In the mid-1980s, when Maricopa County had a population of 1.8 million, I recall hearing projections that the population of metro Phoenix would top 4 million by the early part of the 21st Century.
“No way,” I thought to myself. “Where are they going to get water for all those people?”
Well, here it is, 2019, and the population of Maricopa County is now 4.4 million, the fourth most populous county in the United States.
Guess what? They’re still trying to figure out how to get water for all those people.
That’s the motive behind the proposed deal between the City of Queen Creek and a farm in Cibola to send 2,800 acre feet of water from the farm’s fourth priority allocation to Queen Creek. Queen Creek is a rapidly growing Phoenix suburb, and they need to find new sources of water so they’re not depleting their groundwater sources.
There are certain aspects of the deal that make sense. It’s not really a lot of water. Queen Creek can use that water for economic development, and that will mean more tax revenue for the state. The farm land can be turned into housing, and that would generate more property tax revenue for La Paz County.
There’s just one problem. As Lake Havasu City Council Member Gordon Groat put it so well at an Arizona Department of Water Resources hearing in Parker, the river communities do not have a lot of water to spare. The allocations for California, Nevada and Arizona were drawn up in a year that was unusually wet. As a result, less water comes through the river every year than is allocated. The only reason it isn’t all drained off is because all the users aren’t taking their full allocated share.
On top of this, we are now in a drought that could lead to mandatory cutbacks of Colorado River water deliveries. The drought is so bad, they’re seeing rock formations at Lake Mead and Lake Powell that haven’t been seen since Hoover Dam and Glenn Canyon Dam were built.
Let’s get real here: we human beings have built several major metropolitan areas and large farms in a desert that is fed by one major source of water, and that major source of water is severely overused.
William Mulholland, the builder of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, was asked once if he was proud of it. He said he wasn’t. He felt frustrated by it. It had turned Los Angeles into a perpetual growth machine and he constantly had to be looking for more and larger sources of water.
Arizona has become a perpetual growth machine, with our population more than 10 times bigger than it was in 1950. Our communities and metro areas are scrambling to find ever more sources of water.
It’s time the entire Southwest got serious about finding alternate sources of water. Perhaps California should put the money they’re putting into high speed rail into desalinization projects for Pacific Ocean water. In the end, that would likely help more people, though it won’t be as glamourous.
Water in the desert is a precious resource. We need to start treating it as such.