Local opinion: Let’s find practical and immediate solutions to the water crisis | Local editorials and opinion

Here is the author’s opinion and analysis:

Faced with a dire water shortage, the Arizona Legislature passed and Governor Ducey signed a $1.2 billion grant to identify new water sources.

Two proposed ideas are building a desalination plant in Mexico to convert seawater to fresh water or a pipeline to capture and transmit floodwaters from the Mississippi River. None of these solutions would be an immediate or practical way to alleviate water scarcity. Better solutions exist.

The importation of flood waters from the Mississippi has already been proposed and studied. Completing the pipeline would take years, as legal challenges slowed construction across state lines. The construction and delivery costs would be enormous, and the water supplied would not be enough to meet the water shortages of the Central Arizona project.

The second option of desalinating water also does not make sense. Converting salt water from the ocean to fresh water is extremely expensive and energy intensive. Creating desalinated water costs between $2,000 and $2,500 per acre-foot, whereas current CAP water costs around $140 per acre-foot, and desalinated water creates environmental issues.

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The additional costs of safely disposing of salt residue would have to be added, as would the cost of building a pipeline to carry water hundreds of miles to higher elevations. Transporting the water would require either burning fossil fuels or building a nuclear power plant. The former exacerbates climate change while the latter would take many years and cost billions of dollars. Desalination can make sense for coastal cities; in Arizona it is not. Solving water scarcity requires practical, immediate and cost-effective action.

The fastest way to alleviate water scarcity is to increase the cost of water while reducing its use. No other solution will allow us to reduce our water consumption so quickly. Using less water could bring us in line with how much water we can use sustainably and afford to pay sustainably. This can be accomplished by using funds from the $1 billion legislative allocation to subsidize more efficient water use.

At the residential level, subsidizing the cost of xeriscape lawns and stopping water leaks can significantly reduce water consumption. Las Vegas is paying residents $3 per square foot to switch from grass to xeriscaped landscapes designed to use less water. Additionally, they help connect homeowners with xeriscapers and landscapers experienced in creating such beautiful lawns designed for arid regions.

Arizona could easily afford to do the same with part of the billion dollar allocation. Fixing dripping faucets, worn toilet flappers, and other water leaks can save homeowners money on their water bills and dramatically reduce water usage at almost no cost to homeowners. A public education campaign coupled with the help of knowledgeable workers who could help homeowners and landlords with these tasks would not cost very much.

However, residential water use is much lower than agricultural water use. The major part of the funds should be devoted to the reduction of water use by agriculture.

Agriculture accounts for 70-80% of water use in Arizona. Because water is cheap, farmers and herders have little incentive to reduce its use. Pricing water at its price would change that. Five percent of Arizona farms use drip irrigation while 36% of California farms have converted to drip systems. Why the difference? Because California subsidized its farmers who made the switch to reduce their water usage. Low-cost or subsidized loans to install drip irrigation or other means of reducing water use would be a faster solution than a pipeline from Mississippi or a desalination plant in Mexico.

Raising the cost of water and changing the water policy are the easiest and most cost-effective ways to address water scarcity. The knowledge and the technology already exist. The money has already been set aside. The Tucson City Council is working on practical, cost-effective solutions to an immediate crisis. The state legislature must do the same.

Mike Carran is co-leader of the Tucson chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby. He has a long-standing interest in environmental issues. He lives in the Oro Valley.

Sara R. Cicero