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August 26, 2013


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The question of whether or not Phoenix and the surrounding communities will ever wake up to the true reality of the water situation rests, partially, on how much we care about agriculture. Whether you are talking about CAP water, SRP water or ground water, a very large percentage of it goes towards the state's agricultural industry. In recent times, as the population has grown, residential development has swallowed up farmland that once needed lots of irrigation. That will continue as AZ grows - if it grows - so the question comes down to how much agricultural capacity are we willing to lose in order to accommodate more people?? Some of us, a growing number I will add, believe that local agriculture will be a very important part of life in the coming decades - not only in Phoenix, but across the country. Its not so easy to tear down abandoned subdivisions in order to return the land to farming.

Jon, welcome back. Thanks for a piece on one of my favorite topics. No need for a Monkey Wrench Gang", nature will solve the damn problem.

PS, we do not need more agriculture or people, but less. More Saguaros and Wilderness designations.

Jon: many thanks for the wonderful job of backgrounding an issue that has been whitewashed for too long. My question is about who takes the lead in developing public policy on water conservation in Phoenix and environs? The Republic's recent editorial was a start.

Thomas Malthus may have been a 180 years ago, dost not mean he was wrong and I like Jared Diamond too. Agriculture was the advent of the decline of man.

Sidecar: Give up Martinis for "Red Rice Wine" less heart attacks. Manana a break from U all and dining with an old Ed Abbey type dude.
manana es para siempre

" Its not so easy to tear down abandoned subdivisions in order to return the land to farming." -SD Mittelsteadt

We'll find a way and call it the de-construction industry. It will employ locals who once worked for the single-family homebuilding and construction industry. I'd like to start with Fountain Hills ... sorry morecleanair.

In order to form an "industry" there has to be a profit motive behind it, not just a community need. Unless of course, the government pays for it. But the point was that it may be wiser to preserve our agricultural land regardless of how much water it consumes compared to residential development. At least the ground can lay fallow if need be. Hard to lay fallow a subdivision full of thirsty humans, pets and lawns.

BTW.....for some perspective: agriculture consumes 69% of Arizona's water, whereas municipal uses comprise 25%. We get 42% of our water from the Colorado River (24% of which is CAP water), and a whopping 39% comes from groundwater supplies.

Considering our conservation plans are mostly nil, it will take some doing before our "growth" is hindered by a lack of water. Even if the Colorado dries up, before it gets to Lake Havasu, it will be awhile before people start to feel the pressure to make the difficult decisions. Especially seeing as we love to wait until the last possible minutes before we doing anything we should have done years and years earlier.

And one more tidbit to ponder: what does AZ lose if we move the consumption from agricultural uses to municipal uses??? Meaning....what do we actually grow here in AZ? In the Phoenix area, its mostly cotton and alfalfa. Will the population clamor for the loss of our cotton and alfalfa??

Water in AZ is a complicated issue, no doubt.

I am in agreement that Phoenix will have to shrink in order to remain somewhat sustainable. Mr. Talton has written more than once that Phoenix should shrink back into its "Salt River Project footprint." This would be ideal, no doubt. Even de-annexing the land inside north Phoenix’s council districts 1, 2 and 3 and preserving it as wilderness, for Cal, would be great. That would require relocating over 540,000 people…some into a denser Phoenix others back home to the Midwest, California or New England. I do not doubt that some type of contraction will occur, especially as the costs for transportation and water increase and it gets hotter. I hope it leads to a more densely population Phoenix with shade that helps mitigate the effects of climate change and the Urban Heat Island (UHI).

However, I’m going to play devil’s advocate for the other side. We hardly receive any input on this blog from them so I’ll ask a few questions. I want to start with this: why do writers, like Debuys, always single out Phoenix for condemnation insofar as to entitle articles about water use and sustainability with the city’s name? Of course this will always provocative, especially to the pro Sun Corridor crowd, and they will feverishly attempt to debunk Debuys’ work. It also tends to put many people on the defensive, and no one likes to be singled out—even Arizonans who erroneously like to believe they are rugged individualists. The conversations always turn vitriolic since many people, on both sides of the table, do not bother reading the entire article. Instead they run with the assumption that Debuys is only forecasting doom for Phoenix.

