Sep 28 2020Share

Let's Keep Talking About Water

By Warren Tenney

The topic of water in Arizona has dominated many headlines as of late, and that is a good thing. That attention means the importance of water is being acknowledged, and valuable conversations are taking place – including those among stakeholders from across the State. In fact, numerous virtual meetings discussing a variety of issues have recently been held. Having these conversations is part of enabling Arizona to tackle water challenges head-on, work together for solutions, and keep our State prosperous.

The importance of conversation and collaboration has never been more evident than it is now. In Arizona, we know planning, investing, and developing forward-thinking policies today are vital to ensuring we have safe, reliable, and sustainable water supplies. After all, we live in the desert, experience prolonged drought, and limited precipitation, while the threat of a drier future hovers overhead. These circumstances create challenges, but collectively we have addressed similar events and managed related challenges before.

Stakeholders, including the AMWUA municipalities, know that discussing challenges is a crucial component of planning and understand it’s essential to be engaged in those conversations.  This month alone, there were a variety of meetings covering many noteworthy topics. These meetings are common among water managers as they continually plan and discuss possible solutions to water challenges. Some of those noteworthy topics include:

Colorado River
After the recent release of the five-year probability study from the United States Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), concerns about the Colorado River system's future health and possible shortages have increased. The reality is that despite an average snowpack, this year's dry, hot conditions significantly impacted the runoff, which has increased the chances for a Tier 1 shortage as early as 2022. However, thanks to the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) and system conservation, 40 feet of water has been saved in Lake Mead since 2014, minimizing the drought impact. There is no doubt that the Colorado River will continue to be a critical topic for discussion. This is why the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) and Central Arizona Project (CAP) convened the Arizona Reconsultation Committee to look at what is important to Arizona as new guidelines are established for the Colorado River system's long-term management. Those guidelines are to be developed before the end of 2026, which means many levels of conversation, negotiation, and coordination will need to take place among Arizona, the other Colorado River Basin States, and BOR.

Verde River Supplies
BOR and the Salt River Project (SRP) are utilizing an extensive stakeholder process to be proactive to ensure that Valley cities will continue to have access to the same amount of water in the future. The challenge is that the natural accumulation of sedimentation behind Horseshoe Dam on the Verde River increases annually, impacting storage capacity. More than 46,000 acre-feet of the storage capacity behind Horseshoe Dam has already been lost. As this sedimentation continues to grow and hydrologic uncertainty due to climate change continues, concern exists about reduced surface water availability to the Valley cities, thus increasing groundwater use. To better assess the situation, BOR is conducting an appraisal study to consider solutions to this issue. The collaboration between BOR and SRP highlights this issue's importance and their commitment to addressing it head-on. 

Tribal Water
The Governor's Water Augmentation, Innovation & Conservation Council and its committees regularly meet and discuss important issues. In fact, the Council met twice this month, one of which was devoted to hearing from nine Tribes about their outstanding water rights claims.  Arizona is home to 22 Tribes, with 11 of them without water settlements. Reaching settlements involves intense negotiations and requires Congressional approval. It is important to keep working to resolve Tribal water rights claims because they give certainty about available water resources and are essential for both the Native communities’ and the State’s long-term planning and water management.

The Governor's Water Council also met to continue discussing how to improve overall water management in the State, including groundwater. This topic will continue to garner plenty of attention as groundwater is fundamental to a sustainable life here in the desert now and for future generations. Even though groundwater's overall usage in Arizona has been reduced since the Groundwater Management Act’s (GMA’s) implementation, pressure on our groundwater will only increase with population growth, ongoing drought, climate change, and anticipated Colorado River shortages. Groundwater will always be a fundamental water source in the desert. In some areas of Arizona, it remains the only water source. This highlights the importance of these conversations and how finding improvements to groundwater management are essential.

With growing pressures on our water, the importance of water conservation has never been more crucial as it is now. Being efficient with the water we have is up to all of us, and being smarter with how we use it will be essential. A collective commitment to using water responsibly must exist across the entire State – residential, municipal, commercial, industrial, and agricultural. This is why many stakeholder meetings on developing the Fifth Management Plan are a priority for ADWR and all water users, including our municipalities, who are heavily engaged in this process. For the last 40 years, large water providers in the most populous areas of the State have been required to meet mandatory conservation requirements to address groundwater over-use. These requirements became more stringent with each Management Plan and will continue to increase with the fifth. The AMWUA cities understand the importance of these requirements and are engaged in ADWR’s stakeholder meetings to ensure Arizona remains a leader in conservation.   

Moving forward, these water conversations will become even more critical. The variety of issues being discussed, both in meetings and the news, are all interrelated in our effort to protect our diverse water supplies through sound water management. That is why water managers continually plan for the future and grapple for solutions. To get issues addressed and achieve positive results, we need to engage Legislators and decision-makers to ensure the State's water management policies are continually strengthened and never weakened. Being engaged at all levels is key to our success and sustainability here in Arizona. So let's keep talking because there is plenty to discuss.

For over 50 years, the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has helped protect our member cities' ability to provide assured, safe, and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more information, visit

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