August 14, 2020

Message from your PORA Water Committee and Chairman David Hunter:

Hello all PORA members. We hope you are all safe and healthy during these unusual times. Since we are staying at home more than ever, here’s some information to keep you occupied for a while and not get too bored.  At the same time maybe you can save a few dollars on your water bill. Below are some interesting water resources.

IEfficiency & Conservation-Epcor Website: This site gives you all kinds of information on water saving ideas and if you check out the “Water Conservation Kits” you will see all the items Epcor will provide to help you along the way to saving water.  Since we will likely be unable to stop the large development projects for the west valley that will continue to utilize our groundwater resources, conservation is the next best thing we can do for our future water supply. Happy home improvements!

II. Did you know that 2020 marks the 40 year anniversary of the Arizona Groundwater Management Act of 1980? According to a recent post by the AZWDR (Arizona Department of Water Resources) this law changed the trajectory of water use in Arizona. As part of the 1980 act the ADWR was created to enforce the act in the regions that became “Active Management Areas.” ADWR was also charged with taking responsibility for managing Arizona’s allocation of Colorado River water.

This act was especially important because Arizona was on course to pump unsustainable amounts of groundwater that were depleting local aquifers. The act prohibited the expansion of farmland; it required new residential developments to have an assured 100 year water supply; it limited the drilling of new wells and imposed certain mandatory conservation requirements. The results of the act were a dramatic slowing of groundwater depletion.

Some highlights about the 1980 Act:

  • The 5 Active Management Areas (AMAs) cover less than a quarter of the state’s land area, but include 75% of the state’s population.
  • Developers in the AMAs must demonstrate an assured water supply lasting at least 100 years prior to building.
  • A statutory deadline for reaching “safe yield” where groundwater withdrawals do not exceed annual replenishment of the aquifers is to be met by 2025.
  • Outside the AMAs and other non-irrigation areas there is no regulation over groundwater use.

Although the ACT of 1980 was an important milestone in the management of Arizona’s water resources by some of our most responsible legislators, there are now some concerns that have become evident more recently.

The following comments are the author’s (David Hunter) based on personal observations and many media articles researched over the past year:

First, with the large amount of residential and commercial development occurring in the Phoenix AMA and elsewhere, there is no way the “safe yield can be reached by 2025, if ever.

Secondly, the lack of regulation over the areas outside the AMAs and thus by the ADWR has led to the establishment of so-called “mega-farms” that are legally permitted to pump large unregulated amounts of groundwater from aquifers. These operations have resulted in lowering of the water tables, thus creating hardships for some small communities and local farmers with shallow wells.

Legislation to provide relief for these outside areas has never succeeded for some reason.


III. The Colorado River

The Colorado River supplies water to seven states: Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California. Additionally, it supplies water to Mexico. The discussion below is centered on how the river affects the state of Arizona.  Forty percent of the water in Arizona that sustains agriculture and residents comes from the Colorado River. Think about it! FORTY PERCENT!…..where would we be without this great resource?

In the early 20th century Arizona’s leaders recognized the need for additional water resources and began a campaign to bring water from the Colorado River to central areas of the state where the population and agriculture operations were the greatest. Thus was born the Colorado River Basin Project Act, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968. This project resulted in the Central Arizona Project, or CAP, a 336 mile system of pumping stations and open canal stretching from Lake Havasu  to its end south of Tucson.

The CAP water is a renewable water source and thereby greatly reduces the demand for groundwater pumping in the areas it serves.  As many of us have read and observed firsthand, the desert southwest is in an extended drought period. In recorded history, going back some 1200 years, there have been only a few drought periods similar to the current situation. Several of the past droughts have been on the order of 40 years and are classified as “mega-droughts.” In Arizona we are into at least 21 years of drought with no relief in sight. A 40 year mega-drought is not entirely out of the question.

Because of the current long drought period, it has become obvious that the Colorado River may experience shortfalls in capacity to deliver to all seven of the states mentioned above. These states and the Federal Government have established withdrawal restrictions based on water levels in Lake Mead. As the lake level drops, so will the allocation of water for the Lower Basin states of which Arizona is a party. Once again, Arizona’s previous leaders have provided a safety net to mitigate the effect of reduced allocation of river water to our communities and farms. This safety net is called water banking and has been in place since the 1990’s. Water bank withdrawals may mitigate the effects of reduced allotments for Arizona over a short term, but who knows how long the “short term” will last?

Stay tuned for more Water Committee updates.