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Report says water challenges will test Arizona

The Colorado River's Horseshoe Bend. The Colorado River system provides municipal water for more than 30 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming and Mexico, but climate change, drought, population growth and wildlife needs have heightened competition for the system's limited water supplies. (AP Photo/Matt York, File)

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.


  1. These guys are just wrong again.

    AZ has 106 years of water resource management with SRP. We invented it with the first Reclamation project.

    We have a plan for the next 100 years at the CAP that mandated by law. We get it; we have plans for the resources, and a way to pay for any problems.This is yet another cheap shot by a University system run amok, looking for headlines.
    Someone from approps look at these guys.

  2. I think the Anasazi received a warning like this, too.

  3. The academics that developed this study must have been born yesterday…..SRP understands Arizona’s water requirements. I trust SRP to manage our water supplies far more than I would entrust the individuals that wrote this article….I believe they have > 100 years experience in this activity.

    The majority of the water usage in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties is agricultural…however the only emphasis in this article is “The Affluent” consumers. If the academics took the time and effort to review the consumer water usage they would find that the Non-affluent retail customer uses more water than the “affuent” customer. Approximately 96% of the landscaping for structures > $1M consists of natural, indigenous vegitation. (that doesn’t use potable water)

    In fact, If they perform an accurate accounting of water usage, they will find the SRP residential irrigation system (established years ago) uses more acre-feet of water than the rest of the consumers water system combined…..and this does not even account for the acre-feet of water used by the agricultural community.

    Unfortunately this type of dialog invites private companies such as Arizona American Water company to increase rates as a function to reduce water usage!….It backfired in Paradise Valley where the water usage “decreased” due to the increase in the rate structure…..GUESS WHAT…ARIZONA AMERICAN WATER COMPANY ASKED FOR A RATE INCREASE TO MAKE UP FOR THE REVENUE LOST DUES TO THE DECREASE IN WATER USAGE!!!….perhaps the academics can develop a study for this behaviour.

    Unfortunately this study is incomplete and should not be used for any scientific survey. Please , Please have someone qualified (non-politically inclined) develop the next study…..this State needs accurate information, not Grandstanding!

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