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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : opinions : opinions April 29, 2016

8/19/2014 1:30:00 PM
Commentary: Envisioning water supply sustainability
Phil Roark
Verde River Basin Partnership

In the midst of a 15-year drought and counting, most Arizonans recognize that the state faces water shortages. In specific localities these shortages exist now. For most of the populous portions of the state severe shortages are not projected to occur for several decades. Several regional and local studies have pointed to large future shortfalls in meeting our projected needs based on population growth estimates. What can we as individuals do about these water shortages?

Envisioning the future is not so easy. However, the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) has made it easier by laying out a broad plan for meeting water needs in its report, "Strategic Vision for Water Supply Sustainability." The plan provides several recommendations for both immediate- and medium-term (10 year) horizons, covering both administrative and technical solutions. Some of these recommendations are addressed below.

Arizona's water needs are presently met from its share of Colorado River water and from various instate surface and groundwater sources. But projections by ADWR indicate that between 2030 and 2060, Arizona will begin to have a growing statewide imbalance between its water supplies and demand. In some locations the balance is already in deficit. If populations continue to grow as present trends suggest, additional water will have to be found outside of the state at a high cost in infrastructure. All Arizona citizens will necessarily pay a great deal more in their water bills.

Arizona has a large backlog in process for determining Indian and non-Indian water rights. The Indian rights were incurred with the establishment of each individual reservation and the amount of the right for some reservations still must be established. Other non-Indian surface-water rights belong to Arizona citizens, municipalities, and various water user groups that have laid claim to water under the appropriations doctrine (or have purchased such rights) and have been using this water for reasonable and beneficial purposes. The adjudication process for the Gila and Little Colorado River surface waters began more than 30 years ago but has proceeded at an extremely slow pace leaving a great deal of uncertainty in how much water is available and who gets it. Until such uncertainties are resolved it will be extremely difficult to identify strategies for meeting some future surface-water needs. ADWR recommends the creation of an Adjudication Study Committee to speed up the process and bring needed clarity to full determination of surface-water rights.

Arizona water law does not recognize the relationship between groundwater and surface water, in effect, viewing them as unconnected. This is hydrologically wrong and counterproductive in effectively managing water resources. Groundwater and surface water are connected, and pumping of groundwater or diverting of surface water will affect the other. Studies have shown that the proliferation of wells in the upper Verde River watershed have already caused a corresponding decrease in flow in the Verde River as one example. Legislative action is needed to rectify this anomaly. Failure to act will only widen the gulf between urban and rural water users and produce unneeded conflicts.

ADWR points out that many of the long-term solutions will require major investments in infrastructure. New funding mechanisms will be needed. Most of the inexpensive solutions, such as conservation and reuse efforts, have been effectively employed although more can be done. The cost of water will necessarily increase in accordance with population growth. If we continue to grow beyond sustained yields the costs will increase exponentially. This is particularly true for desalination projects in California and Mexico. It is daunting to recall that the lifeblood of Arizona water, the Central Arizona Project, took 47 years from conception to completion.

The complexities of coming to agreements with Mexico and California, various federal agencies, as well as other states in the Colorado River Compact are most challenging in today's political context.

All of the above requires leadership and specific initiatives from the Arizona governing structure. Voters should ask office holders and candidates where they stand on these issues and make their voices heard. Our collective vision in resolving future water issues begins today.

Phil Roark is a member of both the Verde River Basin Partnership's Board of Directors and its Technical Advisory Group. With expertise in hydrology and environmental analysis, he has been a water-resource manager for over 40 years and has worked in many countries throughout Africa, the Middle East, and the Caribbean.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, August 23, 2014
Article comment by: uncommon sense uncommon sence

WAKE UP,If everyone put a brick in their holding tank behind the toilet you will save
plus it helps.

I know ,I know I'm a genious.

Posted: Saturday, August 23, 2014
Article comment by: Farms Feed Houses Just Use

I am a farmer. I moved here to farm. Good soils, water, great climate and proximity to markets made the Verde Valley a good place to locate.

No water or pay for water? I'd leave for another area or even a state further east with comparable farming elements.

