"We're still growing into our water supplies," asserts Dave Roberts, executive manager for SRP's water-rights and contracts department. "Phoenix is among the most sustainable" among Southwest cities because of advance planning and conservation efforts.

The underground water-banking program has stored nearly two trillion gallons of water that can help the area get through extreme dry periods of little surface water, if it comes to that, Roberts says.

Meanwhile, per-capita water usage by Valley residents has decreased at least 20 percent since 1990 because of public awareness and such technology as water-efficient toilets.

Metro Phoenix gets about half of its water from Apache Lake (seen here) and other lakes on the Salt River reservoir system, providing a buffer against smaller flows from the Colorado River.
Wikimedia Commons/Bernard Gagnon
Metro Phoenix gets about half of its water from Apache Lake (seen here) and other lakes on the Salt River reservoir system, providing a buffer against smaller flows from the Colorado River.
Andrew Ross, a New York University sociology professor, still maintains that Phoenix is the "world's least sustainable city," as his 2011 book states.
Andrew Ross, a New York University sociology professor, still maintains that Phoenix is the "world's least sustainable city," as his 2011 book states.

The bottom line is that experts, like those at SRP, feel confident that water supplies for the Phoenix area will be sufficient to maintain the growth that fuels our economy for the next several decades. Regional water problems are expected during this time, because high-growth areas, including those in the East Valley's Superstition Vistas area, aren't "blessed with an abundant water supply," Roberts says. "Buckeye, Queen Creek, Apache Junction, Goodyear are where we are going to have to get creative."

After this time, as even more new residents arrive, estimated water supplies won't meet the expected demand, especially those from the Central Arizona Project canal. Sandy Fabritz-Whitney, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, says state planners are working to address the future "imbalance" predicted for 50 to 100 years from now.

"You're not going to get to a point where you just run out of water because you can't grow beyond what you have," she says, referring to the state's 100-year supply requirement for development. "There could be a drought that disrupts the supply. That's when you go to your other water supplies. Unlike Las Vegas, we're redundant."

With the double-edged sword of increasing demand and dwindling supply, however, eventually Phoenix and the rest of the state will need more options.

"Ocean desalination is the next supply," Roberts says. "The technology is there."

One likely spot for a large-scale desalination plant is at the northern end of the Gulf of California, in Mexico, which isn't lined by million-dollar homes (like Southern California) and is relatively close to Phoenix.

Water could be piped in from there or traded with Mexico for part of its share of Colorado River water, experts say. The project, considered in some form since the 1960s, would need to involve an expensive energy source to power it — maybe nuclear — because desalination needs continuous, reliable electricity to function.

With a higher projected population at that time for Arizona and the six other Western states expected to join in on such a project, it would be easier to fund the expected $10 billion cost (based on today's currency value), Roberts says.

Mexico is interested in the plan because the northern state of Sonora, with about 2.5 million people, desperately needs more water for its growing population.


The subtitle of Andrew Ross' book about Phoenix, Lessons from the World's Least Sustainable City, is fact-challenged.

Phoenix is way ahead in the game of sustainability, owing to nothing more than America's wealth.

"Least sustainable" would apply more to Nogales, Mexico, a city of about 220,000 that has doubled in population since 1990 and has neighborhoods that receive only intermittent water supplies. And water quality in Nogales barely would qualify for use on a Phoenix golf course.

Or take Beijing. Sure, it's been a municipality for at least 3,000 years. But with unprecedented growth, it's facing huge sustainability problems. Per-capita water allotment in Beijing is a tenth of the international average. The city and its outskirts plan to rely on a $62 billion diversion project under construction that will tap the Yangtze River in southern China to bring water north, and the country is spending another $3.3 billion to build air-polluting, coal-powered desalination plants on its east coast. Even when these projects are completed in a few years, it's unknown whether Beijing will meet its growing water needs.

In the United States, several cities are in worse shape, sustainability-wise, than Phoenix. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, for example, received the highest risk rating by a group of utility investors in 2010. In Atlanta, which relies on just one main surface-water source, officials warned in 2008 that the city was just three months away from running out of fresh water. Closer to home, groundwater-pumping Tucson has more to worry about than Phoenix.

