Co-authored by Mike Hummel, Salt River Project (SRP)
Considering the recent announcement of a serious water shortage on the Colorado River and federal attention on new infrastructure investments, now is the time for renewed focus on the future of Arizona’s water resources needed to help secure the continued prosperity of the Valley and state. While SRP does not rely on the Colorado River to fulfill our responsibilities, it is an important source of water for the region.
Phoenix is fortunate to have two major federal projects that supply water to the Valley from two distinct areas, the Salt River Project (SRP) from our own Arizona mountains, and the Central Arizona Project (CAP), which provides Colorado River water from the upper Rocky Mountains. These successful interconnected projects deliver roughly 2.3 million acre-feet of water per year – enough to supply approximately 7 million households annually.
Continued investment in our water infrastructure is critical to meeting Arizona’s future needs, especially given the need for additional storage capacity and delivery systems to prepare for a more variable climate. We recognize that many elements of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by the United States Senate will help our nation rebuild crucial infrastructure to ensure a prosperous economy.
Funding and authorization under this historic infrastructure package will support critical federal work and essential analysis of potential options for preparing central Arizona’s water infrastructure for increasingly challenging climate conditions. Evaluations are taking place regarding potential proactive measures, including allowing SRP to slow down floods and make use of additional water in the Roosevelt Dam Flood Control Space for use during summer months, and taking steps to improve infrastructure through modifications to Bartlett Dam to increase storage capacity, and building a new interconnection facility to allow flexibility for water stored in Salt and Verde dams and recovered from underground storage to move from SRP to the CAP system.
Research conducted by the Bureau of Reclamation in partnership with SRP on the effects of changing weather patterns shows that Arizona can expect more extreme precipitation patterns in the future, such as wetter wet periods and longer, more severe droughts. While research also shows that the watersheds SRP manages are resilient and able to withstand drought and the additional effects of climate change, we must continue to plan ahead. Improving operational flexibility and increasing the water storage capacity of SRP’s system will be critical to managing variations in central Arizona’s water supplies.
The options being evaluated for Roosevelt and Bartlett dams could increase our ability to capture and put to use renewable water supplies to serve the Valley by as much as 460,000 acre-feet per year. That’s enough water to serve around 1.4 million families for an entire year. Expanding our ability to use sustainable local supplies and increasing the flexibility and redundancy of existing infrastructure will help the region manage through shortages and reduce the need to draw from precious groundwater resources.
We must prepare for ongoing challenges to all our water supplies and continue investing in the infrastructure that supports the vitality of our economy. Valley communities and water managers have successfully managed and consistently delivered a reliable supply from the Salt and Verde River systems for well over a century. We owe that reliability to the careful and consistent planning and infrastructure investments made by our communities over the last century.
Today, incremental investment in our water infrastructure through innovative partnerships combined with a continued focus on flexible and adaptable operations will set up our communities for success in a more variable future.