Cities recognize that conditions on the Colorado River are serious and that the evolving situation will most likely worsen. Fortunately, the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association cities and their water managers understand the significance of what is happening and are well-equipped to face the Tier 1 shortage in 2022 and deeper levels of shortage that may follow in future years.
The 10 association cities provide water to more than 3.6 million residents and businesses in the Valley, yet only use 11% of Arizona’s water supply. This remarkable fact results from the extensive planning and investments that have been made over decades in our most critical resource – water – enabling cities to thrive here in the desert.
The association cities are fortunate to have diverse and robust water portfolios. In addition to Colorado River water, they also use water from the Salt and Verde rivers, recycled water, and a small percentage of groundwater. By investing in and protecting their rights to these multiple water supplies, the cities are better positioned to face supply challenges.
Even with our resilient water portfolios, there is never enough to waste. Cities have been maximizing the use of recycled water for decades by putting it to beneficial use for energy production, creating riparian habitats, irrigating sports fields, golf courses, non-edible crops, and commercial landscapes, and recharging aquifers by storing water underground for use during a shortage.
Cities also prioritize investments in the maintenance, replacement, and expansion of their water infrastructure. The combined infrastructure of the association cities consists of 30 water treatment plants, 18,000 miles of water lines, 142,000 fire hydrants, and more than one million water meters. All of which highlights the extensive infrastructure that is needed to deliver water every single day.
Plus, our collective commitment to conservation increases our resiliency during extended periods of drought and in times of shortage. Since the 1980s, cities have built programs and resources to help residents and businesses use water more efficiently. Our strong water conservation ethic has helped us avoid the need to impose water restrictions during this time of prolonged drought and in the face of shortage. And despite growth in population and business over the past couple of decades, our overall water use among the association cities has remained relatively the same, highlighting the effectiveness of conservation and efficiency.
These are key examples of the extensive efforts that will continue as we deal with reductions on the Colorado River, not just next year but for years to come. These uncertain conditions highlight the need for the association cities to continually invest in their water systems, conserve existing supplies, and manage their water portfolios prudently and efficiently. Yet, the cities cannot do it alone.
Collaboration and leadership will be critical in Arizona as we face the uncertainty of both a historic drought and Colorado River shortages. Therefore, elected officials, decision-makers, and the water community will need to come together to invest in infrastructure and water systems to ensure Arizona’s continued resiliency. Our groundwater must be protected and safeguarded through the best management possible. And we must remain vigilant and wise to ensure reliable water supplies can support responsible growth. This is why continued planning, investing, and being efficient with our water is vital now and for our collective future.
Warren Tenney is executive director of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association. For over 50 years, the 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.