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The state of Arizona water through a Scottsdale lens: Conservation vital to permeate popular consciousness

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As of Sunday Oct. 29 there is a total of 25.011 million acre feet of water comprising the Colorado River system, Scottsdale water officials report. (Photo by Arianna Grainey/DigitalFreePress)
Scottsdale water leaders deliver latest Arizona water data at City Hall
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

Despite a great, wet winter, myriad efforts of local municipalities — and their residents — to reduce water usage and an unrelenting local, regional and national microscope on water policy, Scottsdale water officials contend all who call the Valley of the Sun ought to embrace a conservatory mindset moving forward.

From zero landscapes to water credit policy updates to the measurement of melting snow atop the peaks and valleys of northern Arizona, the hearts and minds of many municipal leaders appears to be focused squarely on what does the future of water look like?

“I think it is really important as we move forward as we have come to understand over the last couple of years, water is obviously an important aspect of our livelihood,” said Scottsdale Water Policy Manager Gretchen Baumgardner during a Nov. 13 public hearing at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.

“It makes up all components of how we manage our community.”

Ms. Baumgardner points out to City Council despite the positive rain fall over recent years has helped matters for the Colorado River system, but water levels remain at historic lows.

“The current condition right now — the system is at about 44% of capacity,” she said of the total water that exists flowing in parts of all of the Colorado River system. “There is a good news story here. So obviously last winter was a really great winter, which means the [system] has a little bit of a reprieve … it is an El Niño winter this year, so there is reason to think that this winter we will also see a great reprieve.”

As of Sunday Oct. 29, there is a total of 25.011 million acre feet of water comprising the Colorado River system, Ms. Baumgardner reported to local policymakers. An acre foot of water equates to the amount of water it would take to flood one acre to a depth of one foot, a basic definition reads.

“In water year 2023, the precipitation was 161% over median levels and runoff was 141% over median levels,” she said of very positive water flow data points, the result of the last wet winter.

“There are stills some concerns about what it looks like this year when you look at runoff. The story here is we have to stay the course with strong water resource management with our partners not only in Arizona but with the seven lower basin states and even though it is telling us one or two really great winters helps it does not necessarily change the trajectory of the system.”

Read the whole report HERE.

(Photo by Arianna Grainey/DigitalFreePress)
Scottsdale water leaders deliver latest Arizona water data at City Hall

The Phoenix metropolitan area — and, in whole, the Grand Canyon State — experienced a cold and wet winter, but the truth is water policy experts are reporting dire natural implications of historic drought conditions impacting what policymakers call ‘the lower basin states.’

These seven states — Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — rely significantly upon water allocations provided by the flow of the Colorado River.

Ms. Baumgardner explains the state of Arizona remains in a formal federal drought designation and the city is has implemented its own drought management plan.

“We are in a tier 2A drought, next year we will be in a tier 1 drought,” she said. “The compact over the entire system is over 100 years old. With the fall of precipitation it gives us some time and reprieve on how we will negotiate those sets of guidelines — all of those [guidelines and policies] that is managed by the agreement are set to expire in 2026.”

The Colorado River Compact — first agreed in terms in the year 1922 — is the formal agreement between the seven states wholly dependent on its water flow for things like agriculture, construction & development as well sustainability of life in arid environments.

Ms. Baungarder says compared to 2007 when the latest amendments of the water compact of the seven lower basin states occurred, there is a 16% differential to water available then to now.

“That will be the starting point for guidelines,” she said of federal water policy proposals anticipated. “We are operating under our drought management plan.”

In 2022, the city set out to reduce municipal water use by at least 5% and asked residents and businesses to do the same.

In 2023, Scottsdale again challenged its water customers to save 5%. In the first six months of this year, city government operations led the charge, reducing water use by 9% when compared to the average past three years.

Residents and businesses stepped up as well, reducing water use by 7% when compared to the average past three years and 5% better than last year. Those results combined to save about 657 million gallons of water.

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