One hundred years ago, the Salt River Project was formed in response to a great drought. Today, as the water and power utility celebrates its centennial, the story is being repeated.
With SRP’s central Arizona watershed entering its sixth year of drought, general manager Richard Silverman is urging Valley residents to conserve water, and he said cities that directly supply water to their residents should be doing more to encourage water conservation.
But he added that Arizona water officials have prepared for such drought emergencies, and they will be able to manage the situation a while longer without requiring draconian cutbacks. In a meeting with Tribune editors Tuesday that coincided with the beginning of SRP’s 100th anniversary celebration, Silverman said the drought is “something we are really concerned about . . . but it is something we can do very little about.”
So far, the Valley has managed without mandatory water rationing largely because of the Central Arizona Project, which delivers water to the Valley from the Colorado River, he said. The Colorado River watershed covers five states and supplements water supplies from SRP’s reservoirs on the Salt and Verde rivers.
“Without the CAP, this would be a disaster,” he said. “If this had happened 15 years ago (before the CAP was finished), we would be under a lot more stress.” He added that pumping groundwater is providing another supplemental source.
Silverman said forecasters still believe wetter-than-normal conditions will prevail in the second half of February and during March, which could alleviate the situation. He added that storms to the north of Arizona this week are helping the Colorado River watershed, which also has experienced below-normal moisture so far this year. Still, he said SRP officials are starting to look at contingency plans in case the expected relief doesn’t materialize. The drought also points to the need to better plan for growth in Arizona, Silverman said.
Although the extensive water systems in Tucson and Phoenix have given those areas relatively secure supplies, rapid growth in developing areas such as Flagstaff, Prescott and Payson is heavily taxing their water systems, he said.
Silverman said he will be uneasy until growth issues in the state are given more attention. “It’s an issue on the table that needs to be resolved,” he said. Several East Valley municipal water officials contacted by the Tribune said more serious water conservation measures will be necessary if rains don’t arrive.
Tom Gallier, water utilities manager for Tempe, said the city’s water officials will have to meet with the City Council within a few months to plan a water management strategy for the next couple of years. He said he plans to wait until the winter snow season is over to have a clearer picture of the situation. Even if no more moisture falls this winter, Gallier said, Tempe probably has sufficient resources for the rest of 2003, but he added that plans need to be made to cope with the possibility of continued drought on both the Salt and Colorado River watersheds. “We had hoped for a normal winter, but right now it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen,” he said.
If more substantive conservation measures are needed, he said they would be coordinated with other Valley cities. Among the possibilities are reduced water consumption in city parks and increasing use of treated wastewater, Gallier said.
Mesa has been including messages in utility bills urging residents to be careful about their water use, said utilities conservation specialist Stacy Damp. With the city being forced to obtain water from higher-cost sources as the Salt and Verde rivers’ reservoirs run dry, there is a price incentive for residents to conserve, she said.
“We are telling customers that we have a good supply of resources, but they won’t last forever. If the drought lasts for some significant period of time, we might have to look at restrictions.”
But she added that Mesa water officials have not set a time for when that day might arrive.