Tucson Area Water

Waterfalls on the Santa Cruz River in 1889 near Sentinel Peak in Tucson
Waterfalls on the Santa Cruz River
in 1889 near Sentinel Peak in Tucson
Arizona Historical Society
Image and caption used with
permission of and provided via
email by the Arizona Historical Society
Tucson was established near the Santa Cruz and Rillito rivers that once flowed more than they do now. Those of us who live in this arid climate have an appreciation for water.

Desert plants and animals have adapted to Tucson's 12 inches of rainfall per year, and those of us who live here learn to adapt as well. We use our water for drinking, bathing, swimming, and cleaning things that attract desert dust.

Because it is rare, many of us are attracted to it. We learn to conserve it, and seek out local lakes and pools during the summer seasons.

Our local utilities conserve it as well and in the past have launched substantial marketing campaigns reminding Tucsonans when to water our plants and check for leaks in our indoor plumbing and outdoor irrigation systems.

Much of the water we use has traveled long distances. Some has been stored in the ground around us, and some has been recycled after we have used it.

The story of Tucson's water is a fascinating journey, shaped by the land, the climate, and the rivers and canals that make their way to our city.


Tucson has one of the best climates in the U.S. The city is known for its clear blue skies, low rainfall and wide-open deserts. It is a mecca for professional and amateur astronomers and those escaping the cold winter weather of the north and east. Those of us who live here can hike, bike and swim year-round.

Tucson climate
Tucson climate
D. Meeks
Oct. 12, 2020
Data source: U.S. Climate Data
CC BY-SA 4.0
Tucson is also the third fastest warming city in the U.S. August 2020 was the hottest month ever recorded in Tucson, as part of the hottest summer in 125 years of weather records.[1]

In 2008 Tucson adopted the Framework for Advancing Sustainability, establishing a series of sustainability initiatives after the Tucson city council signed on to the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement which committed cities to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 7% below 1990 levels.[3],[5]

In 2011 Tucson prepared the Community Economic Security and Climate Action Analysis, an assessment of citywide climate change citywide and strategies for action.[4]

On September 9, 2020 the Tucson City Council declared a climate emergency, and committed to developing and implementing a comprehensive 10-year Climate Action and Adaptation Plan. The declaration requires all city departments to align efforts with the Paris Agreement and the Green New Deal, and identify people-centered climate adaptation and mitigation strategies.[1]

The Climate Emergency Declaration includes energy conservation measures, clean transportation, and water management, stormwater capture and ecosystem rehabilitation that removes non-native vegetation that stress the water system.[1]

On March 7, 2023 the Tucson city council adopted a climate action plan entitled Tucson Resilient Together. The plan addresses five areas:


Girls in Santa Cruz River, 1889-1890
Girls in Santa Cruz River, 1889-1890
Arizona Historical Society
Image and caption used with
permission of and provided via
email by the Arizona Historical Society
[1] KOLD News 13 Staff. (Sep. 10, 2020). Tucson declares climate emergency; Council commits to 10-year plan for change. https://www.kold.com/2020/09/10/tucson-declares-climate-emergency-council-commits-implementing-ten-year-plan-change/

[2] City of Tucson. (n. d.). Tucson climate action and adaptation plan. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/files/caap/TucsonResilientTogether_20230228.pdf

[3] City of Tucson. (2011). City of Tucson, Arizona framework for advancing sustainability. Adaptation Clearinghouse. https://www.adaptationclearinghouse.org/resources/city-of-tucson-arizona-framework-for-advancing-sustainability.html

[4] City of Tucson & Westmoreland Associates. (Feb. 2011). Community economic security and climate action analysis. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/files/sustainability/CMS1_037899.pdf

[5] United States Conference of Mayors. (2022). Mayors climate protection agreement. https://www.usmayors.org/programs/mayors-climate-protection-center/

Santa Cruz River

Santa Cruz River Heritage Project
Tucson Water
City of Tucson
Jun. 6, 2019
Embedded video, no copy made

