Arizona’s water future is cloudy, worried experts agree …By Tom Beal … Arizona Daily Star …Tucson, Arizona … Published: 09.24.2009 …Arizona’s water future won’t be like its past, and the past is bad enough. Water managers only recently came to terms with the fact that their predictions of future water supply were based on incomplete historical records that did not reckon with periodic decade-long droughts and at least one that lasted half a century.
At a conference of water and climate scientists put on by the University of Arizona on Wednesday, water managers from Arizona’s major cities said the future seems even more uncertain with predictions that climate change will further reduce flow from Arizona’s watersheds. New sources of water will be needed, but they won’t be available in time for the coming crunch, said David Modeer, general manager of the Central Arizona Water Conservation District. “In the West, it’s pretty much uncharted territory once you move closer to that abyss of not enough water,” Modeer said.
Modeer, former director of Tucson Water, said he didn’t think the Colorado River, which supplies 1.5 million acre-feet of water to Arizona communities each year, had a supply problem as recently as 1998. A 10-year drought and better studies of the hydrological record made it apparent that the flow in the Colorado was historically less than what is promised to the states that border it. “We know it’s over-allocated,” he said. Drought and a better understanding of the historical record have changed the game in Arizona’s other major watershed.
“Things are upside-down,” said John Sullivan of the Salt River Project, which has supplied Phoenix-area farms and communities with water from the Salt and Verde rivers for 106 years. “There are things going on. What it is, I’m not sure.” Sullivan said SRP has had to cut allocations to its customers only three times in its history — but two of them occurred this decade during the extended drought. Sullivan said the SRP commissioned a tree-ring study of the watershed, and researchers at the University of Arizona uncovered a water past much like that of the Colorado — periodic droughts of 12 to 13 years and one in the 1500s that lasted 50 years.
The water managers appeared at the annual meeting of SAHRA (Sustainability of Semi-Arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas), which hosted the event in conjunction with Biosphere 2, the Water Sustainability Program and the Institute of the Environment. The conference question was how to plan for a future when “stationarity” is dead. Stationarity, said U.S. Geological Survey senior scientist Julio Betancourt, allows you to predict future natural events “within a fluctuating but well-defined variability.” That notion died, he said, with the realization that climate change makes the future unpredictable. Sharon Megdal, who moderated the panel on the state’s water future, said she liked Yogi Berra’s definition: “The future ain’t what it used to be.” In an earlier presentation, Dennis Lettenmaier, a professor of hydrology at the University of Washington, noted that predictions for reduced flow in the Colorado River by 2050 ranged from 6 percent to 40 percent, depending on the climate models used, and called for better targeted studies of the Colorado’s watershed. “Forecasts are not useful to us. Forecasts are wrong,” said Tucson Water’s Ralph Marra. “We don’t have a good sense of what the future range of credible possibilities is.” Marra, the utility’s water administrator, said Tucson Water must plan for a wide range of scenarios. He called for more and better science and for cooperation among water users. Modeer and Tom Buschatzke of the city of Phoenix also warned of an additional price for climate change.
The CAP moves its water uphill to Phoenix and Tucson with energy from a coal-fired plant in northeastern Arizona. A carbon tax could add up to $200 an acre-foot to his water bill, said Buschatzke. That would trigger a 13 percent rate increase on top of the regular annual increases, he said. “There will be some City Council people twitching,” he said. … Contact reporter Tom Beal at 573-4158 or firstname.lastname@example.org
DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE . . . When do governmental agencies and government officials just give us the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, it’s so much easier than the shell game they choose to attempt to perpetuate…?
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… People should never be afraid of their government, government should always be afraid of the people …
… “Everyone has the right to clean and accessible water, adequate for the health and well-being of the individual and family, and no one shall be deprived of such access or quality of water due to individual economic circumstances” …
… I am most willing to present and discuss any water issue with any audience in Arizona where open full disclosure and two way dialog is permitted. …
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