It is of no consequence at that point that he inserts snippets about California, New Mexico, and Las Vegas. Those facts get pushed aside and the conversation goes nowhere. Does Debuys know this will get a very negative reaction? Is there a point to that or does it not defeat the purpose of the article and never reach its intended audience? I’m assuming Debuys reason for writing his articles go beyond preaching to the choir. I could be wrong.

Is it true that Glen Canyon releases more water in the summer to produce enough electricity to meet demand from The Valley of the Sun for its air conditioning needs? I honestly do not know the answer and figures are hard to find. I have read more than one source claiming Arizona’s public utilities produce peak power in the summer by firing up natural gas and other fossil fuel plants. To that point, is Glen Canyon’s electricity distributed all over the West? Give us solid numbers. I can assure you that if Phoenix is not the only consumer of the dam’s electricity, and it turns out to be a relatively minor benefactor, the Gammage Jr types will poke holes in Debuys article and many will dismiss his claims because he has been “debunked.”

I also question vague information that Debuys inserts as fact in his articles: vague wording that will lead to even more tangential conversations about things like weather. Whole arguments will be dedicated to proving that “it’s really not that hot” in Arizona. These side conversations cause people to lose sight of the article’s main points. For instance, a line in his article reads: “By mid-summer, temperatures in Phoenix will routinely soar above 110°F…” What does he consider to be “mid-summer” and what exactly does he mean by temperatures will “routinely soar above 110°F”? This will be another point of contention, as trivial as it sounds.

Entire articles will be written about Debuys’ “pseudo-science” and lack of knowledge. Last summer there were 33 days when day time temps soared above 110°F, an unusual occurrence and not the norm. Since April (which averaged 75.5°F in Phoenix), a month Debuys claims “the sun begins its daily broiling of Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Tempe, and the rest of central Arizona,” we’ve had 16 days above 110°F but more days below 100°F (56 days to be exact). Summer is drawing to an end. September, even with climate change and the intensifying UHI, still welcomes cooler temperatures especially at night.

Why create this situation in the first place? Instead why not state verifiable facts in place of vague, yet inflated statements that will be used as red herrings by the local cottage industry that produces articles shooting down "Phoenix is doomed" books and articles? It would be harder, if not impossible, for certain individuals to shoot down important points in Debuys articles. I'm not saying Debuys should play nicely and try to make friends, but he should use facts and figures and avoid embellishment. Those who do not want to hear the information will not be persuaded but those on the fence, or those who do not completely understand how their decisions impact these things, likely will.

SD Mittelsteadt, I was mostly being glib about the de-construction industry. That is unless depopulation actually occurs sooner than we expect it to. If that is the case there would be profit to make; like the reuse of certain materials especially copper and recyclable metals. I'm sure we could reuse the concrete and asphalt to fill potholes in the Central City (finally, the City Council could fulfill its promises). I would also reuse those granite and soapstone countertops to remodel historic downtown homes and apartments. I call dibs on the Kohler fixtures! Morecleanair, when did you last remodel your Fountain Hills home and did you go bold and use Kohler?

I think I need some sleep!

A short recap of Jon's article: The work towards the CAP began in 1922 and the construction began in 1970's. (I worked on it myself from 1977-1984) Water first flowed in the 1990's- 70 years from start to, well, start.

Anything done to re-engineer or reverse engineer it will probably take about the same time period. Have we started that clock yet?

A Phoenix attorney told me that he was assured by former Arizona water officials (government employees) that Phoenix has sufficient water to support a population of 30 Million. I did not respond to that comment I just changed the subject.

PHxsun fan deconstruction is a theme occasionally used in Adbuster magazine articles.

"a whopping 39% comes from groundwater supplies." and thats why portions of Pinal County sank 20 feet.

Its not a matter of will earth dry up and be taken over by the sand worms its just when.

