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.

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