Friday, February 27, 2009

Interesting new commercial building project in Tucson

I stumbled across this article in a local paper here in Tucson and found it pretty surprising. Using heat exchange wells for heating and cooling buildings is not that new and I believe they are fairly common back east, but I hadn't heard of it around here before now. The most likely reason is that it's a long way to groundwater in these parts. The systems don't rely on groundwater being present to permit the heat transfer process to occur (I think ... this is a bit out of my expertise but the Wikipedia page linked above gives a good overview) but it seems like water is a better heat transfer medium than clay, sand, and gravel, which make up our local aquifers.

Nonetheless, I think it's great to see projects involving this kind of innovative thinking occurring in our community. Hopefully by the time they are done building it the economy will be in recovery and the project will easily lease out. Also, because they are simply evaluating the feasibility of the geothermal aspect of the project at this point, it will turn out to be a workable solution at this location.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Water & Wastewater Infrastructure, Supply, and Planning Study - Phase I report, part 3

Chapter 3 of the main body of the report is titled "Sustainable Water Future." The first question that pops into my mind - What is meant by "sustainable water future"? The term sustainable is imbued with so many value judgments that it really can have no fixed meaning. In fact this was a question that the committee wrestled with pretty extensively during the final set of meetings. This point was discussed at some length in the Executive Summary, specifically mentioning that while there was some agreement among the committee as to the facts associated with the "data" considered and condensed within Phase I of the study and how they are applied in the context of sustainability, some of the harder-to-define aspects of sustainability (i.e. what is a sustainable population for the region) that rely heavily on various assumptions about shared values produced varying opinions among the committee, which will be explored further in Phase II.

As for this Chapter of the report, it starts with a discussion of a scenario-building exercise conducted by the Water Resources Research Center that attempted to determine the total population that could be supported by the known, existing water supplies available in the Tucson region, in the year 2030 (they looked at the county as a whole, not just Tucson or the Tucson Water service area). These population predictions necessarily involved numerous assumptions about availability of water sources (such as Colorado River water), per capita water usage, and future use of effluent to supplement water supplies. Because of these assumptions it is not a crystal ball - it merely considers several possible future outcomes. This exercise, along with the Tucson Water 50 year plan, forms the basis of much of what the committee looked at in this portion of the report.

The 50 year plan (also updated last year) explores various scenarios for future population growth and looks at the various management options for Tucson Water to supply that population with water and retain its Assured Water Supply (pdf document) designation. These scenarios involve permutations of maximum CAP allocation usage, increased effluent reuse (either directly or indirectly), and conservation programs to reduce per capita use. Essentially they are asking - How far will our existing supplies take us under these different scenarios? The upshot of this being, that unless we either find new supplies, make greater use of effluent, or further reduce per capita usage (or some combination of those) we will be hitting some limits with our supplies around 2020, which is not that far off. This is with a potential population in the Tucson Water service area of slightly under 1 million people (the current number is around 650,000 - I think, while total population in the region is about 1 million currently).

So, even assuming our Colorado River supplies remain intact through that time (probably a pretty safe assumption, but maybe not), this community has some tough choices to make in the near future. Oh, and I have been completely forgetting about water for the environment, which was noted by the committee as an important aspect of a sustainable water future. I'm definitely in favor of using some water to restore riparian ecosystems in the area, but I suspect that what will actually happen and what some of the more vocal proponents of water for the environment would like to see are some considerable distance from each other. Talking to some people of the "slow to no growth and much more water for the environment" persuasion I get the impression that they want to see flowing rivers in Tucson at some point in the future. I'm afraid that discussion needed to happen a long time ago, unless they're perfectly content with effluent-dependent waterways below sewage treatment facilities (that's very do-able). This is a key value judgment that needs to be made by this community with a lot of good data about economic trade-offs and realistic expectations of what can be achieved. Not an easy task by any means.

Finally, as what I perceive to be a prelude to Phase II of the study, the report discussed the issue of land use planning and the need that it be informed by realistic water supply information. This section was in some respects a re-hash of previously discussed data on water and wastewater infrastructure but put in the context of land use decision-making. It was a very matter-of-fact discussion outlining the need for greater regional cooperation on planning and discussions on community values that should be involved in future growth planning (see my previous posts on this topic here and here). Both of those ideas are essential, I believe, to a meaningful discussion during Phase II of the study. And that segues nicely to where my next post on the report will pick up - Vol. 2, Section 4 - Recommendations for Phase II of the study. I haven't looked at that section at all yet, so I'll have to see how my comments regarding Phase II sync with those of the committee.

