Tucson Water provides drinking water and reclaimed water services to about 720,000 people in the larger Tucson-metropolitan area. Tucson is located in southern Arizona in a region that is part of a global desert zone, one of the warmest locations in the U.S. with precipitation averaging 12 inches per year. Historically, the Tucson metropolitan area developed by relying solely on groundwater, and, along with the rest of the state, was drawing from its aquifers at an unsustainable rate. Tucson has rights to about 144,000 acre-feet annually, and recharges this allocation into an aquifer west of the City. The water remains underground until it is pumped and delivered for use in the service area. Tucson today is almost entirely dependent on Colorado River water transported by Central Arizona Project and smaller amounts of local groundwater and recycled water. The City is also subject to state-mandated groundwater conservation requirements, which as of 2019 were 160 GPCD.
To meet its water conservation goals and requirements, Tucson Water invests millions of dollars annually in water use efficiency and conservation rebates and direct installation programs—i.e., localized strategies—as alternative sources of supply. Beginning in 1998, Tucson established its first water conservation program to meet the state-mandated conservation requirements. The programs scope has continued to grow. Codified by city ordinances, these policies included public education and rebates for various residential and commercial efficiency measures, including high efficiency toilets, rainwater harvesting systems, high efficiency clothes washers, gray water systems, and free water audits. As a somewhat unique feature—to address equity and affordability issues—Tucson Water provides limited-income individuals and families with free high-efficiency toilets and grants (up to $400) and zero-interest loans (up to $2,000) for rainwater harvesting systems.
The utility is also planning neighborhood-scale green infrastructure aimed at making full beneficial use of rainwater and greening the urban landscape, rounding out its integrated sustainable management approach. Between 2019 and 2020, Tucson Water will participate in “One Water 2100,” a utility-wide planning process to update and reframe the City’s long-range water plan with a focus on how the city will utilize all available water resources and expand use of alternative resources, primarily rain and stormwater.
Tucson Water’s investments in decentralized strategies result in multiple water management benefits. To date, Tucson’s conservation program has conserved more than 2.1 billion gallons (6,446 acre-feet). The City is currently using water at the same level of use as in 1985, while population has increased by more than 226,000 people and service connections have increased by more than 75,000. The City has also installed 53,000 high-efficiency toilets and urinals, as well as 2,000 rainwater harvesting and gray water systems, among many other achievements. The utility has also invested in water conservation education; its programs have reached more than 450,000 people in the last decade. Further, Tucson Water customers are well below the state-mandated groundwater conservation standard of 160 GPCD; as of 2018, Tucson reported 122 GPCD. As to economic benefits, Tucson conducted a comprehensive avoided cost analysis in 2017 demonstrating that it saved ~$155 million by deferring and possibly avoiding the need to expand capacity of the water system and develop new, centralized recycled water supplies. It also found that water rates were 15% lower than they otherwise would have been as a direct result of the public’s investments in conservation programs.
From Tucson, Arizona, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as part of WaterNow’s Tap into Resilience initiative, WaterNow has interviewed over a dozen city and utility leaders already tapping into localized water strategies for fast, affordable, and impactful solutions to their water challenges. More details on Tucson Water’s Tap into Resilience case study are available on WaterNow’s campaign website here. And we hope you will join us at our Tap into Resilience Summit in Philadelphia on April 15-16, 2020, to learn more about localized water solutions and connect with other water leaders from across the nation.