Urban Uses

It's north vs. south, east vs. west, state vs. state, growth vs. no-growth, agriculture vs. urban, fish vs. people, the haves vs. the have-nots. It's dams, the Colorado River, mountain ranges, big cities, small communities, rural family farms, giant ag interests, environmentalists, water marketing, transfers, land fallowing, importing/ exporting, endangered species, wetlands. It's water quality, federal regs, state regs, reclamation, recharge the works. Providing for urban water needs in the '90s, whether it be from the Colorado River or any other source of supply, is ever more complex. But no matter how you slice it, one fact emerges loud and clear. The Colorado must provide water for millions of city dwellers. And to do this, each state must balance its river deliveries with supplies from other sources, must deal with the concerns of its cities, some unique, some common to all.


In Arizona, the idea of a huge conveyor system of canals, tunnels and pumping plants to carry Colorado River water more than 300 miles into the state's most populous counties was dismissed by a well-placed water official in 1922 as a madman's dream. Today, on the Arizona side of Lake Havasu, a pumping plant lifts water to Buckskin Mountain Tunnel from where the Central Arizona Project moves it 336 miles to its terminal point, supporting farms, Indian communities, industry and cities along the way. Some 640,000 acre-feet are earmarked to help meet the yearly needs of the latter, with such urban uses of Colorado River water taking on an ever-more exciting and indispensable role. Hot and dry, yet displaying a natural desert beauty found only in the southwest, Phoenix, the state's capital, has become the nation's ninth largest city, a minimegalopolis of nearly 2,292,000 people. It is a city of high-rise office buildings and burgeoning industrial clusters, excellent theaters and museums, contemporary hotels, a convention center and a symphony hall, countless shopping centers, colleges and universities, sprawling ranch houses reflecting its western past in neighborhoods now punctuated with a variety of diverse architectural styles, endless suburbs, some simply bedroom communities, others elegant assemblages of posh shops and resorts that cater to the well-to-do and a newly found sports ethic that has produced some of the most enthusiastic, avid fans found anywhere. Phoenix has three sources of water, water that is vital to sustain this economic hub of the state of Arizona: the Colorado River through the Central Arizona Project, the Salt River Project, a federally built system which supplies the single largest chunk, and groundwater pumping. Leaving Phoenix, the Central Arizona Project's aqueduct moves on to the second major urban area served with Colorado River water: Tucson, home to nearly 432,000 people, more than 712,000 including the metro area. Along with such large private companies as IBM, Gates Learjet, Signal Companies Garrett AiResearch and Hughes, major contributors to the city's economy are the University of Arizona and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. And, of course, there is tourism. Tucson, where dude ranches were the main draw in 1950, today is a magnet for convention goers and vacationers alike. The municipal water supply comes from two sources the Colorado River and groundwater, and until very recently only the latter. With a projected population by the year 2025 of more than 1.5 million, Tucson water issues will remain in the forefront of concerns facing Arizona's decision makers. And trying to influence the decisions will be the major competitors for water in the West: Native Americans, miners, farmers, city planners and environmentalists. There is little doubt that conservation and reclamation will become key pieces of the water jigsaw puzzle.


