Dec 04 2017Share

What Is Arizona Doing To Deal With Drought?

By Warren Tenney

Arizona has been in a state drought for some 22 years, surpassing the worst drought in more than 110 years of record keeping. The Colorado River basin has been experiencing drought for about 17 years. The Colorado River makes up about 37 percent of the water supplies for AMWUA’ member cities, the 10 largest in the Phoenix Metro area. The natural question for many Arizona residents (and those outside the state) is this: Why are we not in a state of critical shortage and taking emergency measures to conserve water? The short answer: We are desert cities built for drought.

We live in a desert and drought is part of the long-term weather cycle. AMWUA’s members have planned, built and managed their communities and their water supplies to meet drought conditions. Many of the conservation efforts implemented in other states as emergency measures to address shortages were established in the Valley decades ago as a way of life. Cities have adequate water to meet the needs of their residents and businesses through drought cycles.  Here’s how our cities have built and managed for long-term drought.

  •  Diverse water supplies. Cities use multiple sources of water—Salt and Verde River water, Colorado River water, reclaimed water, surplus water stored underground in previous years, and a certain amount of natural groundwater—that enable them to offset reductions in one or more supplies. Groundwater remains the ultimate backup for a dire extended drought and water shortage.
  • Infrastructure. Our water supply systems are built to manage extended periods of limited precipitation. Reservoirs on both the Colorado River and the Salt and Verde Rivers capture vast amounts of water during wet periods for times when there is less precipitation. 
  • Recycling. The AMWUA cities reclaim their wastewater, putting more than 95 percent to beneficial uses—including energy production, irrigation, and underground storage for use in times of shortage—and offsetting the demand for river water supplies. 
  • Underground storage. The AMWUA members have collectively invested more than $400 million to store nearly 1.7 million acre-feet of water underground for future withdrawal and to use when facing a shortage in river water supplies. That's enough water to meet the needs of the AMWUA members for over two years, but it would never be used up that quickly because of the diversity of our water supplies. It's our shortage savings account. 
  • Conservation and efficiency. Large water providers in the most populous areas of the state have been required to meet mandatory conservation requirements for more than 30 years, reducing per capita demand and stretching supplies. The AMWUA cities have led the effort, collectively implementing more than 300 conservation and water use efficiency practices. Here are a few ways cities work to save water: aggressively seek and repair leaks in water infrastructure, upgrade water meters to help track water used by customers, and offer free home water audits and conservation education. A number of cities also upgrade building codes to require water-efficient appliances and native landscapes, offer rebates to customers who purchase smart water irrigation timers, and most tier their water rates to reward customers who use less water.
  • Planning. AMWUA members invest in ongoing long-range planning, including extensive research to understand future water demand trends, growth patterns, supply availability, impacts of drought and climate change, and potential regulatory impacts. 
  • Drought plans. All Arizona water providers are required to adopt drought plans (sometimes called shortage plans).  These plans are designed to incrementally reduce demand during times of shortage beyond everyday conservation practices in order to ensure there is water to meet the needs of residents and to support the economy. Drought plans are intended to bring demand in line with available supplies to avoid reaching an advanced, emergency stage.

AMWUA member cities continuously monitor and evaluate the available supplies and will decide when to implement their drought response plans based on supply projections and management strategies. It's possible that some cities may activate their plans in the near term, while some may not need to launch them for many years, depending on how shortage affects their unique water supply portfolios.  Find more information about your city’s drought plan at

Photo: James Eastwood/Salt River Project

For 48 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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