Arizona water experts report on fluid state of policy
By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press
The truth is what has happened in the past and what is happening now will no longer determine future planning on where and how much water will flow from the Colorado River into the Phoenix metropolitan area.
Scottsdale City Council hosted a panel discussion in the morning hours of Thursday, Sept. 22, at a conference room adjacent to Scottsdale Stadium coined “The Fieldhouse,” whereas about 7:45 a.m. business, civic and water policy leaders from across the Valley of the Sun descended on the space to hear about the current state of water in “The West’s Most Western Town.”
As guests filed into The Fieldhouse they were greeted by recycled potable water — the latest in water purifying where wastewater is cleaned and purified above drinking water standards. Scottsdale is one of only a few of municipal water recycling plants federally approved for public consumption of this recycled water.
Continuing to live in the desert will require innovative ways to use, conserve and house water supplies ultimately destined to dwindle over the next 100 years, Arizona water experts say.
Providing expert analysis — atop a moderated panel by Scottsdale Water Policy Manager Gretchen Baumgardner— of the current Arizona water predicament were:
- Brian K. Biesemeyer, executive director at Scottsdale Water
- Ron Klawitter, senior principal of water supply at Salt River Project
- Ken Seasholes, manager of resource planning & analysis for the Central Arizona Project
- Warren Tenney, executive director at the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association
Ms. Baumgardner prefaced the Sept. 22 panelist discussion recalling a time at university when her professor would often ask, “Has anyone seen water in the news?” The exercise, she explained, helped Ms. Baumgardner and her fellow students understand the gravity of how and where water flows impact everyday lives no matter where you call home.
“It was really to show and talk about how water intricately impacts our lives,” she told the hundreds of movers and shakers in attendance this morning. “It also shapes who we are in our community. When you read about it in the news, you can get the impression we are just starting. We do have a rich history of managing mandated water sources.”
The fluid nature of Arizona water policy
For Mr. Seasholes, who serves as analyst at the Central Arizona Project, the No. 1 item he sees on the news is the level of CAP water allocations and how those could change in coming years.
“It is a widely known fact the Colorado River is over allocated,” he said. “How do we equitably share and manage smaller supplies than we have in the past?”
Those allocations are derived from the Colorado River and serve the lower-basin region of the United States of which Arizona is one of five states that derive the lion’s share of its water for agricultural and human use.
“We will need to build redundancies, Mr. Seasholes said. “Conservancy has to be the key. Agriculture is by far the largest user of the lower basin water but how do you improve agricultural efficiency? We have high levels of uncertainty.”
But Mr. Seasholes explains if there is one thing the state of Arizona does well, it is water management.
“We mange water incredibly well,” he said. “We sometimes don’t get the credit I think we should.”
Mr. Tenney points out innovation and conservancy will ultimately tell the tale of water in Arizona for years to come.
“The present and the past will not affect what happens in the future,” he said. “We must plan and continue to invest in water resources and infrastructure. Water doesn’t flow according to municipal boundaries.”
Mr. Tenney, who represented the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, points out Scottsdale has been at the cutting edge of water recycling technology.
“Scottsdale is one of our founding members,” he said of the entity responsible for the water delivery of 3.7 million residents part of the Phoenix metropolitan area. “We provide more than half of the state’s water and we do it by using only 11% of the state’s water supply.”
The only item known for certain, Mr. Tenney says, is there will be less water from the Colorado River to deliver.
“The 1980 groundwater act was created for this exact reason,” he explained of state laws requiring so much groundwater be conserved, recharged and utilized where applicable. “We know we are going to have less Colorado River water in the future, which is why it is so important to have regulations in place.”
Water, development & conservation
Mr. Tenney says water is absolutely crucial when it comes to current and pending development here in the Valley of the Sun.
“This has been so critical to economic development and consumer protections for homes,” he said of development requiring a fixed, dedicated water supply spanning 100 years on paper prior to any municipal approval. “We are starting to hear grumblings that the 100-year water supply is too restrictive —- maybe we should lower it to 40 or 50 years. This is not the time for us to do that. That is not a prudent action for consumers.”
Mr. Klawitter, who studies water supply at the Salt River Project, explains the legal framework around delivering water in Arizona is a living and breathing document.
“We have all the legal framework and infrastructure in place that we thought we were in a good place to move forward — I still do,” he said of federal policy born in 1922 creating the major dam networks defining the landscape of areas of the American southwest.
“As we are moving into the future and over time we have incrementally improved on water management,” he said. “We are using the same amount of water we were in the 1950s.”
Mr. Biesemeyer, executive director at Scottsdale Water, contends innovation and conservancy has and will continue to serve the municipality of Scottsdale well.
“We are working water issues everyday,” he said pointing to the recyclable potable water component part of the overall recycling portfolio.
“It is a great process that we are going to leverage well, but we are going to do other things. We have invested in aquifer recovering wells. We put that water in the ground for year with less water. Conserving water is good for everyone. When we put water in the ground that is for future generations.”
Scottsdale Councilwoman Tammy Caputi contends water is a complex topic with many different facets and potential impacts as the local level.
Water is a complicated topic, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” she said. “It is critical that we take the time to educate ourselves on this issue, and I’m grateful that our city water department is continually keeping the council updated as the situation evolves.”
As the future of water supply begins to be understood better, Councilwoman Caputi expects those facts to be part of any policy emerging at City Hall.
“We need to make long term decisions based on facts and data, not react in fear,” she said. “The vast majority of water use in Arizona is for agricultural purposes. Fifty percent of our water in Scottsdale is used by single family homes. We must evaluate these facts as our population increases and make the most efficient, sustainable decisions.”
Scottsdale is in a good position to manage its water supply, Councilwoman Caputi says.
“It’s important to understand how we’ve prepared and what we need to do as we move forward. The city is growing it’s conservation and messaging and is preparing to continue its efforts of building a resilient Scottsdale,” she said.
“We are asking residents to be a part of our sustainability efforts. This does not mean we are shutting down the city or running out of water; we have planned carefully for our build out. It means we are taking action to make sure our city remains successful now and into the future, as planned. We are all invested in the future of our community.”