California's north/south water wars are legendary. Allies have shifted a bit over the years, but today there are three distinct factions: urban, agriculture and the environment -- each cognizant of the other's needs, increasingly each in support of the others on many issues, but each first and foremostly intent upon protecting and advancing the interests of those whom they represent. In water management in Southern California today, reclamation, conservation, transfers and marketing are the name of the game. The Colorado River is a major player and at stake is a sufficient urban water supply for millions of people. In the service area of the Metropolitan Water District alone and Metropolitan is on a bottom rung of the Colorado River allotment ladder, the river is a vital supplier of water to help meet the needs of more than 15 million people. The district's Colorado River Aqueduct begins at Lake Havasu behind Parker Dam. Water is pushed uphill with the aid of five pumping plants. It moves through a 242-mile, man-made riverbed. And when it arrives at its destination, it becomes an indispensable element in multi-billion dollar economies of cities and towns from south of the Tehachapi Mountains to the Mexican border, from the Pacific Ocean inland to Riverside and San Bernardino counties: the large population cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, Long Beach, and Riverside plus some 135 others, many of which in other states would themselves be considered quite large. That water serves homes, business and industry, serves government, even serves some agriculture in a 5,200-square-mile semidesert producing less than one-third of the water that greens it and that's green as in greenbacks. About 110 miles east of Los Angeles, Coachella Valley lies in one of North America's hottest driest zones. Summer temperatures reach the 100-teens, then dip to a moderate 85-90 degrees at night. It is home to two major industries agriculture and recreation and both depend on one thing for success: water. Though they account for only 10 to 15 percent of the valley's water supply, it's the urban uses that are the ongoing target of arrows shot by indignant critics. The valley is a recreational oasis with lakes, emerald fairways and water parks with four-foot waves for surfing. But resorts and recreation are the industry of the valley just as surely as steel mills, oil refineries and automobile factories help other cities in other parts of the country keep their economies on a healthy course. Valley population swells from 150,000 to 230,000 with sun seekers and second-home owners in fall and winter, bringing to life an industry fueled by top-notch water management by Coachella Valley Water District which brings Colorado River water to the area via the All-American and Coachella canals. Other Colorado River water users in California are Imperial and Palo Verde irrigation districts. As the names imply, urban use of their shares of the river are minimal and none, respectively. And in Imperial s case, only 2 percent of its supplies are used to serve the 120,000 people in the valley's towns.
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Colorado's economy was founded on two mainstays: agriculture and mining. The saga of H.A.W. Tabor, his flamboyant wife Baby Doe and their Matchless Mine immortalized the riches Colorado spewed upon its fortune hunters in the late 1800s. And who could forget the Unsinkable Molly Brown, heroine of a silver-mine-strike, rags-to-riches story spread the world round. Today agriculture and mining still produce revenue for Colorado, but today's economy is fueled by new sources. Manufacturing, including computers, electronic instruments, rockets, food products and many others, defense-related companies, military bases and the U.S. Air Force Academy, financial, medical and retail activities, and transportation all contribute mightily. But, just as mining was the lode stone of the past, tourism fills that role today. Colorado's second largest industry, tourism and recreation, has put the spotlight on the same areas of the state in which yesterday's mines were found. In providing water for this state's cities, the Colorado River aids in serving nearly two-thirds of its population. Major urban users are Denver, Colorado Springs, Pueblo and other smaller east slope cities and towns. The river runs through Colorado's west slope; however, 80 percent of the state's population settled on its eastern plains. To serve east slope cities, Colorado River water must travel over or through Rocky Mountain peaks to reach these urban centers. The mile-high city of Denver, which shares its water supply with more than 40 surrounding communities, can move hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water a year from west to east through its vast transmountain water delivery system. This requires a dizzying maze zig-zagging through the high Rockies to take all the advantage it can of gravity. Molly Brown's Denver, though her Victorian home on Pennsylvania Street stands today attracting many a tourist, bears little resemblance to this cosmopolitan city of the '90s that is home to nearly 500,000 people and sprawls into surrounding communities that add another 1.75 million. And population projections predict the state total could reach 4 million by the turn of the century. 

Complementing Denver's business districts, are museums, theaters, sports arenas and a variety of educational institutions which all contribute to the state's economy and which all benefit from its Colorado River water supply. As are most metropolitan centers, Denver is heavily involved in conservation, reuse and other supply maximizers. The Denver metropolitan area is not the only urban area of the state dependent on the Colorado River. An important military center, home to the North American Air Defense Command, the Air Force Academy, Falcon Air Station, Fort Carson Army Base, Peterson Air Force Base and the U.S. Space Command, Colorado Springs lies about 60 miles south of the capital city. Located at the foot of Pikes Peak, the view from the top of which inspired the penning of "America the Beautiful," this city of many interests not only attracts visitors from across the country to view the spacious skies, purple mountains, amber waves and fruited plains, but draws sports fans to the World Figure Skating Museum Hall of Fame, the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame and the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Growth in recent years was spurred by the expansion of high-tech industry around the military facilities. Until the late 1940s, Colorado Springs' sole water source was surface runoff from Pikes Peak. Today, in addition to the runoff, the city depends on transmountain diversion of Colorado River water delivered by several headwaters collection systems. Travelling another 40 miles south, one reaches Pueblo, population 130,700. Established in 1842 as a crossroads for mountain men, trappers, traders and Indians, it was 1872 before industry surfaced. In response to the arrival of the railroad and the discovery of gold near Trinidad to the south, Pueblo developed thriving iron foundries and smelters to serve the flourishing mines. Within a decade, this small crossroads had become Colorado's major industrial center.


