The American state of Arizona was almost desert 50 years ago, but its population has exploded. Faced with this strong growth and a historic drought, the city of Phoenix wonders how it will be able to supply itself with water in the future.
Capital of Arizona, Phoenix was still only a small town half a century ago but today it is a sprawling city of nearly 2 million inhabitants. It also has the highest growth rate in the United States and continues to attract new residents and new businesses.
An ideal living environment for the middle classes
Many families come to settle there fleeing California, where real estate has become inaccessible for the middle classes.
“I will stay here for life”, testifies a mother of three boys in the program Tout un monde of the RTS. “I have the impression that the environment here is ideal for their development. The neighborhoods are new, more beautiful. The schools here are good. And when I arrived, I loved the calm (…), that really like it,” adds Katherine Beltran.
Prospects mortgaged by drought
Lake Mead at the lowest, on the border between Arizona and Nevada. [Justin Lane – EPA/Keystone]But Arizona, which is seeing its population soar, is facing a historic drought at the same time. The flow of water in the Colorado River continues to decline, mortgaging future prospects.
In early July, Governor Doug Ducey authorized the creation of an investment fund to finance water saving projects and develop new sources of supply. One of his ideas is to turn Mexico’s seawater into drinking water for Arizona. These projects are necessary to guarantee the competitiveness of the State, believes the governor.
Enough water for only twenty years
This problem is particularly visible when leaving Phoenix to arrive in Buckeye, at the far west of the agglomeration. This city has grown from 6,000 to 100,000 inhabitants in the space of twenty years, and it’s not over as its area is large. It is equivalent to that of the canton of Fribourg. “We have not built on even 10% of the plots”, underlines its mayor Eric Orsborn.
“We plan to go up to a million or a million and a half inhabitants but everything will depend on the water and the resources that we can secure in the short term”, underlines the elected official. “Currently, we have enough water to grow for only 20 years.”
The lack of a long-term solution
For now, local communities draw what they can from groundwater or buy water from Native American tribes. But Eric Orsborn admits that a long-term solution is still missing.
“We were approached to ask why we don’t take water from places where it rains a lot, like the Mississippi River basin, and bring the water with aqueducts,” explains the mayor. “At one time, we thought it was ridiculous to fetch water thousands of miles away. Today, it’s being studied at state level.”
This problem is all the more urgent to solve as people do not give up coming to Arizona, emphasizes Eric Orsborn again. And the state does not intend to dissuade them from coming either.