Contractors and Better Business Bureau before hiring help to remove your pool.

So what is it going to cost? We put that question to the folks at Imperial Excavating, a Phoenix-based company that removes two to three pools a week throughout the Valley during the busy winter season. The first two partial removal techniques typically cost $2,800 and $3,800. The total removal is about $6,000. That makes Scottsdale’s pool and spa removal rebate look pretty good. Here are basics about the rebate.

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Leaks in pool equipment can be hard to spot. Photo: City of Scottsdale

  • The amount of the rebate is 50 cents per square foot based on the surface square footage of your pool. Once completed, your rebate will appear on your bill.
  • Expect the City to ask for photos and to conduct pre and post inspections.
  • You must landscape the space where the pool had been.
  • You have six months to complete the project after the pre-inspection date.

This new rebate is based on a first-come-first-served basis. If you are considering removing your pool, Scottsdale is waiting for your application. You could start a new trend in your neighborhood.

Each city develops and updates its conservation programs to address its customers’ unique situation. Rebates available through cities will vary. Here is a list of rebates offered by AMWUA member cities.  

For 46 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.

 

Peak Demand Dictates How Cities Build Water Infrastructure

By Warren Tenney

It’s no surprise that demand for water in the Phoenix Metro area reaches its peak during the summer months. What may be surprising is that demand nearly doubles from the winter months to the summer months. In February 2015, City of Peoria customers – businesses, apartment buildings and homes – used 2,940 acre-feet of water. In July, Peoria’s peak rose to 6,516 acre-feet of water. (One acre-foot of water is enough to cover an acre to the depth of one foot or enough to serve an average of three Arizona households for a year.) In December 2015, City of Mesa water customers used 5,899 acre-feet of water. In July 2015, Mesa water customers used 10,503 acre-feet.

The annual pattern of peak demand can look slightly different from year to year, depending on fluctuations in heat and when monsoon storms arrive. The chart below shows Mesa’s annual water production for the past 5 years. Peaking in Mesa happens most often in July, but a hot June and a good July monsoon can mean that the peak month could be June.Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 8.10.27 AM

Watching water-use trends and peak demand is critical to planning and building water infrastructure. Here’s why:

  •  Annual Peak Demand: Cities build infrastructure to meet annual peak demand. It would be cheaper to order just enough water and build just enough pipes, pumps and small reservoirs within a water system to meet average water use but that would make water delivery to your faucets unreliable during peak demand times. More is invested in water treatment and distribution systems to ensure they are built to provide water for the hottest days when landscape irrigation systems, pools and cooling towers are working at maximum capacity.
  • Daily Peak Demand: Each day, demand for water peaks in the morning and, again, in the evening hours. That means water managers are diligently filling a water system’s reservoirs overnight to make sure enough water is ready to be pumped to homes when hundreds of thousands of residents step into their showers between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Then water managers dial back around 9 a.m. when demand lessens and to prepare for the after work demand.

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    Small reservoirs keep water available for peak demand. Photo: City of Mesa

  • Safety Peak Demand: Being ready for daily and seasonal water demands isn’t enough. Water managers must maintain water supplies and build water systems for the what-ifs. What if it’s 6 a.m. on a July morning and firefighters call for more water to fight two house fires and a brush fire? What if the system is just dialing back to accommodate a low demand time when a water main breaks spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of water meant for customers into the street instead? A water distribution system must have supplies, pipes, reservoirs and pumps in reserve to keep water running to customer faucets while employees fix the break or provide water for fire suppression.

Most cities, including Mesa and Peoria, use a computer program called Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition or SCADA to track water demand throughout their systems. The program allows city employees to keep their eyes on each part of the water distribution system remotely and in real time. Operators use this innovative computer program to review water distribution continually throughout their service area and to track peaks in demands. For example, a sudden change in pressure could mean firefighters need high volume and increased pressure to put out a fire, a construction site is filling a large water tank, a reservoir is overflowing or there is a break in the system and the city is losing water.  Utility workers can quickly respond to investigate and correct the problem to significantly reduce any disruption to your water service. 

Mesa Canal Connection

Photo: City of Mesa

During the last two decades, while Mesa and Peoria have grown by hundreds of thousands of people, the water used by city customers, even during peak demand months, has remained nearly flat. Cities helped to fuel this accomplishment by promoting a conservation culture, which includes encouraging drought-tolerant landscapes and the use of water-efficient appliances and fixtures, and helping residents find and fix leaks. Want to help lower your city’s peak demand? Start outside where as much as 70 percent of a home’s water is used. AMWUA’s Smart Home Water Guide can help you find and fix leaks. AMWUA’s landscape pages can help you select drought-tolerant plants and trees, design a lovely yard, and efficiently water your landscape for maximum beauty.

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.