Arizona needs to conserve Colorado River water. Here’s a rundown on cities’ voluntary cuts

The Colorado River is shrinking from a mega drought. Arizona needs to cut back its use to preserve Lake Mead. Here’s what each city has committed to do.

Arizona cities and other entities could serve nearly 2 million households for a year with the amount of water they plan to voluntarily leave behind in the Colorado River the next three years, but they say they’re foregoing the supply to help preserve the reservoirs’ health.The Colorado River supplies seven states, Mexico, 5.5 million acres of farmland and 40 million people with drinking water each year.It’s a significant and vital source of drinking water for most Valley cities, making up 40% of Phoenix and Mesa’s annual supplies. But a two-decade drought and climate change have shrunk the river. Lake Mead, one of the reservoirs that contains river water to supply lower basin states, such as California, Arizona and Nevada, has been depleted to dangerously low levels.If the lake’s water levels get too low — a scenario called deadpool — the water won’t flow downstream or produce hydropower.For residents, less water means the price for it goes up. Phoenix and Peoria will increase water rates for the upcoming year. Tempe increased water rates in March.And while last summer Phoenix-area cities focused on encouraging residents’ to cut back on water usage, more drastic river conditions now could mean new water restrictions and rules on the horizon.Phoenix passed new water standards in June for future developments, including neighborhood homeowners associations, that will restrict grass in non-functional spaces and eventually could restrict pool sizes.Voluntary reductions in use of Colorado River waterThe Colorado River’s contraction spurred Arizona, Nevada and California to devise a plan to reduce their water use over the next three years by 3 million acre-feet, or enough water for about 2 million households annually.Participation in the plan is voluntary and incentivized with compensation from the federal Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funds. The exchange ranges between $330 and $400 per acre-feet of water.The plan still has to get federal government approval, which is expected to come this fall, said DeEtte Person, a spokesperson from Central Arizona Project, the entity that delivers Colorado River water throughout greater Phoenix.The total amount Arizona has agreed to leave behind in the Colorado River remains unclear. The tri-state agreement outlines 3 million total acre-feet, but there’s no breakdown for precisely how much each state has to commit, nor what each city within the state has to commit. Those details will be fleshed out after the federal government greenlights the proposal, Person said.Some Arizona cities and entities decided to leave behind water for compensation as part of a single-year Intentionally Created Surplus agreement with Arizona Department of Water Resources. Those agreements exchanged an acre-foot of water for $330 for 2023.Seventeen entities in Arizona, including cities, towns, utilities and private companies, have agreed to voluntarily reduce their Colorado River water usage so far, leaving an aggregate 854,000 acre feet of water behind — enough water for approximately 1.7 million households for a year.Nearly half of that comes from the Gila River Indian Community and Fort McDowell Yavapai Nation, which are leaving behind a combined 417,000-acre-feet for nearly $167 million.Almost one-third comes from greater Phoenix water users and providers. Twelve entities will leave behind 250,875 acre feet of water in exchange for nearly $98 million.Phoenix represents the lion’s share of that cut, at 150,000 acre feet for $60 million over the next three years.The rest comes from Tucson area entities, including the city. Tucson will leave behind 110,000 acre feet of water between now and 2025 for $44 million.On top of the voluntary reductions, Arizona has also enacted its own Drought Contingency Plan, which reduces the state’s Colorado River supply by 592,000 acre feet, or 21%. That plan requires additional reductions by cities, but they mostly affect agriculture, not residents. Cities are not receiving compensation for DCP-enacted cuts.The cuts and compensation will affect cities in different ways depending on how much water each leaves behind. The compensation represents more money per acre foot than what each city would typically pay to acquire the water.For 2023, Central Arizona Project is charging between $217 and $270 per acre foot of water. The rates are set to increase, however, to between $323 and $387 per acre foot in 2028 — between a 44% and 49% jump.The above-market compensation represents a benefit to municipalities, which raises questions about how the money will be spent. Some cities plan to purchase more water from other sources. Others plan to put the funds toward technology that will help recycle wastewater for drinking purposes, effectively creating a new water source. Other cities have less detailed plans.The Arizona Republic sought information from the cities, towns and entities below. Varying levels of information were shared, and some entities could not be reached or did not respond.Information was gathered through department