On May 3, WESTMARC hosted its annual Economic Development Summit, with this year’s event focused on Arizona’s most precious resource: water. Leaders from Central Arizona Project (CAP), Salt River Project (SRP), Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) and West Valley municipalities discussed what the government has done historically to ensure Arizonans can have a reliable water supply and what challenges lie ahead.

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“No, we’re not out of water,” explains Eric Orsborn, mayor of Buckeye. “[ADWR’s Hassayampa Sub-Basin Groundwater Model] says that if we take a static approach to managing that basin and are not working in new water [supplies], we will have trouble with the higher ends of the bathtub that is the Hassayampa. We’re not taking a static approach; we’re very active in procuring the [non-Indian agricultural] water we need to recharge the basin.”

Clint Chandler, deputy director of ADWR, says that groundwater model for the Salt River Valley, which includes most of Greater Phoenix, will be released soon and could affect future growth. While Colorado River water accounts for about 36% of Arizona’s water supply, approximately 41% comes from pumping water out of the ground. Unlike surface water, groundwater does not renew naturally, so it must be replenished artificially and used wisely.

The Groundwater Management Act of 1980 regulates groundwater in Arizona and created active management areas (AMAs) where restrictions are even heavier. If the Salt River Valley groundwater model determines that groundwater in the Phoenix AMA is fully allocated, other sources will have to be utilized. Some cities, however, have been allocated more groundwater than they are currently using, meaning they can still grow using that allocation while finding other supplies.

At the same time, less Colorado River is flowing to Arizona due to shortages, but cities in the West Valley have been preparing for more than five years for this possibility, adds Michael Boule, director of water resource management for the City of Surprise.

“This preparation looks like the implementation and activation of preparedness plans, including updating water infrastructure,” he says. “Surprise introduced automated water grid infrastructure, which sounds gimmicky, but our demand per capita is the lowest it has ever been.”

For the medium- and long-term, Boule notes that demand management and increasing the overall water supply, which could happen through importing water or building a desalination plant. Cities in Central Arizona already reuse 93% of the water that enters the wastewater treatment system, but some are now starting to implement direct potable reuse, which purifies recycled water until it is fit for human consumption.

“[Direct potable reuse] is a viable source of water. Scottsdale has been a leader in this for years,” Boule concludes. “In Surprise, we do indirect potable reuse, but as society gives [direct potable reuse] the okay, it’s going to be another lever to pull to sustain growth.”