By delivering almost 500 billion gallons of Colorado River water to Arizona every year, Central Arizona Project (CAP) has dramatically and positively changed the economic and environmental landscape of our state.
While CAP has a critical role in supporting the health and sustainability of the Colorado River, being the primary steward of this vital water resource also has considerable economic significance to the state of Arizona.
Recently, Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business quantified CAP’s economic value to the state in a research study commissioned by CAP. According to the results of the “Economic Impact Study of CAP on the State of Arizona,” CAP’s delivery of Colorado River water from 1986 through 2010 generated more than $1 trillion of Arizona’s gross state product.
In recent years, CAP water deliveries have generated about $100 billion per year in economic benefit, accounting for one-third to nearly one-half of the entire Arizona gross state product. Simply put, Arizona would be entirely different if CAP’s 336-mile-long canal system had not been constructed.
In the shadow of this success is the daunting problem of an extended, 14-year drought on the Colorado that has caused levels in the river’s primary reservoirs to markedly drop. The seven states and two countries that share the Colorado River have long known that the river is subject to drought and that increasing demands and a changing climate place greater stress on the system.
Arizona has successfully implemented conservation programs and stored water underground to offset future shortages. Those activities have well prepared the state to handle the supply reductions that the Colorado River basin states agreed to in 2007.
If the drought continues unabated, the previously agreed-upon shortage sharing measures may not be sufficient to compensate for the Lower Basin (Arizona, Nevada and California) continuing to use more water than it receives each year.
Ultimately, the extended drought on the Colorado River can only be addressed by reducing demand, curbing system losses and adding new supplies.
All Colorado River Basin States, water users and water-use sectors are at risk due to declining reservoirs, and all need to share in the responsibility for implementing solutions.
CAP is collaborating with water resource managers across the Southwest and the federal government to prepare a Drought Response and Sustainability Plan to be presented to the Secretary of the Interior in July.
As the ASU study indicates, billions of dollars in Arizona’s economy depend on it.