The Santa Cruz rivershed is 8,200 square miles and was the foundation of early settlements for native populations.[1] In 1200 BC, the Hohokam began using the Santa Cruz for irrigation, drinking water and fishing.[2]

In 1691, Spaniards brought new crops and livestock. By the 1890s, the river began to disappear because settlers were depleting groundwater using pumps. In the late 1800s, the Santa Cruz was dammed to create Warner and Silver Lakes, and gardens and picnic areas were created along the river.[2]

Cottonwood, willow, walnut and mesquite trees grew along the banks. By the 1950s, the river stopped flowing because of years of mismanagement urban expansion,[2], drainage, diversion, channeling and cementing.[1]

The Tucson Mission Garden, located in the Santa Cruz River flood plane, is located at the intersection of Mission Avenue and Melwood Lane, at the foot of Sentinel Peak, also known as A Mountain. It is the site of the ancient Tohono O'odham sacred village of S-cuk Son, pronounced Chuk Shon, and has been continuously cultivated for more than 4,100 years. It is managed by Friends of Tucson's Birthplace.[6]

As a living Sonoran Desert agricultural museum of heritage fruit trees, traditional local heirloom crops and edible native plants it hosts Hohokam, O'odham, Spanish, Mexican and Chinese gardens, a medicinal garden, a granary and a chicken coop.[6]

Mission Gardens' O'odham Garden
Mission Gardens' O'odham Garden
D. Meeks
Mar. 25, 2022
Image taken by and used with
permission of the author
CC BY-SA 4.0
About half of Tucson's reclaimed water is discharged into the Santa Cruz River further downstream, near the city's northwestern edge and outside of the legal control of Tucson Water.[3]

Environmentalists and researchers are reversing the damage.[1] The Santa Cruz River Heritage Project adds up to 2.8 million gallons of treated recycled water, called reclaimed water, to the river every day, totalling about 3,150 acre feet per year. The water is added south of downtown near the center of Tucson, and will enable the river to flow all year, while facilitating vegetation growth, promoting wildlife and the possibility of new recreational opportunities.[3]

A 980-foot pipeline, called an outfall, brings water from the reclaimed system to the river channel where it creates a a narrow stream of purified, reclaimed water within the larger river channel, where it percolates the ground and enters the aquifera body of permeable rock which can contain or transmit groundwater for later use. This project will help bring the river back to life.[3]

In 1967, the Gila topminnow was placed on the U.S. endangered species list, and in 2020, 500 were reintroduced into the Santa Cruz. As of 2022, there were about 1,800 of the small fish in the river.[7],[9]

On March 23, 2022, as part of a city, county, U of A, Arizona Game and Fish and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service effort, about 600, 3-inch longfin dace, were released into the Santa Cruz in locations where Tucson and Pima County are using treated wastewater to restore natural habitat destroyed in the 20th century. The two species are expected to peacefully coexist, eating mosquito larvae and serving as food sources for kingfishers and herons.[7],[8]

No one knows exactly which wildlife, insects and vegetation may return to the reclaimed part of the river,[4] but the Heritage Project will help reconnect Tucson residents with the river that served as the foundation of our city.[5]

Mission Gardens' topminnow habitat
Mission Gardens' topminnow habitat
D. Meeks
Mar. 25, 2022
Image taken by and used with
permission of the author
CC BY-SA 4.0

[1] University of Arizona. (n. d.). Past, present, and future of the Santa Cruz River heritage reach. https://tumamoc.arizona.edu/tumamoc-institute/lecture-series/santa-cruz-river-heritage-reach

[2] City of Tucson. (n. d.). The Santa Cruz River heritage project-A brief history.

[3] City of Tucson. (n. d.). The Santa Cruz River heritage project.

[4] Davis, T. A. (Aug. 14, 2020). "Dead" portion of Tucson's Santa Cruz River will flow again - for 5,000 feet. tucson.com

[5] Thomson, D. & Herman, V. (Mar./Apr. 2020). Tucson water revitalizes Santa Cruz River. World Water.

