Your Turn: Does Arizona have enough water? Why that's such a tough question to answer
April 8, 2018
The Arizona Republic turned to University of Arizona Law professor and leading expert on water policy and law, Robert Glennon, for an opinion piece series on Arizona’s water supply.
With the state currently facing a vast growing population, estimated to grow “from 6.5 million in 2017 to 8.2 million by 2030,” sourcing adequate water supply will be a challenge.
With climate change affecting the Southwest’s precipitation levels and evaporation, Glennon writes how more rain does not equal more water.
Additional challenges in the first opinion piece include the dwindling water supply pumped from wells, diverted from rivers and delivered through the Central Arizona Project canal.
The second piece focuses on the steps that Arizona has taken to conserve its water supply, placing the state at the cutting edge of legal and policy reform in water.
Innovations such as slowing groundwater use, storing unused water and reusing water have helped the state grow its water supply during a drought.
“A great example is the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Plant, west of Phoenix,” writes Glennon. “The operator agreed to buy treated water from the City of Phoenix to use as cooling water in the plant, which now uses 20 billion gallons per year for this purpose. Today, Arizona reuses more water than almost any other state.”
Glennon closes and transitions for his final piece, stating that although the state has been creative in addressing water shortages, there have been downfalls along the way.
Arizona has been unsuccessful gaining additional potable water through seawater desalination and has failed to protect the states rivers, says Glennon.
He writes that it would not only take convincing of California or Mexico to make seawater desalination an option in Arizona, it would also take Arizonans to come on board with such a project.
“Even though water is the state’s lifeblood, Arizonans are notoriously tight-fisted when it comes to water,” writes Glennon. “We think that the role of the federal government is to finance water projects and then leave us alone because we are, after all, independent Westerners. A multibillion-dollar desalination option doesn’t make sense when conservation and reuse are less costly options.”
Also, he adds, the state has done little to protect its rivers.
“While other Western states have acted aggressively to protect existing flows and find creative ways to replenish diminished flows, Arizona has done precious little—until fairly recently.”
Glennon closes with recent promising successes made by the state, which include upgrades to Pima County treatment, resulting in the presence of the endangered Gila topminnow fish, which hadn’t been seen in the Santa Cruz River for more than 70 years, and a restoration to a riparian habitat along the Salt River in Phoenix, which in turn has increased bird species by tenfold in the last eight years.
An expanded version of Glennon’s series will be published in the next issue of the Arizona Journal of Environmental & Legal Policy.