I think that will be my final post on the report. The public comment period on the draft ended last week, so I blew that deadline, but it sounds like the final report won't be submitted to mayor and council until April so there may be additional opportunities for comment between now and then.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Water & Wastewater Infrastructure, Supply, and Planning Study - Phase I report, part 2

I have moved on to Chapter 2 of the report - the Water Resource Assessment.
This is the real meat of what the committee was looking at in Phase I. It includes a lot of numbers, graphs, and charts used to summarize things like miles of pipe (water and sewer), number of connections, and how much water and waste is moving through those pipes. An inventory, for the most part.

I won't go through all the boring details by trying to summarize what those numbers say. I'm going to offer a few criticisms and my suggestions for what should have been in this section of the report. But let me start by saying what I thought was good about this section.

They do a very good job of summarizing what has been compiled by Tucson Water (in their recent 50 year planning effort, available here) and the staff of the Tucson AMA (in their planning water budgets and the 3rd Management Plan, both can be found here). They also do a good job of taking the statutory assured water supply (AWS) requirements and explaining them in plain English. They clearly discuss the different elements of Tucson's water supply portfolio and how they fit into the AWS context. Overall, I thought it was a pretty good introduction to the management of water supplies in the Tucson region that can sufficiently educate the average layperson on the topic. For that reason alone I highly recommend reading this chapter.

One point that comes up several times and made me cringe slightly was the claim that Tucson Water was expecting to fully utilize Tucson's CAP allotment this year, as a means of securing our rights to the full amount in the event of cutbacks on Colorado River deliveries in the near future. If you have been following the news here, you would have noticed that the Tucson city council has just voted to approve efforts by Tucson Water to sell 50,000 ac-ft of our allotment this year and perhaps next year in order to make up a budget shortfall the water utility is experiencing due to water sales that didn't meet expectations during the past year and a lack of water connection fees because of the economic slowdown. There is no guarantee they will succeed in selling the water (at least at the prices they are hoping for) but it shows how desperate things are right now financially for a city department like Tucson Water which must meets its entire budget through fees for the services it provides.

The following are some more specific comments/criticisms that I noted while reading the report (with page numbers where applicable):
- in the discussion of recharge projects (pp. 10-11) there was very little discussion of the difference between long-term storage and annual storage and recovery, and how much of each is occurring; how these different strategies are used by Tucson Water; how their use is likely to change over the course of the 50 year planning period -- this is important info for long-term supply reliability planning and requires delicate balancing of present vs. future needs, which come to think of it may just be too complicated and esoteric for this type of report
- their discussion of use of effluent resources (pp. 17-18) failed to adequately discuss the different strategies for using this resource, i.e. recharge, managed vs. constructed (different accrual of recharge credits for each), long-term storage vs. annual storage and recovery; how these different options fit in with Tucson Water's long range planning objectives
- their discussion of available water sources and how they are being managed was generally pretty good, but I thought they could have specifically emphasized the importance of having a diversified water supply portfolio so that long-term drought doesn't have as great an effect on overall water supplies
- following up on the previous point, their discussion of water supply characteristics in the context of conservation programs (p. 30), is overly focused on effects of Colorado River cutbacks, pointing to the crucial weakness in our current supply portfolio; this points to the need to seek alternative supplies to make up for shortfalls from the River, but should also discuss relative costs of seeking those new supplies vs. imposing greater conservation measures in order to make available supplies go farther
- then where they discuss different aspects of conservation programs on pp. 35-37, they give a good general overview of what has been implemented or has been considered for implementation, but there is a glaring absence - use of price to mitigate demand; this option has to be on the table, both to curb demand and to fund conservation measures --- there is also an error in this section where they refer to city ordinances mandating expanded use of gray water and rainwater harvesting, saying that the “ordinances mandate the use of these alternative supplies for new construction beginning in 2010.” My understanding of the new rules is that they require all new commercial development to meet at least 50% of outdoor water needs with rainwater harvesting and require installation of stub-outs for gray water on all new residential construction, but no mandate that gray water actually be used on-site
- their discussion of rainwater harvesting and gray water reuse (p. 37) was pretty skimpy; they presented some case studies to show that the possibility exists, but did not explore in more detail what could be achieved by more widespread adoption of these measures; hopefully this is a topic that will be looked at in detail during Phase II of the study
- on p. 39, the report included a tidbit of information that surprised me because I had never heard of it before (although it shouldn't have been surprising) - they note that the Groundwater Management Act includes provisions to permit pumping of groundwater in AMAs without use of long-term GW credits in the event of shortages on the River. I haven't figured out yet if this provision is time-limited
- they include a long, detailed discussion of climate variability (pp. 40-43) associated with global warming and its potential effect on water supplies in the Southwest; I thought they spent way too much time on the climate change stuff and not nearly enough time on strategies water managers must consider to adapt to new climate realities; the climate change stuff is interesting but instead of spending 3 pages on the science and 1/2 page on adaption, they should have done the reverse
- in their discussion of other potential water sources (p. 46) they characterize importation of groundwater from other basins outside AMAs as a "one time shot"; while the amount of water that could be added to supplies from these basins on a yearly basis might not be that significant, the rules governing this permit essentially a fixed volume of water to be pumped each year (with limits on permissible water level declines) to augment CAP supplies; this could be very useful if managed properly
- the section on other potential water sources was also another opportunity to further discuss the possibilities from rainwater harvesting (either on individual properties or on a larger scale with floodwater retention) and gray water reuse that was not seized; only a very brief mention
- the final section of the report was a discussion of the ADD Water process that the Central Arizona Water Conservation District (CAWCD, the folks who run the CAP) recently initiated to attempt to identify other, available sources of water that could be used to supplement existing supplies within the Tucson and Phoenix areas; they didn't really say much here beyond acknowledging that this process is ongoing, it is more cost-effective for different jurisdictions to work together to secure additional supplies than to fight over the scraps, and how those supplies might be transported and utilized within the existing CAP system; what they did not discuss was where those supplies might come from or how they would be allocated, kind of important issues, but not necessary to resolve now

