What the deepening water shortage means for Arizona homeowners

August 9, 2021

Arizona is in the midst of a historic water shortage. The Southwest and much of the West is suffering from an intense 22-year drought, resulting in increasingly low water levels, dry soil, and dry vegetation fueled wildfires. 

The drought can have severe impacts on the things we love about living in our region, such as enjoying our abundant state and national forests and parks, tourism, the local economy, landscaping, agriculture and homebuilding. 

At Halpern Residential, we’ve received quite a few questions with concerns over how Arizona’s planned water cuts may affect homeowners and the real estate market in general. 

Below, we’ll explore the current state of Arizona’s historic drought conditions, the changes being made at the government and industry level, and what you can do as a homeowner to curb your water usage. 

How Bad is the Drought in the West?  

Nearly 88% of the western United States is currently experiencing both severe and extreme drought conditions. 

Lake Mead and Lake Powell, the country’s first and second largest reservoirs respectively, supply much of the water we use from the Colorado River, and both are at historic low record levels. In August, the federal government is expected to make an official water shortage declaration for the first time in Lake Mead’s history.  

The Colorado River and its tributaries supply water for 40 million people, farmers and ranchers, and American Indian tribes in Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, California and Nevada. In 2019, these seven states signed a drought contingency plan, which takes effect if a shortage occurs.

How the Drought-Induced Water Shortage affects Arizona

In Arizona, 84% of the state is experiencing severe drought conditions and is preparing for its first ever Tier 1 water shortage cuts. The state has functioned under Tier 0 for the last few years, making only slight decreases to the water supply, which if you haven’t noticed – good – that’s the goal. The unprecedented Tier 1 cuts are expected to take effect in 2022, which will force the state to decrease its share from the Colorado River. 

That means Arizona will lose nearly 18% or 512,000 acre-feet of water it has been drawing from the Colorado River basin. That burden falls mostly on farmers and ranchers as most of the water sourced from the river goes to the state’s agriculture industry. 

Drought Conditions for Maricopa County

The U.S. Drought Monitor updates drought conditions weekly. As of August 9, 2021 – 86% of Maricopa County was in a severe drought with nearly all of its population affected, even if it’s not disrupting daily life for residents. The water supply in Maricopa County is below normal, as 60% of stream flow sites are below normal in Arizona which directly affects 124,812 of Maricopa County’s cattle, 2,575 sheep, and 151,695 acres of hay, haylage and cotton. 

The NOAA’s highest red alarm category for drought conditions is listed as exceptional. In the last 20 years, Maricopa County has only experienced exceptional drought conditions twice; just as recently as 2018 and right now in 2021, where the data shows drought conditions are by far the worst in the last two decades and the year isn’t over yet. 

Source: Historical Conditions for Maricopa County, Drought.gov 

How the Water Shortage Impacts Arizona Housing

Over the last decade, Arizona has experienced rapid growth with new residents migrating from all over the country, especially from other drought-ridden states like California. More people means greater stress on an already scarce water supply. 

Interestingly, though, as land being used for agriculture is sold off to residential developers, the strain on the water supply is lowered. People in their homes use far less water than farmers. So as long as our population expansion displaces agriculture for homes, the net effect is positive for water use.  

What Can I Do as a Homeowner? 

As a homeowner, there is a lot you can do to be mindful of water waste inside and outside your home:

  • Fill your yard with drought-resistant plants that don’t require consistent watering such as different species of cactus, succulents and palms. 
  • Invest in lawn irrigation technology and upgrade to high-efficiency sprinklers and nozzles that use less water. 
  • Water your yard less frequently and do it earlier in the morning before the sun can evaporate the water. 
  • Replace your grass with synthetic turf. There’s quality artificial grass that looks just like the real thing. Las Vegas recently announced its removing 30% of non-functional grass to conserve 10% of its water supply. 
  • Don’t install water features like decorative fountains in front of your home.
  • Inside your home, install dual flush toilets, low flow faucets and showerheads.

How is Arizona Taking Action to Respond to the Drought? 

If we can build thriving cities in a desert, we can definitely put our minds together to ensure our future generations have continuous access to water.

We picked the brain of our friend, Jake Lenderking, Senior Vice President of Water Resources and Legislative Affairs at Global Water Resources, Inc. who has been championing for over 20 years to diversify our water sources so our state can continue to be drought tolerant. Jake says, “We are at a big inflection point and we have to start doing more. Since even consumers won’t feel the effects of a Tier 1 or Tier 2 shortage, we have some runway, but if the drought does not ease, we could find ourselves in a more serious situation pretty quickly.”

Professionals like Jake who study this say we can expect to see significant investments in modern technology and engineering to create innovative systems that replenish our water supply and nurture the environment to ease us out of a drought over time. 

For example, sustainable farming practices are giving rise to hydroponic and vertical farming technologies. Across the United States, the agriculture industry uses nearly 90% of the nation’s water supply. Increased investments in vertical farming in controlled environments can vastly reduce how much water we waste in lieu of traditional farming methods.

As Phoenix continues to grow faster than natural resources can keep up, city planners along with local and state politicians need to rise to the challenge. This summer, a $200 million water shortage bill passed the legislature as part of the FY2022 budget. 

Change starts with conversations. Invested minds from interconnected sectors are coming together to discuss how to conserve and supply water for future generations. For example, the 29th Annual Arizona Water Law Conference takes place August 26-27 at the Hilton Scottsdale Resort & Villa. The conference will feature representatives from Arizona, California, Nevada, and Colorado, and will address what states need to do soon to avoid a water shortage catastrophe. 

At Halpern Residential, we care deeply about the economic welfare, health and prosperity of our state and its residents. If you have questions about how the water shortage may affect you or what you can do to make your home more water-efficient, we’re happy to help and be a resource! 

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