Water: A Conversation With Chandler Councilmember Rick Heumann
By Warren Tenney
When City of Chandler Councilmember Rick Heumann joined the AMWUA Board of Directors six years ago he knew this about water: "I drank it." He knew Chandler had a water treatment plant and a wastewater treatment plant - and that he had been assigned to the board of an important regional water agency. When it came to water management, Mr. Heumann called himself a blank slate - but he wasn't really. The business executive arrived on the AMWUA board without much water knowledge but with two convictions that make up the core of water management: you need a plan today to reach your goals in 20 or 30 years and successful plans require collaboration. Mr. Heumann also had insights gained from 20 years of community service, including sitting on Chandler's Planning and Zoning Commission and Parks and Recreation Commission. The Councilmember, who ended up serving as president of the AMWUA Board, will attend his last meeting in December, so we sat down and talked to him about water.
The Surprises: Mr. Heumann worked to understand the complexities of the Central Arizona Project, the 360-mile canal that brings Colorado River water to the Phoenix Metro area and Tucson. He had to learn about the condition of the nation’s largest reservoir known as Lake Mead, the laws that allowed cities, Native American communities and farmers to share Colorado River water, the debt owed to the federal government for building the canal, and the energy needed from the coal-burning Navajo Generating Station (NGS) to lift the water uphill. “Why do you need all that power?” was Mr. Heumann’s first thought. “Just stick the canal there and it will flow down hill over hundreds of miles,” he now recalls. “Well, it’s not downhill it’s uphill, too. NGS is where the power comes from.” Mr. Heumann knows the NGS has been under scrutiny by the Environmental Protection Agency, but without it delivery of Colorado River water would stop. “You just can’t shut it down. You can’t build enough solar power to generate the power to move water uphill. But what’s the comprehensive approach over the next ten years? Maybe we can use less of NGS, reduce the need for that by using wind, or nuclear, or solar or clean coal.”
The Big Question: There is one question about water that Councilmember Heumann gets most often: Are we going to run out of water? “When I talk about water, whether it’s a council meeting, a subcommittee meeting or chamber meeting, that’s one of the big things that come up. People read snippets and little tidbits of things and hear all the doom and gloom.” Mr. Heumann said there are two things people need to know: “One is that there is not an abundance of water, but there’s enough water if we use it right.” Small things people do add up, even if it’s not letting the water run when brushing your teeth or shaving or using a broom instead of a hose to regularly clean your driveway or patio. “It’s a restaurant not serving water unless you ask for water. How much does that save? Well, you know what, that glass of water may be 8 ounces, but if your restaurant serves 200 people a day that’s 1,600 ounces. Think how many gallons were wasted. Of those 200 customers, did 50 of them drink it? That’s 150 people you didn’t serve water to and all the dishwashing that goes along with it. So you start doing those incremental things.”
The Progress: Councilmember Heumann is well aware it will take more than incremental conservation for Arizona to have enough water to thrive. He helped Chandler to become the first city in the state to pass a policy that ties land use to the city’s 100-year water supply. Here’s how it works: If Chandler residents benefit from a new high-water-use commercial development, such as providing a lot of jobs, the City will provide the new development with water. If a development uses a great deal of water but provides only a few jobs, such as a data center, it must buy its water on the open market. The policy’s goal is to ensure that once Chandler’s entire available land is developed, the last people to buy homes or build businesses still will have a 100-year supply of water. “Some people get offended and say, ‘You should let people do whatever they want.’ Well, no. Chandler has 64 square miles. When that last guy wants to build his subdivision or his business he has to have that water.” Mr. Heumann has only one regret about the policy: It should have been in place 20 years ago. “What I hope is that cities like Goodyear and Gila Bend and Buckeye, high-growth cities, like Gilbert, that they really take a look at this policy. Because it’s not a policy designed to say you can’t have water. It’s a policy designed to say we’ve allocated our water resources, we know how much we have now, we know our 100 year supply.”
The Future: In the six years Mr. Heumann has been on the AMWUA Board he has watched AMWUA’s role change. “It has changed and should change to really a marketing arm. I think it’s really important our cities are educating our citizens about conservation, on the right way to use water, where it comes from, thinking for the long term. Your grandkids are going to live here. Are they going to live here in a sustainable manner?” He wants to see the successful water management practices developed by AMWUA cities shared with non-member cities, such as Prescott and Payson. Mr. Heumann also sees a need for AMWUA and others to educate members of the Arizona Legislature about water so they know how to balance the state’s water resources with demands for new development, particularly on the outskirts of the Valley and in rural areas where water tables are dropping from over pumping from too many wells. “The Legislature needs to understand we (AMWUA) represent 3.5 million people. This is about sustainability, so my kids and grandkids will be able to live here. The legislators need to get out in the water to fully understand what really drives the lifeblood of the valley and understand it isn’t just about what we do today. What we do today affects us long term. You’ve got to think about a plan.”
For 47 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 www.amwua.org.