Jun 6, 2022 - News

More cities in the Valley expected to enact drought plans

Illustration of a red garden hose coiled in a circle, forming a "no" symbol.
Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

In response to the ongoing "megadrought" in the western U.S., Phoenix and several other cities in the Valley have implemented the first stages of their drought plans.

  • Others are likely to follow suit in the near future as the situation worsens.

What's happening: Last week, Phoenix and Tempe became the most recent Arizona municipalities to initiate their drought plans, following Glendale, Mesa, Scottsdale, Surprise and Tucson.

Yes, but: No cities are forcing residents to limit their water usage, and many aren't cutting down usage at city-owned properties.

  • Tempe is only at Stage 0 of its plan, which includes increased drought updates, watershed monitoring and conservation messaging, but doesn't require any changes in water usage by the city or its residents.
  • Phoenix is in Stage 1 of its plan, which includes an "intensive public education and information program."
  • Glendale enacted Stage 0 of its plan in May, which Water Resource Manager Drew Swieczkowki called a "precursor" to Stage 1, but the city doesn't expect to move to the next level until after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation issues its 24-month study on Colorado River reservoir conditions in August.

Of note: Other cities are taking more substantial actions.

  • Mesa will attempt to reduce city departments' water usage by 5%.
  • Scottsdale asked residents to voluntarily reduce water usage by 5%, and halted water deliveries to people living outside the city, which cut off residents of Rio Verde from their primary water supply.

If the drought worsens — which is expected — cities could impose restrictions on water use by residents, but experts don’t expect that to become necessary for a while.

What they're saying: "Large cities in metro Phoenix have not imposed watering restrictions because they don’t yet need to," Warren Tenney, executive director of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, told Axios.

  • But restrictions could come as early as 2024, depending on what happens over the next couple years, Tom Buschatzke predicted. He's the director for the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

State of play: Each city has its own drought plan with different criteria for when they implement each stage.

  • For example, Tempe won't move to Stage 1 of its drought plan until the city sees downward trends in levels in the majority of its potable water production wells.
  • Cities also vary in their water sources, so the drought and the cuts to supplies from the Central Arizona Project (CAP), which delivers water from the Colorado River, that loom over Arizona if the drought worsens will affect them in different ways.

What's next: Several cities are likely to implement the initial stages of their drought plans.

  • The Buckeye City Council will vote on changes to its drought plan on Tuesday.
  • Gilbert expects to initiate its plan in the next few weeks, which will include reductions in water use by the city and a request for residents and businesses to voluntarily conserve water.
  • Staff will brief the Chandler City Council on water issues and the potential implementation of the city’s drought plan sometime in the next few weeks.

The big picture: The Colorado River basin, which includes Arizona, is suffering through a 22-year drought that ranks as the region's worst in about 1,200 years.

  • Under a 2019 drought contingency plan, Central Arizona Project water supplies, and additional cuts are likely as Lake Mead’s levels continue to fall.
  • Farmers in Pinal County have taken the brunt of the cuts, while future reductions that are expected in 2023 and 2024 will come from cities, tribes and private water companies.
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