Published: March 4, 2019

    Can the Water Infrastructure in Phoenix Outrun a Drought?

    Droughts happen all the time, but the persistent drought in the American Southwest is historic. A combination of climate change and patterns in arid areas has placed populations in desert cities in vulnerable positions. The city of Phoenix is facing dwindling water supplies, and is trying to act fast to avoid a future without water.

    According to Phoenix 12 News the city is facing a “looming environmental disaster,” and increasing water rates is one of the only ways to effectively combat the possibility that the Colorado River may one day dry up.

    After a failed vote on December 12 of last year city councilmembers approved a significant hike on water utility rates in a vote on January 9. The discussion around the vote concerned much more than the rate increase — the conversation about proposing utility rate hikes in Phoenix is a discussion about the city’s future.

    Many people in positions of power are still in denial about the realities of climate change, even though the grim reality has been scientifically evident for years. “We’re just starting to acknowledge the volatile water reality,” notes Kevin Moran of the Environmental Defense Fund in Yale Environment 360.

    Phoenix receives eight inches (or less) of rain each year, and Water Services Director Kathryn Sorensen has been actively fighting to ensure the people of Phoenix will still have water to drink if the over-allocated Colorado River does the unthinkable and runs out of water.

    Making significant changes to any city’s infrastructure is expensive, and Phoenix has an estimated 7,000 miles of pipelines under the city. That figure is about the same as that of Los Angeles, but Phoenix has a fraction of the population to bear the burden of the infrastructure costs.

    Still, the alternative to heavy costs is a cost of human life. The Colorado River system supplies 40 percent of the city’s water, and with a collapse of that magnitude any metropolis would be thrown into upheaval if proper safeguards and other systems weren’t in place. “The outlook is terrible,” noted Sorensen. “I’m worried about the Colorado River system crashing.”

    The approved plan calls for $1.5 billion to upgrade the water infrastructure and systems. While the southern areas of Phoenix derive their drinking water from other sources, part of the massive budget is intended to build infrastructure to pipe water to the northern neighborhoods of the city that solely rely on the Colorado River.

    One of the existing strategies to curb water waste and maintain the current levels of water reservoirs in the area is to drastically reduce water use. If you have never assessed your water use you will be surprised to learn how much water can go to waste from relying on older appliances or taking long showers. Try our water footprint calculator to evaluate your water use and make changes to your routine.

    When water is scarce treating public drinking water can prove tricky. Learn how extended droughts can affect your water quality and take the proper precautions to protect your family from any possible contaminants that result from a limited water supply.