Water, Our Limited Supply

There is no doubt that our Sonoran Desert is a glorious and wonderful place. The mountains, valleys, cacti and other vegetation as well as the numerous animals and their habitats are all part of our Sonoran Desert home. Thankfully Webster’s definition of a desert, “an arid barren tract incapable of supporting any considerable population without an artificial water supply,” doesn’t apply here. But can we afford to keep pressing our luck?

Pima County’s population is over 1 million people and we continue to rapidly grow! Tucson’s aquifer continues to drop 4 ft per year and we continue to rapidly grow! There are plans being drawn up now to recharge our aquifer, our drinking, cooking and bathing water, with treated effluent and we continue to rapidly grow! We must plan realistically for the long-term use of this most precious resource now, before it becomes a crisis.

There are no easy solutions. But our current leadership has chosen to merely gloss over or ignore altogether these alarming trends. They try to pretend there is no long-term problem by looking at the State through “aqua colored glasses” instead! Responsible leadership means looking squarely at the situation, taking appropriate actions, and planning for the long term.

If we have a water usage plan that is based in reality, the water of the Sonoran Desert should be a sustainable resource. Such a plan must look at the hard issues of growth, the appropriate uses of treated effluent, the need for water reclamation and the harvesting of our run off water to recharge the aquifer. It must also consider the effects that such harvesting would have on the intricate balance of our riparian areas and ecosystems. We must understand that the Colorado River and other waterways throughout the state are in jeopardy and cannot be relied upon for future growth. A reasonable water usage plan would include the need for homeowners and developers alike to develop gray water and rainwater harvesting and reclamation systems to maintain their yards, landscapes and even their swimming pools.

We must make sure that waterways and riparian habitats continue to be protected under the Clean Water Act. It is imperative that the definitions of waterways used in this act continue to include our intermittent streams, washes and rivers. The San Pedro and its riparian areas, the Santa Cruz and many other rivers and washes are all in jeopardy.

There are no quick fixes. Every action we could take has its consequences. We saw an example of this when Tucson Water first delivered CAP water to the Southside and we had to spend over one million dollars repairing pipes and plumbing. We see that central Tucson is literally sinking 1/8 inch per year as we continue to drain our aquifer. The current ratio between aquifer drainage and recharge is nearly 3 to 1, a totally unsustainable ratio! It is also shortsighted to believe that we can continue to grow as we do if we were to accomplish all the goals of water conservation, harvesting and recharging. We must first offset the impacts of current use of water and overcome the existing pumping deficit before we can allocate more water to growth. But here is the conundrum; Arizona is economically dependent on growth and tourism.

All of this water usage needs to be addressed. This can go a long way towards protecting our waterways and riparian areas, while allowing for development, recreation, industry and agriculture. Tucson uses 114,000,000,000 gallons of water per year. In the hot months of spring and summer 60% of our water is used outdoors. Tucson’s golf courses use 5% of our water. Two thirds of the water that our 43 golf courses use is treated artesian well drinking water. Less than one half of the golf courses use treated effluent. Here is another conundrum; I like golf and golf is a major attraction for tourism.

I’m confident that together as a State we can resolve this problem through a combination of many available conservation techniques. Some techniques are as old as the 5000-year history of this area and some are quite new. We must reuse, recycle and utilize new technologies. We have the genius of our local small businesses, the research facilities of our first rate university system, and the ability to provide tax incentives, rebates and other appropriate legislation through the Legislature to add teeth to any solid plan of action.

Together we can find the solutions, but we need Legislators who really understand the problems, who won’t just sweep them under the rug, who are willing to accept their roles as the caretakers of our natural resources and who are willing to make the hard decisions that they are elected to make.

Here are some things we can and should do.

Kent would push for more stringent enforcement by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. More than 40% of industrial and municipal facilities in Arizona discharge over twice the amount of pollutants than the law allows. You cannot go swimming at Slide Rock in Oak Creek Canyon without knowing that they close the park regularly because of high levels of E.coli in the water.

Kent would also oppose any legislation that allows the pumping and importation of water from outside Active Management Areas. The Big Chino Basin, the upper portion of the Verde River, and the San Pedro River and riparian areas are already at risk from over pumping and pollutant dumping. A growth vs. sustainable vs. renewable water supply equation must be established and maintained.

We should additionally support legislation that would define allowable uses of treated effluent. Kent is opposed to its use to recharge drinking water supplies and aquifers. However he would support its use for golf courses, college campuses, industry and mining. And speaking of mining, Kent is opposed to the opening of the Rosemont Mine. One of the main reasons for this would be the devastating effect on the water supplies of neighboring communities as Green Valley. Kent plans to continue to work with other groups and elected officials to make sure that opening of this mine doesn’t move forward and isn’t approved.

The Sonoran Desert is capable of supporting a considerable population but only if that population considers the consequences of its acts and plans accordingly. (Back to Home Page)