Arizona prepared if water shortages hit

The Colorado River at Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona. About 39 percent of Arizona’s water comes from the Colorado River. Photo by Monica Milberg with Arizona Sonora News.

If Arizona runs short of water, it has a plan.

As one of the driest states in the country, it has been suffering from droughts for centuries.

“Here in Arizona, we store water underground for future use. We have what’s called the Arizona Water Banking Authority,” said Michelle Moreno, public information officer at the Arizona at the Arizona Department of Water Resources, or ADWR. “Let’s say there is a shortage declaration on the Colorado River. We have the option of tapping into the water that we’ve stored underground so that we’re not without water.”

The state uses an estimated 2.4 trillion gallons of water annually and much work goes into controlling and monitoring it. Arizona gets it water from different areas, ADWR research shows, including the Colorado River (39 percent), groundwater (40 percent), surface waters such as the Salt River and Lake Mead (19 percent) and effluent water (2 percent), which is used for irrigation, municipal and agricultural purposes.

The groundbreaking 1980 Groundwater Act, which created a long-term water plan in Arizona, encouraged residents of the state to conserve water and plan for severe droughts.

Last winter, higher than normal precipitation meant reservoirs and other water sources refilled in preparation for the coming seasons. The amount of surface water depends on the amount of winter precipitation received that year, according to Doug MacEachern, ADWR communications administrator.

“We always use surface water as our first bucket of water because we want to preserve our groundwater for future use,” said Moreno, who added that mandatory conservation requirements for municipal, industrial and agricultural water users are also in place.

The Arizona Water Banking Authority, or AWBA, stores water from the Colorado River and saves it for when Arizona is experiencing shortages and droughts. This water is used for municipal and industrial purposes. The AWBA also pays for the storage and delivery of the water to central and southern Arizona. Since 1996, the AWBA has stored over 1.3 billion gallons of water for future use.

Water conservation in Arizona has been the topic of discussion for many of Arizona’s government organizations, including the ADWR and the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association. These departments have been working to generate drought plans to ensure that Arizona is storing enough water to satisfy its residents in case surface water is at a low.

According to the Arizona drought monitor, which is a monthly update of the drought situation in the United States, as of March 7, most of the drought seen in Arizona is in the southwestern corner of the state. These drought conditions are described as “abnormal,” “moderate” and “severe.” According  to Carol Ward-Morris, assistant director at the Arizona Municipal Water Uses Association, areas of Arizona have been experiencing drought conditions for 17 years. In effort to reverse drought in Arizona, cities created plans that are unique to each city’s needs. Many cities offer incentives or rebates to encourage water-conserving technology like appliances or desert-adapted landscapes.

As the leading state in water conserving technologies, Arizona has become expert at groundwater recharging, rainwater harvesting and desalination. Fifty percent of the water used by developments for landscaping is harvested rainwater. Along with advanced conserving technologies, Arizona is also a leading state in water conservation.

“Shifting people to landscapes that are more desert adapted and teaching them how to water those landscapes efficiently has had a tremendous impact that’s done a lot to reduce our per capita consumption,” Ward-Morris said.

In January 2016, the state of Arizona won the WaterSense Challenge, a competition between 20 states that requires them to persuade water providers to join the WaterSense program and encourage water efficiency nationwide. The program advertises saving water and protecting the environment by using WaterSense labeled products in homes and businesses. These products allow citizens and business owners to take simple steps in water conservation.

Arizona also has been successful in decreasing the need of water from the Colorado River by involving itself in the Pilot System Conservation Program. The program, which includes partners in California, Nevada and Colorado, focuses on funding water conservation projects to help reduce the need for Colorado River water.

According to the Central Arizona Project, which is Arizona’s largest resource for renewable water supplies, drought conditions and the need for water has reduced the flow of the Colorado River by 30 percent. With the help of the PSCP, almost $11 million was awarded to fund many water-efficiency projects in western states including Arizona, California, Nevada, Colorado and Wyoming.

“We are prepared and as long as we continue to invest in our supplies and our infrastructure and plan for the future we can manage. We will be fine,” Ward-Morris said. “That has been the foundation for Arizona’s success all these years.”

Monica Milberg is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at

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