Drought: Five Things You Need To Know About This Rainy Winter

By Warren Tenney

Many people are wondering what this rainy, snowy winter means for Arizona after more than two decades of drought. Here are five things we know right now.

1. It’s raining and snowing in the right places. So far, it has been raining and snowing in locations that have the potential to increase water in two major reservoirs, Roosevelt Lake and Lake Mead. These reservoirs are key to drinking water supplies for the majority of Arizona’s population.

  • Lake Mead relies on runoff from snow pack in the Upper Colorado River Basin, primarily from two main tributaries: the Green River in southwestern Wyoming and the Upper Colorado River in western Colorado. December snowpack in the Colorado River Basin has ranged from 50 percent to three times above normal.  The result of this above normal precipitation will likely boost the reservoir levels of Lake Mead.
  • Roosevelt Lake relies on rain and snow in the watershed that feeds the Salt River. This watershed reaches into the high country northeast of Phoenix. So far, the watershed has received about 45 percent more precipitation than normal. As of January 25th, 211,000 acre-feet of water had flowed into Roosevelt Lake. (One acre-foot of water is enough to serve three average Arizona households for a year.)

2. This is a good start. Weather in February and March must remain cold and wet to hold and increase the gains and potential gains in both reservoirs. Water resource managers are pleased with rain but prefer snow accompanied by extended weeks of cold temperatures. Low temperatures keep the snow on the ground longer, which stops the water in the ground from evaporating and helps to reduce the threat of summer wildfires. The slow flow from melting snow also delivers cleaner water and is easier to manage in a water delivery system. So while it has already been a good winter, we will have to wait until April to know if it has been a great season.

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This is a map of the  watershed where the springs, creeks and rivers originate that feed into Roosevelt Lake, a key drinking water reservoir for the Phoenix Metro area.

3. The drought is not over. Research shows that drought cycles and wet cycles in Arizona run 20 to 30 years. A drought cycle has fewer wet years than dry and a wet cycle has a greater number of above average rainy years. The current record-breaking drought cycle began around 1996. The last six years have been the driest on record in the Salt and Verde rivers’ watersheds. If the weather follows historical trends, the current drought could be coming to a close within the next several years, but there’s no certainty and it does not factor in climate change. It would take a few years of greater than average snow and rain to begin to heal the wounds left by the current drought. This includes helping to replenish local aquifers used to back up water available in dams and reservoirs. Plus, two or three years of well above-average precipitation on the watersheds that feed the Salt and Verde rivers would help to re-establish depleted wildlife, such as quail and deer. That much precipitation would help to restore overgrazed grasslands and begin to create a healthier forest, with trees not as susceptible to diseases and bark beetle infestation.

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4. AMWUA cities are built for drought. Sunshine is the norm in Central Arizona and rain is an event. We have never denied that we live in an arid part of the country and we plan for drought cycles. AMWUA cities save water underground for future use, keep leaks within their water distribution systems to some of the lowest rates in the country, and re-use 99 percent of their wastewater. Salt River Project (SRP) operates the system of reservoirs and canals that store water from the Salt and Verde rivers. After a rare rainy year in 2010, SRP has faced six dry years on the rivers’ watersheds. Despite record low precipitation, Roosevelt Lake has remained half full and SRP has been able to fill water orders for farmers, industries and cities. SRP was forced to limit water orders by 33 percent in 2002, the driest year in the Southwest in 1,200 years. That year, the SRP system was only 25 percent full and Roosevelt Lake alone was down to 10 percent full. It was the first reduction since the 1950s.

Central Arizona Project (CAP) operates the canal that brings Colorado River water released from Lake Mead to Arizona. CAP has not yet had to reduce water supplies due to a Colorado River shortage. The state’s cities, farmers and industries currently are working together to maintain and increase the level of water stored in Lake Mead and prevent a water shortage declaration next year. The recent increase in winter precipitation and snowpack in the Colorado River Basin decreases the chances that a shortage would be declared in 2018. So, while we regularly face metrological droughts, our water supply droughts are rare.

