Water Sustainability in Desert Cities

Water Sustainability in Desert Cities

By Katelyn Neff

Desert cities like Phoenix and Tucson face an increasing likelihood of severe drought conditions. Most likely to affect rising temperatures are concrete buildings emerging rapidly in urban sprawl, and the heat island effect in which urban temperatures spike higher than they do in the surrounding rural areas, and the possibility that water sources will dry up. How are desert cities dealing with the threat of climate change?

Phoenix has grown by over 400,000 people, but the water usage is the same as it was 20 years ago. Water conservation and sustainability efforts in the desert are a direct result of the basic human need for water in order to sustain life and the fact that it is threatened by climate change. Rethinking city planning, efficient water use and shifting perspectives are the top approaches used to combat water scarcity.

Tucson and Phoenix have excelled at campaigning towards water conservation. Wastewater recycling enables the efficient reuse of water, and aquifer recharge which is a hydrologic process where water moves downward from surface water to groundwater. Phoenix has a long history of proactive planning that keeps local communities and their water needs at the forefront. There are active campaigns to protect underground water reserves, called fossil aquifers, from being overused. Furthermore, citizens lacking an adequate water supply can borrow from individuals who have a surplus through an exchange known as water banking, but it allows managing water demands more efficiently. Phoenix Water creates a culture of wise water use through education.

Phoenix has a transparent structure that clearly shows residents the scarcity rates, which gives residents an incentive to conserve their water resources. 

Reclaimed water plays an important part in efficient use because water that isn’t drinkable can be used as a source in outdoor areas. Both desert cities have used irrigation in parks, golf courses, and cemeteries. There is a culture of matching the water quality to the intended use. This is one of the best conservation methods because outdoor watering doesn’t need potable quality water. Matching water needs based on the specific use allows us to conserve and better utilize our water resources.

There is a major shift in perception when it comes to responsible water usage in the desert. Whether it be due to cultural shifts, or from basic necessity, Phoenix and Tucson have made a pro-conservation agenda part of their everyday culture. Water conservation should be a value, and lifestyle, not a reaction to drought. They practice conservation for the long term, and not in reaction to a disastrous hydrologic event. This practice has encouraged people to care about conservation, and convert from landscapes that require lots of water, to a native landscape that can thrive without irrigation. These small, and simple contributions from everyday people is what makes the conservation efforts in the desert so successful.

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