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Local Opinion: Re-watering Arizona in three steps
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Local Opinion: Re-watering Arizona in three steps

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The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

Water is the sustenance of life. We cannot live without it. Water needs to be managed sensibly and with care. Arizona has been engaged in groundwater management for almost 40 years. Progress has been achieved but the water supply situation is still very tenuous.

Arizona is living on the edge by promising to serve water customers with phantom water supplies and allowing dangerously low groundwater levels. Additionally, water supply issues in a good portion of the state have been ignored.

Arizona needs to take emergency action now to protect water supplies for all existing water users, any future water users and the environment. After a comprehensive review of the water situation in Arizona, here are three major conclusions and recommendations for action.

Restructure Arizona’s water management system

Arizona’s Water Management System is fractional, complex and conflicted.

The Central Arizona Water Conservation District has two divisions; Central Arizona Project, or CAP, and Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District, or CAGRD. CAP is the entity that supplies Colorado River water. CAGRD is the entity that manages the scheme that allows groundwater pumping now with a promise to recharge later (maybe). According to published reports, CAGRD has groundwater replenishment obligations without long-term water supplies to back them up.

CAGRD and the scheme need to be abolished and CAP should operate as an independent entity.

Furthermore, the president of the water conservation district board, Lisa Atkins, is also the commissioner of the pro-development Arizona State Land Department. Incredibly, control of water and state land development is in the hands of one person and her cronies. For example, the department is auctioning 2,783 acres of state land for development in Pinal County — the same county that was in groundwater overdraft 13 out of 15 years (2001-2015). This is unbelievable and an obvious conflict of interest that needs to be eliminated.

Adopt 75% reliability for Arizona’s Colorado river water supply

The Colorado River provides 36% of Arizona’s water supply and is the only real renewable source of non-groundwater. The Colorado River is subject to a long-term drought and over-allocation. Arizona’s junior position results in potential 26% cut-backs. Also, in-state transfers of Colorado River water are skeptical.

Arizona should adopt the reliability concept for its Colorado River water supply and require all water management plans and related water permits to utilize a 75% reliability for Colorado River water supply, i.e. only 75% of an entity’s Colorado River allotment can be used to serve customer demand for the foreseeable future with any surplus to be stored to eliminate safe-yield imbalance and reduce/eliminate cumulative overdraft.

Implement 50-year Water Management Plans

The Arizona Water Planning System is disjointed with different planning periods and criteria.

The Assured Water Supply program requires water providers to demonstrate a 100-year supply of water to meet current and future growth. The program criteria allow groundwater levels to drop 1,000 feet below ground surface. Yet the goal of most Active Management Areas is to achieve safe yield, i.e. no drop in the water table!

In addition, current water utility water management plans cover a variety of planning periods.

The Assured Water Supply Program should be replaced with a 50-Year Water Management Plan program. Comprehensive regional groundwater modeling would be required to demonstrate how much groundwater can be safely pumped over the 50-year period and maintain safe yield and reduce/eliminate accumulated overdraft. The 1,000 foot drawdown allowance should be eliminated. The safe-yield goal should be defined as a groundwater surplus of the 20-year running balance of inflows and outflows.

In conclusion, a wise Tucson native and conservationist once told me, “in Arizona, water flows uphill toward. money.” It’s time to change this. Let’s rewater Arizona!

Mark Johnson, P.E. BCEE, is a retired water resource professional and president of the Tortolita Alliance.

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