Experts say Arizona is entering an era of limits when it comes to state’s water future
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth of a five-part series called “KTAR Water Watch,” which will explore the present and future of the water supply across Arizona and metro Phoenix.
PHOENIX — Arizona was once in a great spot when it came to conserving water, but a drastic population growth has pushed the state into what experts say is an era of limits.
Since the 1950s, the state’s population has grown by more than 550%, according to the Arizona Department of Water Resources. As a result, leaders are looking for ways to save the states greatest resource.
Water reduction and conservation efforts have allowed Arizona to decline its water usage by 3%, ADWR said.
Director Tom Buschatzke said that number was achieved through multiple methods, but there are some challenges have popped up.
“Some challenges surfaced in certain sectors of our economy and certain uses of our water that create some challenges, but also some opportunities,” Buschatzke added.
Arizona has seen drastic expansion of semiconductor companies coming to the state, with 200 in the state.
Last year, Intel announced a $20 billion expansion on its Chandler campus. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company also invested $12 million into a new Phoenix campus.
It’s part of a growth plan from Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.
“ These are companies that could have gone anywhere in the country and have chosen Arizona with our current water situation,” Ducey said to reporters in January after the announcement that Sunlit Chemical, a Taiwanese company that supplies chemicals used in the production of semiconductors, would break ground on a manufacturing facility in Phoenix.
Not only does the sector use a sizable amount of water, it also is contributing to the state’s growing population.
Between 2020-2021, Arizona ranked among the top states for population growth gaining almost 100,000 residents, driving up Maricopa County’s population by 15.8%, the U.S. Census Bureau said in its annual population estimate.
Buschatzke explains the state wants to maintain the economic and population growth it is seeing, but also wants to maintain quality of life.
He says there are multiple conservation efforts that can bridge the gap like, “recycled water, underground basins, additional conservation … there’s no one simple solution it is a cobbling together of many small and medium sized projects.”
He explains that the Colorado River continues to decline despite conservation efforts and if that continues, cities could end up in a tough situation.
“There might be some situations where the shortages get deep enough where cities and water companies might actually have a situation where their demand outstrips their supplies,” Buschatzke said.
“We have not seen that, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility of that happening over the next 4 or 5 years.”
That’s why Ducey has drafted what he calls a “once in a generation” water plan.
Ducey has yet to publicly release the details of his plan.
“We can secure Arizona’s water future for the next 100 years with an Arizona State Water Authority,” Ducey told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s The Mike Broomhead Show last week.
“We can also use desalination so that we are in charge of our water future.”
Buschatzke said that with the $1 billion investment from Ducey, there have been discussions about creating a new state water authority,
“It would have the ability, using that money, to look at finding new water supplies from potentially big projects, one example … is a sea water desalination plant in the sea of Cortez in Mexico,” Buschatzke said.
Buschatzke stressed that water can cost up to two to three times more than what Arizona residents are used to paying for raw water.
He said there are water resources the state can deploy with infrastructure like recycling water and more conservation around homes, but especially the agricultural sector by using drip irrigation.
The funding for the governor’s water plan and Arizona’s future hangs in the balance of the Arizona Legislature to secure the necessary funding.
The legislature is expected to vote on the funding by the end of the session.