Arizona Water for the Middle East?

Water in Arizona – Is it being shared with all Arizonans and conserved for the
future, or is it being misused to the benefit of the Middle East?
These are troubling times when thinking about the strain on our water resources,
especially considering the years of struggle to ensure Arizona maintained a
consistent water supply.
More than a decade before achieving statehood, people moving to the Territory
of Arizona fought long and hard for a consistent, reliable source of water. This
is not an opinion. It is a fact.

[See Arizona’s water timeline below]

Leaders of our Country understood the importance of water to ensure a future in
the west. Arizona fought long and hard to gain water rights after the depletion
of groundwater caused subsidence and large fissures in the southern part of the
state. So why after all those hard-won battles for water, and more recently years
and years of drought, would the Arizona State Land Department and the
Arizona Department of Water Resources (AZ DWR) allow Saudia Arabia to
take as much groundwater as they would like while leasing land for a minimal
Following the Groundwater Act of 1980, and the formation of the AZ DWR
Arizona’s leaders were charged with ensuring wells would be approved,
groundwaters would be monitored and we would replenish what was used.
Following construction of the Central Arizona Project (CAP), the 1996 Arizona
Water Banking Authority was established. After this Act was passed both the
CAP and the Salt River Project (SRP) began recharging groundwater. Thus,
ensuring both short-term and long-term water supplies for Arizona.
People of Arizona cannot dig a new well or even a deeper well without
approval. Owning land doesn’t guarantee water availability.
So again, how did Saudi Arabia gain unfettered access to our hard-won water?
The irresponsible approval of allowing the Middle East unfettered access to our
waters completely undermines all of these great and threatens to jeopardize
Arizona’s future greatly.
Today, after more than 23 years of drought, we are in our second year of
reduced water apportionments from the Colorado River [].
With continued low levels at Lake Powell and Lake Mead, we are in danger of

future water cuts. Due to these restrictions our Arizona farming and ranching
community is 100% restricted from CAP water and several communities are
without a reliable water source. Yet, fields of alfalfa are grown to provide feed
to cattle in Saudi Arabia – draining our groundwater – for next to nothing.

How is this okay? How did this get approved?

If you consider the costs to building infrastructure such as Roosevelt Dam and
the Central Arizona Project, plus the costs to replenish groundwater, not to
mention what the Government will be paying Arizona farmers to not plant
crops, what is the actual cost of this grievous misuse of our precious waters?
Our early leaders understood the importance of water not only to make these
desert lands habitable, but to our future. However in 2015, all of these hard-won
battles were appear to have been forgotten by our Arizona leadership when farm
lands were used to grow water-wasting crops for Saudi Arabia – a practice that
is banned in their own lands.
That poor decision will weigh heavy on us for years to come. It may also cause
us to lose a great apportionment of water permanently. This is not acceptable.
Those of us with the Southwest Water Conservation board – a group of citizens
interested in our great state’s future – are initiating a call to action.
Write to the Arizona Attorney General to ensure she is following through with
efforts to end Saudi Arabian farming in Arizona.
Additionally, learn more about Arizona’s apportionment of the Colorado River
and future reductions. Send your comments on the Colorado River to the
Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation BOR.

Do not miss the opportunity for your voice to be heard.

Visit the BOR’s website for more information:

Highlights of Arizona’s Water History
Late 1800s to early 1900s – Arizona is a territory with high use of groundwater
for mining and agriculture that leads to depletion of groundwater and the cause
of subsidence and fissures in the southern part of the state.
1902 – President Theodore Roosevelt signs the Reclamation Act of June 17.
 The basic concept is that Federally-approved construction of large
infrastructure would be built to enable people to “reclaim arid lands for
human use” (create a consistent, reliable water source) and encourage
Western settlement.
 Water users would repay construction costs later.
1902 – Reclamation Act allows for establishment of Reclamation Service within
the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in July 1902.
1902 – Reclamation built Roosevelt Dam in the Territory of Arizona of the U.S.
(prior to statehood). This dam formed the largest in-state lake in Arizona
1903 – The Salt River Project is created to manage the waters from Roosevelt
Lake and other dams being planned along the Salt and Verde Rivers
1907 – Reclamation Service becomes stand-alone agency under the Department
of Interior (DOI) – The Bureau of Reclamation (
1912 – Arizona becomes the 48th state in the union on February 14, 1912
1922 – The Law of the River established for the Colorado River – 7 State
Compact through the Colorado River Compact of 1922 (amended over the
 Upper Colorado River Basin – Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New
 Lower Colorado River Basin – Arizona, Nevada and California
 The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people and irrigates
nearly 5.5 million acres of agricultural lands (
1925 – Local farmers begin plans to build “Lake Pleasant Dam” – effort was led
by William Beardsley and designed by Carl Pleasant. D. Waddell aided in
funding construction of the massive structure – no Federal funds were used. The
dam holds water from the Agua Fria River

