Central Arizona Project

The Central Arizona Project canal carries water from the Colorado River to Southern Arizona. The CAP water is important for the future of the region

Build it, and they will come — well, not if there isn’t any water. 

More than food, shelter or happiness, water is by far the most important key to life, and the massive civilization in which humanity has surrounded itself. 

Whether directly from a well, the tap, bottled or via many other sources, water is by far one of the most precious and vital resources found on Earth.

Being situated in the Sonoran Desert, any Tucsonan is keenly aware of how precious water truly is and how important it is to have a guaranteed supply for the whole community. 

Over the course of Arizona’s history, people have often looked into the ground to find something to drink, boring deep into the Earth and into the water tables which lie below.

As the state grew, so too did its water consumption, eventually outstripping the amount of which could be naturally replenished. In order to combat a growing issue, the Central Arizona Project was signed into action by President Johnson in 1968 as part of the Colorado River Basin Project Act of 1968. The purpose of the CAP is to divert water from the Colorado River into Central and Southern Arizona.

Nearly 40 years later, and water is no less important. Quite the contrary, the states serviced by the Colorado River, chiefly California, have recently been under severe draught restrictions and warnings.

In order to relay the current condition of the Colorado River Basin, the CAP and water in general, CAP partnered with the University of Arizona Water Resource Research Center to present a seminar on the current conditions and future prospects of maintaining sustainable water in Southern Arizona.

The event, held at The Leo Rich Theatre, brought together a panel of experts from various water-related businesses, including members of the CAP board of directors, the Arizona Department of Water Resources, city and regional employees and others.

Director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources Tom Buschatzke relayed the current state of Arizona’s water.

The state uses 7 million acre feet of water a year, 40 percent of which comes from the Colorado River, more than 20 percent of which comes directly via the CAP. Other supplies include in-state rivers, groundwater and permanent reclaim water.

The bulk of the water the state uses goes into agriculture, while the second largest amount being used for residential purposes. 

While 7 million acre feet per year may seem like a lot, a point Buschatzke made clear was that Arizona is actually performing quite well in terms of water usage, coming in under the tally from 1957. Since ’57, the state population has increased six times over, and the GDP has increased nearly 20 times over.

Water consumption spiked in the intervening decades, peaking in the late ’80s. Since then, conservative water practices has allowed the state to corral its use, despite an increase in population.

How did the state, as well as the Southwestern region, achieve such an impressive feat? Being the only state in the lower Colorado River Basin with mandatory water conservation laws, many water experts were surprised when Arizona was lumped in with states like California.

The answer is just as complex as the problem, though one theme seemed to be consistent when the various panelists spoke about their views of Arizona water usage: tackling the problem as a cohesive community.

“There are a lot of big ideas out there today that are coming from the top down,” said Karilyn Roach, coordinator for the Community Water Coalition, “but I think what’s just as important is what can come from the bottom up.”

Though each expert held a slightly different point of view or approach, all agreed that only by working together could future water problems be surmounted.

While Arizona is in good standing water-wise today, that might not always be the case. 

One of the few reasons the state has been able to stay wet is because of the large amount of water credit the state holds, allowing previously deposited excess water to be sent back into the district when other sources begin to dry up.

Within a few years, the risk of draught and water shortage will only increase, but the solutions lies in each consumer, whether private individual or large corporation.