“listen: there's a hell of a good universe next door; let's go”. ― E.E. Cummings.

PSF: Fountain Hills has one attribute that brought us there 10 years ago, after 30+ years in Phoenix . . . better air quality. Granted, we still have the Bad Ozone in the hot months when we're not there. But the Brown Cloud that hangs over most of Phoenix generally doesn't make it that far East. In the years ahead, water and public transit are issues that can no longer be ignored, except by the knuckle-draggers!

morecleanair, while the brown cloud is less visible in Fountain Hills, pollutants at ground level are still likely high. Ground-level ozone and heavy particulates from exhaust hang around near the air we breathe. Given that Fountain Hills is secluded in its own little valley nestled in the hills, those invisible gases are likely rampant. Studies show that those gases are worse in the morning. Just be aware of that, morecleanair, so that you can avoid any flare ups or respiratory issues. I'm sure you know about the air quality issue in the morning.

Thanks for this column - I uttered a few "I did not know that"'s as I read it.

PSF: We're both on the same side, except that I've spent many years studying the air quality problems that plague us. Your opinions are fine, but not very accurate. No matter . . . we can agree that drought, dwindling water supplies and air quality are all subjects that the Grady Jr. contingent doesn't want to confront.

Morecleanair, its not my opinion its fact.

Air Quality Index for Fountain Hills is 49.6 from the decade between 1999-2009.

Air Quality Index for the downtown zip code 85003 is 43.6.

The scale:
0-50: Good
51-100: Moderate
101-150: Unhealthy for sensitive groups
151-200: Unhealthy
201-300: Very Unhealthy
301-500: Hazardous

Numbers from the EPA database. The differences in what affects downtown and fountain hills are spikes in particulate pollution(PM2.5) in downtown, and NO2 (an invisible gas) in the Hills.

FH: http://www.homefacts.com/airquality/Arizona/Maricopa-County/Fountain-Hills.html

DT: http://www.homefacts.com/airquality/Arizona/Maricopa-County/Phoenix.html

The last links provide a breakdown of emissions, including particulate matter and gases.

U all are the same page. lets not quibble over a few numbers.

“Our greed - driven , ever- expanding urban –industrial empire is consuming, wasting, poisoning and destroying not only the resource basis of its own existence, but also the vital, sustaining basis of life everywhere.”
Edward Abbey
comment on Killing the Hidden Waters by, Charles Bowden

What is it you do not understand about too many people. We don’t need carbon capping we need population capping. TM

I know I have seen the numbers about population declining about 2050. I got a bridge in Brooklyn, I will sell U.

P 182, para 1 of "Dry Heat."

I'm all about the numbers Cal. I have always enjoyed stats and comparing data. I should have included a comparison of both FH and DT to say, Flagstaff and Seattle but that would have required more spam trap rescues.

"I'm all about the numbers Cal." and you're a Phx Suns Fan?

2050. I'll be around 60 years old ... I'll get back to you Cal. I want to see how things unfold.

Headless, it's all about where you are from and what team you grew up with. It could be worse; I could be a Cubs fan. Or a Mariners fan.

all about the numbers is why you have to ask for a spoon in a restaurant.

I have not been a phoenix sun fan since John Macleod

OK Jon. Im hold up in a hotel without a copy of Dry Heat

John MacLeod, he was induced into the Phoenix Suns Ring of Honor last year.

Haha! Induced...I meant inducted.

Jon, i do have a copy of Sometimes a Great Notion with me and it speaks to water a lot?

AS SD Mittelsteadt points out, residential customers use far less water than agricultural ones. However, as much as I agree with this truth telling, I also see the flip side, which is a mantra of expansion into the outskirts. Those outskirts often, conveniently, have a great deal of agriculture. Agriculture often precedes residential development because it offers excellent tax advantages for holding land.

and thats why the family had one cow out there in the foothills of the McDowell's.


