When Will Arizona Run Out of Water?

The once Colorado River no longer runs to the sea


Water Supply

As a desert state, Arizona receives its water supply primarily from the Colorado River. The past few years have seen a boom in growth, especially in the Phoenix area. With all this growth and people moving in, will there be enough water to go around in the years to come? As I sought to answer this question, I came across some startling facts.

The Age of Thirst in the American West

I first came across a stunning essay by William deBuys, who goes into great detail about the water supply to the southwest. The primary message that stuck out to me:

And here’s the bad news in a nutshell: If you live in the Southwest or just about anywhere in the American West, you or your children and grandchildren could soon enough be facing an age of thirst, which may also prove to be the greatest water crisis in the history of civilization. No kidding.

The fact Arizona could run out of water within our lifetime is very scary to think. It would be the end of civilization as we knew it in the southwest. The article states Arizona has been leaving beyond their water means for years.

Just think of the coming age of thirst in the American Southwest and West as a three-act tragedy of Shakespearean dimensions.

The Colorado River Runs Dry

Colorado River Runs Dry

This photo is of the Colorado, where it comes to an end in Mexico. The Colorado River, which once flowed all the way to the sea, now ends in a dry bed in the deserts of Mexico. This article also has a very ominous message about Arizona’s water supply:

“There’s not enough fresh water to handle nine billion people at current consumption levels,” says Patricia Mulroy, a board member of the Colorado-based Water Research Foundation, which promotes the development of safe, affordable drinking water worldwide. People need a “fundamental, cultural attitude change about water supply in the Southwest,” she adds. “It’s not abundant, it’s not reliable, it’s not going to always be there.”

For some astonishing photos about the declining Colorado River, look here.

In this interesting article, a writer traveled the complete length of the Colorado and describes what he saw.

According to this article,

According to research conducted by 24/7 Wall St, ten major cities are in danger of expending their water supply by 2050 or sooner. The list includes Phoenix, Los Angeles,Orlando, Las Vegas, Fort Worth, San Francisco, and Houston.

This article’s author also traveled the Colorado River, and brought interesting facts about the Colorado River to the light:

  • 30 million people depend on the Colorado River and its tributaries for their water. The population is projected to grow another 10 million in the next decade. The river’s supply will be hard-pressed to keep pace with that growth.
  • The 1922 Colorado River Compact that divvied up use of the river’s water by seven western states was based on assumption that the river provides 17.5 million acre feet in the average year. Recent modeling shows it averages closer to 14.5 million acre feet.
  • The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation calculates that the river could run short of water 58 to 73 percent of the time by the year 2050.
  • Roughly one-fifth of the 1,450 miles of the river is “impounded” by dams. One of the grandest and most controversial dams, the Glen Canyon Dam, buried more than 2,000 Native American sites when it was commissioned starting in 1963.
  • Las Vegas is known for gambling, but its casinos account for only 7 percent of the city’s water consumption. Residential uses account for half, and 70 percent of the water used by residences is for landscaping.
  • The Colorado River last reached the Sea of Cortez in 1998.

The demise of the Hohokam could be the future for PhoenixRepeating History: The Demise of Ancient Arizona Tribes And Our Future

The Hohokam Indians inhabited what we know as the Phoenix area over 3,000 years ago. They enjoyed immense growth and development, and later strained their water supply as a result. Ancient water canals and irrigation systems have been found in Arizona built by these ancient civilizations. Ancient society spanned as far north as Flagstaff, through Phoenix and down to Tucson. This ancient society simply grew until it couldn’t sustain itself. Is Phoenix headed for the same fate?

Hohokam is a Pima word that literally means “all used up”. The Pima are a tribe who still exist today, and perhaps they knew the fate of the Hohokam better than anyone. When American settlers arrived shortly after the American Civil War, they discovered ancient adobe ruins, the remains of a lost culture. They called their new settlement Phoenix, imagining themselves rising from the ashes of a lost city.

The settlers eventually dug their own canals in the mid-1800s,  and engineers planned new canals with almost all of them following the original Hohokam canal system. The Hohokam built nearly a thousand miles of irrigation systems and Phoenix repeated the same construction that eventually led to the demise of the Hohokam.

A leading theory regarding the fall of the Hohokam is that their overdeveloped civilization was not sustainable and they may have taken their water supply for granted. I fear the same is happening in Phoenix. Developers create new communities with indigenous plant life and houses crammed together. Every bush, tree and house all require their own water supply. The development in the Phoenix area gives the illusion you’re not in the desert. People just don’t think about it until they either fly above the city in an airplane, or drive beyond the development of Phoenix. There is simply no way of getting away from the fact Arizona is a vast desert. Phoenix is surrounded by desert on all sides for thousands of miles.


This is a map that shows the ancient Hohokam irrigation canals and today's canals


Is This The Future for Phoenix?

The Future of Phoenix?Is this the future for Phoenix?Is this the future of Phoenix?

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6 thoughts on “When Will Arizona Run Out of Water?

  1. TheTram says:

    The picture at the bottom with the abandon houses, where was that photo taken?

  2. […] Furthermore the new London Bridge was not even built over a river and was instead simply unnecessarily built over a spit of land AND THEN an artificial river was created in order to preserve some sort of illusion that there is water in Arizona. Not for long though. […]

  3. […] Furthermore the new London Bridge was not even built over a river and was instead simply unnecessarily built over a spit of land AND THEN an artificial river was created in order to preserve some sort of illusion that there is water in Arizona. Not for long though. […]

  4. zrcalos says:

    When things become hard-pressed, people start allowing for more conservatory means of living.
    I think arizona will be fine..
    Because most of our water is wasted. We lose an insane amount of household and farming water by having open air canals. We waste a lot of water on having lawns, water parks, and other frivolities.
    If all these things were cut out, we would have a sustainable water source.
    People are much more willing to live than to have a lawn.
    when push comes to shove, waste will be cut so people wont run out of water.

  5. Brad-from-Phx says:

    ah but the thing this article doesn’t account for is our canals come from our vast reservoir system along the Salt river that provides a predictable flow instead of floods and droughts

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