Unsustainable Sprawl Testing Water Supplies in the Valley of the Sun

As more and more people move to the suburbs blossoming in the Phoenix metro area, local water officials are increasingly concerned about the region's ability to keep up with demand.

June 9, 2021, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Highway 93

spirit of america / Shutterstock

Since before the pandemic, Phoenix has seen explosive growth as people seek out its affordable housing, warm climate, and work opportunities. But as Sarah Tory reports in High Country News, "[t]he region doesn’t appear to have enough water for all the planned growth."

Despite the looming threat of a dwindling water supply in the American Southwest, "people keep moving here — to the hottest, driest part of the country," Tory writes. The population of the Phoenix area is expected to grow to more than 7 million by 2040, with author and sociologist Andrew Ross calling it the "least sustainable city on earth." In addition to a small amount of groundwater and treated wastewater, "[m]ost of the valley’s water supply comes from the winter snowpack in distant mountains, which melts and flows through a vast system of dams, reservoirs and canals."

"A 2019 report published by the Kyl Center warns that in the long term there likely won’t be enough surface water available from the Central Arizona Project to replenish the groundwater used by all the homes currently planned for the Phoenix suburbs." The ambitious growth plans of many local cities pose serious questions about where future water supplies will come from. "Next year, water levels on Lake Mead, the largest reservoir on the Colorado River, are projected to drop to their lowest levels yet, triggering the first-ever official shortage declaration by the federal government. The declaration will cut Arizona’s Colorado River supplies by a fifth." As Tom Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources put it, "[w]e’ll have to make some hard decisions."

Tuesday, June 1, 2021 in High Country News

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