David Mapstone is driving home up Third Avenue when a monster truck blares its horn at him for going too slow. As it roars past, he sees the bumper sticker, an American flag with the words "Power of Pride." Mapstone muses:

"I used to like this town. Phoenix was a sunny dull place with no culture or ambition, but it had a sweetness and a good heart. Now we've got malls stuffed with people from Iowa and Wisconsin, low-wage workers in the call centers and landscape outfits and service joints, Indian casinos where they go to lose their paychecks, mass-produced subdivisions, more money than God in Paradise Valley and north Scottsdale, 250 golf courses. But it's a big hardboiled place where guys carry around their rage like an overstuffed wallet and everybody calls someplace else home."

As I have written before, I am skeptical of the claims about housing using so much less water than agriculture. The typical calculations don't count such things as artificial lakes and pools. They don't count the effects of temperature rise when agriculture is replaced by asphalt, concrete and rocks. Anyway, the REIC boyz are after sites such as Douglas Ranch and even Mojave County, where the water reserves are questionable. In any event, flood agriculture is particularly inefficient -- yet the city, which once could do so, might need to feed itself locally someday.

Yep - You cannot beat the laws of physics. The only thing you can do is get the laws of physics on your side (hence the title of my book, BTW). You do this by adaptation on the individual level. Forget meetings and group hugs. Forget mitigation and carbon offsets. Forget the sage advice of academics and permacultists. Reduce your energy use, reuse what you alread have, prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. You don't have to become a survivalist whacko, but making alliances with people who grow food sustainably is a good idea.

Years ago I put in a grey water system at my house in Mexico. Works fine and even waters my neighbor's palm trees. Last I knew, regs wouldn't permit it in Phoenix. First thing this fall, I'm capping off much of the drip irrigation.


I just downloaded your book. I look forward to reading it.

I love the smell of digital ink and digital paper. ( : - )

Graywater systems are allowed in Phoenix and there are homes in the Central City with them. There are companies in Phoenix that install residential graywater systems. The City of Phoenix uses its own systems for irrigation, like in Civic Space Park and golf courses (of course, municipalities must use different permitting than residential).

According to the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality: "In general, no city, town or county may limit the use of gray water if the use is allowed by this general permit (ARS §49-204).

You may download the gray water rule at www.azsos.gov/public_services/title_18/18-09.pdf.

The requirements for household use
are found in Title 18, Chapter 9, Article 7 (A.A.C. R-18-9-711)

Installing a system comes with some limits and regulations, including:

  • The general permit is meant for private residential use only. Gray water must be used on the site where it is generated.
  • The area of use cannot be accessible by the public.
  • Under this general permit, gray water can only be used for irrigation – not for dust control, cooling or other water uses.
  • Only drip or flood irrigation with gray-water is allowed. Spray irrigation is not permitted due to the potential for inhalation or drifting off-site.
  • Gray water flow must be less than 400 gallons per day.

There was actually a story about using residential graywater in the AZ Reopublic in 2010:

I'm not sure if you can still receive the tax credit for the systems from the state.

Had another post fall in the spam trap. In that post I forgot to mention that new homes, apartments and buildings constructed without solar panels and outdoor graywater systems is ridiculously shortsighted. Adding the cost of these systems into the homebuilding process would drive down the cost of installation while standardizing widespread use.


I'm not picking on you personally, but anyone else notice the irony of have a person comment on water issues who is from FOUNTAIN Hills, golf courses, lush parks,landscaped properties, one of the world's tallest fountains, man-made lake, and on and on. There in lies our problem. Just like me driving a full sized truck to work and complaining about traffic and air pollution. As a species, we aren't much to brag about.

Phoenix just had a single digit voter turn out.

Fukushima is poisoning the Pacific.

War with Syria is this weekend.

The football season is starting and we are represented by the Phoenix Crudnals.

The Phoenix Suns are still a semi-pro team.

And people ask me why I drink??? Seriously?????

An interesting note about permits for graywater systems in Arizona:

"'Arizona is a leader nationally in graywater participation because residents have what's called an 'assumed permit' to use graywater, said Mary Lu Nunley, of the Phoenix Water Conservation Office.'"

