Phoenix’s Water Management Dilemma: Politics, Sustainability and Resources

By Grace Chapman

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Within the arid landscape of Arizona, water is a necessary resource as this summer saw scorching temperatures up to 116 degrees. Therefore it is imperative that Arizona’s local and state governments understand how to navigate water resources within the state. Phoenix faces a formidable challenge of managing water resources during climate change and growing urbanization. Most of Arizona’s water is sourced from the Colorado River, Salt and Verde Rivers and groundwater. Arizona’s local and state governments manage water resources through various regulations, conservation efforts and infrastructure projects. The main contributor to water allocation and usage is through the Arizona Department of Water Resources. 

There appears to be a dilemma within the state regarding how Phoenix will respond and deal with the issue of climate change and water conservation strategies. Politics in Phoenix have significantly influenced the city’s response to climate change and water conservation. Policies and decisions made by the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) impact the implementation of water conservation strategies. In addition to the regulation of water allocation, ADWR monitors groundwater levels and addresses water rights issues, plays a major role in planning for potential water shortages and promotes water efficiency measures. 

Recently Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs committed to protecting the state’s groundwater supplies; with the regional drought super-cycle brought on by climate change and overconsumption, water is front-of-mind for her administration. In her January 8th speech, Hobbs vowed to update these groundwater laws and promised change with or without the support of the powerful Arizona Farms Bureau. In June of 2023, Hobbs announced that the growth in the Phoenix metro area cannot rely on groundwater, a shot across the bow that caused people across the political spectrum to finally realize something must be done about this. 

During Hobbs’ speech she announced direction from the state and water department to finalize a new pathway for water providers. Since the Colorado River provides drinking water to 40 million people in seven different states, there needs to be more conservation efforts as the Colorado River shrinks. Groundwater is heavily relied on and requires direction from state and local governments. 

The response to several new water conservation efforts through Arizona’s local and state governments have been celebrated throughout the state. In addition to Hobbs’ groundwater protection initiative, the Bureau of Reclamation Commissioners approved the Colorado River Lower Basin deal, materially making progress in the process. This agreement aims to stabilize both the Colorado River and Lake Mead and to protect Arizona water supplies. Considering the current drought and higher temperatures in the state as a result of climate change, this is critically important. 

Since the Colorado basin is shrinking and these climate issues keep arising, it is imperative for Arizona’s local and state governments to continue creating plans and solving issues to help conserve water. There needs to be even more direction and sustainability. The state stands at a crossroads, where decisions made today will reverberate for generations. And to that end, as a result of the actions of Governor Hobbs, we can have some degree of hope.