15 April 2011

What's the Matter with Arizona? Part 2

Following on part 1 of this series on water and related institutional issues in Arizona, today's topic might be considered part of both the problems, and the possible solutions.  In time, as the series progresses, all will become more clear...

John Mawhinney is a luminary for reasoned approaches in Arizona water, at one time the majority leader in the state Senate and later a leader in more specific roles. In April 2010 he also had published an op-ed column, this in the Arizona Daily Star, for which he described in concise language a vital part of the history that is relevant here:
"The Department of Water Resources was created in the 1980 Groundwater Management Act. This law marked a historic turnaround in Arizona water policy. Arizona, for once, was No. 1 in something, the leader in water management. We recognized there was no future for a profligate Arizona. Wall Street and investors agreed there would be no real economic growth unless and until we gained control of our water future.
"In 1980 the Department of Water Resources became responsible for devising, implementing and enforcing the new water rules designed to slowly but certainly cure the overdraft habit. The law required Southern Arizona to plan to reach 'safe yield,' or sustainability, by 2025.
"In the 30 years since adoption of the Groundwater Management Act we have completely changed the ways we use, conserve and plan for water. Now we have the Central Arizona Project. We require new subdivisions to commit to renewable water supplies before they can build. We use reclaimed water on many of our golf courses and hope to cover more. We have a start on gray-water systems and conservation measures, even a drought plan."
By "Southern Arizona" Mr. Mawhinney was referring to the most populous areas of the state, especially Phoenix and Tucson.  The term "safe yield" is a bit less clear, having eventually been identified with the concept of "sustainable use."  Politically, the Groundwater Management Act of 1980 (GMA) set a sustainability planning horizon at 45 years into the future, meaning that pumping could continue as needed as long as an aquifer was not drained completely within that time period.  Hydrologically, however, it's different: sustainability is perpetual, and does not have a 45-year planning horizon.  This definition is far more strict and means that all wells drawing on a groundwater aquifer would not exceed, in sum total of their pumping, the overall recharge of the aquifer by all sources including precipitation, runoff, snowmelt, and stream infiltration.  A handy conceptual diagram of an alluvial aquifer, common in southern Arizona and provided in publications by the UA Water Resources Research Center (WRRC) is often helpful in understanding the groundwater resources at issue:

from the Arizona Water Map, UA WRRC

There are other problems with this approach, some physiographic and climatological, others regulatory.  The state of Arizona spans three major provinces distinguished by their geology and topography, shown at left below.  Combined with the precipitation climatology for Arizona, shown at right below, these make for numerous distinct ecoregions throughout the state.

from the Arizona Water Map, UA WRRC

from the Arizona Water Map, UA WRRC; precipitation color scale ranges from 3 inches (darkest red) to 35 inches (darkest blue)
The state's major watersheds are shown below at left, and the subsurface aquifers defined by the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) are shown below at right. There is some match between surface watersheds and underlying aquifers, but it is important to note significant correlations between the state's major streams and their alluvial aquifers, especially in the southern and western portions of Arizona.

from the Arizona Water Map, UA WRRC
from the Arizona Water Map, UA WRRC

from Volume 8 (draft version) of the Arizona Water Atlas
As these southern areas are the more populous parts of the state, this is where we are interested for this discussion. The 1980 GMA established the ADWR, and for regulatory purposes the ADWR defined four (later to become five) Active Management Areas (AMA).  These covered the Prescott, Phoenix, and Tucson metro areas and the larger part of Pinal County, a major agricultural region between Phoenix and Tucson.  The fifth AMA was later split off from the Tucson AMA in its southernmost area, corresponding to the watershed of the transboundary Santa Cruz River.  For the purposes of water accounting, AMA boundaries conformed to surface watersheds, not to county or municipal boundaries.  According to the Arizona Water Atlas,
"In 2006, just over 80% of the state's 6.2 million inhabitants lived in the planning area.  In 2003, AMA populations ranged from approximately 32,000 residents in the Santa Cruz AMA to over 3,400,000 residents in the Phoenix AMA.  The Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) estimates that the state's population will likely double by 2050 to over 12 million people.  The majority of this growth will occur in the AMA Planning Area."
from the Arizona Water Map, UA WRRC
In a series of ten-year plans capped by one final five-year plan, the goal of the AMAs has been the individual achievement of "safe yield" by 2025.  But no single plan can cover all the areas of interest, as there are different dominant water uses in the various AMAs: Tucson has been focused on municipal and industrial draws; Prescott hosts a blend of municipal and agricultural uses; Phoenix contains a varied mix of municipal, industrial and surrounding agricultural users; Pinal and Santa Cruz are comprised primarily of agricultural users, with some growing industrial use in the Pinal AMA.  The timing of significant rainfall in these regions, such as any rainfall really occurs, is outside the major growing seasons and may, at best, supplement agricultural irrigation during the late summer North American monsoon season.  The Central Arizona Project, which I will discuss in the next part of this series, brings Arizona's share of the Colorado River (1.5M acre-feet) to the central and southern metropolitan areas of the state, but this allocation only covers 15-20% of the needs of residents, industry and farmers in the areas targeted for special groundwater management.  The remainder, given scanty rainfall and even less runoff to the state's streams and rivers, is provided in large part by groundwater pumping.  Registered wells within the AMAs number in the tens of thousands; information on these can be found through two interfaces developed by the ADWR.  The real trouble is, not all wells are registered, and even if they were, the accounting would still be overly complicated by the legal severance of surface water and groundwater resources...

