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Should Tucsonans be concerned over a potential water crisis?

Posted at 5:27 PM, Feb 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-22 09:36:40-05

Arizonans have been hearing about the drought for a long time.

According to water experts, our state has been in a drought for nearly 20 years.
The reason?
The Colorado River and Lake Mead are hurting, seeing below average water levels. With the state's "bank" for 40 percent of its water experiencing shortages, the drought is real.
Water experts say that if projections are correct and current shortages persist, Lake Mead could reach a critical stage in the near future, which would trigger mandatory restrictions that could have a devastating impact as soon as next year.
"These figures could result in hundreds of thousands of acre-feet less (of water) for Arizona, it's a question of addition and subtraction a problem of math and the numbers don't add up," said Robert Glennon, a water policy advisor to Pima County and law professor at the University of Arizona.
He says the near-term shortages would affect Arizona and specifically the city of Tucson more than previously thought.
Although Glennon projects the city of Tucson will not go off the cliff tomorrow, he believes there is a risk for the future.
"The only really renewable water we have is on the Colorado River, and that supply for the state and perhaps the city is threatened," he stated.
How high are the chances of a water crisis in Tucson?
Other local water experts believe they are very low. They claim Tucson has nothing to worry about and won't even be affected if shortages in the Colorado River continue.
The Tucson Water Department can only track up to the year 2050, and even then, they say Tucson will have plenty of water, even if there is a mandated cut back.
According to the Tucson Water Department's spokesperson Fernando Molina,  the department has several projects to ensure the city is not affected.
"We have a long-term water supply well into the future, regardless of the impacts the drought may have on the Colorado River," said Molina.
In fact, Molina says the city still has two options available for the future:
  1. Water from the Colorado River, as long as it is available.
  2. The 149,000 acre-foot groundwater system from the Central Arizona Project, or C-A-P, in Avra Valley.
Since CAP was built, the department has stored a third of its water every year, only using 100,000 acres to meet community demands, Molina said.
"That water is being stored precisely so that we have it available in times of drought," he added. "If and when the city needs the water, TWD will deliver it to the Tucson Mountains and get it to the costumers in Tucson."
With the several projections made by experts, it's imminent that many ask themselves, "what can I do to prevent a hypothetical crisis?" Of course, there is always the common turn off the water while you're brushing your teeth or take shorter showers.
But, what can you do besides that? 
Avoid using the garbage disposal.
Experts say an uncommon yet effective strategy is to stop using your garbage disposal to get rid of food scraps.
"If you use that (garbage disposal) two minutes a day, by the end of the month you may have used 150 gallons of water just to get rid of food scraps," Glennon said. So, take your food scraps and throw them in the trash, do not use clean potable water to get rid of them in your kitchen sink.
You can also conserve water by saving energy. That means, turn off your light. "One 60 watt incandescent bulb that burns 12 hours a day by the end of the year may use as much as 6,300 gallons of water to produce electricity to run that one light,” Glennon added. So, let’s turn off some lights.
However, the most powerful tool to ensure our water's future is to educate your family on conservation. The Tucson Water Department has a special “ Public Education Outreach Program,” which goal is to teach the general public about the water conservation programs available. 
Four of the more popular programs are the Pima County SmartScape Program, Sweetwater Wetlands, Conserve2Enhance and Residential and Business/Commercial Conservation.
Pima County SmartScape: promotes best management practices based on xeriscape principles for creating and maintaining healthy, water-efficient landscapes.
Sweetwater Wetlands: a water treatment facility, an urban wildlife habitat, and an outdoor classroom.
Conserve2Enhance: a program that links water conservation efforts to watershed restoration and enhancement, ensuring that your water savings benefit our community.
Residential and Business/Commercial Conservation:  educational resources for residential and business/commercial customers who want to learn more about ways to conserve water and use it efficiently.
For more information about these and other conservation programs visit Tucson Water’s website.