Water powering growth

A new partnership with the Gila River Indian Community is creating a boon for economic development in the Valley

Water provides the foundation of economic growth, especially in the desert.

That’s why a team under the direction of Dave Roberts, SRP’s Senior Director of Water Resources, works constantly to protect SRP’s current water rights and find new supplies for our service territory.

One of the group’s most successful operations to date – a partnership with the Gila River Indian Community (the Community) – is creating a boon for the tribe and Greater Phoenix as a whole, providing emergency drought relief and making affordable, renewable supplies available to new development throughout central Arizona.

This allows growth that might otherwise have been cost-prohibitive to occur within SRP’s service territory, thereby boosting power sales and creating job growth.

The new, jointly controlled entity, known as Gila River Water Storage (GRWS), is one piece of a precisely crafted strategy to use SRP’s unique position as a power, water and telecom provider to help position Greater Phoenix as the premier destination in the Southwest for business investment.

“The dependable and renewable water supply provided by SRP is what made Phoenix’s massive growth in the 20th century possible,” said SRP’s Christa McJunkin, Principal Water Planning Analyst in Water Strategy. “The renewable water supplies available through GRWS will serve the same role for the undeveloped areas of SRP’s power service area.”

Water becomes power

It works like this: The Community has an allotment of 311,800 acre-feet of CAP water to which it is entitled.

Through SRP’s agreement with the Community, up to 2 million acre-feet of that water will be stored to create long-term storage credits between 2010 and 2029. Additionally, 30,000 acre-feet per year of the Community’s CAP water will be set aside to be leased to new or existing residential and industrial developments, as well as cities and towns.

The total water supply available from GRWS for new growth is at least 5 million acre-feet, or 50,000 acre-feet per year for 100 years, which is enough water to support a population of 500,000 people. GRWS also includes 100,000 acre-feet available as an emergency supply for SRP shareholders in the case of severe drought and the ability for SRP to purchase up to 400,000 acre-feet of long-term storage credits for power generation purposes.

That’s a big deal, because in some portions of Greater Phoenix, development has become difficult due to lack of renewable water supplies. State law requires that all developments prove a 100-year assured water supply before they build.

The Superstition Mountains Recharge Project provides underground water storage capacity. Photo courtesy of the Central Arizona Project.
The Superstition Mountains Recharge Project provides underground water storage capacity. Photo courtesy of the Central Arizona Project.

That’s not possible, particularly in the southeast portion of SRP’s electric service territory where groundwater is the primary source of supply, unless builders enroll developments in the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District (CAGRD). The CAGRD replenishes regional aquifers to replace the groundwater used by its members. To do this, the CAGRD purchases renewable water supplies under short- and long-term agreements in an increasingly competitive water market.

The cost of replenishment for CAGRD members is rising as demand grows – prices rose 13% this year and are projected to rise 17% next year. The CAGRD is also considering additional enrollment caps and fees.

In some areas, even CAGRD membership isn’t possible because groundwater supplies have been fully allocated to existing water users.

That’s where GRWS steps in.

By combining the Community’s CAP water with SRP’s expertise in water management, GRWS is enabling growth based on the use of renewable water supplies. In addition to deciding where best to lease the Community’s CAP water, SRP and the Community work closely to choose underground storage locations that will be able to meet future water demand.

The stored water creates long-term storage credits, which can be marketed to water providers or individual water users, such as golf courses or data centers. The credits are then recovered using a well.

GRWS is also able to leverage SRP’s massive infrastructure of canals, wells and underground water storage facilities to play a role in bringing GRWS water to developers and municipalities both in and out of SRP’s service territory.

Putting it all together

When developers connect with SRP, they find a one-stop shop.

SRP’s economic development team can partner with the electrical group to arrange for a new development’s power needs, then work with SRP Telecom to secure dark fiber digital connections and, now, with GRWS to secure an assured water supply.

“This is a great partnership for the future of Arizona, SRP and the Community”

Already, GRWS has struck several deals, including the sale of a renewable water supply to Resolution Copper for future mining operations in Superior. Those operations will be powered by SRP electricity. GRWS is also supplying water to Encanterra Country Club, located in San Tan Valley, also in SRP’s service territory.

In addition to the revenues the Community receives from water leases and sales of long-term storage credits, the Community is also planning to begin operation of a managed recharge facility that will recharge CAP water on the reservation.

The water will be recharged in the Gila River streambed and will mimic the natural flow of the river within the recharge site. For many Community members, seeing water flow in the Gila River will be the first tangible evidence of the water rights secured from the Arizona Water Settlements Act.

“This is a great partnership for the future of Arizona, SRP and the Community because water scarcity and increasing competition for water supplies mean that economic growth will be naturally drawn to areas with access to dependable, renewable water supplies,” Roberts said. “GRWS will ensure that SRP’s future customers have that access.”

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