Are Phoenix water providers, policymakers and the business community prepared for a future of radically curtailed water supplies?
The Phoenix Water Department has prepared contingency plans for a “Water Crisis,” which would be declared when “… emergency supply and use reduction programs are insufficient to meet water demand.”
During such a scenario, no water hookups would be provided to new construction of any kind. Most outdoor water use would be prohibited and swimming pools could neither be refilled nor topped off.
Clearly, such actions would devastate the regional economy, which, as the city’s Web site notes “… is fueled in large measure by regional growth. The regional growth rate is 3.9 percent per year. … stopping growth would negatively impact … the city and the region.”
Ralph Marra, water resources administrator at Tucson Water, (which, like Phoenix, depends heavily upon water from the Central Arizona Project) said that “as a water provider, our practical and immediate focus needs to be on the near- to mid-term, but it is important to keep a watchful eye on the long-term so that we can maintain flexibility and respond to change.”
This cautious assessment suggests that, like their counterparts in business and government, Arizona water providers hope that the current drought will end, and that the wet years will return.
But as Eric Kuhn wrote this May in “The Colorado River: The Story of a Quest for Certainty on a Diminishing River”: “How will the institutions and the Law of the River adapt to both an overall reduction in Basin yield and the differential impacts within the Basin? Will the water management community change the way it has historically done business? Specifically, if the basic planning assumption that ‘the future will resemble the past’ is no longer valid, what are the alternatives?”
For Phoenix, the alternatives might seem too drastic to seriously consider.
A massive reduction in water supplies would most probably cause economic disruptions on a scale that no Western city has seen since the Great Depression. And, despite the water department’s crisis planning, there is, according to the City of Phoenix’s Web site, no problem.
“Arizona’s Assured Water Supply (AWS) Rules require a demonstration of at least 100 years of supply for growth. The State of Arizona has granted a ‘Designation of Assured Water Supply’ to the City of Phoenix, affirming that at least 100 years of water is available to serve existing customers and additional growth. Currently, the city maintains access to supplies sufficient to demonstrate that demands at anticipated 2020 levels can be met for more than 100 years.”
Perhaps. But future Arizonans might find that “access to supplies” is, like access to mortgage financing for the marginally qualified, just another desert mirage.