Next I will work through Chapter 3, Sustainable Water Future. This section looks like a lot of fun and is likely a prelude to Phase II of the study. I'll probably post something on that in about a week.

Also fyi, the public comment period ends on February 18th, which is right around the corner. So get out there and make your voice heard. Also, the first meeting in Phase II occurs on March 19.

The fight over Prescott's Assured Water Supply Designation

Earlier this week, an administrative hearing was conducted in Prescott to address challenges to the recent AZ Dept. of Water Resources (ADWR) ruling that gave Prescott permission to pump just over 8,000 acre-feet per year from the Big Chino basin to supplement water use in Prescott and Prescott Valley.

The local paper up there covered the hearing with daily reports that can be found here, here, and here. I wasn't at the hearing myself so this post is based on those reports plus my own knowledge of the situation up there.

ADWR's decision effectively increases the amount of the Prescott area's Assured Water Supply designation, permitting increased development in the area. One of the big complaints presented by objectors was that the Prescott Active Management Area (AMA) that includes Prescott, Prescott Valley, and some of Chino Valley is currently overdrafted and most knowledgeable people will admit that they have almost no real chance of getting to safe yield (where water going into the aquifer equals water going out), which is the eventual management goal for the AMA. Therefore, why should Prescott be permitted to use this water to support future growth - they should be using it to achieve safe yield by putting it into the aquifer. The fact that they would be mining a nearby aquifer in order to put the water into their own aquifer is irrelevant on this issue - this is Arizona groundwater law after all.

But the big issue in this hearing is basically whether Prescott should be permitted to pump water from the Big Chino aquifer, which is widely considered to be the main source of baseflow for the upper reaches of the Verde River. The upper Verde is a beautiful and bountiful,free-flowing desert river system that elicits strong emotions from its supporters. The Verde River also happens to be one of the main surface water sources for Salt River Project (SRP). SRP is kind of the 800 lb gorilla of water disputes in Arizona. They possess rights to a significant percentage of the surface water found in the state and they do not take kindly to any action within the watershed that could be seen as threatening those rights. Under Arizona law, the connection between groundwater and surface water is tenuous at best, governed by the concept of "subflow." The basic idea behind subflow is that only groundwater found immediately adjacent to a stream (i.e. the streambed itself) has any connection to surface water. All other groundwater in aquifers near a stream and likely providing some contribution to baseflow, but in a more tenuous and hard-to-define manner, is legally distinct from surface water. So a groundwater pumper might dry up a river - as they have with many of Arizona's rivers - and have no liability to surface water right holders who can no longer divert from the river.