1927 – Completion of Lake Pleasant Dam leads to formation of Maricopa Water
District, with the purpose of providing water from the lake to the valley and
farming community. The dam is later renamed Waddell Dam
1955 – Despite construction of several dams in Arizona, there is still high
dependence on groundwater with estimates being in excess of 70% (AZin3)
1968 – President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Colorado River Basin Act
authorizing construction of the Central Arizona Project (CAP (

  • The CAP would enable Arizona to receive 1.5 million acre feet of Colorado
    River water and reduce reliance on groundwater
    1971 – The Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD) was
    established ( The CAWCD is more commonly referred to as th
    CAP. It was put in place to aid in repaying construction costs and to
    manage/operate the water conveyance system as well as deliveries of water
    1973 – The DOI Bureau of Reclamation begins construction of the CAP begins
    1980 – Former Governor Bruce Babbitt signs Arizona’s Groundwater
    Management Act – the state’s most celebrated water management tool
     The Act addresses concerns of high reliance on groundwater
     This Act forms the Arizona Department of Water Resources
     New development in active-management areas must demonstrate an
    assured water supply lasting at least 100 years
     Established a safe yield – groundwater withdrawal cannot exceed annual
    replenish of underground aquifers
    1985 – Decision to not build Orme Dam leads to construction of New Waddell
    Dam – plan 6. The new Earthen Dam stores Colorado River water for the CAP
    as well as the Agua Fria River runoff and to provide flood protection.
    1986 – Legislature enacted the Underground Water Storage and Recovery
    Program to allow entities to store water underground and recover at a later date
    1992 – Historic Waddell Dam breached and New Waddell Dam is in place
    1993/94 – 100-year flood waters test New Waddell Dam – The dam holds true
    and Lake Pleasant reaches full capacity at elevation 1702

1993 / 1994 – the 336-mile Central Arizona Project declared substantially
complete bringing Colorado River waters from Parker Dam (Lake Havasu) to
the terminus southwest of Tucson (1993).
 Agriculture communities unable to repay for the CAP
1994 – Legislature enacted the Underground Water Storage, Savings, and
Replenishment Act – encouraging the use of renewable water supplies instead of
1996 – The Arizona Water Banking Authority was established
1996 – The CAP begins recharging Colorado River water – the CAP Recharge
Program. This allows for renewable surface water supplies to be stored
underground to replenish groundwater and store additional waters “for recovery
during periods of reduced water supply.”
2018 – Per news reports, Saudi Arabi began farming in Arizona after it was
banned to grow water intensive alfalfa in the arid kingdom of Arabi
2019 – Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plans signed. DOI USBR
brings seven states together to sign historic agreement related to the Colorado
River (Lake Powell and Lake Mead at very low water levels) after 23 years+ of
drought and over allocations of waters.
2022 – DOI issues press release announcing actions to protect the Colorado
River System on August 16, 2022. Agency sets 2023 operating conditions for
Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
2022 – January 2022: the Lower Colorado Basin declared the first shortage of
Colorado River water deliveries ( / Arizona reduces
apportionment of Colorado River water by 320 thousand-acre-feet (kaf) per
2019 agreement in Tier 1 Contingency Plan – Colorado River Shortage
2023 – On January 1, 2023, Tier 2a Contingency efforts are implemented to
reduce flows of Colorado River water and leave more water in Lake Mead to
keep water levels from reaching critical levels (dead pool). ( and Arizona’s apportionment of Colorado River water reduced by
592,000 acre-feet (about 21%).
2023 – January 9, 2023, Arizona Attorney General Kris Mayes “says she wants
to end Saudi Arabian farming operations along the Colorado River within 6
months. (News 12 and The Miner)
2023 – The State of Arizona rescinds two Saudi Arabia well requests in April.

