Since 2000, Arizona has experienced one of the longest droughts on record. For cities, developers, farmers, ranchers and tribes, it has been a major topic of concern. Still, plans for dealing with potential water shortages have yet to be agreed upon.
Last year, the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) was presented by the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) to help determine how to best share river water shortages among the seven river basin states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming).
Due to previous water-rights agreements, as well as a junior-level ranking for Colorado River water, Arizona will take the majority of the water cuts when lakes reach depressed levels. Being the low man on the totem pole means lower-priority users in Arizona will receive heavier cuts, and a water shortage would prompt mandatory water reductions for some of the state’s largest water users.
What Arizona is trying to do is figure out a way to reduce and move water around so that it doesn’t run out.
The Groundwater Quandary
Recent developments in the Drought Contingency Plan are giving Pinal County farmers concern, as they may still receive the same amount of water as in an earlier plan, but most of it would be groundwater, which would be a decade sooner than they had hoped for. They also face a cut of nearly half of their Central Arizona Project water, which diverts water from the Colorado River. With agriculture consuming close to 70 percent of the state’s water, farmers could take a big hit.
Reviews are mixed and city officials, tribal officers, farmers and developers have yet to come to an agreement on what to cut. If the groundwater plan comes to fruition, it would mean new wells, and infrastructure would need to be built. Still, the consensus is the project is moving along in a positive direction.
Arizona gets its water from four places: Colorado River; surface water from lakes, rivers and streams; groundwater; and reclaimed water.
Lake Mead, which provides 40 percent of Arizona’s water, and Lake Powell have both begun to reach dangerously low-water levels. Most notably, Lake Powell has been drained of some of its water to bolster Lake Mead.
About 44 percent of our water comes from groundwater that is found in natural underground reservoirs called aquifers. Because more water has been pumped out than replenished, conservation efforts have been put into place for long-range planning. In 1980, the Groundwater Management Act was signed to help conserve water in the most populated places.
Although we did receive record amounts of rain last October, temperatures were hotter than normal. Due to high evaporation rates, the amount of rain we received during the 2018 monsoon season was not enough to alleviate any long-term drought conditions.
“A shortage is going to happen,” predicts Tom Buschatzke, Director for ADWR. “We can’t do enough conservation to avoid it. We are all anticipating a shortage in 2020.”
Strategies for dealing with this, however, are falling into place.
“We now have a draft Drought Contingency Plan with California and Nevada. We have a draft plan with Mexico,” Buschatzke says. “We have been working on an intra-Arizona plan since the end of June. We have a viable proposal moving forward. But the devil is in the details.”