Drought - We've Got This!

Man and child at kitchen sink

Working With Water - March 2019

With Lake Mead and Colorado River shortages in the news, you might wonder why is our community not discussing water use restrictions? Here’s one answer: Tucsonans have embraced water conservation for more than a generation.

If you lived in Tucson before 1980, you might remember an urban landscape of grass lawns and other high water use plants lining residential streets—requiring large amounts of water to survive. Tucson was solely dependent on water pumped from our aquifer, and high demand was causing groundwater levels to plummet.

In 1977, Tucson Water launched the “Beat the Peak” campaign aimed at persuading residents to water their lawns and landscapes less and only during off-peak times. The utility also implemented community conservation education and began offering rebates to encourage customers to make watersaving changes to their homes.

At that time, Tucson Water also adopted a progressive water rate structure that provides an incentive for customers to conserve.

Like the desert dwellers they are, Tucsonans responded. Since 1980 per capita water use has dropped 33%, from about 180 gallons per person per day to less than 120. As a result, Tucson uses the same amount of drinking water as it did 35 years ago even though the population has grown by more than 40 percent. Our community’s water use continues to decline even as our economy and population has grown. Today we are one of the most water-efficient communities in the West.

Reclaimed water signage

Another reason: Tucson is well positioned to respond to changes in Colorado River flow — Tucson Water has focused on ensuring diverse sources of supply for our water future.

In 1984, we built the “purple pipes” system to serve recycled water initially to golf courses and later to other large irrigators like schools and parks. In the 2000s, Tucson Water invested in the massive Clearwater Renewable Resource Facility, one of the nation’s leading systems for storing surface water in a natural aquifer. This has allowed us to store our unused Colorado River water—over 16 billion gallons, half a year’s demand each year—in the ground for future use. This also means that when we conserve water as a community, it doesn’t get used by another community or user. Rather, it is stored in local aquifers for later use.

Drought is a normal occurrence in our desert environment. Tucsonans have done a great job in adapting to that reality over the past few decades, using water ever more wisely even as our population and economy have grown and our quality of life has improved. Our work isn’t done. Conservation and efficient use of water will continue to play an important role especially as we face a changing climate. There are still steps each of us can take to use water more efficiently and reduce waste. Tucson Water will continue to offer rebates and incentives to support those steps.

When it comes to preparing for drought: Keep up the good work, Tucson!

To request a copy of the Smart Home Water Guide exiting Tucson Water website, a publication developed by the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association (AMWUA), send an e-mail with your name and postal mailing address to pico@tucsonaz.gov.

To read the complete March Water Matters newsletter, click here pdf.