2023 – April 11,2023, The Department of Interior issues press release – “Interior
Department Announces Next Steps to Protect the Stability and Sustainability of
Colorado River Basin” – Three alternatives were identified:
 No action;
 Alternative 1 – reduced releases from Glen Canyon Dam based on priority
of water rights;
 Alternative 2 – Same percentage reductions across all Lower Basin water
UPDATE: The Department of the Interior today announced that it is
temporarily withdrawing the draft Supplemental Environmental Impact
Statement published last month so that it can fully analyze the effects of the
proposal under the National Environmental Policy Act. Reclamation will
then publish an updated draft SEIS for public comment with the consensus-
based proposal as an action alternative. Accordingly, the original May 30,
2023, deadline for the submission of comments on the draft SEIS is no
longer in effect.
2023 – May 22, 2023: The Department plans to finalize the SEIS process later
this year. For more information: Biden-Harris Administration Announces
Historic Consensus System Conservation Proposal to Protect the Colorado
River Basin | U.S. Department of the Interior (


  • Per CAP-AZ, one acre-foot equates to a yearly supply of water for three
    Arizona families.
  • The Colorado River provides water to more than 40 million people in two
    countries, seven states, and 29 Indian tribes. (University of Montana – Center
    for Natural Resources & Environmental Policy)
  • The Colorado River not only provides essential waters, but it is also important
    to the National economy as well. The Colorado River supports $1.4 trillion in
    annual economic activity and 16million jobs in Arizona, California, Nevada,
    Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. (
  • Steps toward water conservation are needed to ensure we do not move to Tier
    3 in 2024 (this would occur if Lake Mead shortage falls even further). Tier 3
    could have a significant impact on Arizona’s apportionment of Colorado River
    Water. (
  • Discussions between DOI BOR and seven states regarding Colorado River
    water continue – agreement still not reached as of March 2023. DOI BOR called
    for public comments due by the end of May. On May 22, 2023, the White
    House issued news release on the Colorado River – calling for withdrawal of
    public comment period.

The SW water conservation opinion was spurred on from numerous news
stories shared on this site uncovering the land leases and water depletion by the
Middle East.

Information on Arizona’s water history obtained from the following sources:
Law of the River – 7 state compact
Bureau of Reclamation Colorado River / drought
Salt River Project
Arizona Department of Water Resources
Colorado River Drought Contingency Planning 
Bureau of Reclamation
Colorado River Basin
Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation – news release
DOI announces actions to protect Colorado River system – Lake Powell & Lake Mead
Bureau of Reclamation 
Desalination & water purification research program
Arizona Department of Water Resources
Arizona Water Facts
Arizona Municipal Water Users Association
Excerpt: “…aquifers contain significant amounts of natural groundwater that acts as the ultimate
buffer against shortage in supplied delivered by the CAP or SRP.”

Tier 2a Colorado River Shortage in 2023
Central Arizona Project
Salt River Project
SRP dam and Lake management

Article on 1980 Groundwater Act:
This Arizona water law was a long shot, but it ended up saving us
AMWUA – One for water
Colorado River Structural Deficit
Colorado River Basin Drought Contingency Plans – historic agreement in 2019

ASU experts predict how water consumption

Mary Beth Faller
Reporter , ASU News

ASU experts predict how water consumption might look in our state, based on the science of today

Editor’s note: This is the third in a three-part series examining water in the Southwest in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the Colorado River Compact. Read the first installment on the history of the Colorado Water Compact and the second installment on what it means for cities, agriculture and the individual.

The landscape at Lake Mead in Arizona looks apocalyptic. Drastically lowered water levels that have left a “bathtub ring” around the perimeter and uncovered junk that was thrown into the reservoir decades ago have changed the ecosystem and impacted the tourism industry.

Will the Valley of the Sun face the same fate?

Climate change has produced a megadrought that has reduced water in the Colorado River, which was already overallocated to the seven states in its basin. Cuts in the water allotments were imposed in 2022, and this summer, the federal government increased those cuts. Arizona will lose about one-fifth of its share.

The Colorado River supplies about 36% of Arizona’s water. Other water sources come from: groundwater, 41%; in-state rivers, 18%, and reclaimed water, 5%, according to the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University.

