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Ortega: Historic Arizona drought necessitates tangible Scottsdale infrastructure investments

Photo of Scottsdale City Offices
Scottsdale City Hall is at 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. (Photo: Arianna Grainey/DigitalFreePress.com)

Scottsdale mayor calls on fellow leaders to act now on drought

By David Ortega | Free Press Point of View
Mayor David D. Ortega

Severe drought on the Colorado River Basin is extremely serious and needs the attention of everyone in Arizona. As the Mayor of Scottsdale, I encourage my fellow mayors in the Phoenix metropolitan area to activate their drought management plans to communicate the seriousness of the issue.

Tier I declaration of the Drought Contingency Plan by the Bureau of Reclamation, and the more recent letter to the seven Colorado River Basin states by Assistant Secretary of the Interior Tanya Trujillo requesting additional measures to reduce Lake Powell outflows, attest to how serious the situation has become.

Valley cities and Arizona have a long history of working together to solve water issues and we are advised that conditions might slide to Tier 3 rapidly.

Conservation is vital, but direct action must be taken at the state level.

Water is the key ingredient to the existence on planet Earth. (Photo by Arianna Grainey/DigitalFreePress.com)

A local approach

Every municipality has a unique portfolio of water sources including Central Arizona Project, Salt River Project, limited groundwater, and treated wastewater. Arizona has a long and proud history of strong water management; however, wastewater as a vital resource, will become an even more important component.

Since 1998, Scottsdale has recaptured our wastewater for beneficial use through advanced treatment technology and percolation thru turf to recharge aquifers. In 2017, Scottsdale Water was the third provider in the nation certified to treat recycled water by microfiltration, and sterilization for direct potable use.

Recycled water is a growing part of our water portfolio and must be considered immediately, as declining water sources force fewer options.

I propose that the State of Arizona fund engineering surveys at every wastewater treatment facility to assess the existing infrastructure and, where practical, design facilities to reclaim wastewater. So called “soft cost” engineering reports and advanced design of new facilities must move forward. Yes, 40% of wastewater is contracted to cool the Palo Verde Nuclear Plant, but the remainder is substantial.

Expansion of municipal facilities should be planned, regardless of city boundaries, for the greater good. Where would funds come from for both “soft costs” and “hard construction” costs?

The State of Arizona has over $10 billion in “Rainy Day Funds,” more than $5 billion in budget surplus, and there are designated Federal Infrastructure funds. In the 2021-22 Arizona Budget, $200 million was appropriated and approximately $40 million has been distributed for water augmentation.

The remaining $160 million can kickstart infrastructure solutions.

I urge the governor and the legislature to initiate funding for engineering, pre-construction and bidding to bring advanced wastewater reclamation infrastructure into operation as soon as possible. Investing in facilities which expand our water portfolio is essential, as upstream sources diminish. When some of the cash surplus and “Rainy Day” funds convert to tangible assets, then, Arizona can better control our own destiny.

Editor’s note: Mr. Ortega is mayor of Scottsdale serving his first term as mayor.

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