By Mark Carlisle
Even as one of its main sources of water drops into uncertainty and climate change alters Arizona’s water landscape, the long-term future of Glendale’s water supply is on sure footing, Glendale water officials say.
“Because of Glendale’s diverse portfolio, we’re sitting in a very good place,” said Glendale Deputy Water Services Director Megan Sheldon, who oversees the Water Services Department’s environmental program. “…I think we’re in a good place now, but continual reduction in flows into Lake Mead or dry years on even the Salt River watershed eventually year after year could have an impact.”
Ms. Sheldon noted that Glendale is designated for a 100-year Assured and Adequate Water Supply under the Arizona Department of Water Resources and will look to renew that 100-year designation in 2025.
With Western U.S. states impacted by a nearly two-decade drought though, one of the West’s and Arizona’s largest water supplies is in jeopardy. The Colorado River, which supplies water to seven states and Mexico, is at historic lows.
Glendale gets 44% of its water from the Colorado River, through the Central Arizona Project. Another 44% comes through the Salt River Project from the Salt and Verde rivers; 6% comes from groundwater and 6% comes from reclaimed wastewater that is cleaned and used for non-drinking uses such as irrigation and landscaping.
In May, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the largest suppliers of the Central Arizona Project, which supplies water across the state, sat at 41% and 42% full, respectively. At 1,087 feet above sea level, if Lake Mead water levels had dropped another 13 feet, or half a percent of capacity, the federal government would have declared a shortage on the Colorado River and enforced mandatory water restrictions.
However, with a wet 2018-19 winter, crossing that threshold was at least postponed.
“Now they’re saying a shortage is probably not going to occur until maybe 2023,” Ms. Sheldon said.
A plan agreed to in 2007 by the seven states using Colorado River Water — Arizona, California, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming — was meant to sustain the river’s supply through at least 2026, but this year a new plan had to be negotiated.
The new Drought Contingency Plan puts measures in place to avoid shortages in Lake Mead, which is critical for the Grand Canyon State because under the 2007 agreement Arizona will be most heavily impacted out of the river’s lower basin states — Arizona, California and Nevada — and Mexico should mandatory water restrictions be put in place.
The plan is only a stopgap until 2026, by which time states must agree on a longer-term plan under which states will almost certainly need to reduce their use of the river’s water.
Under the current Drought Contingency Plan, Arizona will have to reduce its use of Colorado River water by 11 percent if Lake Mead drops below 1,075 feet. The state would have to reduce its water use further if Lake Mead’s levels were to drop below other benchmarks.
Ms. Sheldon noted Glendale will not immediately feel the pain if Arizona does need to reduce its use of Colorado River water. Under the CAP, agricultural water uses would be impacted before municipal, industrial or tribal water uses are impacted. Lake Mead’s levels would need to drop several benchmarks below 1,075 feet before municipalities saw their CAP supplies reduced.
In the meantime before a long-term plan for Colorado River use, Arizona has created an Arizona Steering Committee to discuss and recommend how to adopt and implement the Drought Contingency Plan “in a way that is acceptable to Arizona water users.”
The state is also studying the Colorado River’s environmental future.
Last month, scientists from CAP, NASA and Arizona State University joined to study of current and future climate and land use changes and how these impact the sustainability of Colorado River Basin.
The Arizona Department of Water Resources stresses that the water shortage in the Colorado River does not mean Arizona is in a water crisis.
It doesn’t mean crisis for Glendale either.
Because of the diversity in Glendale’s water portfolio and foresight from city and state leaders, Glendale’s water future remains stable.
“Glendale has been preparing for drought for decades,” Ms. Sheldon said, noting several water sustainability efforts.
Arizona’s Groundwater Management Act in 1980 reduced Glendale’s reliance on groundwater. Reclaiming wastewater provides a new source for non-drinking water uses. Glendale created its Water Conservation Program in 1985, working with residents and businesses to encourage saving water, and Glendale’s Landscape Rebate Program encourages residents and businesses to use plants that need less water.
“Glendale has been working for many years to try to promote water efficiency and save our valuable water resources,” Ms. Sheldon said.
Pyramid Peak Plant
The West Valley also has increasingly more mouths to quench. Glendale’s population has grown by about 25,000 this decade. Peoria, which has seen a jump of more than 17,000 in population this decade, is increasing its water treatment capacity.
Water that’s been transported to Valley cities through canals must be treated to remove silt, dirt and debris it picks up along the way.
Peoria is expanding its share of the Pyramid Peak Water Treatment Plant in north Phoenix. It shares ownership of the plant with Glendale. The nearly $53 million expansion will add a fourth, “treatment train” to the plant, according to Glendale Deputy Water Services Director Ron Serio, who manages Glendale’s water treatment plants. The expansion will add 15 million gallons per day to the plant’s capacity, all of which will service Peoria.
“As growth continues in Peoria, staff recognized the need to work with the city of Glendale to expand the PPWTP to meet new demands,” Peoria spokeswoman Kristina Perez wrote in an emailed statement. “This water is part of Peoria’s CAP allocation and will be moved through the system primarily into the Vistancia area, as well as other parts of North Peoria. This will allow for increased growth and water system redundancy.”
Though the water will be for Peoria’s use, Glendale staff exclusively works at the plant. Glendale is considering hiring another operator and/or one or two more maintenance positions at the plant.
“We’re in the process of evaluating that now,” Mr. Serio said.
However, this part of the expansion will do little to affect Glendale’s budget. Peoria is paying for the expansion with a low interest loan from the Water Infrastructure Finance Authority of Arizona and Peoria pays Glendale for its share of the operations and maintenance at the plant.
“The only difference will be we’ll have more equipment to maintain,” Mr. Serio said. “…You know, more energy use and all that.”
The Pyramid Peak Plant treats entirely CAP water from the Colorado River.
There are also improvements underway on Glendale’s portion of the plant, with equipment being rehabilitated or replaced to keep the plant operating reliably.
Glendale residents have seen their water and sewer rates utility rates increase since 2017. In June, City Council approved a 6.5% increase to water rates and a 5.5% increase to sewer rates in 2020 and 2021. These changes, according to staff, are not to combat a water shortage but to play catch up to the capital improvements skipped over during the city’s economic downturn following the Great Recession.
Mr. Serio couldn’t say if Glendale’s improvements to the Pyramid Peak Plant were reliant on the rate hikes, but that the increases have allowed the Water Services Department to expand its capital improvements on vital equipment.
“If we prioritize all of our capital projects and didn’t get the rate increase, we’d have to cut some of our lowest-priority projects off, which are still important projects,” he said.
Mr. Serio and Ms. Sheldon noted the rate increases also help to pay for Glendale’s raw water purchases from the CAP and SRP, chemicals needed to treat water and pay staff.
In June, City Council approved the purchases of $4.4 million for raw water from CAP and $675,000 for raw water from SRP for the new fiscal year.
Glendale’s water use fluctuates from winter to summer. In the summer, Glendale treats about 21 million gallons per day at the Pyramid Peak Plant. The city’s other two treatment plants — the Cholla Water Treatment Plant near 51st Avenue and Cactus Road, which treats about 30 million gallons per day in the summer, and the Oasis Water Treatment Plant, which treats about 4 million gallons per day.
Glendale’s reclaimed water is treated at Arrowhead Ranch Water Reclamation Facility, near 83rd Avenue and Union Hills Road, and West Area Water Reclamation Facility at the Glendale Municipal Airport.