There is actually no permit required to install a system; meaning Arizona residents do not have to file paperwork, installers just have to ensure the system meets guidelines. The more difficult aspect of installation is receiving the tax credit which requires pre-certification.

AzReb, who are you kidding. Even if the Suns and Cardinals won championships, people would still drink! Cardinals might do well this year but they actually need a QB in order to make a playoff run. The Suns, I'm not so sure about.

Voter turnout for Council District elections is always depressingly low. One problem is that the city provides only 18 voting centers. Ridiculous for a city the size of Phoenix. There should be 8 more in the smaller and more densely populated council districts (the 5 districts south of North Mountain Park and the Phoenix Mountains Preserve). Especially in areas where car ownership is lower and transit use higher. Outreach is also lacking; we need more radio, tv, internet, and newspaper announcements 1 to 2 months before the polls open.

REB, U found a way to drink weed?
I did hear U can now get cannabis infused olive oil and a teaspoon is a high.
And regarding your comment on the less than pros. The only Pros are the Big Dogs or the CIA and they have finally got the war in Syria they have been planning for since the year 2000. Its about the oil and gas stupid. And a little bit about Mohamed.
And do not miss the foot ball helmet investigation

Mr. Talton has a talent for making these kinds of subjects highly interesting and thought provoking. I haven't had much online time available to devote to the blog lately, but I did have one or two ideas I thought I would share.

First, while Mr. Talton's skepticism regarding comparative water use statistics is commendable, academic and government studies by local researchers -- work that seems (at least at first glance) to be fairly rigorous and conducted without an axe to grind -- suggests that agriculture accounts for 80 percent of water usage in Arizona: this means that, combined, other uses (domestic, industrial, commercial, and environmental) account for only 1/5 of the state's water use.


Of course, this research was conducted from 2003 through 2005 and Arizona (particularly metro Phoenix) saw considerable growth during this period and for a couple years after; so it may be that the other sectors have increased their combined share of water usage.

The fact remains that agriculture is by far the largest water consumer in Arizona. This suggests that the largest water savings (important as supplies become strained) can come from agriculture.

There are basically two ways to do this, and some combination of the two is possible:

(1) Reduce the state's agricultural sector;

(2) Increase the water efficiency of the existing sector. Many farms and ranches lack the resources (or the inclination) to invest in drip irrigation systems and rely on highly wasteful flood irrigation and other inefficient systems.

Each of these possible strategies has potential drawbacks.

It might be easy to decrease overall agricultural presence in Arizona, through increased taxes or fees (e.g., special water consumption levies for heavy users). Would this increase local food prices?

Increasing agricultural efficiency among farmers and ranchers who are unable or indisposed to invest in water efficient irrigation systems would require subsidies. How expensive would these be and who will pay for them?

If the general taxpayer, how much of a per capita cost annually through, say, a sales tax increase?

Note, however, that many farmers and ranchers who simply wish to continue using cheap water in large quantities without investing private capital in efficient irrigation, might be prodded into diverting this capital if given an incentive to do so: for example, converting to efficient irrigation or else facing higher water use fees or special taxes. Very small (or very poor -- as judged by annual income levels) farmers and ranchers could be excused from this requirement. A comparably small number of large agricultural concerns account for a majority of irrigated acreage.

Many farmers in Arizona are open to being paid to NOT farm.

While the CAP was being built, large amounts of water were needed. You have to water the desert around the clock for two weeks in order to make the ground wet enough to dig with heavy equipment.

The only water available through most of the canal's path was wells owned by local farmers. The construction companies would pay the farmers for the water at a rate that made up for the crops they couldn't grow with it.

More, it’s always about more. I suggest you clean out the refrigerator. It’s hard to get a pot hole filled let alone more voting booths. The city of Phoenix elections assured the un needed freeway will cross Indian land and that the Police and Fire Department unions finally lost one. The first since 75.

Pro sports only has one winner. The bookie. They call the shots and they pay well for the right miss. The sports world went to hell about 64. Today it’s the thugs and the bookies. Or the tatted bodies and the million dollar brains.

