The Grand Canyon, the Mojave Desert, Monument Valley…If you think about Arizona, images of beautiful water-filled canals and orange groves aren’t exactly what come to mind.
Yet, these are exactly the pictures that were painted for Americans by a government trying to convince them to move into the state in the early 1900s.
As a result, water infrastructure in Arizona, rather than being established and built to sustain desert cities in the arid terrain, was instead engineered to create the promised oasis.
In order to give the public the lush, green, urban paradise with the beautiful desert landscape that they desired, the rivers and lakes were dammed and controlled through massive projects like the Hoover and Glen Canyon Dams and the Central Arizona Project canal.
However, as researchers at Arizona State University have observed, trying to make Phoenix to be like Chicago is no longer sustainable; the Colorado River is running dryer every year.
“The Colorado River is not a natural system, Smith, from the School of Sustainability, pointed out. No one wants the shortage declaration and the mandatory cuts that will accompany it, so an enormous amount of shuffling happens to prevent that.
“It’s a highly plumbed river,” Smith said. “And so they manage it. So they’ll look at Mead, and they’ll look at Powell and they’ll say, ‘You know, let’s take a little bit more from Powell now and bring it down to Mead because it looks like they’ll be some better inflows into Powell. … So we’ll see what the bureau does when it gets close to 1,075.”
It’s an enormous system to manage. There are two countries, upper- and lower-basin states, treaties, regulatory backgrounds, judicial backgrounds, and legal precedents.
The whole mess is collectively called the Law of the River. It’s a delicately balanced system.
At a recent water meeting at the state Capitol, one panelist described it as a Rubik’s Cube, with each square representing a different stakeholder. Turn the cube once, and the whole system goes out of whack.
Water managers aren’t expecting a rosy future.
“Climate change is already a huge challenge for us,” said Kathryn Sorensen, water services director for the city of Phoenix. “We can expect that the flows of our local rivers, the Salt and Verde, will diminish and become more variable or potentially turbid. We can expect that we will enter into shortage on the Colorado River and probably stay in shortage for quite some time.”
However, re-education and removal of the previous “oasis” mindset, accompanied by infrastructure planning for the reality of desert cities in a state of drought, will go a long way toward finding a sustainable solution to the problem.
Climate Adaptation is going to be a challenge that is with us for many decades.
Infrastructure asset management analysis, tools, and planning provide a good basis for tackling the challenges of climate adaptation including sustainable water use.
Check out the Inframanage.com Climate Adaptation site for additional information on this subject.