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What is Scottsdale doing today to ensure a sustainable water supply tomorrow?

Photo of Water Reflecting in Scottsdale
Scottsdale City Council, during a June 21 public hearing, unanimously approved the Scottsdale Sustainable Water Management Principles emboldened through resolution No. 12539. (Photos: Arianna Grainey/

Part 2 of water conservation series puts Caputi on the record

By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

Evaluations of how much drinkable water will be funneled into the Phoenix metropolitan area in the years to come is grabbing headlines across the nation, but in “The West’s Most Western Town” experts and elected leaders appear to be harmony regarding the deep impacts of sustainable water practices.

Most recently, Scottsdale City Council approved a sustainable water practices document meant to guide a significant amount of the municipality’s business around the tenets of conserving a scarce resource. In this case, the resource is the most valuable of all, experts contend.

The Scottsdale Sustainable Water Management Principles is a product of the Water Policy Committee, a collection of 10 Scottsdale officials ranging from economic development to planning and engineering.

Scottsdale Councilwoman Tammy Caputi.

To better understand how an elected leader is evaluating the management of water, the Scottsdale Daily Beat reached out to Councilwoman Tammy Caputi to hear her perspective on what the city of Scottsdale is doing today to ensure a sustainable tomorrow exists.

This is what she had to say:

•Is the city of Scottsdale doing enough to plan for prolonged periods of drought?
Scottsdale has sufficient water for its current and future users. It has a long and forward-looking history of ensuring quality drinking water to residents and users through infrastructure investment and water resource planning/sustainable water management. Scottsdale has a diverse water resources portfolio including reclaimed water, groundwater, and Verde River, Salt River and Colorado River surface water. It also plans to deal with prolonged drought and shortage which is why the city has invested in advance treatment technology to treat wastewater for irrigation and groundwater recharge, as well as invested heavily in conservation programs.

All of our preparation has put us in a good position today. Scottsdale was the first city in Arizona to declare Stage One of its Drought Management Plan, which means we have advanced our conservation messages and programs to encourage better use practices. We request all customers to embrace efficiency and conservation by saving at least 5% of total water use. City departments have also implemented programs to save 5% internally. While the general trend of water use has decreased over the 20 years (even as population grew), it’s time for all customers to understand that water efficiency, especially outdoors, is a necessity to ensure the health and resiliency of the city’s water supply. Scottsdale is responding in the following ways:

  • Increasing aquifer storage and recovery abilities, and expanding the recharge of recycled water;
  • Expanding our recycled water systems;
  • Expanding the Automatic Meter Infrastructure network and WaterSmart customer portal to help customers better understand and more efficiently manage their water;
  • Increasing water audit initiatives at city facilities — we want the city to be an example of water conservation and not just be a regulator/utility; and
  • Identifying steps and technology that could be used to improve the city’s water conservation efforts.

The city is growing its conservation programs and messaging and is preparing for ways to continue the efforts of building a sustainable Scottsdale. Every citizen and business needs to be a part of this effort.

•From a quality-of-life perspective, does the idea of less and less water concern you from an elected leader’s perspective?
Yes, certainly. We live in the desert and water scarcity and climate change are real problems that need our attention. We need to be always looking forward and planning, as we have done for many years. We have actually reduced our water usage substantially over the last few decades as the population has grown. We need to continue to keep scarce resources in the forefront of all of our policy decisions. Scottsdale has the highest quality of life and lowest taxes of any city in the Valley, and we need to maintain our leading position in the Valley, for all of our residents.

•From an economic development perspective how will water conservation play a role in population growth?
Through conservation efforts we have actually reduced our water usage substantially over the last few decades as the population has grown. We are growing very carefully, per our General Plan, and accounting for all factors as we move our city forward thoughtfully. We need to be careful as leaders not to repeat extremist talking points. Apartments are not draining our water supply. Our city water department’s vast body of data tells us that multifamily dwellings use half the water per capita of single-family homes. Statewide, 70% of water use is for agriculture; housing is a small piece of total usage. We are experiencing drought conditions, but the city is well positioned to manage this issue as a result of the Arizona Groundwater Management Act which was enacted in 1980 and the long history of actions taken by Scottsdale as a result of it. Every development project must show a 100-year water supply and large water users must justify their economic benefit to the city. There are many things we can do to conserve water before imposing a moratorium on economic development. We shouldn’t solve one problem by creating a bigger one — destroying our local tax base.

