Drought Does Not Equal A Water Shortage
Praying for rain is a desert dweller's ritual, but Arizonans know the key to thriving in an arid climate is a reliable and redundant water supply. AMWUA cities are built for drought. The state has declared an official drought every year since 1999, but a drought does not equal a water shortage.
The Phoenix metropolitan area's water supply includes surface water from the Salt, Verde and Colorado rivers captured behind a series of dams and transported through canals. Unlike most dams in California, these dams are built to store many years' worth of water. AMWUA cities pump only a small amount of groundwater from wells to augment supplies when seasonal demand is high, but reserve most of the groundwater as a savings account for use when surface water is less plentiful. Our cities also bank unused surface water and treated wastewater in underground aquifers to hedge against potential shortages and are national leaders in using treated wastewater to generate power, irrigate golf courses, parks and crops, and restore riparian habitats.
While the population of the AMWUA cities increased 152 percent since 1980, our water use increased by only 87 percent. Conservation requirements have had a big impact. Lawns have given way to low-water-use plants and trees. New homes were built and older homes were retrofitted with water-saving fixtures and appliances. All of the AMWUA cities have expert conservation staffs and programs to assist homeowners and businesses use water efficiently. For example, some cities offer customers rebates on their water bills to retrofit older homes and to replace grass with desert-adapted landscaping.
The Phoenix metro area usually has a reliable supply of surface water on hand. Shortages of Colorado River water do not mean shortages of Salt and Verde River water. That's because different watersheds feed each river system. Salt and Verde reservoirs are currently about half full, and, historically, water flowing into these reservoirs has often been below average. Our cities' infrastructure and planning help them to cope with this reality. When surface water is less plentiful, the AMWUA cities can use the water they have stored underground to stretch their supplies.
If the drought persists, residents will not be surprised by water shortages. State law requires each city to have a tiered drought preparedness plan. Since much non-essential water use occurs outdoors, city plans often target exterior uses. For example, Phoenix's drought plan includes such things as banning filling of decorative fountains and reducing irrigation. Links to each AMWUA city's drought information pages and plans can be found here.
Advance planning has been the key to meeting our water demands. AMWUA city leaders will continue to make forward-thinking decisions to be prepared for potential water supply changes caused by a prolonged drought and climate change. Conservation and reuse will always be important, but other strategies will need to be explored. The secret to continued sustainability is to build where the Valley's infrastructure can provide renewable and reliable water. Leapfrog development must give way to infill and growth within reach of existing water systems. Water treatment plants, pipes and other infrastructure must be maintained. Homeowners and businesses must be prepared to pay a little more to make it happen, or pay a far greater price later. A prayer for rain wouldn't hurt either, but as any desert dweller knows, prayer is just not enough.
Learn more about have the AMWUA members have prepared for drought and potential shortage here.