Arizona’s Avra Valley – What Every State Should Consider About Water

FINALLY, some states have wised up and are putting into play water conservation methods long talked about by groups who have seen this time coming for many years!

Western States Negotiate Drought Contingency Plan Despite Wet Winter

Route Fifty
Timothy Clark
April 17, 2017

A visit to Arizona’s Avra Valley highlights advanced hydrological, technological and conservation solutions to the Tucson area’s water concerns.

AVRA VALLEY, Ariz. — Here in the desert 15 miles from downtown Tucson, a remarkable engineering system is providing a reliable supply of water that’s the envy of other communities in the arid West.

Twenty ponds, ranging from 25 acres to 60 acres in size, draw water from the nearby Central Arizona Project canal. These are not reservoirs, but rather facilities that quickly drain into the huge underground aquifers that store enough water to meet Tucson’s needs for the foreseeable future.

Remarkably, the water is cleansed to a high degree of purity as it seeps from the ponds through the earth and into the aquifers. It gets just a small dose of chlorine before dispatch to tens of thousands of faucets in the region.

Wells up to 1,000 feet deep, and powerful pumps, withdraw the water as needed and send it through huge pipes across the Tucson Mountains to the city and its suburbs, and to farmers, Indian tribes and other users.

Over the years, Tucson Water has become a model of responsible water management that has managed to achieve an actual reduction in total water usage despite steady population growth. It has benefited from—and has encouraged—a strong conservation ethic among individual and institutional consumers, the utility’s director, Timothy M. Thomure, said during an interview in his downtown offices.

Arizona Department of Water Resources Director Thomas Buschatzke recalled in a recent podcast that 2011 was another very wet year, but three years later, drought concerns were back on center stage. “Mother Nature has bailed us out,” he said, “but one good year does not end the drought.”

In the mosaic of water maps generated by expert hydrologist, Tucson occupies a favored place. That’s because of the geological good fortune that produced its capacious aquifers and its focus in recent years on conserving and storing enough water to assure adequate supplies even in the event of the most severe drought conditions. But, said Thomure, “we are never at ease, and we always operate as if drought was around the corner.”

The Tucson area’s groundwater level change over 15 years, 2000-2015. (Map courtesy Tucson Water)


Tucson has been a party to negotiations on a pending Drought Contingency Plan (DCP) that will, once approved, lay out the conditions for water supply curtailment if needed in the three states of the Lower Colorado River Basin—Arizona, Nevada and California. These are three of the seven states that signed a compact in 1922 allocating use of the waters of the Colorado River. Upper Basin States—Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and New Mexico—were allocated half the river’s flow, or 7.5 million acre feet per year, and the Lower Basin laid claim to an equal amount.

But Arizona needed more than the compact to use the water needed by its fast-growing central and southern cities. It needed a canal. After protracted negotiations, Congress passed the Colorado River Basin Project Act of 1968, authorizing a $4 billion, 100-year loan from the federal government to finance construction of dams and pumping stations and the 336-mile Central Arizona Project canal that now supplies Phoenix and Tucson among other, smaller communities. (Only $1.65 billion must be repaid, according to the CAP.)

Tucson’s Innovation

The low-lying Avra Desert facilities, protected by electronic and physical locks, are impossible to see, except from the air, or on a special tour. Southern Avra Valley Storage and Recovery Project, known as SAVSARP, and the adjacent CAVSARP (C for central) together constitute the largest aquifer recharge and recovery system in the country. Other jurisdictions in Arizona and California use similar technologies to recharge their aquifers, but do not have the extensive potable-water recovery systems that Tucson has constructed since it bought huge amounts of land here nearly half a century ago.

Scarcely a building is in sight in the huge valley; one or two computer control huts and that’s about it. But there are huge holding/drainage ponds, mammoth pipes used to transmit water to Tucson, and one of the 74 reservoirs that feed the utility’s 395 square-mile service area. One can’t see the precious potable water because it’s protected by a green metal cover. A hard crust lines their bottoms and at one of the dried-up ponds, a chisel plow operator systematically breaks up the sod to prepare the facility for a new dose of CAP water.

Tucson has years of water supply stored in the Avra Valley aquifers. In the worst-case scenario, if Lake Mead’s waters descend to 1,025 feet, Tucson will be in a much stronger position than Phoenix and other cities that don’t have extensive storage programs. Projections indicate that it can meet water demands through 2050 even if CAP deliveries are curtailed.

Conservation Imperative

Tucson Water is known for innovation, and has been visited by water experts from distant places, including the Middle East and Australia. Its recharge and recovery operations are of particular interest, but it also is known for a long history of highly effective conservation programs.

Today, the utility spends about $3 million a year on programs to promote more conservation. Some of its roughly 550 staff members provide individual counseling to homeowners or businesses whose water usage seems out of line. The inspectors in this Zanjero program may find leaks, toilets or appliances or showerheads that are water hogs, or outside usage of water that might be curtailed.

Despite its relatively secure position, Tucsonans “always act as if we were in a drought,” says Thomure. “Rarely do we relax. We are always confronted with the prospect of scarcity. So we are prudent.”

