Securing Arizona’s Water Supplies for Its Next Century—Strategic Vision for Water Supply Sustainability

Spring 2014 Newsletter

by Jeff Tannler, Active Management Area Director, Arizona Department of Water Resources

Arizona has been successful in managing its water resources for over a century.  As a result of having one of the most arid climates in the United States, Arizonans have faced challenges in ensuring that there are sufficient, secure and sustainable water supplies available.  Because of the foresight of early leaders, through the development of the Salt River Project, the authorization and construction of the Central Arizona Project and the enactment of the 1980 Groundwater Management Act, Arizona has successfully developed the water supplies needed to support a thriving economy.   These efforts were solution-oriented to meet not only the immediate needs of the State, but also address the future water supply challenges that Arizonans’ would face.  Since the late 1950s, Arizona’s population has grown by 470 percent and our economic output has grown by 1,528 percent, but fortunately our current water use remains essentially the same.

As history shows, Arizona has been proactively building resilience and implementing innovative water management strategies to secure dependable water supplies for our future.  Today, Arizona is at a point where it must face its next challenge in water supply security and management.  The Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR), in partnership with many in Arizona’s water community has participated in the development of comprehensive water supply and demand analyses.  Through the work of the Water Resources Development Commission and the Colorado River Basin Water Supply & Demand Study, based on growth projections, we have identified the potential water supply and demand imbalance that may result if no action is taken to secure future water supplies.  The result of these analyses conclude that within the next century Arizona may need to identify and develop additional water supplies of nearly one million to just over three million acre-feet of water to meet the projected demands.  

In an effort to begin to address the projected imbalance, on January 14, 2014, the Arizona Department of Water Resources released “Arizona’s Next Century: A Strategic Vision for Water Supply Sustainability”. Developed at the request of Governor Brewer, the Strategic Vision is the most comprehensive analysis of how to address the projected gap between currently developed water supplies and projected water demands to date. The Strategic Vision provides a solid foundation for Arizona’s future economic prosperity, it is envisioned as an approach to meet our challenges head on and provide Arizona policy and business leaders with strategies that can be pursued in order to develop and acquire water supplies to support expected growth. The ADWR has compiled various strategies to address Arizona’s future water supply challenges.

A Sample of identified Strategic Priorities include:

Resolution of Indian and Non-Indian Water Rights Claims

Arizona has been successful in resolving, either in whole or in part, 13 of 22 Indian water rights claims, providing substantial benefits to both Indian and non-Indian water users. However, the general stream adjudications, which began in the 1970s, remain incomplete. Until that process is complete, uncertainty regarding the nature, extent and priority of water rights will make it difficult to identify all the strategies necessary for meeting projected water demands.

Continued Commitment to Conservation and Expand Reuse of Reclaimed Water

Conservation is the foundation of sustainable water management in our arid State. The continued commitment to using all water supplies as efficiently as possible is necessary to stretch our existing water supplies and has delayed the need to acquire other, more expensive supplies.  Additionally, many non-potable uses are currently being met by reclaimed water including the landscape irrigation of parks. Full maximization of reclaimed water use can meet half of the projected imbalance across the state.  As demands increase and water supplies become more stretched, the need to explore and invest in direct potable reuse for drinking water supplies will become necessary.

Expanded Monitoring and Reporting of Water Use

Metering and reporting water use across the State would support and enhance analysis of current hydrologic conditions. Currently, monitoring of water use outside of the Active Management Areas and Irrigation Non-Expansion Areas is limited. Data collection is a crucial element of the development of groundwater models, which have proven to be valuable tools throughout the State in developing more thorough understanding of hydrologic systems and evaluating future conditions and potential impacts of new uses and/or alternative water management strategies.

Identifying the Role of In-State Water Transfers

A source of significant controversy across the State, in-State water transfers have been the focus of much debate throughout Arizona’s history.  A comprehensive analysis of water transfers is needed in Arizona. Evaluation of long-term versus short-term transfers may actually provide insight into how water transfers can be developed to protect or even benefit local communities.

Supply Importation – Desalination

Importation of water from outside of Arizona will likely be required to allow the State to continue its economic development without water supply limitations. Supplies derived from ocean or sea water desalination can be imported directly into Arizona to meet the water needs of municipal and industrial water users, while at the same time providing aesthetic, recreational and ecological benefits.

Develop Financing Mechanism to Support Water Supply Resiliency

The strategies identified in the Strategic Vision, both statewide and regional, will require capital investment. Some areas of the State need immediate assistance in developing water projects, specifically in portions of rural Arizona.

No single strategy can address projected water supply imbalances across the State.  It will take a portfolio of strategies to be implemented dependent on the needs of each area of the State.  It is very important to recognize the uniqueness of the various regions throughout the State and the varying challenges facing those regions. As we analyze the various strategies there are specific measures that have widespread potential benefit to all Arizonans.

The Strategic Vision proves that while the State as a whole is not facing an immediate water crisis, now is the time to begin addressing this challenge by implementing this Strategic Vision for Arizona’s water future. The lack of an immediate problem increases the potential for inaction, the risk of procrastination and insufficient motivation to plan and invest in our future.

The Strategic Vision is available at: