Day 6: Tribal River Restoration, Water Management in Arizona

Yuma, AZ
Riparian restoration: Yuma brings back a diminished asset

The Colorado River at Yuma ain’t what it used to be. The historic crossing that carried fortune-seekers to California once forded a mighty river that sometimes swelled as far as the eye could see. In the 20th Century, dams up and down the Colorado squeezed Yuma’s river to little more than a trickle, choked by invasive plants that served as habitat only for vagrants. That changed in 2004, when a range of agencies led by the Fort Yuma Quechan (pronounced ket-SAN) Indian Tribe and the City of Yuma, began the process of restoring the Colorado to a more natural state. Today some 350 acres have been restored to native plants and created crucial habitat for native birds. We heard from the tribe and the city about how the collaborative project got its start, what they’ve accomplished so far, and what’s coming next.

Phoenix, AZ
Overland: Moving Water Through the Desert

The Central Arizona Project is one of the largest, most-expansive aqueduct systems in the country, bringing water 336 miles from the Parker Dam (remember Parker?) at the south end of Lake Havasu, all the way to central and southern Arizona. Over 1.5 million acre-feet of Colorado River water moves through the CAP system annually to Maricopa, Pima and Pinal counties, destined for agricultural use as well as municipal use in the Phoenix and Tucson metropolitan areas - home to 80% of the state’s population. This is all well and good, but there are those within the system - most notably Governor Ducey and Arizona Department of Water Resources - who claim that CAP isn’t playing fair with its share of Lake Mead’s water. The ensuing turf war has pitted agency against agency, and has tumbled into a name-calling, mud-slinging, legislatively murky imbroglio - all of which is gumming up the works for the multi-state, basin-wide Drought Contingency Plan, which can’t be hammered out until Arizona resolves its internal turmoil. We first visited with CAP, and heard their side of the story.

Looking Ahead: Watering a Desert City

The Arizona Department of Water Resources is tasked with “stewarding Arizona’s water future, and ensuring long-term, reliable supplies to support the continued economic prosperity of the state.” Created in 1980 as a result of squabbles over groundwater between agricultural producers, municipalities, and mining interests, ADWR has spent nearly 40 years keeping a risk-averse eye on Arizona’s water use. But as populations grow, drought shrinks water supplies, and levels in Lake Mead come precariously close to triggering shortage measures, the mandate of shepherding Arizona into a stable water future becomes ever trickier. How will water availability impact proposed development in this rapidly growing region? What does the future hold for agriculture? How can Arizona find sustainable ways to share a dwindling resource equitably? We heard from ADWR, the mayor’s office, and other invested parties about how they think water ought to be managed now and in the future.