5. You can make the rain count. Homeowners, apartment managers and businesses make a contribution to our reservoirs when they turn off their irrigation systems and auto-fills on their pools each time it rains. More homeowners and communities also are harvesting the rain by contouring their landscapes to hold storm runoff. Swales built around trees and plants help rainwater stay in place longer so the water soaks deep into the landscape and stays available to plants and trees longer. All of this reduces the need to irrigate and the demand on city water supplies, which in turn saves more drinking water for drinking.

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

 

Desert Edibles: Cities Offer Full Menu Of Landscape And Gardening Classes

By Warren Tenney

The Sonoran Desert is an incomparable place to hike, bike, run, horseback ride and bird watch. When it comes to foraging for food, it’s not so grand. Even those knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the topic admit that sifting and straining food from desert flora is labor intensive. It is, however, a labor of love for people who crave the tastes of the desert. If you think you may be one of them – or you’re just curious – the City of Glendale is presenting a free class in February called Desert Edibles. It’s the most distinct of dozens of free landscape and gardening classes offered this year by AMWUA member cities.

Those who love desert fruits hold several Sonoran Desert food festivals each year. If you’ve never heard of them it’s probably because they are held in June. It’s a hot month to attract a crowd to a desert festival but it is peak harvesting time for desert edibles.

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The most common cactus food is called napoles in Spanish and are small, young prickly pear cactus pads picked in the early summer. Napoles is found on some Mexican restaurant menus and many grocery stores offer pickled napoles and napoles salsas. Tom McDonald, who is teaching Glendale’s Desert Edibles class, said they taste a bit like green peppers. He likes napoles in scrambled eggs and casseroles. Tom owns Smiling Dog Landscapes in Gold Canyon, where he designs and installs landscapes and offers free classes about eating native Sonoran desert foods.

Tom said the prickly pear’s bright red fruit, called tunas, are easiest for beginners to enjoy. Tom’s wife, Kathy, freezes the fruit and then blanches it – thorns, seeds, skin and all – in a stew pot with a little water. Once cooked she uses a potato masher to turn it into pulp and then strains it through sieves with decreasing pore sizes until it is pure juice, which Tom said has a wild tart taste. She uses the juice to make a rosy onion jam marinade, mixes it with coconut milk to make a sorbet and adds a bit to fruit smoothies.

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During Glendale’s class, Tom will offer ways to use 20 desert plants and trees, including milling flour from mesquite pods for pancakes that taste sweet and grainy like ones made from buckwheat and roasting jojoba beans with a little sea salt for a snack food.

A warning from Tom: Don’t attempt to harvest, cook or eat desert plants, fruits, seeds or pods without doing your research or attending classes. Just like foraging for mushrooms, the right ones at the right time of year are delightful delicacies but the wrong ones harvested incorrectly can make you sick. Remember those movie-cowboys who survived in the desert by cutting into a saguaro or barrel cactus and chewing the juice out of the pulp? In real life, they’d be goners. Most cactus pulp and juice make you sick.

Perhaps your tastes run toward more domestic fruits and vegetables. You may enjoy desert flora less for its food value and more for its beauty in low-water landscapes. If so, Glendale and most other AMWUA cities have plenty of classes to guide you to success. Here are a few examples.

Avondale: Trees for Small Arid Yards (6 p.m. April 13, Avondale City Hall, 11465 W. Civic Center Dr.) Find the tree that tolerates Arizona’s heat, is water efficient and fits that particular spot in your yard.

Chandler: Save Your Trees from Monsoon Damage (6:30 p.m. June 13, location TBA) Learn tips about growing a strong tree, including selecting, planting, staking, pruning and watering.

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Gilbert: Sprinkler Design and Installation (6:30 p.m. March 9, Southeast Regional Library – Gilbert, 775 N. Greenfield Road) Design and install a sprinkler system from start to finish like a pro.

Glendale: Cacti and Succulents for Desert Gardens (6 p.m. Feb. 22, Glendale Main Library, 5959 W. Brown St.) Get to know a wide variety of low maintenance cacti and succulents that add color, texture and interest to your desert landscape.

Mesa: Mesa’s water-efficiency professionals work with the Mesa Urban Garden and Mesa Public Library to provide landscaping and conservation classes. Watch for the release of their latest class schedules.

