Addressing groundwater challenges brings long-term benefits
By Warren Tenney
Headlines continue to draw attention to Arizona's groundwater issues, from putting on hold new subdivisions in Maricopa County that rely solely on groundwater to declining groundwater levels in some rural communities.
One recent national report drew attention to the precarious situation of aquifers in Arizona and throughout the country. This story highlighted how lack of regulation and oversight has led to situations where some communities in other states have a dwindling groundwater supply of less than 50 years. This is particularly problematic when groundwater is their primary source of potable water. Fortunately, the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas, including the ten AMWUA cities, have benefited from the most proactive groundwater regulations in the nation – the 1980 Groundwater Management Act and the 100-year Assured Water Supply Program.
The Phoenix area’s groundwater entered the spotlight in June when the Arizona Department of Water Resources released its groundwater model of the Phoenix Valley. The model showed that in 100 years, there would be a 4% overshoot in projected demand versus available supplies, generating a pause on the development of new subdivisions that would rely solely on groundwater. While this pause is a tough short-term pill to swallow, it provides motivation to develop innovative water solutions that will provide long-term consumer protection for the Phoenix metropolitan region. This solid commitment to managing our groundwater is a strong contrast to other areas of the country that are only now grappling with declining aquifers and shows that our 100-Year Assured Water Supply Program is working as intended by ensuring water supplies are available before growth.
Due to the ten AMWUA cities’ strong support for the 100-year Assured Water Supply Program, the Valley’s economy can continue to expand and thrive in places with sufficient water supplies, including within the AMWUA cities, because they have diverse water portfolios. This means they can meet the demands of their residents and businesses not just for today but for the next 100 years. Those ten municipalities, which collectively provide water to 3.7 million residents (half of Arizona’s population), each have a 100-year Assured Water Supply Designation, which means they have demonstrated they can meet the water demands of their communities, including projected growth over the next 100 years. No other municipalities in the United States are required to meet that standard of an assured water supply and provide that level of certainty to their residents.
None of this should suggest that the AMWUA cities are content and relaxed when it comes to water. Instead, they are doing what they have always done so we can thrive here in the desert – planning, managing, and investing in water resources and infrastructure. They are pursuing advanced water purification systems to stretch their water supplies further, participating in the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Salt River Project’s study to expand Bartlett Dam, and continually enhancing their conservation programs to increase efficiencies. They work hard to garner their residents' support and trust for investing in their water systems. Since cities are in the forever business, water is a constant focus and a job that is never done.
While the AMWUA cities safeguard the water security of their 100-year Assured Water Supply designations, they recognize that Arizona needs to address its growing groundwater challenges. Negative perceptions about water anywhere across Arizona can harm the economy of this Valley and the State. Therefore, it is vital to maintain Arizona’s long-standing position that sufficient water supplies must be available before development occurs to assure homebuyers and businesses can continue investing and prospering in our desert communities.
We have the opportunity to collectively pursue solutions and demonstrate that Arizona will find ways to continue improving its water management. This is precisely the task of the Governor’s Water Policy Council, comprised of state water leaders, that began meeting in May. The group has been charged with making recommendations on updating, revising, and improving policy to address groundwater challenges in our rural and urban areas.
We cannot ignore or avoid the difficulty of grappling with our groundwater challenges because, today, we are reaping the benefits of doing that over the last four decades. Safeguarding our finite groundwater supplies and sustaining our aquifers in the Phoenix AMA has provided a strong foundation for our desert communities to develop economically. We must continue to manage and protect our finite groundwater, even when it means making tough decisions and taking bold actions to ensure our communities can thrive for decades.
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For over 50 years, the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has helped protect our member cities' ability to provide their communities with assured, safe, and sustainable water supplies. For more information, visit www.amwua.org.