Water supply in Oro Valley is an integral part of our community for both public health and economic vitality. Having an adequate water supply is fundamental to the quality of life for any community. Having and maintaining adequate water supplies in the arid West will always be a challenge. But in Oro Valley, whether it is drought, climate change, growth, politics or other challenges, you will still have adequate water supply, because we are taking the steps to ensure our community has water now and into the future.
The Oro Valley Water Utility is a municipal utility, owned and operated by the Town of Oro Valley. Our mission is to maintain and acquire sufficient water supply to sustain the Town’s quality of life and support residential and commercial development.
Oro Valley’s water supply is diverse, and it comes from groundwater wells, the Central Arizona Project (CAP) and our reclaimed water system. Our groundwater and CAP water is for potable or drinking water use and is delivered to homes and businesses to meet your water needs. Where possible, the reclaimed water system is used for the irrigation of golf courses and other turf in Oro Valley to offset the use of potable water supplies for such uses.
The Town’s Water Utility delivers potable water from 20 production wells—a CAP interconnect by agreement with Tucson Water through 368 miles of water mains. We also receive our reclaimed water through a separate water system from Tucson Water. I say “our” water because we have the legal rights to it. We just use the Tucson Water system and pipelines to convey the water. These systems are operated by Arizona state certified water operators who assure it meets all water quality standards and is delivered to your home or business daily with sufficient pressure and on-demand.
Yet with all this planning, there are challenges, especially living in the Desert Southwest. One such challenge was the declining water levels in our wells and aquifer. We met that challenge by developing our renewable water supplies and delivering our reclaimed water in 2005, and by delivering our CAP water in 2012. As a result, we have cut our well water use in half, from 3.3 billion gallons in 2004, to just 1.6 billion gallons in 2015. Developing our reclaimed water and CAP water resources protects and preserves our groundwater supplies.
We still face ongoing challenges, especially with regard to the Colorado River. There have been recent articles and publications on the impacts of drought on Colorado River supplies, and the dropping water levels in Lake Mead. This drought has persisted for more than 16 years, but the reservoirs, although at low levels, continue to deliver water to the people in the arid Southwest. The State of Arizona and our neighboring states are working together to keep water stored in Lake Mead through what is called the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan. This plan specifically involves working with Nevada and California to reduce the amount of water used from Lake Mead. It will take time and effort to reach agreement on a plan, but we need to continue discussions and negotiate a plan that will work for all states involved.
In addition to finding solutions to these challenges, being good stewards of our water resources also means storing our supplies for the future. We are currently doing this by taking our unused supplies of Colorado River water and storing that water underground through the use of recharge basins. These basins increase the amount of groundwater that will be available for use in the future. Our plan is to continue to store our water underground to protect against future drought and shortages.
As individual households and businesses, we can each make a greater effort to conserve water. Water conservation also results in cost savings to your home or business, so there is a dual benefit. As a way to help our customers track their use and conservation, the Water Utility adopted AquaHawk, a web-based conservation tool that allows you to view your water use and sign up to receive alerts for usage levels or water leaks. Signing up to receive alerts also means you can detect leaks sooner and avoid any potential costs associated with damage repair.
(Editors Note: Philip C. Saletta, P.E. is the Town of Oro Valley’s Water Utility Director.)