Water: The haves and have-nots
Expert explains problems with long-term supply
Since Sarah Porter joined the Kyl Center for Water Policy four years ago, she has “come to see agriculture and water as a way I didn’t understand before I came.” Porter serves as director of the organization, a part of the Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
Porter presented the program “Arizona: Land of the Water Haves and HaveNots” in Yuma Wednesday. She explained that “water certainty,” a resilient, longterm supply, is crucial to the state’s prosperity and quality of life. Yet some communities lack water certainty and are vulnerable to shortages.
Porter noted that these communities, the “havenots,” may lack water for basic needs, but they have little control over the stewardship of their water resources.
Yuma is not one of those communities. Yuma County is a “have” and has one of the strongest rights in the state and plentiful supplies, thanks to the Colorado River. However, Porter asked the audience to think about the rest of the state, which includes communities that are “stressed” over the lack of water resources available to them.
In general, Arizona has water problems because it doesn’t get a lot of rain and the ground doesn’t fill up with water like in the East where they have to deal with mud. Here, Porter noted, mud is exciting.
And, in Arizona, water is being used faster than it can be replenished. In this state, water comes from three major sources: 40 percent from groundwater, 39 percent from surface water such as the Colorado River, 19 percent is from other surface water, and 2 percent is from effluent.
“In Arizona, we reuse almost all the water,” Porter said.
The “haves” are those who live in Active Management Areas, which are subject to the 1980 Ground-
water Management Code and recognize the need to aggressively manage the state’s finite groundwater resources to support the growing economy, according to the Arizona Department of Water Resources.
The AMAs include Prescott, Phoenix, Tucson and Pinal and Santa Cruz counties. Their goal is “sustainable yield” — not taking more water than can be recharged by nature or humans. Growth is tied to renewable supplies in Prescott, Phoenix and Tucson. If they want growth, they need to have a renewable supply.
Communities with Central Arizona Project and Salt River Project allocations are also “haves.”
The “haves” include cities that are or used to be agricultural communities, such as the city of Yuma and Yuma County. Yuma County adopted an adequate supply and the city has a secure allocation but both still need to exercise discipline, Porter said.
Other “haves” are Coconino County, Payson and Flagstaff because of “very good planning” and “big investments.”
“If you’re not in one of those places, you’re a havenot. You don’t have a secure source of water,” Porter said.
The “have-nots” are those communities who are dependent on groundwater. These include Southeastern Arizona, such as Cochise County, and La Paz and Mohave counties.
Communities who are low on the priority list of water rights to the Colorado River are also “havenots.” Whoever got there first has senior rights, such as Yuma. However, there are more than 80,000 claims to Colorado River water that are being adjudicated in a court case that has dragged on for 44 years.
Finally, the “have-nots” include those places that are in the “path of progress.” Biggest growth is projected to be along the “sun corridor” from Tucson to Phoenix, and it is projected to need 30-40 percent more water.
Porter noted Arizona’s struggle to get the Colorado River Drought Contingency Plan passed, which it did this past week. The goal is to forestall or avoid “a system failure” which, if it occurs, could even threaten Yuma’s water supply.
“We don’t have to like the deal, we have to live with the deal,” Porter said.
She noted other recent trends that might impact water, such as fewer farmers in the Legislature, urban legislators having other concerns, and “barriers to long-view thinking.”
However, Porter also pointed out that water “demand is changing, it has changed dramatically since the 1970s.” Arizonans today use less water than 1957, so even with added people and economic growth, “if we do it right, we can do it without using more water.”
Agriculture also uses less water today due to less farming and more efficiencies such as laser leveling of fields, precision planting and using a combination of watering techniques. To grow cotton, for example, farmers now use a third of the water they did in the 1950s.
In addition, appliances are more efficient. Before, toilets used five gallons to flush; new toilets use 1.2 gallons per flush.
Another trend is low-water landscaping, with property owners and communities planting less grass, and many golf courses and pools being retired.
Conservation is happening faster than the population growth. If this trend continues, Arizona should have enough water, Porter said.
And many places are reusing water, such as the Greater Phoenix area and the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.
“I’m so happy to hear the East Wetlands use effluent,” Porter said.
In addition, big and small cities are “banking” water by putting it in the ground for future use or as a buffer in case of diminished supplies.
With all these measures, Porter noted that water rationing is unlikely to be needed in Arizona, as has been done in California.