Sustainable Solutions: Scottsdale’s water principles could affect projects

Sustainable Solutions: Scottsdale’s water principles could affect projects

By J. Graber

Scottsdale City Council strengthened its commitment to water sustainability last month by adopting a set of water-management principles.

“These principles are a set of nine compiled from existing Scottsdale Water’s policies and practices with the intent of providing a transparent framework for sustainable water solutions for Scottsdale. … They span the width and breadth of what we do in Scottsdale Water,” Scottsdale Water Executive Director Brian Biesemeyer says.

The principles are water quality, water conservation, water resource planning, water and land use management, water recycle and reuse, water research and recovery, infrastructure, financial planning, and climate change and drought.

The most significant may be No. 4, which states the city will develop policies that require any general plan amendment or rezoning request that shows a water use above 100,000 gallons per day (excluding fire flow) to report certain information in a water demand exhibit.

That information includes total estimated water use per day on a sustained basis, net water use determined by a complex formula, and proposed conservation measures beyond those in the city code.

Commercial and mixed-use developments also would have to show the annual economic value of the project on a per-gallon-of-use basis.

However, when questioned by Councilmember Linda Milhaven, Scottsdale Water Policy Manager Gretchen Baumgardner confirmed that principle is only a tool to help guide decisions but is not a binding policy.

Baumgardner noted that developments that use 100,000 or more a day are few and far between, but they do exist. “We’re talking about very large commercial developments,” she says.

In comparison, Baumgardner says the average Scottsdale home uses about 100 gallons per person, per day.

Mayor David Ortega asked if the 100,000-gallon number is adjustable, based on state and federal requirements to cut water usage with the worsening of the regional drought, which is going on 22 years and counting.

“It is certainly open for discussion,” Biesemeyer says. “They’re not overarching guidelines, but with, say, the 100,000-gallons-per-day requirement, as we get deeper into our drought management plan, that might be something the drought management team could come back and recommend to council — that we lower that threshold because water is just that more important.”

Scottsdale’s action came less than a week after a federal official told a congressional panel that Lake Mead’s level was dropping faster than initially projected and that the Biden administration will impose stricter water-use requirements on tribal nations and seven Western states — including Arizona — if they don’t act first.

Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton told the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Committee that climate change and hotter average temperatures throughout most of the nation are threatening many cities’ water supplies but those that depend on the Colorado River face the greatest danger.

“Significant and additional conservation actions are required to protect the Colorado River system infrastructure and the long-term stability of the system,” she says.

The Colorado provides 70% of Scottsdale’s water via the Central Arizona Project.

Ensuring water quality is “a key pillar” of what Scottsdale water does, Biesemeyer says.

“Water utilities are unique in the fact we provide a consumptive commodity to everybody’s home on a 24-hour a day basis,” Biesemeyer says.

He notes that Scottsdale’s water treatment facilities are designed in such a way that the treated water is at least 50% less than state and federal maximum contaminant levels.

He adds that the city has thousands of backflow devices to ensure waste water does not enter the potable water supply.

“Principle 2, water conservation, outlines two main objectives of the conservation program,” Baumgardner says. “One of those is to provide the resources and tools to all of our customers so they can conserve water.

“The next one is to provide educational opportunities so these customers understand that we’re a desert city and water is a finite resource. They are stewards of it. All of them are. How do they do that? By conserving water on each one of their properties.”

Water resource planning is “a great topic for right now because we all understand in the news what is happening right now is very critical in the state and desert Southwest planning,” Baumgardner says.

There are two main focuses to this principle: water resource regulatory compliance and long-term planning.
Regulatory compliance requires that Scottsdale Water remain in compliance with the assured water supply program and annual reports; that it will, when available, recharge imported surface water underground for future use; and that it will actively pursue water rights.

Long-term planning entails remaining engaged in local, state and federal discussions on water resources planning; examining future potential extended long-term drought/shortage supply issues; and examining potential future water supply acquisition opportunities.

The principle of water recycle and reuse has five components: remain engaged in regional, state and national discussions and negotiations on the use and regulation of reclaimed water; expand recycled water systems where possible to replace potable water use; and maintain standards for the equipment and infrastructure that are unique to the conveyance, treatment and distribution of reclaimed water.

That principle also recommends ordinances and policies that require the use of reclaimed water where appropriate and maintaining education programs that focus on what reclaimed water is and its benefits to the city’s water portfolio and citizens.

The principle of water recharge and recovery includes reducing groundwater pumping, increasing the use of renewable water supplies, and increasing the amount of recharge and emphasizing recharge within the Scottsdale Water service area.

The principle of infrastructure states that planning is incorporated in Scottsdale Water’s capital improvement plans and developed in coordination with the integrated water resources master plan (which operates on a five-year cycle), the infrastructure improvement plan (three-year cycle) and technology master plan (five-year cycle).

Financial planning notes that Scottsdale Water is a self-supporting enterprise fund, so it is completely financed by rates and fees. Reserves are required and fully funded, requiring approval from city council to access. Bond covenants requirements are met, and development fee programs exist for capital expenses attributed to new development.

The principle of climate change and drought involves addressing changes that impact long-term water resources by examining both demand management and supply.

That means that now that Scottsdale has a drought management plan, Scottsdale Water will participate in the city’s sustainability planning efforts as well as in regional, state, national and international discussions and projects on water supply augmentation.

Councilmember Betty Janik says, “I’m asking all of us to start conserving water and try to reduce your use by 5%.”

Councilmember Tammy Caputi says water does not have to be a scary subject.

“Water is a scarce resource — we live in the desert — but I just want to say our city is doing a fantastic job of this. … We are planning,” she says. “We don’t make off-the-cuff decisions. We’re actually taking into account water usage based on what we’re doing going forward tracking development. We are planning carefully. We have a drought management plan.”

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