Over Memorial Day weekend, Governor Doug Ducey traveled to Israel, in part, to visit a desalination plant holding a proposed solution to Arizona’s ongoing drought.
Desalination removes minerals from water, making water sources like seawater into a potable resource.
The Israel trip marked a continuation of Ducey’s proposed plan mentioned in his State of the State Address last summer. At that time, Ducey introduced the idea of a $1 billion investment into Mexico for desalination. The governor has his eye on the Sea of Cortez, or the Gulf of California, bordered by the west coast of Mexico and the Baja California peninsula.
Israel’s desalination plants not only reversed their drought — they created a water surplus. Their Sorek desalination plant alone provides enough drinking water for 1.2 million people a day.
Although, it would likely be years before Arizona reaps the benefits of desalinated water. Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Tom Buschatzke predicted to KTAR that it would be another decade before the state relied on desalinated water.
Arizona has been in a long-term drought for nearly 30 years. The National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates that about 90 percent of Arizonans are impacted by drought, or 6.4 million people. The NOAA added that 2022 marked the state’s sixth driest year in its history.
The ongoing drought was exacerbated recently by the reclassification of the Colorado River, Arizona’s largest renewable water supply, to Tier One drought status. The federal government’s reclassification reduced Arizona’s water allotment.
Cities have adapted to heed the drought. In January, the city of Scottsdale asked residents to reduce their water usage by five percent. Resident compliance may not remain voluntary: city officials communicated that their next step would make water restrictions mandatory.
During his visit, Ducey also visited with Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and toured their border wall as part of the other two focuses of his trip: trade and border security.
On Tuesday, the city of Scottsdale asked residents to reduce water usage by five percent after the Bureau of Reclamation declared Arizona would have its Colorado River water claims reduced because of the river’s historic reclassification within Tier One drought status. As a result, Arizona had its 2.8 million acre-feet per year (AFY) claim on the river reduced by 512,000 AFY.
The city’s request may not be a suggestion for long: the announcement fell under Stage One of their Drought Management Plan (DMP), in which residents may voluntarily cut back on water usage. If city officials feel it necessary, then residents will be ushered into a California-esque Stage Two: mandatory water usage restrictions and water shortage surcharges.
Scottsdale Water Executive Director Brian Biesemeyer classified the city’s response as run-of-the-mill. Biesemeyer said Scottsdale residents needed to learn to live with less.
“Water conservation programs have been in place in Scottsdale for decades and many Scottsdale residents and businesses know their value,” said Biesemeyer. “Now we need to step up our game and take water conservation to the next level. With less water coming to us from the Colorado River in 2022, we need to learn to live with less and that starts every time we turn on the tap, flush the toilet or start our irrigation systems.”
Those who will feel the most immediate impact of the claim reduction will be farmers. Pinal County agriculture relies on the river water transported by the Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal.
The Bureau of Reclamation elevated the Colorado River to Tier One drought status last August.
The city suggested residents adjust their irrigation timers, sign up for a water management portal called WaterSmart, remove grass from their properties, budget their water, and consult a free irrigation specialist to check outdoor water efficiency.