Central Arizona Project (CAP) is the primary steward of central and southern Arizona’s Colorado River water resources. By delivering almost 500 billion gallons of Colorado River water every year, CAP has dramatically and positively changed the economic and environmental landscape of our state. Clearly, CAP has a critical role in supporting the health and sustainability of the Colorado River and the state of Arizona.
Recently, Arizona State University’s Carey School of Business quantified CAP’s economic value to the state in a research study commissioned by CAP. According to the results of the “Economic Impact Study of CAP on the state of Arizona,” CAP’s delivery of Colorado River water from 1986 through 2010 generated more than $1 trillion of Arizona’s gross state product. In recent years, CAP water deliveries have generated about $100 billion per year in economic benefit, accounting for one-third to nearly one-half of the entire Arizona gross state product. Simply put, Arizona would be entirely different if CAP’s 336-mile-long canal system had not been constructed.
In the shadow of this success is the daunting problem of an extended drought on the Colorado. For the past 14 years, the Colorado River basin has been experiencing severe drought, causing levels in the river’s primary reservoirs to drop markedly. The seven states and two countries that share the Colorado River have long known that the river is subject to drought and that increasing demands and a changing climate place greater stress on the system. Arizona has successfully implemented conservation programs and stored water underground to offset future shortages. Those activities have well prepared the state to handle the supply reductions that the Colorado River basin states agreed to in 2007. But if the drought continues unabated, the previously agreed-upon shortage sharing measures may not be sufficient to compensate for the Lower Basin (Arizona, Nevada and California) continuing to use more water than it receives each year. Ultimately, the extended drought on the Colorado River can only be addressed by reducing demand, curbing system losses and adding new supplies.
The Central Arizona Project and its partners in water resource management are working hard to create and implement solutions to our extended drought. As the ASU study indicates, the creation of jobs in all sectors of Arizona’s cities, business and agriculture depend on the health of the Colorado River and wise management of the resource for years to come.
• Pam Pickard is president of the Central Arizona Project Board.