What is Sustainability?

Sustainability is living with our local resources.… It means thinking of others.… It means thinking of the future.... It means thinking of the environment.... In fact, it means “thinking.”

I will treat sustainability only as it regards water because our Arizona legislators set up a system that makes sustainability impossible in municipalities. When they passed the 1980 Groundwater Act, they grandfathered a 2.5 million acre foot deficit in groundwater pumping in central Arizona. They told the cotton growers, the alfalfa growers, and the mining companies (they are exempt from all pumping and transferring rules, “you just keep on doing what you are doing,” we can get Federal funds to import Colorado River water to the cities. No problem, that it has to be paid for by American taxpayers and repaid by Arizona taxpayers, many who will never receive any benefit. As a matter of fact, it will be detrimental to those living on the river to see it disappear. Many people living on the river, including several Native American nations, cannot use the river water. Just think, Yuma used to be a sea port.

An Arizona Supreme Court Judge, Noel Fidel, has commented on the situation in the context of water litigation in 1999:

The Arizona legislature has erected statutory frameworks for regulating surface water and groundwater based on Southwest Cotton. Arizona's agricultural, industrial, mining, and urban interests have accommodated themselves to those frameworks. Southwest Cotton has been part of the constant backdrop for vast investments, the founding and growth of towns and cities, and the lives of our people.

So the billion dollar CAP system was meant for municipal use (although obtained under the guise of agriculture use*), but it was widely known that the agriculture sector would not use it. In the 28 years since 1980, that 2.5 million acre foot deficit means 70 million acre feet of water—enough to water the present population and agriculture use of Tucson, using 300,000 acre feet for 233 years. Currently, non-agriculture usage in all AMA’s is just over some 785,000 acre feet per year, so that 70 million acre feet would have provided water for all Arizonans and industry for 89 years. Then, after giving the groundwater away (the Groundwater Code does state water is a public resource), the legislators told the cities that they had to have an “assured water supply.”

So the model was set and mandated: “Import water, a ‘renewable’ supply from somewhere else to replenish the water use.” So to build a sustainable model on such criteria is simply impossible….

But that’s not all our enlightened legislators did for us. In 1995 the developers pressured them to subsidize development. The Groundwater Code stipulated that there had to be replenishment (not including agriculture or mining)—but the CAP pipeline was not available to replenish in many regions, it was crippling building in certain areas, especially those without water. So the legislator created the Groundwater Replenishment District and put it under the CAP authority to make it look legit. Because the truth is there were no CAP allocations left for the Groundwater Replenishment District to use. So now builders could build in south Pima County and replenish in north Pima County with an unknown supply of water—however, there would be excess CAP water for 20 years…. Never mind that the 100-year-water supply certificates that the State Water Agency issues, they do not include to the Replenishment District water.

So Replenishment District are the ones who need to desalinate water in the Sea of Cortez with total disregard to what a desalinization plant will do to the sustainability of that region. There are successful desalinization projects around the world, but they are delivering the brine out to a deep ocean, not to a small enclosed bay.

What will be the cost? The price tag of a state-of-the-art desalinization plant is now $1 billion dollars. That’s not including the processing and the pipes for delivery. The “Add water” persons spoke about space for water in the existing CAP pipeline, but they did not speak of the cost of the infrastructure to get the water to the CAP pipeline.

Who will pay for the price? The new water users who come under the Groundwater Replenishment rules? No, all the water users in the water provider district will pay. In other words, all Tucson Water Company customers will pay for the high-priced water, and will affectively be subsidizing new growth—currently 20,000 units, although at this time since Tucson Water does not have capacity for all 144,000 acre feet of their allocation, they do not have to pay for GRD water. We already have the example of the big-spending fiasco at the Yuma desalinization plant. Taxpayers and water users have to be aware of how government agencies love big projects. The Federal project in Yuma cost over a billion dollar when the task could have been accomplished by buying up the agricultural operations for a few million that were dumping salty water into the Colorado, causing the need for a desalinization plant.

So the first step of living within our means with the limitations imposed on us by importing CAP—would be to eliminate the Groundwater Replenishment District, which was created by and for the sake of new development. The second step would be to capture our stormwater.

* It was well known decades before the CAP project was begun that agriculture would not use the water:

See Testimony from Don Hummel, Mayor of Tucson 1955-1962

See Excellent, insightful report on history and reality of Arizona's CAP Project

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