PHOENIX — As Lake Mead hits its lowest point in almost 85 years, Arizona’s two largest cities are taking steps to bank water for a not-so-rainy day.
Phoenix and Tucson have formed a partnership that will store excess water from Phoenix’s Central Arizona Project allotment in aquifers to the south. In times of extreme drought, Phoenix can cash in Tucson’s CAP credits or Tucson can tap into the Phoenix reserves.
“These agreements represent a major accomplishment, a real partnership between our two cities, working together for the future of water planning, water preservation and conservation in the state of Arizona,” Mayor Greg Stanton said at a news conference Wednesday.
Tucson Mayor Jonathan Rothschild said he and Stanton believe in cooperating in ways that benefit both cities.
“Today we are building on this history of cooperation on what I believe is the most important issue to both our cities: a safe and secure water supply,” he said.
In a pilot phase, Tucson will store 850 acre-feet of water from Phoenix’s allotment from the CAP, which runs 336 miles from the Colorado River to both cities. If the pilot is a success, Phoenix could store up to 40,000 acre-feet annually in Tucson’s aquifers.
The Tucson City Council had already approved the partnership, and the Phoenix City Council approved it Wednesday afternoon.
Kathryn Sorensen, director of water services for Phoenix, said Phoenix can store excess water in its aquifers but doesn’t have enough wells to pump it out.
“Phoenix could go out and drill a bunch of wells,” Sorensen said. “But this is just a smarter more efficient solution that really leverages what’s best about both utilities and creates benefits for both communities.”
If the project expands, an estimated $314 million in upgrades would be needed to Tucson Water’s Clearwater Renewable Resource Facility in Avra Valley. Sorensen said Phoenix and Tucson would work together to cover that cost.
Stanton said the agreement between Phoenix and Tucson may be a model for other cities.
“While we continue to pray for heavy snow this winter, in the meantime we’re going to take action to support the residents in our respective cities,” he said.