Water Report

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ASU Morrison Institute Senior Research Fellow Grady Gammage Jr., discusses the Institute’s newly released report “Watering the Sun Corridor” and what it says about a sustainable water future for Arizona.

Ted Simons: ASU's Morrison Institute is out with a new report on water sustainability in Arizona. The report addresses the fear that Arizona's major population centers might not have enough water to meet future demands. Watering the Sun Corridor takes a look at trends and opportunities for sustainable water supply in Arizona's metropolitan area. Here to tell us more about the report is Grady Gammage Jr. a senior research fellow for the Morrison Institute for public policy. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Grady Gammage, Jr.: Good to be here Ted.

Ted Simons: Basics here, do we have enough water now?

Grady Gammage, Jr.: Yes. We have enough water now, as long as we're careful, as long as we realize we're going to have to make some tough choices going into the future. But we're in reasonably good shape. In part what we wanted to do in this report is kind of dispel the notion that a lot of people have that there isn't any water to support Phoenix and Tucson. And that this many people shouldn't be living here to start with. It just doesn't rain enough, so it's a bad place to live. That's a perception I think happens throughout the eastern part of the United States. And it's really inaccurate.

Ted Simons: Why it is inaccurate?

Grady Gammage, Jr.: Because cities by definition are concentrations are people drawing on a larger area for their resources. New York City doesn't get enough rain for its water supply. It comes from upstate. Everywhere is like that. What's different about Phoenix and Tucson, the Sun Corridor, which is Phoenix, Tucson, and Pinal County, is that we bring water from farther away. And there have been reports that come out that criticize us because we bring water from so far away, namely the Colorado River, which is water from the Rockies. But truth is that probably makes us more sustainable because it means that we're -- we have a fairly large surface water supply, which is a renewable resource as opposed to ground water, and we have water that comes from central Arizona through SRP and throughout the Rockies, and those are different climatic zones, though they're related.

Ted Simons: The engineering process of getting water from the Colorado River to major metropolitan areas, is that in and of itself sustainable with a growing population, with what looks to be climate change, most scientist would say that something is going on out there they can argue back and forth but most agree that climate is changing, it's getting warmer, the drought is more likely possibility for Arizona. Again, we can mechanically get the water from A to B, is that mechanical process sustainable?

Grady Gammage, Jr.: Yeah. Is the canal going to be full, the shorthand way of asking that question. And one of the things we do in the report is we talk about what's unusual about the arid west is the variability of the water that's available. Because of the highly variable nature of rain and snow and the distances from where it comes, but what we've done in Arizona is to build pretty elaborate engineering systems to get water from different place and to store water in really large quantities. We typically have many years worth of storage availability. SRP's full right now, the Colorado is not, although Lake Mead is coming up probably 50 feet here as a result this year. So we've got a lot of diversified bases. We did build a climate change assumption into this report, and that's tricky, because there isn't a lot of firm agreement on exactly how much of a risk climate change poses. There's a pretty firm agreement that it poses as risk. We built a 15% decrease in the water supply into the numbers in the report.

Ted Simons: What about things like agriculture, what about water rights, legal issues? Those are variables as well. How are they measured?

Grady Gammage, Jr.: Let me talk about those separately for a minute. One of the things that I hope people will take away and understand if they read the report is, right now there's still more than half of the water supply of the Sun Corridor, the three urban counties in Arizona, is still going to agriculture. That's the biggest reason why we're in pretty good shape. We can redeploy that water that goes for farming to urban populations. We ought to think about that.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, should we?

Grady Gammage, Jr.: That's a good question. We have no real dialogue or debate about that going on in Arizona. There are lots of places where preserving agriculture is a public policy. Our public policy is, water moves to urban uses. I think we ought to begin to rethink that. And think about trying to keep some amount of agriculture in the mix for a bunch of reasons. But the biggest one, it gives you water management flexibility. In times of drought, you cannot plant row crops, vegetables, alfalfa, cottons, so on and use that water for other purposes. And then when you got lots of water again you can replant stuff. That flexibility has preserved us through this drought time in a way it -- Las Vegas hasn't been able to do.

Ted Simons: Water rights, legal issues?

Grady Gammage, Jr.: Yeah. In this report we stayed away from it. And the reason is, it's a -- lawyers can complicate anything and they've complicated water about as much as possible. This report tries to look at the aggregate water supply for the Sun Corridor. And look at water rights with the expectation that sooner or later that stuff sorts itself out.

Ted Simons: Does the report look at demand for water and use of water should the price of water, the cost of water increase as many people think it should as a conservation method at the very least?

Grady Gammage, Jr.: It does. It looks at all those things. There's a whole section about use that looks at how relatively successful we've been, just through education methods, and incentives in bringing our per capita water consumption down. However, there are some new figures about urban consumption of water. We have tended to use what we refer to as GPCD, gallons per capita per day, as a proxy for urban water use. The truth is there's a bunch of urban uses that are not captured in that. And when you built that in, when you build in our supply assumptions, and our use statistics, we don't have as much water as we've been saying we did. For a long time water managers, and I probably have been on your show and said we probably could support 12 million people. I don't think that's the case anymore. I think that a reasonable number if we get rid of agriculture, it's probably less than 10 million.

Ted Simons: Interesting. If you keep agriculture, you got some concerns.

Grady Gammage, Jr.: And if you keep agriculture, you're making a choice. You've got to decide, we're going to preserve agriculture but we can support fewer people. The other question about lifestyle choices, going forward, we have to start thinking about what with do about landscaping. And the extent to which we continue to use a lot of water in landscaping.

Ted Simons: OK. We've got to stop you right there. Real quickly, how can we find the report?

Grady Gammage, Jr.: The report is available in hard copy from the Morrison Institute, but the quickest way is to go on the Morrison Institute's web site, which is Morrison Institute.ASU.EDU.

Ted Simons: Alright, very good. Grady, good to see you again.

Grady Gammage, Jr.: Good to be here.

Ted Simons: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Grady Gammage, Jr.:ASU Morrison Institute Senior Research Fellow;

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