Sep 07 2020Share

A Defined Look at Water in Arizona

By AMWUA Staff

When discussing anything about water – water quality, water sources and supplies, water management and policies, and the quality and delivery of your water – you are bound to run into acronyms as well as some words and phrases that sound foreign in regular conversations. The water world is complex, diverse, and deep in terminology, which can be confusing for anyone who isn’t knee-deep in it daily. So we’re here to help translate.

The motivation for creating our glossary was to offer clear and understandable definitions of many of the commonly used water terms to help everyone better understand all elements of water in Arizona. Understanding and relating to water information is crucial to participating in the ongoing discussions about how Arizona can ensure we all have clean, reliable, affordable water supplies for the long-term.

Weekly, we strive to write blogs that tackle specific topics, challenges, or highlight significant achievements, and overall we aim to find ways to communicate better and personalize how each of those topics impacts all of us. Yet sometimes it’s important to remember the basics, which is why we created the AMWUA Water Glossary to offer insight and understanding into terminology that applies to our State in regards to critical discussion areas. Here’s a few examples of how the Water Glossary is useful:

Water Sources
Having more than one source of water means a stronger economy for the Valley and a more sustainable way of life for all of us here in the desert, but each is diverse and unique.

Recycled Water: Water sent down the drain that is treated to a very high quality to extend and expand its reuse.  The term is used to convey the value of this water as an important water supply.

Surface Water: Waters generally found in springs, streams, rivers, lakes and ponds, canyons, ravines, or other natural channels above ground.

Water Measurements
Trying to understand water news or reports can be a challenge given the different measurements used. Just like we have feet, kilometers, and miles for distance, water is also measured by varying units depending on the context.

Acre-foot: A measurement of water quantity equal to 325,851 gallons (enough to cover one acre of land in water one foot deep).

Gallons Per Capita Per Day (GPCD): The average quantity of water each person uses in one day. ADWR sets GPCD targets for water providers in the five AMAs.

Water Agencies
Agencies regulate all aspects of water In Arizona, but often they are only referred to by their acronyms.

ADEQ (Arizona Department of Environmental Quality): The state agency responsible for oversight, regulation, and enforcement of Arizona’s water quality regulations. ADEQ regulates groundwater, surface water, and recycled water.

ADWR (Arizona Dept of Water Resources): The state agency, created in 1980 by the Groundwater Management Act, designated to implement the State’s water laws. ADWR oversees Arizona’s water supplies and supports statewide and local water planning efforts.

Water Policies and Laws
In Arizona, we hear important acronyms for laws, policies, and programs that have been put in place to regulate and manage water across the State and beyond.

DCP (Drought Contingency Plan): An agreement between the seven Colorado River Basin States that adds additional water reductions on top of the 2007 Interim Guidelines in times of shortage.

GMA (Groundwater Management Act): Enacted by the legislature in 1980 to address the State’s problem of groundwater depletion.

While we continue to dig deeper into all things water-related weekly, we hope the water glossary provides a simple and more clearly defined look at important terminology and acronyms used when talking about water in Arizona. We do acknowledge the world of water is far from simple, so with that; we recommend you keep the glossary on hand for the next time you engage in a discussion on water, which we hope is often. After all, water plays a vital role in our collective long-term sustainability and continued prosperity here in Arizona.

For over 50 years, the 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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