The full text of rules and regulations applied to the ADWR and its activities are given in Title 45 of the Arizona Revised Statutes (ARS).  Water rights, including the prior appropriation doctrine, are fully defined and described in these articles, as are all of the operations and responsibilities of the ADWR itself.  So also are three troubling exceptions to reality: (1) surface water and groundwater are separate entities with severed rights, their differentiation depending on the method of extraction, (2) although the management plans (ARS 45-563) are scheduled with the explicit goal of "safe yield" in the three urbanized AMAs within 45 years (ARS 45-562), there is no time period specified over which the sustainable balance itself in a groundwater basin should be assessed, and (3) groundwater wells that pump less than 35 gallons per minute (gpm) for non-agricultural uses are exempted from registration with and reporting to the ADWR (ARS 45-454).  The first exception ignores completely the physical and often natural transfer between surface and subsurface waters, an essential reality of hydrologic science and engineering.  The second exception makes regulatory analysis both more ambiguous and more difficult:  a balanced annual water budget is a far more strict condition on groundwater use than long-term analysis, during which climatological cycles and their effects on surface water availability can be taken into account and the behavior of affected residents and industries can be conditioned more effectively.

Finally, the third exception essentially ignores an unnumbered quantity of water users and the aggregate volume of their groundwater extraction.  How, in essence, is water accounting for the purposes of conservation, management, and planning to proceed without the recognition of essential physical processes and the collection of these vital data?  At 35 gpm, or 50,400 gallons per day, one can supply a community of almost 200 people with a very-comfortable consumptive use of 1000 liters per person.  That's tantamount to a new 50-home development supplied (precariously, if without storage) by a single well and completely off-the-books according to the ADWR.  And the number of such exempt wells throughout Arizona is unknown...fewer than 27,000 exempt wells could mine the same amount of water from vital aquifers as that delivered via the CAP aqueduct from the Colorado River each year.  Within the Phoenix AMA, there are more than 39,000 registered wells listed in just one of the ADWR databases available on-line, of which 6340 are classified non-exempt (with a permitted pumping capacity more than 35 gpm), though actual historical pumping data is available for only 3464 of those.  In all, the data required for groundwater sustainability accounting in the Phoenix area are available for less than 10% of the registered wells, and 0% of an unknown number of unregistered wells, in the AMA.

During 2007, an interdisciplinary team led by Dr. Sharon Megdal of the UA WRRC and including researchers at UA and Northern Arizona University (NAU) undertook a study of the AMA planning process for the ADWR and the (now disbanded) Arizona Water Institute (AWI).  The project team issued their report in January 2008 on the "Evolution and Evaluation of the Active Management Area Management Plans."  This was intended to serve as valuable input to regional branches of the ADWR, who were about to develop their Fourth Management Plans for the period 2011-2020.  For the ADWR management teams assigned to each AMA, this was to be the first round of plans not guided in detail by language given in the GMA of 1980 (ARS 45-564 through 45-568).  The findings of Dr. Megdal's team were particularly relevant then, and were to become more important in the coming years.  From their Executive Summary [all emphasis preserved from the original]:
"An important goal of this study was to determine the effectiveness of the management plans to date through use of the data included in the management plans themselves. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the conservation programs cannot be determined from information available in the management plans to date. Careful thought should be given to the kind of water use information that will be needed for quantifying program effectiveness going forward. For example, the collection and reporting of individual municipal provider GPCD [gallons per capita-day], individual farm use, and industrial user data should be done regularly and consistently. Measuring effectiveness will also require development of a methodology to isolate the impacts of conservation on water use from other factors such as weather, the economy, changes in customer base (such as more commercial), water rates, and demographics. In addition, there are some influencing factors that are difficult to measure, such as the implications of media attention to drought and climate change. In order to account for the variables beyond the control of the conservation programs and isolate the effects of the regulations, a multivariate statistical analysis is needed.
"Despite the inability to quantify the effectiveness of the management plan conservation programs to date, stakeholders have strong opinions about the conservation programs and the process used to develop them. Only the industrial sector was generally satisfied with the management plan development process and the regulations resulting from it. Other sectors had mixed views, but generally expressed some dissatisfaction with the conservation regulations over time and especially the process used to develop the management plan conservation programs. Overall, there was a general opinion that the time has come to shift the focus of the management plan development process away from regulation towards collaborative, long-term water planning.
"As such, stakeholders would like to see a shift toward using the management plans or a companion document for regional water resource planning, not just regulation. While ADWR may seem like the logical entity to facilitate long-range planning, there are several things to consider. First, planning of the type envisioned by many of those interviewed goes beyond what has been included to date in management plans. This type of planning would have to incorporate the individual plans of water providers and large users, much like a regional transportation plan must include planning elements at the discretion/choice of the local entities. It would require sufficient levels of trust so that individual users/providers would willingly share information not normally reported to ADWR. It would necessarily require that data collected by ADWR be available in a useful format. It is likely some shared governance or oversight of the process would have to be agreed upon. Long-term planning would require ADWR to act not only as a regulatory agency for the AMAs, as it has done on many occasions.
"In order to facilitate the implementation of the findings of this study relating to determining the effectiveness of the conservation programs and initiating long-term regional water planning, the authors offer the following recommendations:
"Recommentation 1: ADWR should provide water use data for all sectors on at least an annual basis. These data must be reported in a consistent format over time and across AMAs.
"Recommendation 2: State of the AMA reports should be produced on a yearly or biennial basis.
"Recommendation 3: ADWR should shift its focus to long-term water planning, but still maintain the current conservation programs.
"Recommendation 4: The Augmentation and Recharge Program and the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District rules need to be reviewed and updated to ensure fairness."
Some of these topics will come up again in the next part of my story here, especially the programmatic institutions listed in the fourth recommendation.  However, by the autumn of 2009 the state was effectively broke, and the Governor had just formed a Blue Ribbon Panel on Water Sustainability...

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