ASU’s experts on water don’t have a crystal ball, but their deep expertise leads them to predict definite changes to our environment and lifestyle. The amount of change depends on Arizonans’ willingness to make hard choices.

Here are some of our experts’ opinions on what we might see in the future, based on the science of today.

Arizona’s ‘Five Cs’ are climate, copper, citrus, cattle and cotton; with water restrictions, will we still grow cotton?

Agriculture is the biggest user of water in Arizona and will likely be the biggest source of cuts.

“In the whole Colorado basin, agriculture uses 75% to 80% of the water,” said Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy, which is part of the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU.

The rest is consumed almost entirely by cities, which cannot reduce their use enough to compensate for the upcoming cuts.

“So it will fall to agriculture just as a numbers issue,” she said.

But what that will look like is uncertain. The biggest crops in Arizona, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, are alfalfa, at about 305,000 acres; cotton, 130,000 acres; corn, 95,000 acres; lettuce, 64,000 acres, and wheat, 53,000.

Agriculture is a $23 billion industry in Arizona and dates back hundreds of years. The Akimel O’odham people grew cotton a thousand years ago, and nearly 60% of Arizona’s farmers today are Native American.

Cotton field in southern Arizona

A cotton field in southern Arizona. Photo courtesy of iStock

Change is already happening. A recent survey about the drought by the American Farm Bureau Federation of more than 650 farmers in 15 Western states found that 74% saw a reduction in harvests and 42% switched crops. Among Arizona respondents, 40% removed orchard trees or other multi-year crops because of water restrictions.

Dave White, a sustainability scientist at ASU, expects a combination of changes in agriculture, including shrinking farmland.

“It may include different crop choices, as well as different approaches to agriculture and considering which areas of the state geographically are best suited to agriculture and which types of agriculture that the state wants to promote,” said White, who is associate vice president for research advancement at ASU, as well as director of the Global Institute of Sustainability and Innovation in the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory.

“We are seeing some transitions, for example, in central Arizona, particularly in Pinal County, away from some areas of irrigated agriculture, where the water supply and water rights are not as available as they have been in the past.

“So we are very likely going to see a decline in the total acreage of agriculture in Pinal County,” White said.

One example of this transition is a pilot program launched by Bridgestone Americas, the tire manufacturer, which has paid a farmer in Pinal County to switch from alfalfa to growing guayule, a shrub used to produce rubber that is estimated to use 15% less water. Bridgestone, which has a research center in Mesa, won a federal grant to explore the growing of guayule as a more sustainable form of natural rubber.

Kathleen Merrigan, executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at ASU, was the U.S. deputy secretary and chief operating officer of the U.S. Department of Agriculture before coming to ASU.

“In terms of the large-scale vegetable production that goes on in parts of our state, alfalfa production, which is a very, very thirsty crop, and cotton, also thirsty — these operations are at risk,” she said.

Merrigan said that in 2012, when she was with the USDA, the agency changed its crop hardiness zone maps, which advise growers.

“We know that with climate change, things are accelerating,” she said.

“So maybe down the road, Arizona will be growing different things than we are now. And they’ll be growing different things in North Dakota than they are now. Maybe everything shifts.”

Will our diet change?

Merrigan said that the water cutbacks could eventually affect what’s on our plates.

“Our government-issued dietary guidelines for Americans say that we should all be eating half a plate of fruits and vegetables,” she said.

In reality, few of us do that. But what if we do?

“Where in the world are those fruits and vegetables going to come from? They’re going to be imported. They may not be produced as safely. They may be produced using pesticides that we don’t allow here in the United States for toxicology reasons.”

Long term, researchers are working on whether we can eat some crops that haven’t traditionally been consumed, Merrigan said.

“Maybe we’ll have chefs that are going to figure out all kinds of additional delicious dishes that we’re going to want to eat from that.”

Will we still have pools and lawns?

Probably, but maybe not in every yard. White sees more community pools and communal green spaces as a way to reduce water demand.

“No one individual decision can move the needle on our significant water challenges in the state, but the collection of many individual decisions can help to reduce overall water demand,” he said.

About 93% of the water that is flushed or goes down the drain is reused, so there’s pressure to reduce water use outdoors, Porter said.

“In fact, I’ve been doing research on how much water grass uses. I now look at a lawn as a body of water,” she said, noting that lawns and pools use similar amounts of water, especially in the summer.