The parties have been arguing whether the pumping by Prescott will impact flows in the upper Verde, with one side saying "yes it definitely will" and the other saying "no chance of impact from this pumping." If you ask any decent hydrogeologist (who isn't working for a party in this case) about it they will tell you: it's not a question of "if" the pumping will affect the river, but a question of "when" and "how much." Just take a look at John Bredehoeft's paper, "The Water Budget Myth" and tell me how you balance out inputs and outputs when one side of the equation changes. Prescott is proposing to pump from the aquifer 20 miles from the springs that feed the headwaters to the Verde. So it will probably take some time before effects are seen from their pumping, and those effects might be very small initially. There is a lot of hydrologic uncertainty to the "when" and "how much" questions - the role of geologic structures and heterogeneity in the aquifer to start with - but the "if" question is an easy one.

Prescott has complained loudly in the administrative hearing that some of the local objectors who presented evidence against permitting the pumping are simply straw men for SRP, which was denied the right to participate directly in the hearing because they do not "reside" within the AMA - only entities within the AMA boundaries are permitted to challenge the ruling under state law.

There is going to be more on this process, as the hearing was not completed this week (as noted in the last article), so it will be continued at a later date. Also, once the administrative law judge issues his ruling after this hearing, it can be appealed and moved to the regular court system. And it surely will as long as SRP has a stake in it.

2/17/09: came across this today. If you are interested in more info about the property in Big Chino Valley from which Prescott plans to pump the water, the City of Prescott provides a very basic overview here.

2/27/09: One of the attorneys for SRP told me the hearing is scheduled to continue in April with 3 more days of testimony. Also, it sounds pretty certain that if Prescott gets a favorable ruling from the ALJ (which becomes a recommendation to the director of ADWR to affirm his initial ruling) there will be an appeal in Superior Court. This process will be going on for several years, in other words.

Update on using water policy to manage growth - Nevada edition

A member of the Nevada state assembly is working on a bill that addresses some of the same issues covered by the voter initiative passed on Washoe County, Nevada last fall, according to this article from the Reno Gazette-Journal.

Opponents of the bill are painting it as likely to stifle growth - a contention the bill's author insists is unwarranted. Although she appears to concede that the draft version of the bill leaked last month might go too far, it is being amended to reflect some of the concerns.

The current text of the bill can be read here. It appears to have been crafted to cover only Washoe County (using population restrictions) with provisions designed to flesh out the bare bones initiative described in a previous post.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Arizona Hydrologic Information System

Hopefully, the good work that the AZ Water Institute has done will remain in place after their funding dries up. Especially this site, the Arizona Hydrologic Information System or AHIS.

It's intended to be a one-stop-shop for water related info in the State of Arizona. Obviously a work in progress still, but they provide links to just about every conceivable source of knowledge relating to water in Arizona. Check it out and see what they have to offer.

Oh no! Not the Water Institute!

Shaun McKinnon is reporting over at Waterblogged this morning that the recently established Arizona Water Institute is among the recent casualties of our state budget crisis.
This is a real shame, as the institute has fostered collaboration among some of the brightest minds in this state to address the challenging water issues faced here.
It was created as a consortium of water experts from the three state universities in Arizona to address issues of water sustainability for the state - arguably an issue that far outweighs our current budget mess in the long view.
While some of the research they were conducting may be able to continue at the individual universities, their budgets are currently being so badly bludgeoned by the cavemen (and women) in our state legislature, there are certain to be some further casualties in this area.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Water & Wastewater Infrastructure, Supply, and Planning Study - Phase I report, part 1

I have started working through the report this week and just wanted to start with some general comments on the Executive Summary portion of the report. An executive summary is pretty self-explanatory: it sums up what the body of the report discusses and typically includes some conclusions or recommendations, depending on the purpose of the report. This is why the most important parts of the exec summary are typically the introduction (where the objectives should be laid out) and the conclusions/recommendations derived from the examination of those objectives represented by the report.

In the case of this report the committee starts with a background section, explaining why the committee was formed, what it was tasked to do, and how it was supposed to carry out those tasks. They outline four general tasks assigned for Phase I: (1) infrastructure inventory, (2) assessment of available water supplies, (3) assessment of available population projections and how they might be sustained by available water supplies, and (4) a framework for improved cooperation between city and county agencies regarding planning for management of available water resources and upgrades to water and sewer infrastructure.