•Can you help me understand better the situation from the city of Scottsdale perspective? What is the No. 1 thing readers ought to know about the current situation and what lies ahead?
It is critical to understand that Scottsdale has four sources of water: reclaimed/recycled water; groundwater; Colorado River water; and water from the Verde and Salt rivers, the latter originating in the Tonto National Forest. In other words, fortunately, the Colorado River is only one source of water supply. The Colorado River Basin, which supplies the water to the Central Arizona Project (CAP), has been in a 22-plus year drought that has resulted in prolonged reduction in streamflow. A warming climate is driving a process called aridification — a trend of warmer and dryer weather. Compounding the shortage is a system with a structural deficit where, even in years of high inflow, more water is allocated to water users than nature can provide.

These environmental and human factors have led the Lake Mead reservoir to drop to levels that triggered the first-ever Tier 1 shortage on the Colorado River system Jan. 1, 2022. For Arizona, this has meant 512,000 acre-feet (AF), of Arizona’s 2.8 million AF rights, was cut in 2022. Further action by Arizona was also taken based on dire hydrologic projections called the 500 Plus Plan. Conditions on the Colorado River watershed continue to accelerate. There is growing concern (and high probability) for deeper cuts in the near future. Deeper shortage in Arizona would mean:

  • Tier 2a – 592,000 AF
  • Tier 2b – 640,000 AF
  • Tier 3 – 720,000 AF

The largest concern for the Colorado River supply would be a Tier 3 shortage, which is when those providers that have access to Municipal & Industrial (M&l) and Indian Priority would see higher levels of reductions to their CAP supply — this includes Scottsdale with respect to this portion of its total water supply. While the Arizona Drought Contingency Plan resulted in mitigation strategies for water rights holders through the end of 2025, there is no question that this is a critical time in our state’s future. This is not the time, however, for spreading fear; total water usage is going down and supplies from the city’s multiple sources are being wisely used through conservation practices and investment in infrastructure.

I think the most important thing people need to know is that Scottsdale is planning carefully. We have a water savings account that we have built up carefully for exactly the scenario we are facing. In addition, we have a drought management plan looking out decades into the future and constantly adjusting our plans as we realize the situation is ever-changing.

•How will the newly adopted sustainable water management principles impact residents?
Scottsdale Water has developed Sustainable Water Management Principles as a guide for future decision making. The nine principles are intended to establish in writing the standing operating and planning principles Scottsdale has been using for many years. Residents won’t feel an impact from the newly adopted water management principles because they are best management practices that Scottsdale has been following for years. The crisis is not new; we live in a desert. But the conservation practices that are being used are not new either. Scottsdale has a long history of being a leader in sustainable water practices.

The current long-term drought in the Colorado River Basin has dramatically impacted the Central Arizona Projec water supply which causes uncertainty for CAP customers (of which Scottsdale is one); but, again, CAP water is only one of multiple sources of water for Scottsdale and our practices over time has led to a decrease in overall total water use. Because we live in the semi-arid Southwest, Scottsdale has been planning for drought for its entire existence; the length and severity of the situation, of course, remains uncertain and complicates water resource planning. As a result, Scottsdale is proposing to consolidate its longstanding nine sustainable water management policies and practices in a single transparent document for Council to review and approve. Principle No. 4 is the only addition, which impacts developments that use over 100,000 gallons per day.

•How about current or prospective proprietors who do business in Scottsdale?
Current or prospective small business proprietors shouldn’t feel any negative impact on their operations. New Principle No. 4 relating to water and land use management may affect a few large development proposals. They will need to demonstrate in the Design Review Board process their value to our community and the water conservation efforts they will impose. As stated in the presentation, water, economic development and planning staff will work in concert to solidify the process that these builders will need to abide by if their business uses over 100,000 gallons per day.

•What are we missing?
The Sustainable Water Management Principles provide a framework for sustainable water use for the city. Scottsdales vision is “Water Sustainability through Stewardship, Innovation and People.” We are also further developing an integrated water master plan.

Brian Biesemeyer, executive director of Scottsdale Water, the city’s water utility, says it best: “We’ll continue to look at how we can expand our water and recycling water facilities to get as much water back and keep as much water as possible.” Scottsdale is and always has been a leader in water resource planning and management, and we will continue to work with our regional partners to address this complex and continually evolving issue to maintain the quality of life which our residents enjoy.

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