[6] Mission Gardens. (2022).

[7] Brean, H. (Mar. 23, 2022). Native fish comes home to Tucson as part of river restoration. tucson.com.

[8] Arizona Illustrated. (May 18, 2022). Longfin dace minnow.

[9] Brocious, A. (Jun. 28, 2019). Native Arizona fish finds new home in Tucson's Mission Garden. Arizona Public Media.

Rillito River

Rillito River running steadily after recent monsoon showers
J. Tellez
Arizona Daily Star
Aug. 20, 2022
Embedded video, no copy made
Historical accounts of the Rillito River from 100 years ago describe it as a tree-lined, narrow river with dense vegetation of cottonwoods, willows and mesquites. The river channel carried abundant water that supported early irrigation projects, trees, grasses and ponded beaver dams that supported riparian wetlands.[1]

During the 20th century, that habitat disappeared due to the depletion of groundwater needed to support agriculture and a growing population. The river is now dry, flowing only ephemerally during monsoon season.[1]

Riparian habitats are extremely important for native and endangered species. Their destruction decreases diversity and enables invasive, water-consuming species to thrive, straining already limited water supplies.[1]

A major part of the Chuck Huckelberry Loop, a paved network of bike and walkways, connects the Rillito with the Cañada del Oro, Santa Cruz and Pantano River Parks with the Julian Wash and Harrison Road Greenway. The Loop extends through Pima County, Marana, Oro Valley, Tucson and South Tucson.[2]


[1] U.S. Corps of Army Engineers. (May 12, 2004). Rillito River, Pima County, Arizona El Rio Antiguo draft feasibility study. https://rfcd.pima.gov/largefiles/corps/elrioantiguo/rioant.pdf

[2] Pima.gov. (n. d.). The Chuck Huckleberry Loop. https://www.pima.gov/162/The-Chuck-Huckelberry-Loop


Tucson groundwater depth
Tucson groundwater depth
City of Tucson
Groundwater Maps
public domain
The USGS monitors groundwater storage and land-surface elevation changes caused by groundwater withdrawal in Tucson Basin and Avra Valley, part of the Tucson Active Management Area (TAMA). The TAMA is one of five active management areas in Arizona established by the 1980 Groundwater Management Act and governed by the Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR).[1]

The USGS found that in the past TAMA groundwater withdrawal rates resulted in net removal of water from groundwater storage and small water-level declines during the last several decades. Because of good water management these declines declines have stabilized or reversed since 2000 at most areas in Tucson Basin and Avra Valley have increased.[1]

The water in our Tucson taps is a blend of recharged Colorado River water and groundwater from Tucson's Colorado River rechargereplenishing an aquifer by surface infiltration or by other natural or induced means facilities and recovery fields, known as clearwater. Tucson water recharges more water than it pumps, which means Tucson has a sustainable supply for the future. If there is an interruption to Central Arizona Project (CAP) canal deliveries, Tucson Water has a large underground supply at pumping sites.[2]

[1] Carruth, R. L., et al. (n. d.). Groundwater-storage change and land-surface elevation change in Tucson basin and Avra Valley, South-Central Arizona-2003-2016. USGS. https://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2018/5154/sir20185154.pdf

[2] City of Tucson. (2020). Groundwater recovery. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/water/groundwater-recovery

Recreation and Lakes

Pima County lakes
Google Maps
used per Google Maps/Google Earth Additional Terms of Service
Tucson and the land just outside the city in Pima County provide a few water-related recreational areas where Tucsonans can swim, kayak, boat and fish. These small lakes are especially active during summer's heat.

