Water must be managed as a scarce resource

Above: Lake Powell stores Colorado River water behind Glen Canyon Dam, completed in 1966 near Page. After decades of drought and population growth, the reservoir is at less than half its capacity. (Photo and story by Luke Runyon/KUNC) Business News | 10 Feb, 2020 |

“Water scarcity” is not a term Arizonans like to use; certainly not civic leaders, economic development professionals or water utilities.  Those two words can invoke confusion and concerns, sometimes irrational.   But, the good news is it shouldn’t.  

The basis of “water scarcity” is quite simple. When there is increasing demand for a finite resource that, in turn, has diminishing supply, then ultimately, we all have to deal with scarcity issues.  In the case of water, this does not mean your faucet will go dry. It doesn’t mean that we will have to suddenly stop all economic growth. Scarcity typically means it will become tougher to acquire, become more expensive, and there will be growing competition for the resource. This holds true for water. 

The discussion has appropriately shifted to when and how much will “water scarcity” affect us, and how do we, together, minimize the implications on us as a state, community, and as individuals?  Like most complicated issues, it is best addressed by facing the facts head-on. This allows us to move faster towards achievable but sometimes tougher, sustainable solutions. Arizona is not new to persevering through these challenges. The bottom line is that we must tackle the issue together, and your water utility has a primary and critical role to serve in this regard. 

Ron L. Fleming is chairman, president and CEO of Global Water Resources.

Arizona is experiencing tremendous growth.  New housing starts are up and businesses are locating, expanding or opening throughout the state.  But with that growth comes the need to evaluate our infrastructure to determine how best to allocate our precious resources – water is top among them. 

The Colorado River supplies 36 percent of Arizona’s total water consumption, but this life-giving water source has been experiencing extensive drought conditions over the last two decades.  The drought, and a structural deficit that exists due to the over-allocation of the Colorado River from long ago, has resulted in Lake Mead falling to precarious low levels. Thus, last year, the Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) was adopted. Representatives from the seven states that rely on the river, including Arizona, were present for the formal signing. The Plan addresses the risks of the decreasing water supply, with commitments from many across the state to each do their part in this effort. 

In fact, in 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation declared the first-ever cuts in the Colorado River water deliveries which will occur in 2020, and these cuts could grow. In Pinal County, where the majority of our customers are, farmers are among those who will feel the results of DCP most significantly.  The agricultural industry there has been committed to transitioning to more reliance on groundwater, but that transition may have to occur much sooner than originally anticipated. This is not a positive development for the groundwater aquifers that are shared to also provide water service to homes and businesses.

It is clear we are just starting to face the implications of “water scarcity.”  However, there is more good news. Our state has been a visionary for water planning and management. For more than a century, choices made by elected officials, developers and individual water-users have resulted in our state’s ability to meet water demands to support our ever-increasing population and economic growth. From water supply projects, to innovative programs including drought preparedness, underground water storage and replenishment, 100-year water supply requirements, mandatory conservation programs, and use of reclaimed water, in many ways, Arizona leads in comprehensive water management.

But we must do more.  We must be diligent about conserving water, and we can do more at the local level.  For those of us in the water business, we must be on the leading edge of the technologies that will allow our customers to benefit from the three “Rs” of conservation – reuse, reclaim, and reduce. 

It is this very issue that served as the foundational principle for Global Water Resources. We know we can best effectuate change by owning and operating water, wastewater, and recycled water utilities, and then infusing technology and meaningful conservation tools throughout our integrated utility model. We practice “Total Water Management”, meaning, we manage the entire water cycle, conserving fresh water by maximizing the beneficial reuse of recycled water. In the City of Maricopa, where we proudly serve more than 50,000 residents, up to 97% of all wastewater is recycled annually and beneficially reused, preserving Maricopa’s local water resources. This monumental feat didn’t happen by accident, but by meticulous planning and innovative solutions, and by making the tough but right decisions early. 

Historically, water utilities have been slow to adopt new technology, but we must enact forward-thinking ideas now and adopt systems and resources that will have an immediate impact and meaningful long-term benefits. Global Water Resources has invested in advanced technologies allowing customers to be active participants in water conservation. Our utilities employ fixed network meter reading systems to provide increased services and benefits including leak detection, abnormal or high consumption alerts, and other proactive water messaging that reduces water consumption and our customers’ bills. Further, we provide a monetary rebate to customers that use less water. 

The combination of these activities, and many more, result in less use of our scarce water supplies, period. Utilities should be driving this demand reduction through their water resources management decisions. Regulators, their staffs, and other public policy leaders should be supporting these initiatives. There are even more ways we can work together, including with our developer partners, on things such as low water use landscape and smart water management regulations. Although not cheap or easy, it is necessary and over the long-haul, these efforts would actually keep costs lower in comparison to just developing the next “bucket of water,” further and further away. Although, this will be required someday as well.

It’s important to remember that tomorrow’s water future depends on the actions we take today. For consumers, first and foremost, we need everyone to share our commitment to conservation.  And we all must get more involved. If we do, we can lessen consequences and costs associated with “water scarcity,” while still allowing for the growth that is vital to Arizona’s economic future.  

 

Ron L. Fleming has served as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Global Water Resources since January 2015. From 2007 to 2014, he served in various roles with the company, Chief Operating Officer, Vice President and General Manager, and from 2004 to 2006, as Senior Project Manager of Engineering and Construction.  Mr. Fleming joined Global Water in 2004, crossing over from the construction industry where he worked on numerous large-scale heavy civil infrastructure projects throughout Arizona.  Mr. Fleming has more than 17 years of related management and utility experience, including serving on numerous industry and community board of directors. Mr. Fleming is on the Board of Directors of the Maricopa Economic Development Alliance.

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