The way the Tucson community sources and uses water has changed significantly over the last several decades. As we look ahead, experts say our best bet is to plan and prepare.

“We’re looking at a growing state with limited water supplies, and so we’re trying to figure out how to have good quality, reliable water all the time for everybody. And that’s a challenge,” said Dr. Sharon Megdal. She’s the director of the Water Resources Research Center at the University of Arizona. She’s on one of the governor’s boards for water policy, and she has spent years focusing on managing water both here and internationally.

Based on everything she knows about our current water situation, she says she’s not too concerned about it.


“I can say with confidence that we here in our region are in relatively good shape because we have good water management,” Megdal said. “We have multiple supplies to draw upon, but we have to use it all wisely and behave wisely.”

Those multiple water supplies are the focus of the City of Tucson’s One Water 2100 master plan. It looks at surface water from rivers, groundwater, stormwater and recycled water, and figures out how to best use them.

“We’ve got to look at our water supplies holistically as one water,” Megdal explained, “and figure out how to make the best use of those different water supplies. So we don’t need to use drinking-quality water for out outdoor gardening.”

Megdal says the Tucson area is pretty good about following that guidance. When drinking water goes down the drain at your home or office, it becomes wastewater, which means it will get reused.

“We have treated wastewater that the county treats,” she explained. “That gets treated further, that gets recharged and that’s what irrigates a lot of our ball fields or school grounds, our cemeteries.”

That’s the reclaimed water, like what you see at the Sweetwater Wetlandswhere the water goes through the recharge basin next door.

Once it does a round as irrigation, some of that reclaimed water also goes into the Santa Cruz River.

But the drinking water supplywhere Tucson’s reclaimed water startedisn’t unlimited.

In Tucson, most of our drinking water comes from the Colorado River, as part of the Central Arizona Project, along with some groundwater. It goes down into the aquifer here, and mixes in the aquifer, before getting pumped out and delivered to homes.

While that’s worked for a while, Megdal says it won’t work forever.

“The Colorado River is looking less reliable than it has, because 40 million people depend on it one way or another,” Megdal said. “It’s just not producing the water flows that it has, and so we have to figure out how to adjust.”

She says Tucson Water has about a six-year supply of water stored underground, and we do have the ability to pump groundwater as a last resort.

“That’s our insurance,” Megdal said. “And we don’t want to draw on that insurance water, because once we use it, it won’t be replenished by nature.”

Instead, Megdal says it’s up to all of us to focus on conservation and the future, doing our part to save and better use the water we have.

“I want people to be excited about water without getting alarmed about it,” she said. “So I don’t think it’s time for alarm at all. I really do not. But I do think people need to think about it.”