Yet Phoenix's sustainability prospects get the most attention in the media — probably for no other reason than that it's really hot here.

"Will thirsty Phoenix survive climate change?" Natalie Muilenberg, a social-media editor for the ASU sustainability institute, asks readers in a July 10 article published on the university's news site.

Her short article, about a USA Today climate-change story on Phoenix, answers her own question with the statement "some believe so" — suggesting that most don't believe so.

The irony of Muilenberg's article is that the USA Today story mentioned specifically that Phoenix was better suited for the drier future than most other places in the Southwest:

"While Phoenix may be able to withstand a future with climate change due to its three water sources, other locations in the Southwest may not: [Greg Garfin, a University of Arizona climate scientist] says the most vulnerable areas for water in the Southwest are New Mexico, California, the Colorado Front Range, and Las Vegas."

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8 comments
johnnymorales1
johnnymorales1

If people ever accept building homes mostly underground with only skylights or a single room above ground then Phoenix will have no problem surviving.


Building underground doesn't require digging deep holes. Homes could still be built above ground for the most part with waterproof materials Etc., and then have dirt heaped around them.


The result if creatively managed would be a collection of hills but with windows and various other decorations that could still be built on the outside just like we do with houses.


The other alternative would be to opt for a building homes using giant quarry blocks instead of the thin walls we currently build and do away with wood entirely for exterior wall construction save for interior home design. 


Developments could take on the look of mini-Petras.


It's our obsession with having a home fully above ground designed with the Midwestern climate in mind, completely exposed to the elements that requires such heavy resource utilization.


Sure we have great insulation today, but it would be completely unnecessary if most of the house we build was underground underground.

.

By keeping most construction underground, the land would not contribute to higher temperatures via hot concrete and asphalt. 

Runoff would be allowed to return to a more natural form and nurture the land replenish the water table like it used to rather than rushing off into the concrete drainage system.

maxplanck0
maxplanck0

It remains to be seen if the groundswell of new immigrants will tolerate the intensity and duration of the summers here. Yes, they have in the past but not everyone makes the transition of their initial summer, "trial by fire." I did, but that was in years past, when Baseline Road was still 2 lanes and populated with citrus groves.

John Cady
John Cady

Where are the breasts though?

Judy Hedding
Judy Hedding

Wow. Five posts in a row without any breasts.

Anita Mahaffey
Anita Mahaffey

The damage is more likely to occur because of the crumbling infrastructure. The Phoenix Metropolitan Area, and especially Mesa, are ignoring the immediate needs of the community. SRP, the County, and the State are "helpless," due to budget constraints. The City of Mesa Mayor's Office is happy to let the existing community languish, while they look for opportunities for new development. The desert, and it's natural inhabitants can't take much more of this abuse, not to mention that the citizenry and law enforcement and safety officials are in constant danger.

DNichols
DNichols

Thank goodness satelite guided Jet Drones are spraying various "Chemtrails" over Metro Phoenix 24/7 to block out U.V. rays, and lower the surface temperature.

Look up People due to this Phony "High Cloud" spraying the temperatures in Phoenix are being manipulated, and are about 5 to 10 degrees cooler than they would be otherwise.

We are countering the adverse effects of man made pollution with yet further man made pollution.

The main "Chemtrails" being sprayed in the air we must breathe now is White Aresol,the more they spray the lower our visibility.

Look around at the White air pollution that matches the color of the "Chemtrails."

This "Chemtrail" spraying will slow the effects of Global Warming for a few more years, however with out it plant life in Phoenix would already be adversly effected.

Look up people it is easy to see if you have both eyes, and an open mind to see reality.

Lockhead Martin had a TV commercial showing a satelite, then the cloud covered Earth, and called it "Climate Control."

Down side to "Chemtrails is Heart Disease, Lung Disease, COPD, Alzhiemners, Dementia, Breast Cancer, and many other Cancers, and Diseases.

 
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