A recent statement from the Arizona Department of Water Resources and Central Arizona Project is enough to make many reaching for a glass of water – or for those in the W.C. Fields camp, perhaps something stronger.
“As the drought in the Colorado River Basin extends beyond its 20th year, we anticipate the first-ever shortage declaration on the Colorado River. The shortage will result in a substantial cut to Arizona’s share of the river, with reductions falling largely to central Arizona agricultural users,” read the April 2 statement.
“These reductions are painful, but we are prepared.”
Ditto, said the City of Mesa.
While state agencies created a Drought Contingency Plan, the city is looking to boost its water efficiency.
And, according to Weston Brown, a spokesman with the city’s Water Resources Department, the Colorado River situation is in no need to get out the lifeboats.
“Mesa would not be affected by initial shortages on the Colorado River because of Arizona’s priority system,” Brown said.
The Colorado is a key part of Mesa’s water supply, but not the only player.
“Mesa has three primary sources of water that include surface water from the Colorado River, Salt and Verde rivers and groundwater supplies,” Brown said.
“The water you receive depends on where you live. Water is treated at one of three water treatment plants around Val Vista Drive, Brown Road and Signal Butte Road. The water then leaves the plant through Mesa’s distribution system for customer delivery.”
Though the city Water Resources Department similarly downplayed any potential shortages at its April 15 budget presentation for Mesa City Council, the city is in a somewhat unique position as one of the state’s fastest-growing cities.
Over the next five years, according to Brown, Mesa will have “a 7 percent increase year-over-year” demand for water.
While the population is being rapidly boosted by the likes of Eastmark and Cadence mega-communities, Mesa has successfully recruited large employers, such as Apple, Amazon and Google; the latter has yet to move forward on plans for a massive data center.
As big trucks have been long derided as “gas guzzlers,” data centers are now becoming known as “water guzzlers.”
Time magazine noted an August 2019 conservation conference led by the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association.
“A few weeks earlier in nearby Mesa, Google proposed a plan for a giant data center among the cacti and tumbleweeds,” it said.
“The town is a founding member of the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, but water conservation took a back seat in the deal it struck with the largest U.S. internet company. Google is guaranteed 1 million gallons a day to cool the data center, and up to 4 million gallons a day if it hits project milestones.”
Brown would not comment on Google’s projected demands, explained, “Due to customer privacy protocols, we cannot discuss specific customers.”
Brown noted there is an agreement in place for water guzzlers.
“About two years ago, the Mesa City Council approved the Large Customer Sustainable Water Allowance ordinance. This policy creates a water ‘budget’ for large water users who project their demand to be a half-million gallons or more of water per day,” he said.
“The ordinance requires these large users to stay within their water budgets and in some cases, they must bring their own water to the table – meaning they must acquire long-term storage credits on their own that they turn over to the city of Mesa,” Brown said.
“This ordinance protects Mesa water supplies, while allowing industries who bring economic development opportunity to still be able to locate in Mesa.”
As for smaller “sippers,” Mesa does not have any incentive plans for conservation, though it offers water-saving tips at mesaaz.gov/residents/water/water-conservation.
Unlike a few cities in California, Mesa does not have a facility that turns wastewater into drinking water.
But it does “recycle” some of what the city flushes away.
“Treated wastewater is beneficially reused primarily for agricultural purposes in exchange for surface water credits, cooling and recharge to the aquifer,” Brown said.
Indeed, the city recently posted about “one of Mesa’s largest infrastructure investments, the Greenfield Water Reclamation Plant.”
“Treated wastewater (effluent) from the plant is provided to farms for irrigation in exchange for vital surface water supplies – it’s a win, win for us and for farmers.”
According to the post, a $127 million plant expansion increased Mesa’s capacity of the existing plant by 10 million gallons per day.
Meanwhile, requests related to upgrading the city’s water services are trickling into City Council.
The May 3 agenda includes a $125,000 annual contract for software to process data from a sewer camera truck, “to improve efficiency and performance of coding pipe and manhole defects.”
And a $2.7 million annual contract is slated for equipment, parts, supplies and tools to be used “to maintain critical electrical infrastructure for water and wastewater sites for the Water Resources Department.”
Council will also consider a $1.4 million contract to install a water pipe between Pecos Road and Germann Road, “in advance of the construction of the future Signal Butte Road.”
Another $1.1 million is on tap “to replace aging commercial water meter assemblies that are at the end of their service life.”
Is a rate increase in the works?
“The City Council reviews utility rates each year during the budget process, which is happening now,” Brown said.
“So we don’t know yet if utility rates will go up for next year.”