Arizona Water Supplies

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Like a cactus used to a limited water supply, Arizona continues to thrive and grow in a drought that has forced California to impose water restrictions. Central Arizona Project General Manager David Modeer and Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke will discuss the status of Arizona’s water supplies.

Ted Simons: California recently implemented mandatory water restrictions, a move that has many in Arizona wondering if we're next. Here now are Central Arizona Project general manager David Modeer and Arizona Department of Water Resources director Tom Buschatzke. Good to have you both here, thank you so much for joining us.

David Modeer: Glad to be here.

Ted Simons: The status of Arizona's water supply.

David Modeer: I think Arizona's water supply is in a very good state right now. We've done a lot of planning over the years with the State Departments, the Central Arizona Project and the Arizona water bank to take water that wasn't being utilized in the 1990s and begin storing that for the future. And water laws that were enacted many years ago have improved. Reducing water use in Arizona back to the days of the 1950s. Even though population has increased, I don't know how many-fold but a lot. I think our water system is in good stead right now for the short term.

Ted Simons: Doesn't look that way in California. How do we compare? What's going on here?

Tom Buschatzke: As I think David said it pretty well, we've created these institutions and we've known for years that a shortage potentially was going to come. We've become more resilient on surface water supplies, Colorado River supplies. We've created institutions to allow us to deal with the point in time when the shortages come. Our conservation programs are exemplary in the Colorado River Basin. We have the most efficient agricultural uses of anywhere in the basin. So it's a municipal conservation requirements that the management code has created has also put us in a position where our supply and demand, the difference between those things are pretty large. We are looking forward to in the near term not having the issues that California's having right now.

Ted Simons: And yet, we hear about Lake Mead, Lake Powell. Mead, the water levels there, historic lows. Very close to trigger levels. Certainly something is going to affect Arizona, will it not?

David Modeer: It'll certainly affect Arizona. We are moving in the direction of a shortage being declared by the secretary of the interior. We've been in drought for over 15 years now. This year has been a very bad year, storms, snowpack, and the Colorado River Basin. It's clear that we're rapidly approaching a shortage, probably likely in 2017, but we are prepared for it. And it's not going to throw Arizona into a crisis. We have expected a shortage to be declared at some point in time, and we have prepared our water supplies for that resiliency to deal with it in the first part of a shortage.

Ted Simons: We've heard about water banking and progressive water policy, but storms nuts and bolts and the water on the ground, if you will, where does that water come from?

Tom Buschatzke: Water out in the future will come from various places. One is there's still more conservation potential. We can stretch our supplies that way. We are a leader in the United States in terms of reclaimed water reuse. That'll increase over time. It'll increased for nonpotable uses, but eventually direct potable uses. We're also looking at other ways to augment our water supplies. Cloud seeding has been proven, in a study in Wyoming, to work, we're looking at that. We're looking at potential desalination, we've been in talks with Mexico to set up a framework for that. Not only the Colorado River but other parts of the state of Arizona. It's going to be a whole menu of things. It'll be cobbling together a bunch of smaller projects to make us more resilient as we move into the future.

Ted Simons: Building sustainability in the Colorado River water, in that flow, are there new ideas out there? Are things being done now to handle what's going to happen here in the next few years?

David Modeer: There are things being done right now. There is a lot of cooperative effort in the basin states. We're working cooperatively to generate ideas to, save water, leave water behind the dam and keep Lake Mead at a better elevation. We've started programs that include things like dry-year planning, California has been doing that for quite a while. We have worked out some ideas with our Central Arizona agricultural users to leave water in Lake Mead and let them acquire financing for other sources in the interim period. There are other things done with the cooperation of all the states, trying to figure outweighs to deal with this issue in the short-term. The longer term is more what Tom talked about. In the near term we need to all work together to keep the river healthy.

Ted Simons: Leaving water in Lake Mead, I'm going to ask, does that count when the water level drops? In other words, realistically that water would have been gone. Do they continue to measure it even though we've left some of it there? Conservation is rewarded?

David Modeer: By keeping the level higher and not going into shortage levels as quickly as it would have otherwise. We have set a goal with the states, the regulators' like Tom's department, and trying to leave about three quarters of an acre-foot in Lake Mead over the next two years. If we are successful at that we can raise the level of water or keep it about 10 to 12 feet higher than it is presently.

Ted Simons: What is the impact of the California crisis on Arizona water policy?

Tom Buschatzke: Well, I think that we have done good things in the policy field, but it just hammers home the point that you have to stay ahead of the curve. We need to continue to develop our policies and be adaptive as kind of the conditions change moving forward. I think that is the main lesson we can learn from California that we do not want to be in the crisis that they are in now. And we are going to have to make some Hartford choices and move forward to ensure that's not going to happen.

Ted Simons: What did they do or not do that we did or didn't do?

Tom Buschatzke: I think we talked already about some of the institutions we created, our 1980 groundwater management act really was philosophical about keeping our groundwater in the ground rather than for growth, saving it for times when we had a shortage. California only recently in the last year passed a groundwater act, so they have a different problem with the depletion of groundwater. So those types of things are things we did that they didn't do. Some of their issues -- and they aren't really Colorado River issues, they were issues with the water that originates in the Sierra Nevadas, internally to their state. They count on the snowpack to refill those every year. Our philosophy has been to look at a 10-year planning horizon to use their surface water and groundwater and parse that out. We are blessed with large volumes of groundwater that we have protected for this purpose. We can conjuncttively use that in a way that creates a lot more resilience for our state than they are able to do in California.

Ted Simons: I will get email saying these guys are nuts. Arizona is in a water crisis, we must do something serious, drastic, now. How do you respond to that?

David Modeer: I would respond saying that's absolutely not the case. We are not in a crisis. Everything we have said in answering your questions this evening is actual fact. We are very different than California. We have done a better job of planning. Granted circumstances in California are very different than they are in Arizona. And the drought in California is not related to Southern California and the Colorado River water use. It really as Tom said, they have been hammered by environmental decision,s, they have reduced the water available for municipal and industrial use and even for agriculture. Circumstances are very different over there. We've done a great job of planning here in Arizona and taking actions they will help us weather a good portion of the drought. We can't control Mother Nature. If the drought goes on for many more years certainly there will be a bigger impact to Arizona than we can handle with what we're doing right now. Tom mentioned some of the things we feel we can do in the future.

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

Tom Buschatzke: Thank you.

David Modeer:General Manager, Central Arizona Project; Tom Buschatzke:Director, Arizona Department of Water Resources;

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