Taking liquid stock: Peoria officials reflect on diverse water portfolio

Mayor Cathy Carlat honors former Mayor Bob Barrett for his foresight in sustainable water practices during his tenure. Former Mayor John Keegan was also honored but unable to attend. [Submitted photo]

By Philip Haldiman
Independent Newsmedia

The city of Peoria is taking stock in the diversity of its water portfolio and recognizing those who have made it possible over the years.

Water Services Director Cape Powers said extensive planning over many years has resulted in a city with 5% of its water portfolio consisting of groundwater, which the city does not use. By stark contrast, the city was using 100% groundwater in 1998 and prior years, which was not sustainable.

Mr. Powers said today the city puts more water into the ground than it takes out on a yearly basis.

The Arizona Department of Water Resources’ designation of assured water supply allows Peoria to use groundwater for 5% of its supply. The rest comes from Salt River Project, Central Arizona Project and reclaimed water.

A tremendous amount of effort has been expended over the years to ensure Peoria has an assured water supply for existing and future residents, Mr. Powers said.

Former Mayors John Keegan and Bob Barrett, who were recently honored at a city council meeting for their water practices, served 18 combined years as mayors before Mayor Cathy Carlat took over in 2015. During those years City Managers Carl Swenson and Terry Ellis were Peoria’s top administrators.

Ms. Carlat said the city now has a 5.5 year supply of long-term water storage credits that makes up a robust and resilient water supply system.

None of this would be possible without the actions of the administrations and elected officials who came before, she said.

“Peoria has been blessed with strong water leadership which resulted in impactful decisions, diversification and foresight,” Ms. Carlat said. “Because of the prudent and wise investment decisions by the leaders that proceeded us, this elected body and this administration and City Manager Jeff Tyne have the ability to further protect our resources and transform our infrastructure to take us into the  future.”

The passage of the Groundwater Management Act of 1980 provided rules for how water supply would be used in the future and proved extremely significant in sustaining the state’s future water supply.

The law required proof of an assured water supply capable of sustaining its residents for at least 100 years and weened municipalities off using groundwater. The act also established Arizona Department of Water Resources to enforce the regulations and to carry out planning and research mandates.

Mr. Powers said the act of 1980, in practice, provided a phasing aspect that allowed water users to prepare for the implementation of the rules.

Arizona Assured Water Supply Rules went into effect in1995, which essentially required Peoria to prove how it was going to supply customers with water, and that’s when the groundwater act really came home to roost, Mr. Powers said.

At that time everybody could see the groundwater levels dropping, indicating that groundwater was leaving faster than nature was putting it back in, so it was a time to act — the amount of leadership demonstrated at that time was pretty incredible, Mr. Powers said.

Since that time, Peoria has drastically changed how water is sourced, he said.

“It was a call to act at that point in time,” he said. “That’s when Peoria started strategic diversification efforts to remove ourselves from groundwater and put ourselves on renewable water supplies that we could rely on.”

Mr. Keegan and Mr. Barrett helped approve infrastructure and water rights over previous decades to help ensure water sustainability.

This includes construction of the Beardsley and Butler wastewater treatment facilities, which recharged water for long term storage credits, and the expansion of the Pyramid Peak Water Treatment Facility’s water processing capacity, creating nearly an equal ownership share of the plant with Glendale.

“As we look to strengthen our secure water future for the residents of Peoria, we stand on the shoulders of the leaders who came before us, creating the strong foundation upon which we build,” Ms Carlat said.

The former mayors were honored, June 4. Mr. Keegan was unable to attend.

Mr. Barrett’s elected career spanned from 2001 to 2015.

“Water is the most critical thing in Arizona. If you don’t have water, you can’t grow. Cities don’t stay stagnant. They move forward or they fall back,” Mr.  Barrett said. “You have to have the water to move forward and I’m really glad we understand that and we are taking steps to continue that.”

Philip Haldiman can be reached at 623-876-3697, phaldiman@newszap.com, or on Twitter @philiphaldiman.

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