They also note that because this effort was initiated at the behest of the City of Tucson and Pima County, the infrastructure and resources associated with those two entities were all that was considered in depth (there was some discussion of more regional stuff at times - i.e. presentations by ADWR staff on water resources and water use trends for the entire Tucson AMA). All the hand-wringing over bringing in other jurisdictions to engage in a dialogue about these issues seems pointless, when they were not even intended to be part of the discussion from the beginning. That is expected to change, however, for the ensuing phases of the study.

Most of the exec summary is spent summarizing the material presented in other parts of the report, which I will discuss in a later post, so I won't go over that much here. I'll just say that enough detail about that material was provided in the summary that there must have been an assumption that most readers would only read the summary, not the lengthy main body of the report. That seems kind of a shame. These are very complicated issues that cannot be easily summed up in a few paragraphs. To really understand things like the importance of groundwater credits in Tucson Water's supply portfolio or the assumptions made in projecting future water use you really must read the more detailed descriptions in the main report.

The last 5 pages of the summary are of most interest to me. This section is called Committee Themes, Values and Concerns - described as the key issues identified by committee members during the later meetings where the main topic was sustainability and during the course of writing the draft report. Many of these are pretty obvious, such as:
• Our water and sewer systems are generally well-run and well-maintained because most of it is not that old; but the older parts are going to require costly maintenance or replacement in the near-term.
• Our existing water supply is more than adequate for current population and could supply future population growth for another 20 years or so, depending on growth projections. Beyond that however, some large question marks loom.
• We should expand the reclaimed water system, but need to prioritize needs first.
• Use of impact fees for growth are an effective way of ensuring that growth pays it's own way, but the effectiveness of those fees needs to be reevaluated periodically.
• Use of renewable energy to power the water and wastewater infrastructure as much as possible, because energy is a significant cost associated with those systems.
• Management of the water system has to take into account uncertainty and risk associated with climate change.
• A sustainable water future requires making better use of existing supplies and getting more creative about finding new supplies right in our backyards, i.e. continued conservation, rainwater harvesting and stormwater retention. This also requires taking into consideration environmental needs for water.

Some of the other issues discussed were a bit more thought-provoking. There was a fair amount of discussion of the need to find additional water supplies, and the belief that it would be better to pursue those now, rather than waiting. I agree to a point - it depends on what sort of supplies are being looked at. Many that simply involve moving around existing water supplies already are - such as leased water from tribes, purchase of ag water, etc. I don't think it is prudent to start funding investigations into more far-fetched schemes, such as desalinization in Mexico to free up additional Colorado R. water or pipe the water up to us.

Also in this context, they discussed the need for more management of future growth - both in terms of engaging in a regional process to plan growth in the future and having actual policies in place to determine when water service from an existing provider should be expanded into new areas (specifically addressing recent actions by the Tucson City Manager, which I posted on here, here, and here.) These are issues that will be looked at by the committee more intensively during Phase II of the study (starting next month, I believe).

Then, finally, on the last two pages of the summary, they actually addressed the issue of water pricing as a mechanism for both encouraging conservation and supporting continued investment in our water supply and delivery system. This is from the very last bullet on their list of issues:
Price signals are an important tool for achieving efficient allocation of water resources. Current retail water rates do not match claims of scarcity and conflict with messages urging conservation. Water subsidies should be granted for valued outcomes such as low-income user access, community food gardens, and restoring eco-systems, but water should be priced higher to encourage conservative use and to sustain ongoing needed investment in our systems.

There are some value judgments being made there - and that would need to be made as a community to clearly define the "valued outcomes" mentioned, but the overall sentiment is very welcome to my ears. I hope I'm not the only one paying attention.

More to come next week on specific sections of the main report.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Joint City/County Water Study, Ph. I report

For those interested I have tasked myself with slogging through most (if not all) of the Phase I report from the study committee that was recently released in draft final form.
I think I will post on this over several days, taking one section at a time, starting with the Exec. Summary. I don't promise to address all sections of the report - I'll focus on the ones I find most interesting. If there is anyone out there who finds this as interesting as me and wants to post something on a part of the report or the whole thing, send me an email. I'd love to get some other viewpoints on here.
Be back in a day or two.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Recently introduced Newsfeed site - Alltop Water

Just learned of this site courtesy of Michael Campana at WaterWired. They provide a list of blogs and other websites dealing with water issues of all sorts. Check it out for your daily water news fix.