spokespeople, publicly available information on city websites, or through the Central Arizona Project or the state water department. (AF = acre feet.)The cities, entities that committed to voluntary cuts through 2025PhoenixTucsonWater reduction: 110,000 AF, according to the city50,000 AF for 2023 (35% cut)30,000 AF for 2024 (21% cut)30,000 AF for 2025 (21% cut)Compensation: $44 millionPlan for the compensation: Invest in technology to treat PFAS chemicals found in the groundwater in the city’s northwest service area, then restore impacted groundwater production wells to service, said Timothy Thomure, assistant city manager. PeoriaWater reduction: 21,600 AF (21% cut, according to the city)7,200 AF/year between 2023-2025Compensation: $8.64 millionPlan for the compensation: Likely purchase long-term storage credits, said Water Services Director Cape Powers.Asarco LLC, a mining companyWater reduction: 56,000 AF14,000 AF for 2023 (67% cut, based on numbers on CAP’s website)21,000 AF for 2024 (100% cut)21,000 AF for 2025 (100% cut)Compensation: $22.4 millionPlan for the compensation: The company did not immediately respond to request for comment.GlendaleWater reduction: 21,000 AF (31% cut, according to the city)7,000 AF/year between 2023-2025Compensation: $8.4 millionPlan for the compensation: Put back into the city’s water systems, including to rehabilitate groundwater wells, said a representative from the city’s Water Services Department.ScottsdaleWater reduction: 20,479 AF, according to the city9,479 AF for 2023 (12% cut)6,000 AF for 2024 (7% cut)5,000 AF for 2025 (6% cut)Compensation: $8 millionPlan for the compensation: Will go toward water infrastructure in Scottsdale, city spokesperson Kelly Corsette said.Metropolitan Domestic Water Improvement District in TucsonWater reduction: 15,000 AF (37% cut, based on numbers from CAP’s website)5,000 AF between 2023-2025Compensation: $6 millionPlan for the compensation: A representative did not immediately respond to request for comment.GilbertWater reduction: 3,600 AF (4% cut, according to the city)1,200 AF/year between 2023-2025Compensation: $1.44 millionPlan for the compensation: Will go toward alternative renewable water supplies, a city spokesperson said.The cities, entities that committed to voluntary cuts for 2023Apache Junction Domestic Water Improvement DistrictWater reduction: 999 AF (16% cut, based on numbers from CAP’s website)Compensation: $330,000Plan for the compensation: Did not immediately respond to request for comment.Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment DistrictWater reduction: 10,639 AF (22% cut, according to the district)Compensation: $3.5 millionPlan for the compensation: “Will be used to acquire additional supplies, most likely long-term storage credits,” said Laura Grignano, CAGRD manager.EPCOR, a private water utility regulated by the Arizona Corporation CommissionWater reduction: 12,772 AF (35% cut, according to Epcor)Compensation: $4.2 millionPlan for the compensation: Will go “toward enhanced conservation programs and offsetting the impact that increased groundwater replenishment district fees can have on customers,” said a company spokesperson.MesaWater reduction: 1,300 AF (2.5% cut, according to the city)Compensation: $429,000Plan for the compensation: Will go into the general fund for a variety of purposes, said Kathy Macdonald, Mesa’s water resources planning advisor.Salt River ProjectWater reduction: 1,620 AF (100% cut, according to SRP)Compensation: $534,600Plan for the compensation: Acquire existing long-term storage credits to offset groundwater use at SRP power plants, according to an SRP spokesperson.SurpriseWater reduction: 3,249 AF (32% cut, according to the city)Compensation: $1.07 millionPlan for the compensation: To purchase new water supplies, potentially including long-term storage credits or other possibilities, said Amanda Lacey, Surprise’s water resource analyst.Queen CreekWater reduction: 3,617 AF (100% cut, according to the town)Compensation: $1.2 millionPlan for the compensation: Has not yet provided information.Rosemont CopperWater reduction: 843 AFCompensation: $278,000Plan for the compensation: Has not yet provided information.Freeport Minerals CorporationWater reduction: 4,258 AFCompensation: $1.4 millionPlan for the compensation: Could not be reached.Cities not participating in the voluntary reductionA handful of cities told The Republic they wouldn’t relinquish Colorado River supplies, for a variety of reasons. Some cities, such as Buckeye, get so little river water already that the reduction and compensation is negligible. Others said they simply need it.Avondale: Undetermined, according to a city spokesperson.Buckeye: Already seeing most of its supply cut from the state-enacted Drought Contingency Plan. Will keep its very small remaining water allocation, a city spokesperson said.Tempe: No explanation given.Chandler: Needs the Colorado River water because the plant that treats its Salt River water is undergoing upgrades, so its capacity is reduced, according to a city official.Reporter Taylor Seely covers Phoenix City Hall for the Arizona Republic. She previously covered the West Valley. Reach her at, by phone at 480-476-6116, or on Twitter @taylorseely95.

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