A university think tank’s new report says Arizona hasn’t ignored its water needs, but a return of rapid population growth to desert cities will test the state, forcing consideration of significant changes in lifestyle, particularly for affluent residents.
Some of those decisions could hit close to home for both current and new residents because they involve the desires of many for water-consuming landscaping and private swimming pools prevalent in the Phoenix area, according to the report being released Thursday by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University.
The report discussed water supplies and use in the “Sun Corridor,” a so-called “megapolitan” region of central and southern Arizona stretching from Phoenix in Maricopa County on the north and southward through Pinal County to Tucson in Pima County.
“The Sun Corridor won’t run out of water, but it faces serious challenges about how to strike the right balance between population growth and lifestyle,” the report said.
On the bright side, supplies may be adequate when measured by long-term averages, and the state has made strides to improve its storage and delivery systems and to increase conservation and re-use of water, according to the report.
However, uncertainties about drought, regional growth patterns and climate changes “suggest that the future could be far from normal for all parts of the Sun Corridor,” the report said.
With those uncertainties, residents could face a choice of whether “to give up the right to a backyard pool so that we can have a more reliable supply, or maintain local agriculture, or support natural ecosystems, or allow more people to move into the Sun Corridor.”
Arizona’s current water landscape was largely determined by developments in the late 20th century.
Those included the 1968 authorization of the Central Arizona Project, an aqueduct system that now delivers Colorado River water to farmers and residents of desert cities. Another was the 1980 enactment of a landmark law restricting pumping of groundwater. Other steps taken include conservation efforts by some cities and a program to pump water into the ground to store it for future use.
But it’s unclear whether Arizona will be able to again muster “the shared commitment to this place and its future, and whether we still trust in the power of collective action to meet these new challenges with the same faith and creativity,” the report concluded.
The institute’s report said a pre-Great Recession projection for the region’s population to nearly double to 10.1 million by 2040 now appears to be too high, given the housing slump. “Despite the slowdown, the projection of a 9 million-person Sun Corridor by 2040 remains the most likely possibility.”
According to U.S. Census figures, the combined populations of Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties stood at nearly 5.2 million in 2010.