Water issues in Arizona are as varied as the state’s terrain but one thing’s for certain — the price we pay for our most precious natural resource is going to increase in the face of shortages triggered by continued drought and climate change.
As prices rise, so too may the temperament of consumers hit in the pocketbook. The irony is most of us have no idea what goes into calculating the cost of water. We tend to take for granted that we can quench our thirst with a simple turn of a faucet.
Intellectually we know a long-term, reliable water supply is critical to the economic vitality and sustainability of every Arizona community. But how many of us ever think about where the next supply is going to come from, how much it will cost and who will step up to lead on these vital issues?
The Arizona Department of Water Resources is projecting a shortfall over the next 25 to 50 years. We’re all going to be impacted one way or another, so the least we can do is get educated. Arizona Forward hopes to make that task a little easier, recognizing that factors driving the cost of water are complicated but imperative for state leaders to understand.
The 45-year-old business-based environmental public interest organization has released an easy-to-read research paper titled, “Valuing Arizona’s Water: The Cost of Service & The Price You Pay.” In addition to what impacts the cost of water statewide, topics addressed in the document include: the local nature of municipal water service; the distinction between the “price” charged for water delivered to a water customer and the “cost” of that water supply; conservation efforts; and future challenges and environmental considerations.
Simply put, the price we pay for water delivered to our homes and businesses can vary significantly depending on where you live in Arizona. Rate-setting policies also play a major role in the price we pay for water service. It’s important for policymakers and rate-setters to understand all the costs involved now and in the future so we don’t end up spending more in the long run to provide reliable water service.
The age of a utility’s infrastructure, the size of its customer base, where it gets its water and the quality of the “raw” water are different in each system, and they all affect the costs of acquiring, treating and delivering water to customers. There is almost no single factor that is consistent across all the water systems in Arizona.
Several dynamics will make water more expensive in Arizona’s future. As population increases and water supply remains stable or declines, the cost of water will go up; as water infrastucture ages, maintenance and depreciation increases, these costs will be passed along to consumers; and as new resources are acquired, they will come at a higher cost than current sources.
Watershed management and the uncertainty of climate change are also strong factors in future water costs. The Colorado, Salt, Gila and Verde rivers provide more than half of all the water Arizona uses each year, and for them to continue doing so, the watersheds that feed the rivers need to be healthy.
Public education about the costs required to develop, maintain and operate water infrastructure and water supplies is key to an informed customer base. Additionally, an engaged public makes it easier to ensure an adequate, safe, reliable and sustainable water supply for Arizona.
For a copy of “Valuing Arizona’s Water: The Cost of Service & The Price You Pay,” or additional information about Arizona Forward, visit arizonaforward.org.
— Diane Brossart is president & CEO of Arizona Forward.