Drought can affect a small area or an entire continent. The impacts of drought develop slowly over time and can’t be reversed by one rain or snow storm. It can take years of average or above-average precipitation to correct the damage caused by drought.
In Arizona, drought is more common than you might think. The current drought, which began in 1995, has surpassed the worst in the last 110 years of record keeping. To look back before the written records from the last 100 or so years we can use tree ring research, such as conducted by the University of Arizona. This research indicates that droughts of 20-year to 30-year duration were not uncommon over the past 1,000 years in the major watersheds serving the Town of Gilbert and surrounding cities.
According to scientists at Purdue University using a new long-term climate model, Arizona will be a hotter, drier place 50 or 60 years from now, sweltering through intense heat waves and nearly rainless summers as well as warmer, drier winters.
Although the Town of Gilbert has adequate water supplies, it has none to waste. During this current drought, Gilbert has been able to manage its available water resources to meet the community's water demands. However, this record-setting drought is a warning. Given that we could experience another 10 or more years of drought, we all need to become more aware about the facts of drought and what the future possibilities and impacts from drought could be. The Town has formed a Water Supply Reduction Management Plan to plan for this situation.
Drought requires us to take action, as a community and as individuals. Together, businesses, homeowner associations and residents can do their part to use water wisely and ensure an adequate water supply for today and future generations.
What is a drought?
There are actually many definitions, but drought is generally defined as three or more consecutive years of less than average rainfall. Extended periods of below average precipitation are a normal meteorological phenomenon in the desert and can occur in any climatic region. This does not necessarily mean there will be a supply shortage. Many municipal water providers in the Valley have additional water stored for availability during drought or water supply interruptions, so a drought may not have an immediate impact on individuals.
Is the Valley in a drought?
Yes. The entire State of Arizona, including the Phoenix metropolitan area, is in the seventh consecutive year of less than average rainfall, signifying a drought. In fact, precipitation in eight out of the last nine years has been below normal. These last nine years have been nearly as dry as during the drought of 1898-1904, which led to the construction of the original Roosevelt Dam on the Salt River. If some of the climate forecasts are accurate, current conditions could extend for another few years.
If we are in a drought, why aren't there currently restrictions for the Valley cities like there are in other communities?
Through the foresight and planning of Valley leaders and the significant investment by citizens of the Valley, water providers have taken steps to ensure adequate supplies, even under serious conditions. These steps include encouraging efficient water use, developing large storage systems and relying on multiple sources of water so that if one source is cut back, there will be other sources available. Other parts of the state may be more dependent on rainfall and have more limited resources. Because we live in a desert, extra effort has been made to assure a long-term reliable water supply, unlike some areas where water is more abundant and has been taken for granted. Even though supplies are adequate in most parts of the Valley, wise use of water is always a good idea.
What are the sources of our water supply here in the Valley?
Water sources can include surface water originating as snowmelt and rainfall hundreds of miles away, such as the Salt and Verde Rivers delivered through the Salt River Project system; Colorado River water delivered through the Central Arizona Project; groundwater; and reclaimed water (highly-treated effluent). Water sources vary widely depending upon the water provider and location.
Does the State have a drought plan?
The state has developed an operational drought plan and a statewide conservation strategy. It is in the process of implementing an Arizona Drought Preparedness Plan. State agencies are involved in drought response and work with local communities and governments to develop regional plans that take into account the great differences in water supplies, water uses, population, climate and geography across the Valley. Each water provider or municipality approaches the situation from a unique perspective and therefore, each response to abnormally dry conditions may be a little bit different.
Is there enough water?
The water resources professionals who are responsible for managing the water supplies for the various municipalities located in the Valley have taken their jobs very seriously and have developed and implemented plans to accommodate the inevitable abnormally dry periods that occur here in the desert.
In general, additional water available through the Central Arizona Project has been purchased and stored underground, a process called groundwater recharge, along with highly treated reclaimed water in the past few years. This water will be recovered through wells and used to meet the demand for water that would normally be satisfied from the Salt and Verde River system. In addition, some municipalities intend to purchase additional Colorado River water from the Central Arizona Project to meet demand.
Why is SRP affected so much by the drought but there is still plenty of Colorado River water available?
