The Story of AMWUA: 50 Years of Innovation Through Partnership
By Warren Tenney
Water is essential for life. The wellbeing of our local communities and economy depends on it. In Arizona, we know the importance of planning, investing, and developing forward-thinking policies today, to ensure we have safe, reliable, and sustainable water supplies for the future.
With an understanding of the water challenges life in the desert can bring, mayors from Valley cities gathered to discuss water issues back 50 years ago. It was then that they formed a unique and innovative partnership. Over time it would become a collaboration of ten cities working for the common purpose of protecting water resources in the Valley.
Through the creation of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association (AMWUA), and together with member municipalities - Avondale, Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale, Goodyear, Peoria, Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale and Tempe, who collectively serve over 3.5 million people, more than 50 percent of Arizona's population – we achieve responsible water stewardship.
Those involved in the establishment of this innovative partnership understood that collaboration on water issues and challenges would enhance economic vitality, while improving environmental quality by safeguarding our water supplies for future generations. This cooperation would bring sustainability and prosperity through strong water management.
Over the course of AMWUA’s half century, significant steps have been taken to protect Arizona’s water resources and AMWUA has become the water advocate for our members. Working collectively with our cities, and with regional stakeholders such as Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR), Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), Central Arizona Project (CAP), Salt River Project (SRP), Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) and representatives of the Arizona Legislature, we have made an impact to our State.
When the Arizona Supreme Court limited the transportation of groundwater in 1976, AMWUA became a leading advocate for changes to the state's groundwater laws. AMWUA's then Executive Director was one of two municipal representatives who helped forge the 1980 Groundwater Management Act in marathon negotiations led by Governor Bruce Babbitt. AMWUA was a key player in the development of the assured water supply requirements and other laws to protect municipal water uses. Since 1980, AMWUA has continued to successfully advocate for our members, representing their interests in a host of significant efforts that include, the 1986 Environmental Quality Act, the Water Delivery and Use Agreements with SRP, the Modified Roosevelt Dam Funding and Operating Agreements, and the Underground Water Storage Act. Most recently, significant steps were taken to protect our Colorado River supplies with support and involvement in the creation of the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP). Throughout that entire process, the AMWUA cities actively supported Arizona’s participation in DCP, were engaged in the creation of the Implementation Plan, and will contribute water resources and finances to the Implementation Plan.
Our collaborative work brings innovation. Over 35 years ago, a comprehensive regional conservation program was created and implemented to help meet long-term water management goals. Together the AMWUA cities and additional regional partners have built shared conservation resources and programs available to residents, businesses and landscape professionals. Conservation is collectively embedded in our long-term management strategies and continues today. It has made a regional impact as it changed the culture of our landscapes, achieved conservation objectives, and made our communities more resilient. The ten AMWUA cities have been achieving per capita reductions annually. Since 2000, the City of Phoenix grew by more than a quarter million people, yet residential water use has actually declined by 12.5 percent. Together, we have significantly reduced water use and weathered ongoing drought, without sacrifice. That commitment will ensure our communities and economy continue to thrive.
The AMWUA members have exemplified wise water stewardship by planning, financing, and implementing sophisticated management practices to protect and enhance their water supplies and ensure their viability into the future. AMWUA provides a forum for our members to share information and evaluate water issues of importance, reach a consensus on issues through discussion and debate, and strategize as we plan for the future. Proposed positions and policies are usually developed through a committee process involving the Technical Advisory Groups (consisting of conservation, communications and finance staffs, resources and policy advisors), the Management Board (consisting of utility directors and city managers), and the Board of Directors (consisting of Mayors, Vice Mayors and council members), all of which are fundamental to how water management operates in Arizona. This collaboration at all municipal levels is significant as it ensures elected officials are educated, engaged and leaders in their communities on vital water issues and policies. This structure is innovative and has united the cities with the common goal of working together for the betterment and sustainability of our communities and collective economy.
We are proud of all the foundational achievements and milestones this innovative partnership has brought to the State of Arizona and our impact over the last five decades, but our work is never done. As Arizona grows it is vital, we protect our diverse water supplies, continue our sound water management ensuring the best stewardship of water in the face of climate change and the continued threat of drought.
As we move forward, AMWUA will remain dedicated to our vision - to be a successful advocate and leader on water issues, ensuring that our members’ water supplies are protected and enhanced, and continue our work at the legislative level by speaking with a unified voice to ensure laws and regulations support economic prosperity and water resources sustainability. AMWUA will continue on our mission to be a recognized and respected expert on water issues, serving as a valuable resource to our members, water professionals, policy-makers, educators and the general public. And AMWUA will continue to protect our members’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. After all, it is why we exist.
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