Nature made southern Nevada a land of barren mountains separated by sagebrush deserts which receive an average of 4 inches of rain a year. Yet, man has been able to survive in Nevada's southern deserts due primarily to artesian wells and to the existence of the Colorado River. Native Americans and early settlers relied on the artesian wells to survive. When Las Vegas became a major watering hold for the railroad in 1905, the population began to grow, relying solely on groundwater. The Hoover Dam project brought an influx of people to Southern Nevada in the 1930s as did World War II and the defense industry. By 1962, with a population of 119,000, Southern Nevada began to overdraw its groundwater supply, and by 1971 the Las Vegas Valley was relying on Colorado River water to meet its needs. Today, Nevada is one of the fastest growing states in the nation. Southern Nevada is home to nearly 2 million residents, many of whom work in the resort and service industry. In fact, one out of every three jobs in the state is tourism-related. Mining and ranching are also major industries in the state, particularly in Nevada’s rural counties. The Colorado River supplies nearly 90 percent of Southern Nevada’s water, with the other 10 percent coming from groundwater aquifers. None of the river’s water is allotted for agricultural purposes in Southern Nevada. Southern Nevada is working to reduce its reliance on the Colorado River by pursuing its In-State Groundwater Development Project to provide a source of water to meet Southern Nevada’s needs from outside the Colorado Basin. While the world-famous resorts of Las Vegas promote the illusion of a desert oasis through moats, fountains and cascading water falls, the industry consumes only 3 percent of the valley’s water resources. Extensive recycling, reuse and conservation efforts keep the illusion alive while the actual water consumption is comparatively low. The growth experienced in Southern Nevada has made water conservation and innovation a necessity. The SNWA has implemented some of the most comprehensive and effective conservation programs in the nation, including a Water Smart Landscapes rebate program that pays residential and commercial property owners $2 for every square foot of grass removed and replaced with a water-efficient landscape. Through this program alone, Southern Nevada has removed more than 90 million square feet of grass and is saving about 4 billion gallons of water each year. Southern Nevada also stretches its water supply by capturing and treating all water used indoors in the Las Vegas Valley for reuse or return to Lake Mead. SNWA’s proactive conservation programs also include aggressive advertising campaigns, rebate coupons for water-saving devices (like pool covers and rain sensors), train-the-landscape contractor classes, free water smart landscape designs, commercial industry conservation and rebate programs, and an extensive educational outreach program.

New Mexico

Though the Colorado River does not touch one inch of the state of New Mexico, one of its major tributaries, the San Juan, arcs through its northwestern corner. And the San Juan's principal tributaries, the Animas and La Plata, join up with it as it makes that relatively short journey from the southern border of Colorado southeast of Durango looping to the point where it bisects Four Corners, so named because the states of Arizona, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico square off there in perfect right angles. The three rivers flow through San Juan County exclusively serving the urban needs of Aztec, Bloomfield, Farmington and smaller unincorporated rural areas. While Farmington boasts a population of some 34,000, Aztec and Bloomfield count in at just over 5,000 each. Still they qualify as urban, for the U.S. Census definition includes towns of 2,500 and more. The smaller towns and rural areas bring the total county population served to nearly 92,000. Surrounded by scenic beauty and ancient archeological sites, most of Farmington's growth came with the development of gas, oil and coal reserves in the area some four decades ago. Portions of water supplies serving the urban uses of much larger cities Santa Fe with nearly 56,000 people and adobe architecture linking it inextricably with its past and the young, friendly and vigorous Albuquerque, where the average age of its more than 384,000 residents is just over 27 come from the Colorado River system as well. The San Juan-Chama Project diverts water from the upper tributaries of the San Juan River and sends it through a series of tunnels under the Continental Divide to mix with the flows in the Rio Grande Basin which serves these and surrounding cities. Natural resources and manufacturing growth are substantial contributors to New Mexico's economic well being. Industries include electrical and transportation equipment, food products, paper cups, lumber, clothing and stone, and glass and clay products. As in other Colorado River Basin states, tourism is a major factor, adding some $2.3 billion to the economy and providing jobs for about 53,000 people. With the Colorado River system contributing more than 60 percent of the state's water needs, it surely is a significant contributor to its economy as well and to its reputation as the Land of Enchantment.


