Dec 13 2021Share

How the Colorado River Shortage Will Impact Arizona

By Warren Tenney

Arizona’s water story will become more complex as we head into a Colorado River Tier 1 Shortage in 2022.  To offer insight into what the Colorado River Shortage means for Arizona, ASU’s Kyl Center for Water Policy has launched their newest Story Map, which aims to help you understand the Colorado River shortage by examining all aspects and impacts.

This Story Map gives a straightforward, easy-to-understand overview of Colorado River conditions, current actions to address them, and other impacts from the shortage. The areas highlighted in this newest story map are also topics that matter to the AMWUA cities.

Residential Customers
It’s only natural that most Arizonans’ primary question about the Colorado River shortage is how it will personally affect them as residential water users. That is why they need to know that water providers have prepared for this situation, so there will be no immediate impact on their cities’ ability to meet the water needs of its customers during this initial stage of shortage.

Water Conservation
Yes, this is a time for urban water users to be even more conscientious about conserving water.  We live in the desert, so using water wisely should always be our way of life. While conservation alone won’t offset the water losses created by the Colorado River shortage, having it rooted in our daily actions does enable us to better weather drought and shortage.

Groundwater Pumping
While groundwater use in the three Central Arizona counties that receive Colorado River water from the Central Arizona Project has decreased since 1980, groundwater is still being pumped at unsustainable levels. With less Colorado River water due to the shortage, more pressure will be put on pumping groundwater, especially farming, since the shortage significantly impacts agriculture in Central Arizona. We need to be vigilant about managing our groundwater since over-pumping groundwater supplies has well-documented environmental and health-related consequences, including land subsidence, water quality degradation, and increased costs.

Utility Costs
Your water bill comes from your local water utility and includes costs related to infrastructure — water mains, pumps, tanks, treatment plants, and meters, for example — but the cost of wholesale water supplies is also significant. The cost for the Central Arizona Project to deliver Colorado River water is increasing significantly due to the shortage, which means your municipality must make hard choices that may include delaying or completely halting other needed expenditures – often critical infrastructure projects. Even when a city raises its water rates to cover these additional costs, it is difficult for a city to fully recoup these types of financial impacts or catch up on infrastructure projects needed to ensure the reliability of its water system.

Urban Growth
The AMWUA cities have anticipated shortages on the Colorado River and have sufficient water supplies to support their projected growth, and have factored potential Colorado River reductions into their long-term water resource plans. Yet, they understand the increasing seriousness of Colorado River conditions elevates the need to make wise decisions about sustainable growth.

New Water Supplies
The first-ever Colorado River shortage has increased interest in augmentation projects to bring new water supplies into Central Arizona. Developing new water supplies is important for cities to replace water that would be cut from more profound shortages on the Colorado River. Other Arizona communities need additional water for their projected growth, so augmentation is a priority for them. The Arizona Legislature has recognized these needs and has set aside $160 million to help fund future augmentation projects.

Water Rights
The use of Colorado River water is governed by a complex set of agreements, court decrees, and federal laws, collectively known as the Law of the River. Most rights and contracts to use Colorado River water are “in perpetuity,” meaning they last forever.

Water BlueprintASU’s Kyl Center for Water Policy Arizona Water Blueprint is an interactive map of Arizona’s water resources and infrastructure, offers visual data and in-depth multimedia content on important water-related topics. The Water Blueprint is a tool to look at water holistically and break down its complexity creating more informed policy decisions. It also helps all of us be better water stewards. It is a tool for inclusivity so that anyone and everyone can learn more about water in Arizona. With discussion on water issues, regulations and shortages escalating, now is the perfect time for all of us to dig a little deeper into the topic by looking at the big picture with accurate data to back it up—after all, what better way to learn about this precious resource than through an interactive tool with cool maps.

To print or save this week's blog, a PDF version is available HERE.

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 information, visit

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