Porter is particularly sad to see lawn irrigation that runs into the street.

“This water has gone through a treatment process, so a huge waste of energy and chemical inputs has occurred,” she said.

Some cities are nudging their residents to change their yards. This summer, the Clark County Commission passed an ordinance limiting residential pool sizes in the Las Vegas area to 600 square feet or less. The city of Scottsdale recently approved several incentives for its residents, increasing grass removal rebates up to $5,000 per property and increasing the rebate for in-ground pool or spa removal to $400 plus $1 per square foot of water surface area.

Backyard pool in Arizona

Experts predict there may be fewer residential pools in Arizona in the future. Photo courtesy of iStock

I have a yard with flood irrigation. Will that go away?

“You can feel OK about your flood irrigation,” Porter said. “It’s a completely different system, and it has nothing to do with the Colorado River.”

Currently in the Valley, about 22,000 Salt River Project customers have flood irrigation in their yards. A federal study found that the watershed used by SRP, though smaller than the Colorado River Basin, is much more resilient.

Over the past several decades the number of households with grass yards in Phoenix has declined from about 70%–90% in the 1980s to about 15% now, according to the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association.

“Over time there will be changes in land use, and it’s already happening that there’s less water going to flood irrigation. And then that water will be available for other kinds of uses within the SRP project lands,” Porter said.

How about golf courses?

Taylor Weiss sees the phasing out of golf courses as good for the environment all around.

“Their very role is to spend an inordinate amount of natural resources to create a perfect plain artificial surface out of living plant material,” said Weiss, an assistant professor in the environmental and resource management program at ASU and a researcher in the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation.

Plus, irrigating golf courses creates nutrient runoff into the desert.

“You’re trying to maintain a healthy green grass that absolutely 100% cannot be sustained” — a problem that also applies to non-native palm trees, he said.

Porter thinks that golf courses have to be considered in the entire context of water choices.

“Many golf courses attract tourism and are a way to import money to the community, which could be a good use of water,” she said.

“I think we will probably see some golf courses retire over time, but if we took all the golf courses and replaced them, what would we replace them with? We would probably still want some of the open-space benefit that they give us, and open space requires water. So, it’s not simple.”

Golf Course in Scottsdale, Arizona

Golf courses attract tourism to Arizona but also bring environmental concerns. Photo courtesy of iStock

What about car washing?

Porter doesn’t think car washing will go away if people do it at commercial car washes, which capture the dirty water for reuse.

“Washing your car in your driveway or your yard is a bigger waste,” she said.

Will we be drinking treated wastewater?

Porter thinks that could happen in the next 10 years.

“I would say in terms of innovation, it’s this thinking about using the same drop of water over and over again,” she said.

Cities are already treating their effluent.

“The city of Scottsdale treats their effluent to a very high standard, and they actually lightly desalinate it so that it can be delivered to golf courses, which are a big feature of the tourism economy for Scottsdale,” she said.

“And we’re seeing interest in direct potable reuse, where the water is sent to the wastewater treatment plant, treated to some high effluent standard, and then it’s sent to a drinking water treatment plant, where it’s treated to drinking water standards and delivered.”

Will we have desalination plants in the Valley?

Arizonans could potentially be drinking desalinated water — although it won’t be cheap, White said.

“Desalination is an energy-intensive, infrastructure-intensive and water-expensive solution,” he said.

“So it is an important part of the long-term portfolio of solutions, not something that’s going to address the most immediate one-, three- or five-year challenges.”

Arizona and Mexico have been talking for years about building a desalination plant in the Sea of Cortez in Mexico, Porter said. The plan is for Arizona to build and operate the plant and in exchange take some of Mexico’s share of Colorado River water.

That project, which is at least 20 years away, is estimated to cost $5 billion and produce water at about $2,000 per acre-foot — 10 times more than the water that is delivered via the Central Arizona Project.

Desalinating ocean water also produces tons of salt, which has to be disposed of carefully so it doesn’t damage the environment.

A slightly more likely scenario is building a plant in the West Valley that would desalinate brackish groundwater, which is close to the surface. This would also produce a lot of salt — and a lot of legal challenges — but the resulting water is estimated to cost $600 to $1,200 per acre-foot.

