Those following the drought and the drying up of the Colorado River, which provides more than half of Mesa’s water, may not be surprised that diminishing supply has prices spiking.
About 55 percent of Mesa’s water comes from the Colorado River/Lake Mead, delivered to the city via the Central Arizona Project. Salt River Project provides about 31 percent.
SRP pours 32,812 acre feet into Mesa at a cost of $1.4 million. CAP funnels 49,093 of increasingly-scarce Colorado water to Mesa, charging the city $8.7 million.
An acre foot of water equals about 326,000 gallons – or enough water to cover an acre of land 1-foot deep, according to the Water Education Foundation.
Mesa is currently paying $211 per acre-foot of CAP water – far more than the $40.18 per acre-foot Mesa pays SRP.
And the gap is widening.
As City Manager Chris Brady remarked about SRP water: “It’s very cheap relative to the Colorado River.”
Costs the city pays both suppliers are expected to rise sharply over the next five years. Indeed, by 2026, CAP is expected to increase its rates for Mesa by 38 percent. SRP’s rates are anticipated to increase by a more modest 18 percent by 2026.
And that’s just for the water itself.
Other costs to upgrade and expand systems will also cost customers. The water utility plans an $82 million upgrade in east Mesa alone, for instance — and another $98 million expansion of the Signal Butte Treatment Plant.
But there is some good news on the Mesa water front.
At a study session, Mesa City Council heard about a multi-city agreement with SRP “for temporary deviation from the water control plan for operation of flood control space in Modified Roosevelt Dam.”
The cities will pay around $1.5 million (Mesa’s share is about $55,000) over a five-year period, beginning in 2023. Mesa City Council approved the agreement at its Sept. 13 meeting.
The agreement will allow Mesa to
add up to 14,400 acre-feet of water over five years.
At about 3,000 acre feet per year, that represents a 10 percent boost to the SRP water supplied to the city.
A dam good thing
Twenty-six miles northeast of Tortilla Flat, the Roosevelt Dam is 357 feet high; it forms Theodore Roosevelt Lake as it impounds the Salt River.
Twenty-five years ago, a $430 million project raised the height of the dam by 77 feet, doubling the lake’s capacity.
The dam-raiser was a partnership that included the Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Maricopa County Flood Control District and the cities of Mesa, Chandler, Tempe, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Glendale.
According to Brian Draper, Mesa’s Water Resources advisor, the “temporary deviation” that allows the city to get extra water from SRP is perfect timing.
“This definitely gives us some drought mitigation and helps us be a little more resilient and meet some of the economic growth going on,” Draper said.
While CAP officials worriedly watch water marks dropping precariously along the Colorado River, the situation is markedly better – and wetter – in the SRP reservoirs.
“Normally, monsoon season doesn’t make a dent in the supply of water, but this year we had a robust monsoon,” Draper said.
“We started out (the year) right around 60 percent capacity full. That’s the entire SRP system. This week, we’re sitting at 70 percent.”
Mayor John Giles smiled in near-disbelief.
“The irony is there are record lows at Lake Powell and Lake Mead,” Giles said.
With one water supplier struggling and the other relatively healthy, Brady added, “We’re fortunate, having that flexibility...We’re trying to do everything we can to diversify.”
Councilman Mark Freeman said the Roosevelt Dam boost “is a great deal for the city. This reinsures the city’s water supply.”
That supply is expected to be increasingly used, as the city’s business footprint rapidly grows.
Six national and international companies – Comarch, based in Poland, EdgeCore, RagingWire/NTT, Apple, Google and most recently Facebook – have signed development agreements to build data centers along the Elliot Road Tech Corridor.
Apple is the only data center in operation, with Google’s plans remaining a mystery. The others have started construction.
Data centers are typically big water users.
City documents show Facebook’s water use is expected to range from 550 acre feet per year during early phases to up to 1,400 acre feet per year when all six buildings on the site are operational.
But, according to Melanie Roe, a Facebook spokeswoman, “Facebook is committed to restoring more water than the new data center will consume.
“The company has invested in three water restoration projects that will together restore over 200 million gallons of water per year in the Colorado River and Salt River basins and will help provide greater water security for the entire state.”
East Valley Partnership
Water was a big discussion point at this week’s East Valley Partnership meeting.
Bill Garfield is the director of the Arizona Water Company, which has water systems in two dozen communities, including Apache Junction and Miami.
Garfield stressed the CAP cuts will be to agricultural operations in central Arizona.
Even so, he added, “We are in an era of increasing pressures on our water supply, as the drought continues... supplies from the Colorado River are still in dire conditions.”
Garfield worried about future CAP cut scenarios:
“As the drought continues and shortage worsens, it could affect those industrial users and contractors.”
That means cities may have to tap into underground storage facilities, at some point.
“The region is growing,” Garfield noted. “The East Valley Partnership (has a) primary focus of economic development. Generally, that requires water.
“We are in an era of some diminishment of our supplies. The challenge will be how do we prepare for economic growth? ...I think we’re at a pivotal point.”
Jack Sellers, District 1 representative of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, pointed to Intel’s $20 billion expansion in Chandler as a great example of “smart growth.”
“Intel is phenomenal at how well they reuse water,” Sellers said. “I believe they’re at 95 percent recycling and the goal is 100 percent.”
Garfield tagged in on that thought, noting there are competing philosophies: “There are two camps: those that say we need more supply and those who say we need to use our supplies in a more efficient way.”