BY: Warren Tenney

50 Years of AMWUA: Longest Serving Executive Director Built Modern, Productive Organization

Published Feb 11, 2019

When the mayors of the Cities of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe and Glendale formed the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association in 1969, AMWUA’s staff consisted solely of the Association’s attorney.  The group met in the attorney’s office or a nearby building. Then things changed in 1980 when the legislature passed the Arizona Groundwater Management Act, which required cities to move away from finite groundwater supplies to more surface water supplies and adhere to new water conservation mandates, at a time when cities were experiencing record growth. It was then that the mayors made the decision to reorganize AMWUA into a more modern organization, one which would be better prepared to help cities meet the new challenges.

They needed to hire someone to lead the organization and that is when Roger Manning was brought in. Over the course of the next 21 years Roger grew and developed AMWUA into the professional group it is today. An organization with dedicated offices, a defined budget, a documented history, and a small but very effective staff. AMWUA’s advocacy for smart water stewardship became public and productive. Over the course of his more than two decades with AMWUA many challenges were faced, “It was hair pulling, frustrating, but it was fun,” he said.

Roger stepped into the role during what he calls “tumultuous times.” He had to restore the trust that the cities had not only in each other, but as partners with water agencies, such the Salt River Project (SRP). In addition, there were many fires which needed to be extinguished such as the newly inflamed chapter of the rural vs. urban water fight. The cities were looking for backup plans for future water needs and had turned to buying farm land in rural counties with the intention of importing water.

Roger had a history of dealing with rural counties when he worked for the Arizona League of Cities and Towns and as deputy director of the Southeastern Arizona Governments Organization. As AMWUA’s executive director, he met with a La Paz County legislator to find a way to cool off this latest rural vs. urban water battle. The compromise began with legislation that would stop the cities from importing rural water.  Then AMWUA devised a better way to backup future water supplies—storing some of their allocations of Colorado River water underground.

AMWUA had helped the cities negotiate contracts with the Central Arizona Project (CAP), which began delivering Colorado River water to the cities in 1985. The cities would have the option to utilize those supplies to “recharge” Valley aquifers and later withdraw that water for future use. This idea sounded like a good approach to just about everyone – except legislators. When AMWUA introduced legislation, “You would have thought we were proposing some form of witchcraft,” Roger said. “I mean, they just thought it was some sort of sleight of hand.”

Roger was determined to change their minds. With 132 Arizona State Legislators and their staff members in tow, AMWUA flew to Orange County, where they toured underground water storage sites, learning first-hand the successes that California water managers had in storing water in their aquifers. Senate President Bob Usdane and his fellow legislators quickly became supporters.

In 1986, the legislature passed the Underground Water Storage, Savings and Replenishment Act. A decade later, AMWUA helped to create the Arizona Water Banking Authority, which expanded the capacity to store water for cities and others.  Today, the ten AMWUA cities have a combined 2.5 million acre-feet (AF) of Colorado River water and reclaimed water stored underground.  These supplies are a critical element for upholding the commitment to using renewable supplies even during shortages.   

Under Roger’s leadership, AMWUA helped to negotiate and complete several milestones in Arizona water history. Here are just a few.

  • 1982:  In response to the conservation requirements imposed by the 1980 Groundwater Management Act, AMWUA established the Regional Conservation Program and dedicated staff to assist the cities to develop and implement conservation and efficiency programs and policies.
  • 1984: AMWUA assisted its members in completing the negotiation of contracts for Colorado River water, securing a renewable water supply for their cities’ growth well into the next century.
  • 1985: AMWUA assumed management of the Sub-Regional Operating Group (SROG), a partnership of five-member cities that built the 91st Avenue Wastewater Treatment Plant. To improve SROG management, AMWUA established one of the earliest local area network (LAN) computer systems in the Valley.
  • 1986: Then Gov. Bruce Babbitt appointed Roger to the commission that developed the legislation to establish the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ). Roger assigned AMWUA staff members to committees and subcommittees that helped to shape the new agency.
  • 1987: AMWUA supported efforts to successfully enact a law that bans the use of drinking water for manmade lakes and ponds in residential developments.
  • 1989 -1991: AMWUA negotiated agreements to allow Colorado River water to be transported through SRP canals and helped to build the Interconnection Facility that makes it possible.
  • 1992-1993: AMWUA assisted six-member cities to negotiate contracts which helped pay to raise the capacity of Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River and to obtain rights to the additional water.
  • 1996: AMWUA built and launched to reach out to the public on water issues.

During his tenure with AMWUA, the Cities of Chandler, Goodyear, Peoria and the Town of Gilbert joined the organization’s original five members. The City of Avondale joined in 2007.

Despite the growth, Roger managed AMWUA with a small staff that never exceeded nine people. “I never wanted a big, bureaucratic system,” he said. “I wanted it lean and mean. I wanted a small and talented staff.” In reflection, Roger sees the AMWUA he created as “streamlined and highly functional” which remains to be AMWUA’s management culture to this day.

For 50 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users 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 .

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