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Where does your water come from? A look at Mesa, Scottsdale and Tempe supplies

Posted at 9:21 PM, Jun 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-29 13:40:35-04

PHOENIX — Up to 70% of water usage for municipal users in Arizona is used outside for plants, grass, and swimming pools, according to the Arizona Department of Water Resources.

Water experts around the Valley say a significant amount is likely being wasted due to leaks without residents even knowing yet.

Paulette Kelley of Scottsdale found out about her leaking irrigation system during a water check inspection with experts from Scottsdale Water Utility.

"Having a more concise idea of how much water should be used per hour, that's huge in my opinion," she told ABC15.

The utility will come to resident's homes and walk people through how to efficiently run sprinklers, pool pumps and find leaks.

They are actions that may not seem like much but Brian Biesemeyer, Executive Director of Scottsdale Water says they make a difference.

"If they (residents) can cut back 5% of that water, that's the equivalent volume of our cuts in a Tier 2 drought contingency on the Colorado," he said.

And that is the city's goal because the river is already in a Tier 1 drought, declared in 2022, which triggered the first stage of Scottsdale's drought management plan.

The city gets a lot of its water from the Colorado River via the Central Arizona Project (CAP).

"Because of that the cutbacks on it really can in the long run impact Scottsdale," Biesemeyer said.

Amounts vary from year to year but in 2021 the Colorado River made up about 76% of Scottsdale's water supply. Though officials say over the last six years an average of 13% of that has been used to recharge groundwater .

7% was from recycled water and 13% came from the Verde and Salt Rivers via Salt River Project (SRP) to properties that were used as collateral for a federal loan to build Roosevelt Dam in 1903.

4% percent was pumped from the ground.

The City of Mesa is also in the first stage of its drought plan which includes more intensive consumer education about conservation programs.

"Residents can receive up to $575 if they take out at least 500 square feet of grass, replace it with a desert friendly low water xeriscape," Donna DiFrancesco, city Conservation Coordinator said.

Her job is to try and get people to curb water use from the yard to the toilet.

"If you hear the water running, if you actually just see a little ripple in the bowl, that means you have a leak. And the problem with it is that you don't really realize it because it just goes right down the drain," she said.

It's the kind of water waste that city hoping to get people to recognize one household at a time since Mesa also gets 53% of its water from Central Arizona Project. 36% comes from SRP to entitled properties, and 11% is ground water.

Tempe relies most heavily on water from SRP because much the property in that city was put up for collateral. In 2021 the City said 82 percent of its water was provided to SRP entitled properties. 7% was supplied by groundwater. 6% was CAP water of which average of nearly 18% has been used to for Tempe Town Lake to make up for evaporation over the last five years according to City officials. The City also pointed out it has 10 wells that that "capture and recirculate nearly 100% of water lost to seepage."

The final 5% comes from a separate allotment of the Salt and Verde Rivers.

Despite its small reliance on CAP water Tempe has declared stage zero of its drought plan.

Water manager Craig Caggiano said the goal is to get more people to use available conservation programs.

In early June the City of Phoenix activated a stage one water alert and it's drought management as a result of this year's cuts to Arizona allotment of the Colorado River water.

"If we can do that and we can continue to advance the culture of conservation we can potentially avoid future mandates for water restrictions," he said.

Each of the cities have been storing water in the ground for this situation, but as surface water like the Colorado becomes less plentiful, they must find new ways to do that. Biesemeyer said he expects highly treated recycled water will become a big part of that in the future.

" I truly believe we'll get to the point where direct potable reuse will be a standard for us in the Valley," he said.

Until then, cities are relying on residents to learn how to live with less water.

This story is part of a series highlight the water supplies and drought plans for cities around the Valley as the situation on the Colorado River worsens.

**Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect correct 2021 water supplies for Scottsdale. A previous version cited outdated information.