Utah (a) Home of majestic mountain ranges, multicolored canyons, and green valleys nestled between mountains. (b) Home of the saltiest body of water on earth with the exception of the Dead Sea and a salt desert that stretches to the horizon and beyond. (c) Home of five of the six national parks whose rivers are part of the Colorado River system. Sounds like one of the sets of answers in a list of multiple choice questions. But if the question is What is Utah? the answer is (d) all of the above. As diverse as the state itself, so are the sources of water that fuel its economy. Though more than two-thirds of the people in Utah are served or will be served by water from the Colorado River, it will not provide the sole supply for any of the large urban areas; the river contributes but 15 percent of the state's water needs and much of that is for agriculture. Salt Lake City, capital and center of the largest urban population, is a case in point. More than half of the city's water comes from several streams originating in the Wasatch Range, another 15 percent from its rights in Deer Creek Reservoir on the Provo River, some 18 percent from wells on the floor of the west valley, and a small percentage from springs. As the population increases so will the need for additional water. That's where the Central Utah Project comes in. Through the project, additional Colorado River water is slated to go to Salt Lake City to help take care of its growing needs; it will amount to about 12 percent of its then total supplies. Similar scenarios are to be found in Utah's other urban areas. Utah's share is 23 percent of the Colorado River water from the Upper Basin, a share estimated to be an annual average of 1.4 million acre-feet. The Central Utah Project is designed to put to use a good part of the remainder by 2020. With a higher than average birth rate the availability of the remaining allotment is vital. Most of the development of Colorado River water has occurred on the Green River, a tributary which originates outside the state. Eventually, all of Salt Lake, Utah, Duchesne, Uintah, Wasatch, Millard, Sevier, Piute and Sanpete counties and portions of Juab, Summit and Garfield counties are slated to be urban beneficiaries of the Colorado River system and urban beneficiaries are economy beneficiaries. Utah's economy base is diverse. Though mining and agriculture yesterday's mainstays continue to be contributors, high tech, manufacturing, retail sales and service industries all are becoming increasingly prominent: tourism alone brings the state more than $2 billion every year. Scientific advances, design and development of the first artificial heart and the first artificial heart transplant performed on a human being, and the film industry, not just location shooting, but graphics and film-oriented workshops, are bringing renown as well as dollars to the Beehive state. Urban water, indeed, plays a cutting-edge role in Utah.


Wyoming is an encounter with the wide open mountain west as it once was and still is. It is a big land of great variety and few people fewer than half a million in all. It is a place where you can see for a hundred miles, taste the sweet water of a mountain stream, feel western history in its most recent setting, hear the sound of silence and savor the wonders of a state that has been described as a national treasure. In territory, the ninth largest of the states, Wyoming's heritage and her economy stem from her abundance of natural resources. Miles of grassland and high mountain valleys have enabled agriculture and livestock to become a major industry, just as a wealth of majestic beauty and abundant wildlife have done for tourism. Beneath the surface lies an equally important yet hidden source of wealth. Mineral resources, including energy fuels such as oil and gas, coal, uranium and oil shale, and nonfuel minerals including trona, iron ore, gypsum and others provide a major tax base for the Equality State. These industries are dependent on water as are the cities and towns which must have an adequate supply to continue to flourish. Wyoming gives birth to the impressive Green River, which merges with the Colorado south of the state's borders. Its portion of the basin covers 16 percent of the state's land area, is home to 13 percent of the state's people, many of whom live in rural areas and small towns, and provides approximately 30 percent of the state's income. The largest city exclusively served by Colorado River water is Rock Springs with just over 19,000 residents, followed by Green River which houses nearly 13,000. Other communities in the watershed area include Pinedale, Big Piney, Farson and Kemmerer. Though not the most populous portion of the state, the mineral and energy industries mining, petroleum, power generation and other related services are prominent here. The only naturally occurring trona (soda ash) deposits in the United States are found in Sweetwater, the largest, most industrialized county in Wyoming much like the state itself . . . big, rough and rich in minerals. But urban uses aren't strictly restricted to the basin. There are transbasin diversions. The largest, in effect, provides urban water for the capital city of Cheyenne nearly 14,000 acre-feet of it in a typical year. That's more than enough to serve the residential needs of the city's 50,000 people and certainly enough to give a major boost to its economy. The way it works is this part of Wyoming's share of the Colorado River is diverted into the overappropriated North Platte River Basin to replace municipal-use diversions by the city of Cheyenne. Add them all together So, diverse as the seven states are today, as different, one from another, as their development has been, they all rely to some degree on water from this most dramatic, most used, most litigated of America's rivers to satisfy their urban needs. With nearly 25 million people served, at least in part, by this source of life, no wonder it is called the mighty Colorado.