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Surprise tightening up its water budget

Officials eyeing ongoing drought

Posted 6/20/22

City of Surprise water users don’t have to worry about any reduction of supplies at the tap.

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Subscriber Exclusive

Surprise tightening up its water budget

Officials eyeing ongoing drought


City of Surprise water users don’t have to worry about any reduction of supplies at the tap.

But that doesn’t mean the city isn’t taking the current drought conditions seriously.

With the state experiencing a 21-plus-year drought on the Colorado River system, the city’s continued ability to access the full allotment of the Central Arizona Project could be threatened.

“We’ve been planning and modeling for these events specifically for a long, long time,” Surprise Water Resources Manager Michael Boule told the Surprise City Council at a water status report on June 7.

The city’s planning for the drought began in early 2020 when conservation efforts were first discussed.

Surprise officials began drafting its Drought Preparedness Plan in April 2021, which included the launch of a drought information website and a water conservation website.

The city council adopted an update to its 2008 plan in December, right before Stage 1 of the plan was implemented on New Year’s Day.

Surprise became one of the first Valley cities to implement its plan with a host of them doing so earlier this month.

Dripping away

The Arizona Department of Water Resources called for a Tier 1 designation on the Colorado River this year, meaning Arizona will receive less water from the lakes that feed the river.

“There is a lot of activity going on in the water resource world right now,” Boule told the city council.

Surprise officials are expecting the ADWR to declare a Tier 2a shortage on the Colorado River in August, to take effect in 2023.

Boule said that declaration will still mean no changes at the tap for Surprise water users.

If it ever got to a Tier 3 shortage, Surprise would see a cut of 400 acre feet of water from the Central Arizona Project.

But that water would be made up from supplies by the Arizona Water Banking Authority, which has been saving up water just for times like that. It would help Surprise make up that water loss through at least 2026.

The city council plans to vote on approving that arrangement in August.

Surprise first developed its Integrated Water Master Plan in 2008. It was then updated in 2015 and again in July 2020.

The city wants to update the plan every five years to provide a guide for long-term needs for water resources to maintain the city’s 100-year designation of assured water supply.

Who’s serving

The city currently serves more than half of its residents and businesses.

EPCOR, the largest private provider in the city, covers about one-third of Surprise, including many homes north of Bell Road, those west of Loop 303 and Coyote Lakes in the east.

Across the city, Surprise features 13 water service providers, including the city of El Mirage, which services a one-square mile of the Original Town Site.

Other companies providing water in Surprise include Saguaro View, Saguaro Acres and the Beardsley Water Company.

Surprise previously purchased the Circle City Water Company and will maintain the water production and distribution systems once the acquisition and transfer of ownership is complete.

Planned out

The city’s water plan looks 15 years into the future, taking into account population predictions and how much water the city will need through 2035.

The city is factoring in expected growth in population of 3% to 4.2% through 2035, while the water service area growth rate is expected to be 6% through that year.

Projections for water demand call for more than 22,000 acre feet of water by 2035. In 2020, Surprise’s demand was less than 10,000 acre feet.

Boule said the city has developed a tool to prepare for future water need scenarios that could even be valuable for economic development planning.

“If we were to attract a bottling plant to Surprise, and it’s going to require 9,000 acre feet per year, what is that mean for us today, tomorrow and 65 years down the line?” Boule told the city council.

Boule also said the tool will help the city deal with the possible declaration of a Tier 2 drought next year.

A Tier 2 designation would cap some CAP water currently available.

“As you know every drop of water that is mined from the earth has to be put back one for one,” Boule told the council.

About 48% of all water used in Surprise is used outdoors, Boule said. 

Not all bad

It’s not all bad news on the water front.

The good news from last year is demand rose about 2.5% from 2020 despite an increase of accounts of almost 10% from the prior year.

That’s especially good since that same demand rose about 14% from 2019 to 2020 in what Boule calls a “COVID bubble.”

Boule said that’s because demand spiked that year as more people stayed home because of the onset of the worldwide pandemic, plus the Valley experienced its hottest, driest summer on record.

Also good in 2021, demand per residential, industrial and commercial account was down 5.4% for the year. Single family residential accounts alone saw the biggest decrease in demand at 7.9% per account.

Boule said some of that lower average demand is because of electronic smart meters that detect a leak immediately, as well as overall water conservation awareness.

In other possible plans, Boule said the city believes it can save up to 16 million gallons of water per year by lessening the time it takes to clear out waste when one of the 20 wells kick on across the city.

The city will be back in front of the state in 2032 to unveil its plans for the next 10 years after that.

Jason Stone can be reached at

Surprise, water resources, drought


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