Unlike other parts of Arizona, Phoenix has been proactive in securing our long-term water supply, we have the resources necessary to sustain our population – and growth – for a couple hundred years to come. We’ve done that through a lengthy series of mitigation efforts – Phoenix currently uses about the same amount of water we did 20 years ago, despite our population growth – and wisely storing vast amounts of Colorado River water in our aquifer. The City is currently working with SRP to expand our shared reservoirs on the Salt & Verde rivers. Lastly, Phoenix has wisely invested in new pumps and pipelines to extract our underground reserves and deliver them across the city.
Those measures can only take us so far.
While we should continue efforts to get homeowners to tear out grass and replace it with low water use native landscaping, artificial turf alternatives, and the like, we are seeing diminishing returns from these programs as many people have already taken steps, and new developments rarely feature much grass. We’ve also removed it from medians and other city-owned areas. Likewise, our programs to incentivize the replacement of inefficient older appliances such as toilets and dishwashers, and installation of low flow shower and faucet heads have also reached a point of diminishing returns.
It’s time for the next generation of Phoenix and Arizona leaders to get serious about securing a new, sustainable supply of fresh water for our future. Ten years ago, the technologies we need weren’t ready. They are now. Israel currently gets 80% of their potable water from desalination. They even built a pipeline to sell it to Egypt. Advances in reverse-osmosis technology replacing evaporation have significantly reduced the energy costs, while solar-powered pipelines can deliver water wherever it’s needed, and do so in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner. Given that water is also a very good mechanism to store energy (it can be piped up to the top of a reservoir during the day, and used to generate hydro-power at night), the combination of solar and desalination are a natural fit.
This would, of course, be a massive, likely multi-national undertaking that would need the cooperation of the State of Arizona, the U.S. federal government, and almost certainly the Mexican government as well. It would cost a fortune - billions of dollars, at least.
And it would be entirely, absolutely, worthwhile.
We may be ok ourselves, for now, but I simply do not believe in leaving a massive, potentially fatal issue like this hanging over the heads of future generations. Doing so isn’t right, or fair. That alone would compel me to push for this type of solution. But the benefits of creating a water supply sufficient to, better yet in excess of, the needs of Arizona, the Southwestern U.S. as a whole, and Northern Mexico would radically transform our economies, and our environment for the better. How many of you remember, like I do, growing up in an Arizona where free-flowing streams weren’t limited to just a couple of major river valleys? When my family first moved here in 1990, we lived in the Tucson foothills. Behind our house was a little stream that ran year-round. A decade or so later, and that stream started to dry up in the heat of summer. Now it only runs after a monsoon. Groundwater depletion is a major issue for Arizona, with significant consequences for our plants and wildlife. Removing our statewide (or as close to it as we can come) dependence on groundwater would have enormous benefits for our environment. Better yet, it holds the possibility of completely transforming our economy – with our abundant sunshine, Arizona is about the best growing environment in the world, as long as we have the water.
The City of Phoenix spends millions of dollars annually on lobbyists at the Capitol, in Washington D.C., and even in Mexico. It’s time to put them to work doing something useful.