Only problem is, farms won't be worth a nickel if the water is rationed or taken away outright so houses full of people can water lawns. lp

Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2014
Article comment by: Another One

Believe me, I will certainly consider leaving if the growth of the past continues and the water situation becomes worse than it is. Just as meeting halls, bars, restaurants, etc. have occupancy limits for safety reasons, I believe there is a reasonable carrying capacity of the land with available resources. If that limit is not observed, there will be trouble in the future, whether it's exorbitantly high cost of water or neighbors turning in neighbors for watering a plant.

Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2014
Article comment by: Telling people to leave is not responsible planning

Trying to manage our finite water resources by telling people to leave is worse than pointless, it's counterproductive. Unhelpful.

Belittling others does nothing constructive to solve our impending and very serious water problems.

What we need is responsible and transparent leadership that reinforces the trust relationship between people and government.

We have many reasonable options and alternatives for smart and sustainable growth, but we need to be honest with ourselves about our realistic limits.

We need fact-based science to guide us. Those that want to obfuscate or mislead or push a self-serving agenda are doing us no favors.

Start by asking these sorts of questions:

What specifically is the sustainable safe yield of our aquifer?

How are we determining safe yield, and what information can be provided to the public to show that?

Have we already exceeded safe yield, and if so, what are we doing to do about it?

That last question is most important.

If we are unable to answer that responsibly, at some point the ADWR will be needed to take over and make us an active management area.

Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2014
Article comment by: Stop the growth and others need to admit that growth was just fine for them,

Way back when they were part of that growth. Existing home or not.

If there is a line of sustainable yield then draw it and all must abide, it is only fair.

Even if that line was 10 years before you got here then you must pack up and leave. Technically that line existed up until the day that a foot was set in the valley so how far will we really go?

Guessing that would change the tune of anyone that missed the cut on the line. Or not, but until you walk the talk it's all just that. Talk.

Which no-growther will be the first to leave for the sake of the river and valley they love so much?

Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2014
Article comment by: Chris Jensen

There are many good comments about growth and water issues. Submitting these comments to the printed Letter to the Editor form under the "Submissions" tab would increase the impact of them.

Chris Jensen, Cottonwood

Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2014
Article comment by: Another One

I am another one who agrees with the sentiments stated by Stop The Growth and Water costs increase with population growth. Yes, there is a "carrying capacity" of the land which should not be exceeded or quality of life goes down while costs of water and everything else go up. I think we have gone beyond that carrying capacity, especially when we have reached that point that more water is being pumped out than is being replaced. I'm just fine with a waiting list: when one person leaves, another may come in. Let's live within our means. I am not a new comer, and have lived most of my life here. Just WHO benefits from all this growth? Not the people already living here who will have to pay more for that additional growth.

Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Article comment by: Keran O'Brien

If I understand the USGS studies correctly, stopping the growth will not be sufficient. We are already in excess of the carrying capacity of the land, even ignoring climate change. Climate change is a fact whether or not we ignore it. It will not ignore us.

Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Article comment by: Stop The Growth

So stop net growth. Replace only those that move out or pass on. I feel the same about having kids. I never had any by choice. We have too many people, period. And Now we are trying to grow this area beyond its carrying capacity. That is absurd. I know I can sing this song for decades to come until I am old and few will listen.

I did move here about 10 years ago, into an existing house where the owner had passed, and started the existing farm back up again. I am using less water than what was being used as I don't grow as much. I am conserving every drop I can including rainwater harvesting and no lawns.
To save our water, invest our time and money into stopping net growth and net population growth. If we don't stop those two things, none of us will be here in 50 years. Its that simple. We are above the natural carrying capacity of the land already.

Posted: Wednesday, August 20, 2014
Article comment by: Water costs increase with population growth

"The cost of water will necessarily increase in accordance with population growth. If we continue to grow beyond sustained yields the costs will increase exponentially."

According to the ADWR, here in the upper Verde, we are already mining groundwater beyond sustainable yields.

And we are seeing our water bills rise exponentially, hurting most the poor, those on a fixed income, those that can least afford it.

We are seeing millions more, possibly tens of millions more, spent by the taxpayer on wastewater treatment, in an effort to re-use treated effluent.

And all this for what?

To fill our valley wall to wall full of more and more and more red tile roofs the majority of people around here do not want or need?

In Cottonwood, thousands of new homes are already platted. Where will the water come from?

Please ask your elected representatives to answer that question.

And tell your elected representatives, at every level, we want to live within our means. To do otherwise is irresponsibility of the highest order.

Do not put the Verde River at risk.

Do not put our future at risk.

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