Silverbell Lake
Silverbell Lake
D. Meeks
Aug. 2, 2014
Image taken by and used
with permission of the author
CC BY-SA 4.0

[1] Pima County. (2020). Agua Caliente Park. https://webcms.pima.gov/cms/one.aspx?portalId=169&pageId=1503

[2] AZ.gov. (2020). Fishing-Kennedy Lake City of Tucson. https://www.azgfd.com/fishing/community/tucson/kennedy/

[3] AZ.gov. (2020). Fishing-Lakeside Lake City of Tucson. https://www.azgfd.com/fishing/community/tucson/lakeside/

[4] Arizona Game and Fish. (2020). Fishing-Silverbell Lake City of Tucson. https://www.azgfd.com/fishing-2/where-to-fish/community-fishing/tucson/tucson-fishing-silverbell-lake/

Water Quality

Downstream end of the chlorine contact chamber at Agua Nueva
Downstream end of the chlorine contact chamber at
Agua Nueva, as water flows over the lip of the outfall,
it is dechlorinated by the sodium bisulfate delivered
through holes in the white PVC pipe running along the edge
J. Brown/Pima County Wastewater
May 15, 2020
Image and caption used with permission of and
provided by James Brown,
Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department
Pima County Water Reclamation Facilities (WRC) Treatment Division operates water reclamation facilities (WRF) that treat more than 62 million gallons of sanitary sewage per day. Two major WRF handle sewage from metropolitan Tucson and five serve remote areas in eastern Pima County.[6]

On December 16, 2013 the Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department (RWRD) diverted flows from the closed Roger Road WRF to the state-of-the-art Agua Nueva WRF facility allowing Pima County to meet strict environmental standards for effluent discharges into the Santa Cruz River. All City of Tucson reclaimed water needs are supplied by the Agua Nueva WRF.[6]

The Tres Ríos WRF is the central biosolidsorganic matter recycled from sewage treatment location for Pima County, treating approximately 30 million gallons of wastewater per day while operating 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. The facility was upgraded and expanded as part of the Regional Optimization Master Plan and meets stringent regulatory requirements on effluent nutrient reduction. It has a permitted capacity to treat 50 million gallons per day, which should meet projected population needs until 2030. The facility is permitted for A+ reclaimed water through Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ).[6]

On December 30, 2014, RWRD closed the Randolph Park WRF, which produced high-quality reclaimed water. The wastewater that had been treated at the Randolph Park facility is now being treated at the Agua Nueva and Tres Rios WRFs. The equipment and fixtures will remain so the facility can be used if needed in the future.[5]

Five smaller WRFs serve small towns and rural areas of Pima County in Arivaca Junction, Avra Valley, Corona de Tucson, Green Valley and Mt. Lemmon.[6]

City of Tucson
Tucson Water
Oct. 5, 2020
Embedded video, no copy made
Tucson Water follows the guidelines established by the EPA and serves nearly 750,000 people in the Tucson area. Water quality is continuously monitored and in 2019 was found to meet all EPA standards.[1]

Tucson's water comes from about 200 groundwater wells located around Tucson and the Avra Valley Clearwater Recharge & Recovery Facilities. At the Clearwater facilities Tucson Water recharges Colorado River water into the aquifera body of permeable rock which can contain or transmit groundwater where it blends with local groundwater. The water is then recovered from the aquifer by pumping.[1]

The system is divided into 37 water service areas, uses 4,500 miles of pipes and 145 booster stations.[1]

All drinking water, even bottled water, contains some contaminants. Tucson's groundwater contains dissolved minerals and organic compounds, leached from the soil, rock, sediments and plant materials. These include beneficial minerals, including calciumthe chemical element of atomic number 20, a soft gray metal and magnesiumthe chemical element of atomic number 12, a silver-white metal of the alkaline earth series. It is used to make strong lightweight alloys and harmless minerals including chloride,a compound of chlorine with another element or group, especially a salt of the anion Cl bicarbonatea salt of carbonic acid containing the ion HCO3- and sulfatea salt of sulfuric acid, containing the anion SO42- and metals including iron,a strong, hard magnetic silvery-gray metal used as a material for construction and manufacturing, especially in the form of steel copper,a highly conductive metallic chemical element that is easily formed into sheets and wires arsenica solid chemical element that is used especially in wood preservatives, alloys, and semiconductors and is extremely toxic in both pure and combined forms and lead.a soft, dense, malleable metal with a relatively low melting point These can be beneficial or harmless at low concentrations, but harmful at high concentrations.[1]