There is a greater amount of storage capacity on the Colorado River system than there is on the Salt and Verde Rivers. Lake Mead can store almost 20 times as much water as Roosevelt Lake. In addition to storage in Lake Mead, Colorado River water that flows through the Central Arizona Project has been stored in the Valley for use during droughts and for future supplies. Also, the watershed contributing to the Colorado River is different from the watersheds contributing to the Salt and Verde Rivers. Colorado River water stored in Lake Mead originates as runoff, primarily snowmelt, in the Rocky Mountains in the States of Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and New Mexico. The reservoirs operated by the Salt River Project store water that originates as runoff, primarily snowmelt, in the mountains of eastern and north central Arizona which flows into the reservoirs in the Salt and Verde Rivers.
Why might some areas of the Valley be more affected than others?
Different parts of the Valley have access to different sources of water for legal and physical reasons. For example, water from the Salt and Verde Rivers can generally be used only within the boundaries of the Salt River Project, and some parts of the Valley do not have physical access, e.g. a pipeline or the treatment capability, to deliver Colorado River water.
What are the cities doing to encourage conservation?
Many cities are and have been encouraging water conservation regardless of the weather through a variety of programs over the years, including school education, assistance to business and industry, landscape information, and a campaign called "Water: Use It Wisely. A water conservation ethic as a way of life makes good sense when you are living in the desert whether precipitation is below normal or above normal.
Why are golf courses still so lush and green?
Many Valley golf courses use non-potable water that cannot be delivered to residents, such as non-drinkable groundwater, untreated surface water, and reclaimed water. Golf courses and resorts are an important part of Arizona's economic health, providing jobs and paying State and local taxes. A 1997 study by the Arizona Golf Association and the Arizona Department of Commerce estimated that statewide, golf facilities contribute over $900 million to the State's economy. Most of this impact is probably felt in the Valley and in Pima County.
How does drought affect the groundwater supply?
Here in the Valley, drought does not directly affect the groundwater supply. The natural groundwater supplies in the Valley were stored over millions of years. However, once groundwater is pumped and used, then, to all intents and purposes, it will not be available in the future unless it is artificially recharged. Since 1980, requirements of the Arizona Groundwater Management Act have lessened the dependence on mined groundwater and encouraged recharging the Valley aquifers, resulting in more groundwater being available during periods of drought.
Who decides when we are in a drought scenario?
Arizona is experiencing a meteorological drought. As a result, surface water flows in the State's rivers and streams are lower than normal. The rural parts of the State, and in particular the ranching community, are especially hard hit. There are some Federal and/or State programs that provide financial assistance to communities and/or individual water users to assist in alleviating the effects of a drought, after a formal declaration from the appropriate official that a "drought emergency" exists. The Governor can proclaimed a drought emergency in parts of the State for this very reason. This declaration does not necessarily mean there is or will be a supply shortage. Many municipal water providers in the Valley have additional water stored for availability during drought or water supply interruptions.
A major portion of the Valley's water supply originates from stream flows into the reservoirs located on the Salt and Verde Rivers. If the major reservoir, Roosevelt Lake, drops in the amount of water stored, Salt River Project may reduce the amount of water that it will provide to lands within its boundaries. When and if Salt River Project makes this decision, it will be up to each individual water provider who relies on Salt River Project for a portion of its supply, to determine how this reduction will affect its water supplies and how it will, in turn, affect its customers. Some providers may choose to purchase additional Colorado River water from the Central Arizona Project, others may elect to impose water use restrictions on customers. Others may opt to pump water previously stored underground to meet customers' demand for water. In all likelihood, some combination of all three options will be implemented in extreme drought situations.
Will there be water restrictions?
If the drought continues, some individual cities, towns, or water providers may decide to impose voluntary or mandatory water use restrictions on non-essential uses.
If we conserve now, will water rates go up later?
Water rates might go up in some areas. Even with greater conservation, obtaining additional water supplies to make up for the reduced availability of SRP supplies will probably cost more. Also, the cost of implementing drought response measures may be met by increasing water rates. That's why it is important especially during dry years to use water wisely.
What can I do to conserve water?