Arizona already has a de-salting plant. The Yuma De-Salting Plant was built in 1992 to treat agricultural runoff. It operated at one-third capacity for one year and then shut down because it was too expensive. As a test, it was restarted for about a year in 2010, treating more than 9 billion gallons of water. The plant could be reactivated, with resulting water poured into the Colorado River, but it would also produce salt.

Is less water going to mean more money out of my pocket?

Probably. The decrease in water allotments will create a cascading effect.

Experts say that water bills could increase, especially in Pinal County, and property taxes in some subdivisions could rise.

The drastic depletion of the Lake Mead and Lake Powell threaten the hydroelectricity produced at Glen Canyon Dam.

Less water can mean fewer crops, which can lead to higher food costs and less profit for farmers.

Plus, farmers in Arizona and California’s Imperial Valley want to be compensated for reducing the amount of water that they collect, Porter said. That can lead to a complicated formula. The farmers in Yuma are asking for $1,500 per acre-foot of water lost, while the ones in California want $2,300 per acre-foot.

“So all told, if we’re talking about a multi-year program, we’re talking about billions and billions of dollars. And I haven’t heard of any plan for where that money would come from,” Porter said.

Other effects are more indirect, such as increased labor or facility costs for municipalities because of poorer water quality.

Water in the canals have seen an increase in types of algae that are sticky or fibrous, clogging water plant filters, Weiss said.

“At the most extreme, six times a day, teams of four to six men are taking apart equipment that was never designed to be taken apart and put back together every day to ensure that the water can keep flowing,” he said.

“That’s not a routine issue you thought about 40 years ago while the infrastructure was put in.

“The utility passes those costs onto their users and realize their user is being told that they’re getting less water and paying more for it. So the utilities are kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place in this.”

Innovation costs money, which the water providers are loath to spend and then pass on to taxpayers and ratepayers, Weiss said.

“They are always trying to find ways to minimize, minimize, minimize costs. But how do you minimize costs? Sometimes it’s by putting the costs off until later. And that’ll come due at some point.”

What else could go wrong?

Less water could affect air quality. As water cuts require less crops, land that once grew food will lie fallow, creating dust.

“Valley fever is a fungal spore that’s found in desert soils and, in particular, in fallow fields. As there are more and more fields becoming fallow, the potential for this fungal spore to enter the air is increasing,” Weiss said.

Inhaling the spores can lead to lung infection in some people and serious illness in immunocompromised people.

Dust storm in Tempe, Arizona

Loss of crops could lead to more dust storms, like this one in Tempe, Arizona. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU

But we’re not talking about a nuclear-level disaster, right?

Not a disaster, no. But a complication, yes.

Palo Verde Generating Station, built west of Phoenix in 1976, is the only nuclear plant in the world that is not adjacent to a large water source, like a river or ocean. The three reactors are cooled by 23 billion gallons of treated wastewater piped along 36 miles of concrete pipeline every year from the city of Phoenix and surrounding communities.

What if cities want to divert that wastewater to be treated and reused in homes?

If the effluent suddenly stopped flowing, it wouldn’t present a safety hazard. The plant can safely shut down without it.

But the plant is now investigating ways to consume less water, such as re-treating water it has used once or finding a way to reduce evaporation.

Will less water mean less building?

Not necessarily. For one thing, household water use has declined so much that while the population of Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties has increased 45% over the past 20 years, water use has increased only 14%, according to the Kyl Center for Water Policy’s Water Blueprint.

Also, every municipality has its own water profile. Some rely more heavily on Colorado River water than others. And some places have been factoring a decreased water supply into their planning for years.

Porter is eager to bust myths about development.

“The two biggest things that people say that are wrong are that no one has any business farming in the desert and that population growth is the reason for the water supply issues.

“It’s much more complicated than that.”

Will this crisis force scientists to innovate amazing solutions?

There have already been technological advances to make Arizona farming more water efficient — genetically modified crops that are more tolerant of drought or saline, better pesticide management, laser leveling of fields to improve irrigation and advancements in watering systems.

Globally, researchers are working on technologies to capture water from the atmosphere and desalinate at a small scale.

And technology will be harnessed to monitor the river. White is involved in a research project with NASA and the Central Arizona Project to combine satellite data with hydrological models to improve management of water allocations.

“We will have a finer-grain, more spatially explicit understanding of how climate change and other factors like forest management practices are going to affect the availability of surface water in different areas of the Colorado River Basin,” he said.

