Arizona's megadrought: The latest and what can we do to help

The federal government is expected to restrict Arizona's water supply even more in the coming months due to the megadrought, heading into the new year.

However, no one knows exactly what that will mean, but we do know the three-decade drought is shrinking the Colorado River with no end in sight.

We're taking a look at problems that may be coming down the pike and what various Arizona water districts, from Buckeye to Scottsdale, are doing about it, and what you can do too.

Learn more here on Arizona's drought outlook.

What's going on?

From plastic pipes to concrete canals, water flowing from here to there, creating thriving communities in the middle of the desert.

Buckeye, a booming west Valley city with big plans, and a massive water need to match.

Its Terry Lowe's job to make sure there's enough to go around through a patchwork of plans and priorities.

"You have to start out with a little bit of chaos, so we can vet out what's going to be a solution. It's not going to be one solution. It's going to be multiple," said Lowe, director of the water resource department for the City of Buckeye.

Buckeye's population is currently at about 75,000 but sits on 600 square miles of open land with plans to develop about every last inch, but satisfying thirsty mouths is a drop in the bucket compared to watering thirsty crops.

"It's proven that ag uses more water than homes and businesses," Lowe said. "So, the rate of pumping groundwater will be less than it was."

Buckeye does a leg up, thanks to an underground aquifer up to a thousand feet deep. Every drop is closely monitored and replenished by law.

But, one aquifer can't solve all problems, so Buckeye's plan, like a good 401(k) is to diversify.

"We have the water supply, but need to manage the supply to make sure it's safe, affordable and plentiful," Lowe said.

That seems to be the consensus across the board for the Valley's vast water districts – big and small. They've seen the water shortages coming for decades and started looking beyond the Colorado River long ago.

"We're definitely in a new and somewhat perilous place with the Colorado River, and so people should pay attention to that. The two big reservoirs that hold the water, that's the Colorado River water that supplies California, Nevada, Arizona and Mexico. Those two big reservoirs, Lake Powell and Lake Mead, are declining precipitously faster than all the experts had expected. Now they're approaching a point called deadpool, where you can't get water off the reservoirs," explained Sarah Porter with the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State.

If things get really ugly, there are more ambitious plans on the horizon. From expanding Bartlett Dam to catch and release more water, a possible desalination plant near Rocky Point, Mexico, to pipe-treated ocean water heading our way.

Maybe even a water pipeline connecting the Mississippi River to the Colorado River. This is along with new water supplies, yet to be determined.

"They're, of course, water managers and other decision-makers and elected officials are worrying about this and working on solutions. But this is a place we've never been in before, in 100 and over 100 years of sharing and managing the Colorado River system," Porter said.

Before that, there are more down-to-earth ideas that all of us can do, like old fashion diligence to conserve every drop.

"The biggest thing that we can do as individuals is reduce our outside water because the water we use outside goes back into the water cycle and our water provider doesn't get to take it, treat it and reuse it. So we should focus our conservation efforts if you know, on what we're using outside. It's always good to conserve anywhere, but if we're going to invest or make big efforts, focus on outside because the water we're using indoors can be reclaimed," Porter explained.

Recycled water = beer?

Lastly, there is recycled water. The kind that goes down your toilet one day and out your sink another, but only after going through several steps including multiple membrane filters, UV rays and reverse osmosis.

Coming out clean enough to drink, and even to brew beer.

"We have great water. If the beer makers think it's great water, and they pay a lot of attention to their water, then it's great water," said Brian Biesemeyer, the Director of Scottsdale Water

Scottsdale has been recycling water at a plant for 24 years. Much of it is used to keep its golf courses green, but it wouldn't take much to send the same recycled water to your home.

Biesemeyer says that day is right around the corner.

"To make it full scape, it only takes a pipe connecting it to a plant down the road and we can treat that in millions of gallons a day going into our treatment facility. The nice thing about that is that water is used over and over and over again," Biesemeyer explained.

The landlocked city of Scottsdale is creeping closer to its goal of 5% water savings thanks in part to its new turf replacement program – a way to cut down on outside watering where up to 75% of water is used.

"I think the future is good. We have a history of being innovative with our water supply. Do we have some shortages? Yes, we do. Again, conservation and reuse are the keys to get through the current situation we're in," Biesemeyer said.

There are other water sources beyond CAP water from the Colorado River, like Salt River Project supplies that come from the Salt and Verde watersheds.

There's always a chance the megadrought will reverse course, but until that day comes, every drop at every home counts more than it did the day before.

Some of the bigger water construction projects will mean higher costs to Arizonans, but you will likely see them on your property taxes instead of on your water bill.

Click here for water conservation tips for Arizonans.

Related reports: