For Arizona’s large-scale water users, “Water Awareness Month” never ends

For Arizona’s large-scale water users, “Water Awareness Month” never ends
Published
April 20, 2018

Every April since 2008, the Arizona Department of Water Resources has promoted “Water Awareness Month,” a campaign kicked off by gubernatorial decree to make residents of our arid state aware of the many means available for conserving Arizona’s most precious resource after its citizens, its water supplies.

But we haven’t done it alone.

 

Dr. Charles A. Sanchez (Left) stands beside Paul Brierley, the Executive Director of the Yuma Center of Excellence in Desert Agriculture (Right), in a field planted with durum wheat (MAYA SPRINGHAWK ROBNETT / KAWC COLORADO RIVER PUBLIC MEDIA)

 

Virtually every major Arizona industry, water provider and community has demonstrated, in meaningful ways, a commitment to conserving water. That is to say, they have committed to the effort to use water as efficiently as possible.

Arizona agriculture has demonstrated… ahem… a thirst for water conservation that today is taking the industry beyond what had previously been considered the technological limits of efficient water use.

In 2015, a case study commissioned by a consortium of Yuma-area water users, researchers and other stakeholders found that the water-saving efforts of local agriculture appeared to have gone about as far as it could go.

“Our average on-farm efficiency, as has been documented, is at between 75 and 80 percent efficiency," said Bobbi Stevenson-McDermott, a retired conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to Arizona Public Media earlier this month.

“So, there is no system that is more efficient than the Yuma County irrigation system.”

But that was then. Now, researchers from the University of Arizona and NASA are teaming with Yuma agriculture researchers to study the value of special sensors that may prove valuable in measuring the levels of salt and water evaporation in Yuma-area crops.

As reported by APM, the new technology could bring the area’s farmers closer to accounting for every drop of the Colorado River water that they use.

 

AMWUA members

Urban water users also have been demonstrating their commitment to wise water use.

For example, member communities of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, or AMWUA, have taken significant steps – especially since the advent of chronic drought during the past two decades – to conserve water.

AMWUA’s members have planned, built, and managed their communities and their water supplies with the realities of Arizona’s arid climate in mind, the association reports.

Steps that Arizona’s cities and towns have taken to conserve water include, according to a recent AMWUA report:

  • Diversifying water supplies. In addition to water provided by surface-water systems like the Salt River Project, Arizona communities make use of Colorado River water, reclaimed water, unused water stored underground in previous years, and a certain amount of groundwater, thus enabling the cities to offset reductions in one or more supplies.
  • Infrastructure. Arizona’s municipal water supply systems largely are designed to manage extended periods of limited precipitation. Reservoirs on both the Colorado River and the Salt and Verde Rivers capture vast amounts of water during wet periods for times when there is less precipitation.
  • Recycling. AMWUA reports that its member cities reclaim all of their wastewater, putting virtually 100 percent to a variety of beneficial uses.
  • Underground storage. The AMWUA members have collectively invested more than $400 million to store nearly 1.7 million acre-feet of water underground for future withdrawal and use in times of surface water reductions.
  • Conservation and efficiency. For more than 30 years, large water providers in the most populous areas of the state have been required to meet mandatory conservation requirements, reducing per capita demand and stretching supplies. Those efforts include water use efficiency practices, among them:  aggressive system leak detection and repair; increasingly sophisticated metering and tracking of water use; customer outreach, education, and assistance; rebates and incentives; ordinances and codes; and conservation-based water rates.
  • Planning. All Arizona water providers are required to adopt tiered drought plans (sometimes called shortage plans).  These plans are designed to incrementally reduce demands during times of shortage in order to ensure there is water to meet the needs of residents and to support the economy.