Our municipal water supplies

How secure are our water supplies in Cave Creek and Carefree?

Water for Cave Creek and Carefree is mostly from the Colorado River system. 85-90% of the water flowing in the Colorado River originates as the annual snowpack in the Rocky Mountains. The good news is that the snowfall last winter was above the average of the last seven years. (generally considered drought years) The bad news is that due to high temperatures and evaporation, inflow to the major Colorado River reservoirs (Lakes Powell and Mead) is only about 60% of average.
The Colorado River is probably the most studied and the most litigated major river in the United States. Allocations of its water have been established by dozens of court cases and other agreements, including the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan. This year the water flowing into Lake Powell is less than the annual allocations to California, Arizona and Nevada. This has been the case for the past 18 years. No one knows when this drought will end.

Fortunately, the Phoenix Valley has a large quantity of water in its natural underground aquifer. That aquifer was the main source of water in the Phoenix area until the Central Arizona Project (C.A.P.) canal was constructed in the 1960s. Now the Phoenix aquifer is our “backup” water in case of a severe shortage. So ground water withdrawal in our Active Management Area is carefully regulated. But it is not regulated in most of rural Arizona.

The underground Carefree Aquifer that supplies water to the wells of many of our residents is much smaller. Fortunately, it is now increasing because municipal withdrawal has been greatly reduced in recent years, and water is being added in the Desert Mountain area.
Arizona’s Colorado River water is apportioned to agriculture, cities and industrial uses. About 75% is used for farming, which is only about 8% of our economy. Furthermore, cities and towns have a higher priority than agriculture. So more efficient use of water in agriculture can make more water available for cities and towns like Cave Creek and Carefree. Conserving water use, especially the large amount of water used for landscaping, can extend our water security. Progressive pricing of water, similar to tax rates, can encourage water conservation and shift the economic burden to those who use the greatest quantities. Community education needs to be a major part of this solution.
In spite of the 18 year drought, water management at many levels can keep our own municipal water supplies secure well into the future.
To see a more comprehensive picture of our water supplies, download my presentation to the Cave Creek Water Advisory Committee on the Town of Cave Creek website. It’s on the agenda page of the March 11 meeting.

Thomas McGuire
Cave Creek Council Member