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Peoria: Growing Fruits in the Desert (6 p.m. March 8, Rio Vista Recreation Center, 8866 W Thunderbird Road) Learn more about desert-adapted fruit trees for a successful harvest, including planting, pollinating and creating microclimates. 

Phoenix: Rain Gardens (2 p.m. Feb. 11 Saguaro Library, 2808 N 46th St.) Design an earth-friendly yard using simple earthworks and low-water-use plants.

Scottsdale: Learn to Prune (10 a.m. March 17 Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden at Chaparral Park.) Learn basic pruning cuts from a certified arborist in a hands-on outdoor setting.

Tempe: Conversion from Lawn to a Beautiful Xeriscape (9 a.m. April 15, Eisendrath House – Tempe, 1400 N. College Ave.) Pick up information about Xeriscape conversion, its principals and design, drip irrigation and lawn care.

You will find a complete and up-to-date list of free classes on AMWUA’s website.

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

AMWUA: Preparing For 2017 By Looking At 2016 Successes

By Warren Tenney

Like you, AMWUA and its member cities already are working toward 2017 goals. At the same time, we’re reviewing what went right in 2016. A look back provides a boost of confidence for us and we hope it will encourage you to get involved and help find ways to solve new and lingering water challenges. Here are a few examples of AMWUA’s work in 2016.

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Phoenix Councilwoman Thelda Williams,  AMWUA Board President, called the forum to order.

Legislature: AMWUA helped raise awareness about two state Senate bills that threatened to weaken Arizona’s requirement that new developments have a 100-year adequate water supply before building. Governor Doug Ducey ultimately decided to veto the bills. We also helped to stop or modify other bills that would have threatened the ability of our cities to deliver safe, reliable water. Just last month, AMWUA hosted a forum to inform lawmakers about current water issues and to explain the critical link between sound water policy and Arizona’s economic future.

Financing: In September, AMWUA partnered with the national Alliance for Water Efficiency to host a workshop that provided technical resources to help cities and private utilities develop and implement reasonable water rates. Reasonable water rates are fair to the customer, cover the cost of operating water and sewer systems, and promote conservation. In addition, AMWUA encouraged and participated in discussions to analyze financial issues impacting the Central Arizona Project (CAP) . CAP operates the 360-mile canal that delivers Colorado River water to Arizona cities. Understanding CAP’s finances helps the AMWUA cities prepare for future challenges that could affect the cost of Colorado River water they deliver to their citizens and businesses.

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Tonopah Desert Recharge Project Photo: CAP by Philip A. Fortnam

Research and Analysis: In 2016, AMWUA provided cities and their partners with practical and useful research outlining immediate water issues, such as recovering and distributing the water that Arizona has banked in underground aquifers. AMWUA also acted as the eyes and ears for our cities and kept them informed about current and pending water issues. You’ll find AMWUA staff at every major water meeting, such as CAP Board and Committee meetings, Salt River Project (SRP) Board meetings and the Groundwater Users Advisory Committee. I also serve on Governor Ducey’s Water Augmentation Council. We’re working to make sure the state has the water it needs to serve its cities, small towns, agriculture and industries well into the future.

Drought: The biggest ongoing topic among our city members – and all Arizona water professionals – for 2016, for 2017 and beyond is how Arizona can best respond to ongoing drought. The drought is affecting flows in the Colorado, Verde and Salt rivers, which supply the majority of Arizona’s residents with drinking water. Collaboration is the key to keeping our rivers healthy and our supplies reliable. In 2016, AMWUA regularly brought the cities’ water resource managers and water conservation professionals together with Arizona Department of Water Resources, CAP and SRP staff members to share information, challenges and ideas for solutions.

Conservation: In 2016, AMWUA’s assistant director joined the Board of the Alliance for Water Efficiency, which advocates for the efficient and sustainable use of water throughout North America. AMWUA’s Board of Directors also adopted a resolution to support exempting conservation rebates from federal income tax, just as energy rebates are exempt. AMWUA sought help from Arizona’s congressional delegation, encouraged Arizona communities to join the effort, and coordinated with the national coalition working to address the issue. AMWUA also updated its Xeriscape: Landscaping with Style Guide and provided copies to its members to distribute within their communities. 

