Will we run out of water?
Perhaps you’ve heard the news that much of Arizona experienced the driest winter on record in 2018 and wondered, "What does this mean to the Phoenix area? Will we run out of water?"
The answer is no. We’re prepared.
Still, Arizona is in the midst of a 23-year drought. And this upcoming summer does not promise to offer much relief.
Amid all this dire news, why is Greater Phoenix not facing water rationing or other mandatory reduction measures?
Because various water agencies including Salt River Project and partners such as Valley municipalities, Central Arizona Project and the Arizona Department of Water Resources, have worked ceaselessly to ensure the region remains a leader in water resource management and drought preparedness. This is done through investment in infrastructure that provides access to multiple water supplies and, allows for the storage of water underground, the implementation of pioneering water laws, and a long-term commitment to conservation.
Valley residents and water providers have made significant investments in the necessary infrastructure to ensure our water supply is reliable and diverse. And, unlike most cities in the U.S., Greater Phoenix actually has access to four sources of water.
Valley citizens recognized early in the 20th century that periods of drought are a normal occurrence in the desert Southwest and that significant investments in infrastructure were necessary to ensure certainty of a reliable water supply.
- Water from in-state rivers and streams – SRP manages seven reservoirs that store water from the Salt and Verde rivers and the East Clear Creek watershed. Over half of the water supply in the Phoenix metro area comes from the SRP water system.
- Colorado River water – The CAP delivers Colorado River water to the Phoenix metropolitan area. It constitutes the next largest supply of water.
- Reclaimed water – Local municipalities not only treat and deliver the water from SRP and CAP to residents and businesses, but also treat, manage, recharge and deliver reclaimed water.
- Groundwater – SRP operates an extensive water supply distribution system that includes 270 high-capacity groundwater wells. The cities also operate an extensive groundwater supply system.
Underground, emergency reserves
Since 1994, when underground water storage began in central Arizona, SRP and CAP, in partnership with the Arizona Water Banking Authority and municipalities, have stored over 3 million acre-feet of reclaimed water and Colorado River water. Stored water in underground aquifers is intended to serve as a reserve supply to be used during periods of water shortages or drought.
Tough water laws
The Phoenix metropolitan area sits in one of the state's Active Management Areas (AMAs). Water providers and users within the AMA are bound to water use requirements outlined in the 1980 Groundwater Management Act, which was designed to protect the availability of groundwater and reduce water use. Current laws require developers and municipalities to prove that a 100-year assured water supply is available for each development. The 1980 law also imposes water conservation requirements on all water users and incentivizes the use of renewable water. As a result, groundwater levels in some areas of metro Phoenix have risen since enactment — an almost unheard of phenomenon in the western United States.
Valley municipalities have mandatory conservation requirements identified in the Groundwater Management Act and outlined in 10-year management plans produced by ADWR. Each municipality has imposed a wide variety of water conservation programs that promote the use of low-water-use landscaping, rebates for water-efficient products, free classes and free water audits.
These methods are working; despite a fivefold increase in population, Arizona uses the same amount of water as it did in 1957.