May 06 2019Share

Amidst the DCP Fanfare a Quiet, but Important, Water Policy Success

By Warren Tenney

On January 31, 2019 Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed Senate Bill 1227, a broad package of water legislation that paved the way for implementation of the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). The bill was hailed as a victory for water policy and was an important step towards Arizona’s approval of DCP. Included within the bill was a significant clause that state water managers had  contemplated well before the DCP negotiations.

This particular provision was a fix to Arizona water law that would encourage water providers to continue to store highly treated wastewater – or reclaimed water – underground for later use. Utilities receive a water credit for every acre-foot of renewable water that is stored underground, or recharged. Up until now, the ability to earn credits for reclaimed water recharge was set to expire or “sunset” in 2025.

The 2025 expiration dates back to 1994 when the State Legislature passed the Underground Water Storage, Savings and Replenishment Act to streamline Arizona’s regulations on recharge. Lawmakers at that time had wanted to encourage water providers to treat reclaimed water for direct uses, and to focus on storing Colorado River water from the newly completed Central Arizona Project (CAP). Today, armed with decades of experience and ever-improving technology, water managers have found that recharging reclaimed water is a critical tool for their operations. This is why water managers advocated to repeal the 2025 Sunset on reclaimed water recharge.

Why are reclaimed water and underground storage so important?

Reclaimed water is a key water resource that is used throughout Arizona. In fact, recycling wastewater has been in practice as early as 1926, when a sewage treatment plant was built at the Grand Canyon to provide reclaimed water for generating electricity and powering steam locomotives.

Nearly a century later, AMWUA’s ten member cities collect and treat over 350,000 acre-feet of wastewater each year, to produce high quality reclaimed water. This water is an important  renewable supply to the growing Phoenix metropolitan area. It is used to cool a nuclear powerplant, water turf at golf courses and HOAs, and for water exchanges  with tribes and irrigation districts.

Reclaimed water supplies will continue to flow as long as people use water. Access to reclaimed water reduces reliance on non-renewable sources such as mined groundwater, and is also used to ensure compliance with Arizona’s Assured Water Supply Program.

In addition to its immediate use, many water providers store reclaimed water underground for later use. Underground storage is important because it allows water providers the ability to plan ahead for future needs, and have backup supplies for times of shortage.  This combination of reclaimed water utilization and underground storage is a key component of AMWUA member cities’ strategy for drought resiliency.

Obscure laws can have big impacts on your water supply

Removal of the 2025 Sunset for reclaimed water recharge preserved a critical management tool for utilities throughout Arizona, who work to ensure that there is sufficient water for thriving communities. This water law update is just one example of how a small policy tweak can have a big impact on the reliability of your water supply. That’s why transparency and inclusivity are crucial for the legislative process, and is embodied by SB 1227; a stroke of bipartisan collaboration generated from the highly scrutinized DCP process.

DCP aside, removal of the 2025 sunset on reclaimed water recharge was smart policy that should serve as a model for future water legislation. Stakeholders from across the Arizona water community, including cities, tribes, agriculture, environmental groups, and industry, met for two years to discuss water policy changes as a part of the Governor’s Water Augmentation Council. This process was a deliberative public effort that vetted potential changes to recycled water regulations. Stakeholders used this venue to reach a consensus and recommend to lawmakers that the 2025 sunset on underground storage of reclaimed water be repealed.

AMWUA, Tucson Water and other stakeholders serving on the Governor’s Water Augmentation Council pressed for examining opportunities for enhancing reclaimed water management as part of that Council’s process. This effort led to pushing for the repeal of the 2025 Sunset, which would eventually be included within the overall DCP implementation legislation.  As water supplies become scarcer and policy adjustments necessary, this is the type of process that must take place in order to make wise decisions and avoid unintended consequences.

For now, we can celebrate the passage of DCP, the success of collaboration, and also this quiet but important triumph for managing reclaimed water in Arizona.

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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