Partnerships: If anyone knows the benefits of collaborating to solve problems, it’s a 47-year-old organization that helps 10 cities work together to assure a safe and reliable water supply. That’s why AMWUA spent 2016 continuing to build strong relationships with the Legislature, the Governor’s Office, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Greater Phoenix Economic Council, The Nature Conservancy, the AgriBusiness and Water Council, the Environmental Protection Agency’s WaterSense Program and many others.

img_8063You may know us best through this AMWUA Blog. Our readership is growing every year. We have spent much of 2016 working on a new website that will premier in 2017. Throughout 2016 we continued to keep you informed about regional, state and city water news through our Facebook and Twitter pages. In September, we also started having fun on Instagram, where we share water facts and useful tips with pretty – and not so pretty – pictures. Come take a look at amwua.arizona, #conservationculture.

So, 2017 is going to be an interesting year for water. We’re hoping you’ll join us and use your voice to ensure safe, reliable water supplies remain at the forefront of policy decisions. We want our children and grandchildren to raise their families in a thriving state.

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

 

Gilbert Grows Program To Help HOAs Lower Water Bills

By Warren Tenney

In the last two years, the Town of Gilbert has more than doubled the number of Homeowners Associations enrolled in a free program that takes the guesswork out of landscape irrigation. The program walks HOAs through the steps that lead to thriving landscapes while using less water and saving money. That information fosters greater harmony among HOA board members, residents, property managers and landscape contractors.

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Vintage Ranch

Gilbert’s HOA Landscape Irrigation Assistance Program calculates the acreage of turf and desert-adapted plantings in each HOA’s landscape and, with other detailed information, determines the volume of water needed to keep an HOA’s landscape healthy. Here’s what happens next.

  • The Town then compares the volume of water needed to the current amount of water the HOA is using. The Town first contacts HOAs that are exceeding the recommended volume of water by the highest percentages.
  • If the HOA agrees, Gilbert irrigation expert Jeff Lee meets with a board member, the property manager and the landscape contractor to determine how, when and where to make changes that would help the HOA use water more efficiently and, likely, lead to lower bills.
  • It doesn’t end there. Each month, the three representatives receive an email from Gilbert that shows the actual volume of water the HOA is using compared with the recommended volume.

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    Cooper Ranch

Most enrolled HOAs immediately reduce their water use to the volume the Town’s calculations suggest. Soon, specific problems within the irrigation system become obvious when parts of the landscape begin looking stressed.

Jeff helps the HOA determine how to solve these problems and suggests improvements to the irrigation system.  These improvements could mean changing the space between sprinklers, using more water-efficient sprinkler heads, or adding drip emitters that control pressure and ensure even watering. The HOA uses the initial savings from the water bill to invest in improving and maintaining its irrigation system so it can work at peak efficiency.

Gilbert started the HOA Landscape Irrigation Assistance Program in 2007 and it operated until 2011 when it was suspended due to the recession and staffing cutbacks. The program restarted in 2014 and had 20 HOAs enrolled by the end of the year. There are 52 communities enrolled in the program today.  All but seven irrigate their landscapes with water treated for drinking. The others use highly treated wastewater, called recycled or reclaimed water. These 52 communities have about 500 acres of grass and 500 acres of desert landscaping.

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Val Vista Place

So how effective is this program at saving water? Here are the statistics from Gilbert.

  • At the end of 2015, 36 communities were enrolled.
  • In 2013, these 36 communities were using 1.2 billion gallons of water for irrigation.
  • By the end of 2015, they were using 990 million gallons. That’s a savings of 235 million gallons.

That’s an impressive number, but some of the 36 communities didn’t enroll until the end of 2015, so the potential savings is even greater.

HOA boards are more comfortable knowing their communities are using just the right amount of water for irrigation and knowing what to expect in their water bills each month. More HOAs require their landscape contractors to have similar water-efficiency programs. At least one management company requires their landscape contractors to join Gilbert’s HOA Landscape Irrigation Assistance Program.

Josh Dupper of R.H. Dupper Landscaping Inc. said he has worked years perfecting his own computer program that estimates and irrigates the amount of water an HOA should be using to keep its landscape healthy. Josh has worked closely with Gilbert’s HOA Landscape Irrigation Assistance Program and calls Gilbert’s Jeff Lee a “wealth of knowledge” who has helped Josh improve the efficiency his own irrigation management program. Josh said creating a water-efficiency program for an HOA is complicated with a lot of math and science and Gilbert’s program is needed to help landscapers create better programs.