But Weiss thinks that technology alone won’t solve the water crisis.

“Sometimes it’s not a scientific problem, it’s a human problem,” he said.

“I have anxiety when governance doesn’t do anything, hoping and wishing that a magical solution will be formed sometime in the future.

“It’s kicking the can down the road and asking for science to create more solutions because they say, ‘We can’t afford the solution.’ ”

What if it rains a lot and the river fills back up?

It won’t.

White said that strong evidence from the National Climate Assessment and other sources shows that won’t happen.

“This is the new normal,” he said.

“We need to adjust to a more permanent situation of significantly lower water supplies from the Colorado River.”

Should we be anticipating a dystopian landscape?

Porter isn’t pessimistic. She believes that although hard choices have to be made, there’s enough water to go around.

But she does have worries. The Yuma area and the Imperial Valley, with good weather and rich soil, are logical places for farming, and water cuts will affect agriculture there.

“I worry that we might be losing important agricultural production that will have impacts on national food security and nutrition,” she said.

But Arizona’s climate problems are not as dire as other areas, she said.

“Houston is looking at ‘How do we wrangle hurricanes?’ Boston is looking at, ‘How do we build a sea wall?’

“The problem that central Arizona cities are looking at is, ‘How do we make sure we have enough water?’ And in the scale of the big challenges the different cities are looking at, this is a very solvable one. We know what the solutions are.

“So I don’t feel like there’s a good reason to not feel hopeful.”

She believes engineering and management improvements will stretch or even augment available supplies.

The Kyl Center has produced a tsunami of information and data that leaders can use to make good decisions. But they need to act.

“This is really about our commitment to good water management and knowing that it will cost money and it can sometimes mean saying no to some things. And that’s the tough part,” she said.

“It’s totally doable.”

Arizona’s water picture is much bigger than the Colorado River. For a more complete description of our water system, the complicated issues surrounding who gets the water and what might happen in the long term, visit the Arizona Water Blueprint, an interactive platform created by the Kyl Center for Water Policy at ASU.

Read Article

Plan to raise Bartlett Dam could bring billions of gallons of water to the Valley

By: Courtney Holmes

Posted at 7:31 PM, Nov 29, 2022 

Located about 60 miles northeast of Phoenix, Bartlett Lake is known for boating and fishing.

James Goff of Goodyear said he’s been fishing it most of his life.

“Typically, this time of year when the water starts cooling off. The bass will come up and eat as much as they can. And then they’ll go deep for the wintertime,” he told ABC15.

The lake is known for boating and fishing, but its real job is to collect rain and snowpack on the Verde River before it flows into the Salt River to be diverted to users in the Valley.

“So we can slowly release that water into the canal system to make those deliveries to water treatment plants to ultimately go into homes and businesses,” said Ron Klawitter with Salt River Project which manages Bartlett Lake and Dam on behalf of the US Bureau of Reclamation.

A lot of the water that runs through the reservoir will not be making it to those places because flood waters that come after heavy precipitation are too much for the lake and its dam to hold.

So instead of running into canals, the excess water is routed down the normally dry Salt River bed in the Valley.

Some of it percolates into the aquifer below, but much of it evaporates and goes to no beneficial use according to Klawitter.

“Between 2017 and 2020 we spilled about 250,000 acre-feet of water that ran downstream and was unable to be used,” he said.

Enough water to supply 750,000 households for a year that is lost to nature.

But there is a plan to change that.

Nearly two dozen Valley cities, water agencies, and water companies along with the US Bureau of Reclamation are funding a four-year feasibility study on how to capture the water that is currently being lost.

They are:

  • Arizona Water Company
  • City of Phoenix
  • Buckeye Water Conservation and Drainage District
  • City of Scottsdale
  • Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District
  • City of Surprise
  • City of Apache Junction
  • City of Tempe
  • City of Avondale
  • EPCOR Water
  • City of Buckeye
  • Fort McDowell Yavapai Natio
  • City of Chandler
  • Pinal County Water Augmentation Authority
  • City of El Mirage
  • Salt River Project
  • City of Glendale
  • Town of Carefree
  • City of Goodyear
  • Town of Gilbert
  • City of Mesa
  • Town of Queen Creek
  • City of Peoria

“We identified an option that could actually restore that capacity and create additional storage capacity,” he said.