I always appreciate the data information and the notion that just better applied technology well help solve mans folly. But technology and efficiency are only a part of the equation. The big part of the PI is less humans.

Should Yarnell rebuild? How about we make it a national park and name it after the fire fighters that lost their lives fighting a losing war. Warriors with no benefits. A fire fighters war ran by the negligent State of Arizona and the city of Prescott. When do we start trying some folks for negligent homicide? But then we gave the likes of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell and Rice a pass on murdering thousands in Iraq...

We just keep drinking the Koolaid. And so it goes on and on, Right AZREBEL?

Damn Water!
As i have said before I think Teddy made a mistake in building Roosevelt Dam and its extensions. Should have declared it Wilderness.

Another opinion "
"agriculture uses the bulk of the water. the real question is why irrigate at all. i can't think of a single crop that can compete with urban use, nor of a single that needs be grown here. cotton and hay can return to the south and rainfall. so can orchards of pecans. the reclamation projects of the west distorted agriculture in the same way interstate highways distorted shipping--federally financed roads murdering railroads.
and of course, given current custom, retiring agriculture simply means more urban growth and eventual exhaustion of water by cities."

Regarding state farming & ranching and local food supplies, according to the Arizona Farm Bureau and the Arizona Beef Council, about 85 percent of most leafy greens and about 50 percent of beef found in Arizona stores are produced in state. So are most eggs and milk. Many of these are not labeled as locally produced, though they are.


I agree that it makes sense to conduct water intensive production (farm and ranch) in places where water is plentiful. Of course, you have to keep in mind energy costs and other resource usage (including water) required to transport and distribute large quantities of foodstuffs over longer distances.

If and when Arizona water prices increase (due to scarcity) the market will naturally price out some agricultural activities and they will be moved to other states.

I do, however, think that it would be comparatively easy to incentivize private investment in efficient drip irrigation by making existing agricultural subsidies contingent on this, and/or levying additional fees for agricultural users of large amounts of water who insist on being wasteful simply because they can and doing so saves them capital costs.

Certainly, much easier than reducing the population, as Cal has suggested. He might have a point but the devil is in the details. If agricultural policy changes are too difficult politically, how difficult is forced population control (whether of birth rates or migration or both)? Advocates of smaller populations never specify how they will attain this.

Salt peter?
I did my part, surgery

@ Cal
"cotton and hay can return to the south and rainfall"
The South too has covered a lot of farmland with houses and subdivisions. I watched. They have such heavy soaking rains the food they grow rots, while other areas (much of Georgia) are bone dry.

"I do, however, think that it would be comparatively easy to incentivize private investment in efficient drip irrigation by making existing agricultural subsidies contingent on this, and/or levying additional fees for agricultural users of large amounts of water who insist on being wasteful simply because they can and doing so saves them capital costs."

Emil, I do so really hate to rouse the ire of such a forthright and powerful intellect as yours; but once again your Skinnerian visions of poking and prodding powerful interests to behave rationally by rigging the rules to force them to act in a way benefitting the many over their own immediate and greedy wants seems to me to be almost naïve as to the actual political complexities of making such things come to pass.


Especially when you take into consideration the Golden Rule.

"Them with the gold, makes the rules"

The key word was "comparatively". The task is made easier by the fact that while some agricultural users of water are indeed a powerful lobby, they are also a minority; and there are competing powerful interests.

If passing (and enforcing) regulations and taxes against the immediate interests of any powerful group was impossible, then the Wall Street Journal editorial page wouldn't constantly be complaining about intrusive government "stifling initiative" with regulations and taxes.

the agriculture vs. people argument is kind of a straw man. when we grow less citrus, cotton we can get them from somewhere else..

when the tap runs dry on the condo in gilbert that the starry eyed couple that scrimped for (that 20% down...) their castle it all becomes really. really, real..

'so g-pa, when you turned that thing water came out?' 'yup, all you could ever want; we thought it would never end..'

'you're sh*ttin' me g-pa!...'

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