Chandler can survive drought, city officials say - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Chandler can survive drought, city officials say

July 3rd, 2022 SanTan Sun News
Chandler can survive drought, city officials say

By Ken Sain
Staff Writer

Officials are finding sunken boats and even old corpses as the water level at Lake Mead is now at the lowest level it has ever been, and federal officials told Congress two weeks ago the severe drought is a warning to all desert dwellers that there is a limit on the water they use.

Chandler, however, is in a solid position to survive the drought, which is now in its 23rd year, City Council was told June 20.

“You know, we have been preparing for this shortage for a long, long time,” said Gregg Capps, the city’s water resources manager.

Chandler gets its water supply from three primary sources, surface water, groundwater and treated wastewater. The surface water comes from three rivers, the Salt, Verde and Colorado.

Big cities that rely on Colorado River water – particularly those in southern Nevada that have virtually no other source – were stunned by testimony June 14 by Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton, who said Lake Mead water levels are falling far faster than expected even earlier this year.

She told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Committee that the federal government in 60 days is poised to impose water use restrictions because shortages and demand on the Colorado River Basin will require reductions of 2 million to 4 million acre-feet in 2023 to preserve “critical levels” at Lake Mead and Lake Powell.

Her agency reported that as of last Thursday, Lake Mead water levels had dropped 6 feet in a month. Its latest 24-month outlook last week said it is forecasting the “most probable” lake level will be 1,014.86 feet by September 2023, about 9 feet lower than projections made in May.

“We are 150 feet from 25 million Americans losing access to the Colorado River, and the rate of decline is accelerating,” John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, told the committee.

Climate change and hotter average temperatures throughout most of the nation are confronting the Bureau of Reclamation with concerns over many cities’ water supplies but those that depend on the Colorado River face the greatest danger, Touton indicated.

On June 19, for example, the Las Vegas Review Journal reported that Lake Mead is approaching a “dead pool level” so quickly that it could become “useless” in the not-too-distant future.

Touton called on Western states and tribal nations: “…significant and additional conservation actions are required to protect the Colorado River system infrastructure and the long-term stability of the system.”

In an effort to force households to cut water usage by 30%, some California cities over the past month imposed tough lawn-watering restrictions backed enforcement crews that can levy fines.
While the Colorado River is currently struggling, that is not the case for the other two rivers that supply Chandler. The Salt and Verde rivers provide 57% of the city’s water supply. The reservoirs on those rivers are currently 68% full.

Capps said there is little concern about water shortages for the northern half of the city, served by Salt River Project, which gets its water from the Salt and Verde rivers.

The southern half, however, gets water from the Central Arizona Project and the Roosevelt Water Conservation District. The Central Arizona Project relies on Colorado River water. Those districts cannot change because of legal agreements, so SRP cannot start serving the southern half of the city.

Capps said Lake Mead and Lake Powell are only about 30% full right now. Colorado River water, which is at record lows, is shared by seven states – including Arizona – and Mexico. Those states (have been asked to cut their water use by between two to four million-acre feet combined over the next year. Arizona alone uses 2.8 million acre feet in a year.

If the states don’t come up with a plan, then the Bureau of Reclamation said it will.
Capps said Chandler residents do not need to worry.

First, the city has 88% high-priority contracts for Colorado River water. So others will be asked to cut back before Chandler. Second, if there are limits placed on that water supply, the city has a backup plan: The groundwater under the city.

Capps said the city has 35 wells and they measure the water levels in each four times a year. The aquifer under the city has mostly been increasing.

They are also working on a project with Intel to increase the water storage capabilities in the city. Currently, the city stores some of its water in Peoria and Glendale. It wants to get that water in Chandler so there is no chance others would use their water if the situation grows dire enough.

Another factor in Chandler’s favor is that the city’s residents have been conserving more water each year despite the growth the city has seen over the last few decades. Chandler residents have reduced water use by 20% over the past 25 years.

The city has replaced much of its agricultural land with residential and business developments, which use less water than farms.

The city has also been aggressive in encouraging residents to conserve, asking them to use desert landscaping and fix broken water pipes quickly.

The city does have a drought plan. Only when it reaches Stage 4, the highest alert, would city residents face mandatory restrictions on water use. The first three stages are voluntary or mandatory restrictions on the city government’s use of water.

“This is certainly something the city’s been preparing for, for many, many years and you will see that throughout our comments today,” said City Manager Joshua Wright. “And you’ll hear that from every city, pretty much initially, that they all think they’re prepared.

“But there’s some unique things about Chandler, where we really go back many decades where we’ve been thinking about this day coming and really have built a very diverse supply of water that provides the benefits we see here.”

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