But to get it done they’ll have to go about 20 miles north to Horseshoe Dam.

It is the second dam on the Verde River and is even smaller than Bartlett.

About a third of its capacity is unusable due to sediment of the earthen dam, which Klawitter described as a construction flaw of the World War II era dam that was originally built for mining.

“To make sure we had enough copper production to continue the war effort,” he said.

Its new purpose will be the battle against drought.

Under the current proposal modified Bartlett Lake would extend back nearly all the way to Horseshoe Lake.

“That proposal would raise Bartlett dam by 97 feet. And it would more than double the storage capacity on the Verde River,” Klawitter said.

According to SRP Horseshoe Lake would no longer be used for water storage, but possibly for habitat and flood control.

The project would be a massive and expensive undertaking.

A December 2021 report from the US Bureau of Reclamation estimated it would cost between $700 and $860 million dollars. 

Likely more than that amount due to the cost assumptions being in 2018 dollars.

Klawitter said at least half the funding has to come from local entities in exchange for rights to the newly stored water. The remaining funding would come from the federal government.

After the feasibility study, if approved by the public and Congress construction could last for 15 years.

The hope is that it is time and money well spent so folks like Goff can enjoy more water at the lake and in his home.

“It’s a beautiful lake. It’s close to town. And I, you know, I just, I kind of hate to see things change, but everything has to change and it’s for a good thing,” he said.

Read full story ABC15 .com

Southwest water shortage expected to get worse

FOX 9’s Adam Klepp spoke to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation about the current tier-one shortage

YUMA, Ariz. (KECY, KYMA) – A “Tier 1” shortage was triggered by lake mead falling below 1,075 feet of water this past year. 

This means less Colorado River water is flowing into Arizona.

Historic drought conditions are impacting critical infrastructure that provides water and power to the region, like the Hoover Dam, and Lakes Mead and Powell.

“It’s a really critical state of the system right now,” said Dan Bunk, who works for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation near Lake Mead in Nevada.

He helps manage water flows and orders into the lower Colorado River basin, and says due to high temperatures, and a historic 20-year drought, less water is coming.

“Arizona and Nevada, they both have a shortage reduction,” Bunk said.

For now, Bunk says Yuma and its agricultural industry remain unaffected by the tier one shortage. But the future is unknown.

“There’s a lot of senior water rights owners in Yuma who are not impacted by a tier-one shortage, but that could change if low inflows and the drought continues,” Bunk said.

Bunk says Lake Mead levels have continued to drop, meaning his department is projecting more water cuts in the near future.

“Right now we’re projecting a tier 2 shortage for 2023,” Bunk said. An official decision will come this August.

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The Water Crisis in the Southwest

Credit…John Locher/Associated Press

To the Editor:

Re “The Coming Crisis on the Colorado River,” by Daniel Rothberg (Sunday Opinion, Aug. 7):

The difference between 33 degrees Fahrenheit and 31 degrees Fahrenheit is the difference between rain and snow. The two-degree increase in ambient temperature in many parts of the Southwest, already recorded, has had a critical effect on the dwindling water levels of the Colorado River.

The spigot that turns on water for Lake Mead and Lake Powell reservoirs resides high in the mountains of Colorado where dense snowpack builds up during the winter and melts slowly during the summer.

Snowmelt runoff, unlike rainfall that becomes widely dispersed, is channeled into creeks and small streams that eventually combine and funnel into the Colorado River. The snowpack is disappearing.

Ten years ago I was at Lake Mead’s now-disappeared Overton Beach Marina and read a sign on a palm tree that said, “Boat Slips Available.” Behind it was a vast landscape of dry and cracked lake bed. The “coming crisis on the Colorado River” has been arriving for some time now.

For decades people in the urban Southwest have been living off federal money for subsidized water, with dams, aqueducts and pumping systems watering hundreds of golf courses, a swimming pool for every house and citrus groves in the desert.

When the water level of Lake Mead reaches 1,042 feet above sea level, as it did recently, this false idea of a “desert miracle” confronts the true reality of a “dead pool” and the meaning of climate change.

Judith Nies
Cambridge, Mass.
The writer is the author of “Unreal City: Las Vegas, Black Mesa and the Fate of the West.”

  • The New York Times

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