“You need the city to double check the accuracy for accountability,’’ Josh said. “It’s good to have checks and balances.”

Gilbert isn’t the only city that helps HOAs irrigate more efficiently and save money. Check with your city’s conservation professional for help.

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

Desert Landscaping: Ten Tips For Winter Watering

By Warren Tenney

Here’s one of the easiest ways you can save money and water: learn how to manage your irrigation controller. AMWUA cities’ conservation professionals continue to report that many homeowners, businesses and HOAs irrigate their landscapes throughout the winter as if it were still 110 degrees outside. It’s such a waste because most desert-adapted plants can make it through the winter months with little or no water. Even rye grass can thrive with a watering only every week or two.

Water efficiency professionals at AMWUA member cities offer ten important things to know about winter watering.

1.) A “sewer fee” is part of the water bill you receive each month from your city. Most cities recalculate this sewer fee each year based on a homeowner’s average water use during winter months. You can lower next year’s monthly sewer fee by cutting back on the amount of water you use this winter.

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2.) Overwatering can kill your desert-adapted plants. The roots need the soil to dry out between waterings so they can absorb nutrients from the soil. Soggy soil prevents plants from pulling in essential elements, such as nitrogen and iron, and can suffocate the roots. This leads to yellowing leaves, poor health and even death.

3.) Some shrubs and vines will grow rapidly when overwatered in early winter months, exposing tender new tissue to colder temperatures. This can make them more susceptible to frost and damage the plants.

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4.) Cactus plants suffer less frost damage if they have not been watered for several months before cold temperatures set in. Cactus plants hold water in their cells. When the water freezes it expands and ruptures the cells, which can damage or kill the plants.

5.) Overwatering during the winter is more likely to produce pools of water in your lawn and around your plants that won’t evaporate as quickly as they would in summer. These puddles mixed with mild winter temperatures can breed mosquitoes. If you seem to have more of the pests around your patio and yard, check your irrigation schedule – you may want to let your yard dry out. During the winter, water also can pool near a home or building’s foundation, which can damage the foundation and invite pests, including termites.

6.) Most of your cities have water efficiency professionals with the right tools who can help business owners, apartment or facilities managers, and HOA board members determine precisely how much water a particular landscape needs to thrive. If you want to lower your water bill, give your city’s water efficiency professional a call and ask for help.

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7.) It’s the time of year when your winter rye grass is established. That means your grass no longer needs the same amount of water as it did when you were germinating rye grass from seed. The sprinklers only need to come on once every seven to 10 days. You can cut back watering to once every two weeks in December and January. Established rye grass needs to be watered to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Use a small wood stake or a screwdriver to check how deep the water has sunk into the yard.

8.) It’s not wise to assume your landscaper understands how to water desert-adapted plants and trees throughout the year without your direction. Let your landscaper know saving water is just as important as having the yard visually appealing.  You can also take matters into your hands and learn how to manage your own irrigation controller. Most controller manufacturers have how-to videos on YouTube as well as toll free help lines. Check with your city. Some offer free classes or videos about how to operate your irrigation controller.

 9.) It’s possible you are overwatering parts of your yard and don’t know it. While the weather is cool, occasionally turn on your irrigation system to find and fix leaks you may not see if you are irrigating during the night. When temperatures remain above freezing, night is the best time to water because less water evaporates.

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10.) Trees should be watered deeply but far less often in winter. Native Palo Verde, mesquite and acacias only need a good soaking once a month. Other trees should only be watered once every two to four weeks.

If you need more details about watering a desert landscape you’ll find them at Water – Use It Wisely Landscape Watering Guide. It’s worth the effort because homeowners use up to 50 percent to 70 percent of their water outside. That’s why your city’s water department offers free classes, free videos, free brochures and free professional consultations to help you save water and enjoy a thriving landscape all year. Find out more at amwua.org/landscape.  Winter is the best time of year in the Phoenix Metro area and the best time of year to save water.

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.