There are hundreds of ways to conserve water such as: watering your landscape at night or very early in the morning, using a broom instead of a hose to clean your driveway and sidewalk, fixing toilet and faucet leaks, running your dishwasher and clothes washer only when you have full loads, turning off the faucet while shaving or brushing your teeth, and making sure your irrigation system is working properly. Call your water provider or check out the Water Use it Wisely website for more information.
Gilbert’s Other Water Resource
The growth of the Town of Gilbert and its location in the Sonoran Desert has presented a challenge to officials planning for efficient use of water resources. The addition of reclaimed water is a valuable component to the Town’s overall water portfolio.
I’ve heard the term reclaimed water. What is this and where does it come from?
As Gilbert’s population continues to grow, the demand for clean water also increases. All wastewater in the Town is captured and highly treated so that it can be safely used for irrigation and other non-potable (other than drinking) uses. This recycled or reclaimed water helps reduce demands on our groundwater use by providing an additional water source for our growing community.
What is the Town’s position on using reclaimed water? Where is it used?
Since 1986, the town has been using 100 percent of its reclaimed water. Some is delivered directly to reclaimed water users; some is used to recharge, or replenish, water that is pumped from the ground. In 1990 Neely Water Reclamation facility became the first recharge site followed by The Riparian Preserve which opened in 1999. An added benefit to water recharge is the creation of desert riparian habitat that attracts a variety of wildlife. These fragile riparian areas occur naturally on less than 1 % of the land in Arizona but support more than 60% of the wildlife. Over 140 different species of birds visit the sites in Gilbert throughout the year.
How clean is Gilbert’s reclaimed water? How is it treated? Are there any health concerns I should be aware of?
Reclaimed water must meet strict water quality standards as established by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. It undergoes state-of-the-art treatment processes, is screened, filtered and chlorinated to meet the highest water standards earning an A+ rating. No health-related problems have been traced to reclaimed water, according to State health and water quality officials.
Where is reclaimed water used?
Approved uses for reclaimed water:
- Irrigation on golf courses, parks, common areas in homeowner communities, highway medians and other landscaped areas.
- Aesthetic purposes such as fountains and decorative ponds.
- Agricultural uses for irrigation such as pasture lands and irrigation at nurseries.
- Wetlands creation, restoration and enhancement.
- Industrial uses including plant wash down, processing water and cooling water.
Reclaimed water may not be used for:
- Human or pet consumption.
- Cooking, bathing, toilet flushing or other household use.
- Filling swimming pools, hot tubs or wading pools.
- Filling of children’s water toys or outdoor showers.
- Connection to any other potable water pipes, wastewater pipes, or reclaimed water pipes that would return reclaimed water back to the system.
Signs are required to identify areas that use reclaimed water. All reclaimed water systems are easily identified by the purple pipes and valve box covers seen throughout the landscape. There are restrictions on the use of reclaimed water, like watering at night when there is less chance of human contact as well as controlling run-off into the streets and preventing standing water.
How can Gilbert continue to build lake communities? Won’t we run out of water?
In order for a community to use reclaimed water, it must provide a holding or storage site which may be located above or below ground. Above-ground storage reservoirs look like small lakes or ponds. The Town delivers the reclaimed water to the reservoir. It is then the responsibility of the community to pump it into their distribution system for use on landscaped areas. The level in the reservoirs fluctuates because of the watering demands on the neighboring landscape. With careful management, Gilbert will have adequate future water supplies.
Why are the water ski lakes allowed to have full body contact? Is the water different?
Several of the water ski lakes in the town are filled with recovered water. This is reclaimed water that has been treated and recharged into the upper aquifer. Shallow wells have been drilled to allow recovery of a portion of this water while the remainder is left for aquifer replenishment. This recovered well water is classified as permissible for full body contact, but would not meet drinking water standards.
What about recharge? Is this different from reclaimed?
A portion of the reclaimed water produced by the town’s wastewater system is being used to recharge the shallow water table. The town has constructed 18 recharge ponds on 175+ acres at two locations in the urban area and a third site, measuring up to 70 acres, will help to meet future demand as well. The reclaimed water is allowed to percolate several hundred feet into the aquifer where it is capable of being used again as a future water source.
How extensive is the Town’s reclaimed system? Can homeowners use it?
The reclaimed water system encompasses established areas in Gilbert and is expanding into the sections where new growth is taking place. Developers of new communities and businesses are responsible for building the infrastructure needed to connect to the Town’s reclaimed backbone system in order to use this water source. There are no plans to serve individual homeowners at this time.
