By Pamela Pickard, CAP Board President
Central Arizona Project is the primary steward of central and southern Arizona’s Colorado River water resources. By delivering almost 500 billion gallons of Colorado River water every year, CAP has dramatically and positively changed the economic and environmental landscape of our state. Clearly, CAP has a critical role in supporting the health and sustainability of the Colorado River and the State of Arizona.
Recently, Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business quantified CAP’s economic value to the state in a research study commissioned by CAP. According to the results of the Economic Impact Study of CAP on the State of Arizona, CAP’s delivery of Colorado River water from 1986 through 2010 generated in excess of $1 trillion ($1,090,000,000,000) of Arizona’s gross state product. In recent years, the existence of CAP has generated an economic benefit approaching $100 billion per year, accounting for at least one-third, and sometimes more, of the entire Arizona gross state product. Simply put, Arizona would be entirely different if CAP’s 336-mile-long canal system was never constructed, commencing almost 40 years ago.
In the shadow of this success is the daunting problem of an extended drought on the Colorado. For the past 14 years, the Colorado River basin has been experiencing severe drought, causing levels in the river’s primary reservoirs to drop. The seven states and two countries that share the Colorado River have long known that the river is vulnerable to drought or long-term reductions in flow as a result of heavy demands and a changing climate. While Arizona has planned for decades and our conservation programs are in place, the drought is more severe than expected. Previously agreed-upon shortage sharing guidelines with other states sharing the river may not be enough to solve our long-term problems. Three strategies to address overuse of the resource are currently being discussed to correct the Colorado’s “structural deficit”: conservation, augmentation and reduction of system losses.
Drought preparedness is a shared responsibility among all water users in the Southwest. There isn’t one program or technology that can resolve our issues. Local efforts to use water more efficiently and regional efforts to develop alternative supplies are every bit as critical to our water future as the larger, multi-state projects. At CAP, we are committed to doing our part to address the great challenges ahead. As the ASU study indicates, the creation of jobs in all sectors of Arizona’s cities, business and agriculture depend on the health of the Colorado River and wise management of the resource for years to come.