The article is one that is very interesting. I only provided a few highlights. It can be read HERE.


In the 1990’s I was privileged to interview an elderly couple who were water conservationists with immense knowledge of the field. They were members of a much larger group of conservationists around the US who had been trying for thirty or more years to get cities and states to plan for population demands on water from farms to home taps.

There are many interesting and enlightening articles that highlight ways every state around the country should be planning for the problem of the effect of population on our strained natural resources.  As is typical though, no one wants to entertain planning ahead for disasters or possibilities. They usually have more than enough problems just dealing with the near future.

If people simply considered the lessons of the distant past, they would have a basis for such planning. Scientists have tons of geological, archeological, and historical records that have recorded cycles of drought, floods, and the changes that occurred to habitats and people as a result. We have abandoned sites across the world that show sophisticated water systems such as the Roman era and those found in Peru. We also have incredibly elaborate and beautiful abandoned sites where the people could no longer survive and had to leave in search of better conditions or perish. 

People in Europe have been well aware of the decline of water resources as their countries increased in populations. They have studied and applied different measures of one kind or another for thirty years at least to try to combat the problem. In the Seventies people in a company I worked for came back from Europe with comments about “paying” boxes attached to their tiny shower stall in hotel rooms and that no one offered glasses of water in restaurants as a normal practice as just two examples. 

At one time people in the US had no idea there would ever come a time when water resources would no longer be available. We envisioned that this would always be a land of plenty and forgot how many ways water is needed on a daily basis. We had no understanding of the amount of water needed to manufacture or produce what we wanted. Even the dustbowl days of the early 1900’s seemed not to be a warning sign enough for us to stop and think.  Well now we have to consider our habits and uses of an absolutely essential resource. It is now a problem in our country as well and we have to address it.

I am glad to see that Tucson has met the problem head on. I really hope others will as well. California alone has become a leech of water resources from areas all around as their large cities consume huge amounts of water and their farms or ranches need to provide for the foods they grow. At one time desalination plants were considered but were ultimately shelved as too expensive. Perhaps the cost now needs to be balanced against the evidence of the drought they have been experiencing over the last few years. Farm communities may need to consider ways to conserve their water runoff, refresh, and reuse it. 

Even in states like Louisiana, we are feeling effects of overuse of water for energy production, farming, and population use. It sounds odd to say that but North Louisiana has had indications for at least twenty years of water tables dropping as water is sent off to other states or needed for growing cities. Our wetlands and waterways are also feeling the distress of not just lower water tables but pollution, mismanagement, and abuse of our resources.

Forget environmental activists harping on a single target to prevent a wall being built. This is about all habitats. Besides air and food, no living thing can survive for very long without water even if it is a minimal need.

So here is in fact an area that all of the US needs to seriously get behind as an infrastructure problem not just rusted or dilapidated delivery systems but clean, continuing supplies of water and ways to best provide during droughts and flood times which is an inevitable cycle of nature and has nothing to do with “so-called climate change”. We could if push comes to shove survive without electricity but no one, no where can do without clean, usable water.


About Uriel

Retired educator and constitutionalist
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6 Responses to Arizona’s Avra Valley – What Every State Should Consider About Water

  1. Popular Front says:

    Good article there Uriel. Savvy people in Tucson it would seem. Coincidentally just yesterday I read this item on the BBC about the Carrizo Plain in California and how waterless and inhospitable it is. Perhaps some of those Arizona folks can go in and sort it out.

    • Uriel says:

      Thanks Popular. lol I am convinced the west coast would say people lie if they said the sky was blue. But seriously Aussies have had to deal with this too. Have they come up with reservoir type ways?

      • Popular Front says:

        We have much the same problem Down Here Uriel – eviroloons. They are prepared to whine, bitch and injunct any new water management system under the flimsiest of pretexts so in the interim much needed and easily harvestable floodwater causes multi-million dollars damage and then runs out to sea, every wet season.

        If you look at a map of Australia you will see that apart from the East Coast strip, the Top End (Darwin) and SW Western Australia the country is as dry as an old dog bone. There have been some excellent proposals over the last 30 years and all have been shot down by the environazis – who incidentally don’t live in the Outback (as we call it) but inhabit the inner city trendoid boroughs.

        • Uriel says:

          That is Nuts but we got them here too. Why can’t they see that it is depriving every living thing of needed water geez people are stupid

  2. Hardnox says:

    Logical approaches will never stop eco-loons.

  3. Uriel says:

    seems so Hardnox…they appear to mouth all the appropriate words but when it comes to their own comfort and pocketbook definitely not so much…prime example the “climate change ” conferences around the world…every person attending flies or uses the most luxurious transportation, with the lowest efficiency fuel use, and then spends very large sums at the conference. Yet they feel that they can tell the common folk who either can’t afford decent transportation or food that they MUST comply…..hypocrites. All the money spent getting to, from, and in conference could have paid for a new water plant in a desperate country or provided food and clothes for those in need.. That doesn’t even count for much of the “perverted” entertainment they imbibed or paid for.