Sustainability: Arizona’s Water Supply

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The Arizona Department of Water Resources has released a new report regarding Arizona’s water future. “Arizona’s Next Century: A Strategic Vision for Water Supply Sustainability” assesses current and projected demands and water supplies and provides potential strategies that will help Arizona meet its future water needs. Michael Lacey, the director of the Arizona
Department of Water Resources, will discuss the report.

Ted Simons: Tonight's focus on sustainability looks at a new report from the Arizona department of water resources on the state's long-term water supplies and demands. Here now is Michael Lacey, the newly-appointed director of the water resources department. Good to have you here.

Michael Lacey: Good to be here. Thank you, Ted.

Ted Simons: Arizona current water demands, where do we stand?

Michael Lacey: The latest numbers we have 2011, we use as a state, across the state from all sources roughly 6.9 million acre feet.

Ted Simons: What does that mean? Are we in good shape?

Michael Lacey: It's actually a number that is consistent with the amount of water we used back in 1957. In 1957, we used roughly 7 million acre feet. That peaked in 1980 at over 10 million acre feet and it is now down to 6.9 million acre feet.

Ted Simons: That is encouraging news. I'm guessing projected supplies and demands, decade, two, three out there, things are going to go like this.

Michael Lacey: We are seeing increased demands, the projections will outstrip what supplies we have available to us. We are looking at demands, if we look 100 years out, those numbers are quite large more than double what we use today.

Ted Simons: I saw in the record imbalance could hit by 2030?

Michael Lacey: We are looking at imbalances in about 25 years, we see an imbalance growing where new supplies may need to be brought to the state.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, how best do you address that imbalance? What do you do?

Michael Lacey: We put together a list of strategic priorities for the state. The state has been, you know, we have done great things in accomplishing water demand reductions through conservation. It's really -- Arizona is a leader in the state. We are -- we need to continue those efforts across the state. We also are a leader in the reuse of reclaimed water and those efforts need to continue. These projected imbalances that we see, we think we can reduce those by as much as half with a very aggressive reclaimed water, reuse program.

Ted Simons: An aggressive program in development that we have now that needs to be developed?

Michael Lacey: It is in development right now. We are -- we are recharging and recovering reclaimed water across the state. We also directly reuse it for industry, nuclear generation for example. North America's largest producer of electricity 100% cooled with reclaimed water.

Ted Simons: As far as future supplies, are there new water suppliers out there? Is that even possible?

Michael Lacey: There are efforts looking at new supplies. We think there are some supplies within the state that can be further developed. There are some brackish water supplies that might be developed through desalination -- it will be expensive to develop, but ultimately as we look at the numbers, we feel as though importation from outside the state's boundaries are -- it is in our future.

Ted Simons: Explain that. Because it seems to me that -- and I don't know. It doesn't look like there is a CAP or an SRP or a water bank on the horizon. Are these things out there? I mean, they define our state in the past. What is going to define our water usage in the future?

Michael Lacey: They have. And really, as we have been taking this vision around the state, one of the answers and one of the stories we're telling, Arizona's history is really our future. This state has aggressively pursued water supplies to be able to sustainably live in the desert. We need to go out and do that again. What we're proposing is really sea water desalination as the next bucket for the state in the long run.

Ted Simons: Is it feasible, viable?

Michael Lacey: There are -- there are large scale desalination facilities, there are challenges associated with getting the supply we need. We have to get access to a coast and get permission to build such a facility. That will either be along the Pacific in Mexico or in California or in the Sea of Cortez with a cooperative agreement with the state of Mexico.

Ted Simons: You mentioned relatively encouraging situation as far as the current water demands and supplies. Is the lack of a crisis right now, is that a problem in and of itself? There is no motivation to do anything.

Michael Lacey: That is one of the stories we're telling as well. In some degree, a victim of our own success. If you look at what is happening in California, not to say they haven't done their planning, but they've had difficult circumstances collide on them. Spurring action for the investment that will be necessary to bring additional supplies to the state, we'll take action and take earnest and -- it is going to be a long battle to make it happen.

Ted Simons: It sounds like it is going to be a long battle, if it happens. I mean, are you encouraged? Are people listening? Do they understand what is going on out there or, again, are they waiting for the crisis to hit?

Michael Lacey: I think people are interested in acting. I don't know that -- and this kind of program, we can't wait for the crisis to hit. If you look at what it took to bring Colorado River water to central Arizona and CAP, that was an effort that took 60 years. Originally settlers in the valley, in the 1860s, Roosevelt dam begun in 1903. 40 some years in preparation for that. This project will take a time scale on that scale to make happen. If we don't start today, we run the risk of having demands in excess of available supplies if we don't begin the process.

Ted Simons: The reports, recommendations, what you released, anything surprise you?

Michael Lacey: I -- not really. Not surprised me. But it is in the business I'm in. And it is how I spent my entire career. So, it's -- and it is really not necessarily anything new. It is really just gathering it in a way and packaging it for a broader audience than we typically address. So water wonks tend to speak in language that water wonks understand and converse in and we are trying to broaden that to business leaders, community leaders, and try to create a dialogue where the folks that can begin to think about how you finance these things can come to the table and gather around this idea.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, last question, what do we take from this report?

Michael Lacey: I think we take away from this that Arizona is in fine shape today, but we need to begin working on actions that will keep us in that state and it is going to take investment and it is going to cost money and we need to be prepared to make those investments.

Ted Simons: Good to have you here. Thank you for joining us.

Michael Lacey: Thank you, Ted.

Michael Lacey:Director, Arizona
Department of Water Resources;

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