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Southwest Water Agencies Under Siege

April 1, 2011


Water is life. There simply is not enough fresh water to meet the needs of the Southwestern United States. Thus, my interest in rainwater recapture.

I was raised in California and for a time lived in Arizona in the 70s. A couple years before I returned to California I voted on the CAP — Central Arizona Project. It has taken on a critical role in fresh water storage as the Southwest is in its 12th year of drought.

When you live in the desert, you come to appreciate water in ways you could not imagine. When it is 100+ degrees for weeks on end, water is the lifeline. When hiking into the Superstition Mountains and there is no greenery, water become a keen focus – what you carry is what will sustain you. On hot days I used to drive up to Canyon and Apache lakes. They were a respite for the oppressive heat.

When I lived in Arizona there was developing political and social interest in concerted water conservation, water usage, and water management. The Central Arizona Project was the result of that interest.

Central Arizona Project is designed to bring about 1.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water per year to Pima, Pinal and Maricopa counties. CAP carries water from Lake Havasu near Parker to the southern boundary of the San Xavier Indian Reservation southwest of Tucson. It is a 336-mile long system of aqueducts, tunnels, pumping plants and pipelines and is the largest single resource of renewable water supplies in the state of Arizona.

In 1971, the Central Arizona Water Conservation District was created to provide a means for Arizona to repay the federal government for the reimbursable costs of construction and to manage and operate CAP. Construction began at Lake Havasu in 1973 and was completed twenty years later south of Tucson. The entire project cost over $4 billion to construct.

In the WSJ this week was this article: Wet Winter Can’t Slake West’s Thirst.

A couple excerpts:

Water managers warn that Lake Mead, the West’s largest and most important reservoir, remains perilously near the level of 1,075 feet at which the U.S. Secretary of the Interior would likely declare a water shortage, for the first time in the nearly century-old history of the Colorado River system. Such a shortage would parch Nevada, Arizona and California with severe water-use restrictions. There alone, some 20 million people depend on Lake Mead’s supplies.

Water agencies are scrambling to avert a hot dry disaster. The Central Arizona Project has stockpiled four million acre-feet of its Colorado River water in underground aquifers, said David Modeer, general manager of the water agency in Phoenix. The Southern Nevada Water Authority in 2009 began a $780 million project to build a third intake facility from Lake Mead as part of a plan to keep siphoning water to Las Vegas if the two existing intakes, which are at a higher level, end up too low to pump declining water levels. That project, which entails digging a tunnel three miles under the lake, is set to be completed in 2014.

Already, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 19 million people, has lost nearly half a million acre-feet, or half of what it imports annually from the Colorado. Federal officials ordered the agency in 2003 to stop using water from the river that had been designated as a surplus prior to the drought, said Jeff Kightlinger, general manager of the district.

The Southern California district, which gets half its imported water from the Colorado, has since made up the shortfall through conservation and efficiency measures, but Mr. Kightlinger said the outlook is worrisome.

Read entire article, click here

Sources: CAP web site, click here

Wikipedia, click here

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