How much reclaimed water is produced on a daily basis?
Over 7.5 million gallons of wastewater is currently treated on a daily basis. This amount will increase with our growing population and the construction of a new treatment plant located in southeast Gilbert.
Is it true that reclaimed water saves drinking water?
In 2003, 796 million gallons of reclaimed water was used in place of drinking water as a source for landscape irrigation. Because less drinking (potable) water is used on landscapes and in industry, reclaimed water has eased the demand on our groundwater and surface water resources. In the peak demand period in summer, reclaimed water saves more than 131 million gallons of drinking water each day!
Do other cities in Arizona use reclaimed water?
Yes. Chandler, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Peoria and Tucson are all currently using reclaimed water. Some use only a portion of their reclaimed water, others use 100 percent. More cities are recognizing the value in establishing a reclaimed water system as an alternative water source.
My neighbor tells me because our HOA uses reclaimed water, we can use as much as we want. Is this true?
Reclaimed water is a valuable water resource because it reduces demands on groundwater sources making it one of the most significant water conservation tools. Water is a finite resource and none of it should be wasted. All the fresh water that will ever be created is already on the earth’s surface or stored underground in aquifers. Once water is applied to a landscape it is not recoverable like the water that goes down your home’s drain. However, the wastewater from your home can be captured, treated and used again. All users should treat reclaimed water with the same respect as potable water.
If the Town is trying to save water, why are there a lake, fountain and grass around the Town buildings?
The reservoir located at the Municipal Center was constructed to hold reclaimed water delivered to this site. A fountain keeps the water aerated which prevents stagnation. The water is then pumped into a landscape distribution system to irrigate the plant material surrounding the municipal buildings.
Aquifers are underground beds of saturated soil or rock that yield significant quantities of water.
Potable water meets drinking water standards.
Recharge refers to water entering an underground aquifer through faults, fractures or direct absorption.
Reclaimed water is water that has received at least secondary treatment and basic disinfection and is reused after flowing out of a domestic wastewater treatment facility.
Recovered water is water that is pumped out of shallow wells to recover reclaimed water that has been recharged.
Reuse means the deliberate application of reclaimed water for a beneficial purpose.
Treated effluent meets the same standards as reclaimed water.
Wastewater contains unwanted materials from homes, businesses and industries; a mixture of dissolved or suspended substances.
Reclaimed water customers:
- Christ Greenfield LC (E side of Greenfield, S of Guadalupe)
- Cottonwood Crossings (SW corner of Greenfield & Warner
- Crossroads Park (Knox, W of Greenfield)
- Crystal Point (Warner, W of Cooper)
- Freestone Park (SE corner of Juniper and Lindsay)
- Greenfield Lakes Golf Course (NE corner of Greenfield & Warner)
- Greenfield Lakes HOA (NE corner of Greenfield & Warner)
- Higley Groves East (NE corner of Higley & Elliot)
- Higley Groves West (NW corner of Higley & Elliot)
- Kokopelli Golf Course (Guadalupe, W of McQueen)
- Lago Estancia (W of Gilbert, S of Warner)
- McQueen Park (Horne and Cullumber)
- Mesquite High School (W side of McQueen, S of Elliot) 500 S. McQueen Rd. 85233
- Morrison Ranch Lake (SE corner Elliot & Higley)
- Municipal Center (NW corner of Gilbert and Civic Center)
- Neely Ranch (NE corner of Cooper & Elliot)
- Nichols Park (NW corner of Higley and Tremaine)
- Osco Drug (NW corner Elliot & Cooper) 838 W. Elliot Rd
- Playa Del Rey (Juniper, E of McQueen)
- Power Ranch North
- Power Ranch South
- Santan Lakeside Estates (S side Riggs, E of Higley)*
- SE Library (SE corner of Guadalupe & Greenfield)
- Seven-Eleven 785 W. Elliot Rd. (SE corner of Cooper & Elliot)
- Seville (SE corner Chandler Heights & Higley)*
- SRP SEP (SE corner Warner & ValVista)
- Western Skies Golf Course (S Side of Warner, E of Lindsay)
- White Wing (E side Greenfield, S of Guadalupe)