Our groundwater can also contain contaminants resulting from industrial or domestic activities, meaning that Tucson Water must must check approximately 90 regulated and 31 unregulated contaminants. Most regulated contaminants were not detected in Tucson's drinking water.[1]

Tucson Water also monitors unregulated contaminents to help the EPA decide whether there should be established standards or future regulations concerning these contaminents. Most of these contaminents are not currently health risks.[1]

2019 Tucson Water Contaminents[1]
contaminent↕ description Tucson water
parts per billion
EPA max allowed
in parts per billion
haloacetic acids (HAA5) chemicals formed when disinfectants are used to control microbial contaminants 2.0 60.0
total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) formed when chlorine combines with naturally occurring organic material in water 15 80
arsenic naturally occurring substance commonly found in groundwater in the southwestern United States 7.6 10
barium occurs naturally at very low concentrations in our groundwater 0.15 2.9
fluoride an important naturally occurring mineral that helps to form healthy teeth and bones 1.11 4.0
nitrate a form of nitrogen and an important plant nutrient 6.41 10.0
selenium an important nutrient 5.2 50
sodium sixth most abundant Earth element, widely distributed in soils, plants, water 72 mg 500 mg
Dec. 24, 2006
Wikipedia atrazine
public domain
herbicide synthetic organic 0.11 3.0
June 11, 2011
Wikipedia simazine
CC0 public domain
herbicide, synthetic organic 0.08 4.0
di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate used in plastics and rubbers 1.0 6.0
Sep. 27, 2009
Wikipedia pentachlorophenol
public domain
used in wood preserving factories 0.12 1.0
Dec. 4, 2015
Wikipedia trichloroethylene
CC BY-SA 4.0
migrates through soil 0.9 5.0
alpha emitters measure of radioactivity due to naturally occurring groundwater minerals 1.3 picocuriesa picocurie is one trillionth of a curie, represents 2.2 disintegrations per minute 15.0
radium 226 and 228 naturally occurring radioactive minerals in groundwater 1.3 picocuries/liter 5.0 picocuries/liter
uranium highly toxic and radioactive 7.5 30.0
coliform bacteria common in the environment, rarely harmful, indicates harmful organisms 2 positive samples less than 5% per month or 12 samples
lead mostly from home pipes, dangerous to pregnant women and children 1.11 15
copper mostly from home pipes 0.131 1.3
chlorine residual disinfection added to drinking water at well sites and reservoirs to eliminate microbiological contamination 0.94 1.0

Tucson Water's Central Arizona Project (CAP) surcharge increased on February 13, 2023 from $0.70 per hundred cubic feet to $1.00 per hundred cubic feet of monthly use. Each July 1, between 2024 and 2027, water rates will increase by 5.5%.[7]

After the Flush
Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department
Jun. 27, 2016
Embedded video, no copy made
Tucson Water operates the Tucson Airport Area Remediation Project (TARP) which purifies water that was contaminated with the industrial solvent trichloroethylene (TCE).a colorless liquid with a chloroform-like odor The project is funded by the EPA[1]

Nine wells extract contaminated water and deliver it through a pipeline to the Advanced Oxidation Process (AOP) TARP facility, where both TCE and dioxanea synthetic, potentailly explosive and carcinogenic industrial chemical are removed.[1] TARP facilities treat about 2.18 billion gallons of water per year. The treatment system removed 168 pounds of volatile organic compounds.organic chemicals that evaporate at room temperature[5]

Some of those living adjacent to, but outside the area served by Tucson Water get their water from wells. All domestic wells in Arizona require Arizona Department of Water Resources (ADWR) permits.[2]

Pima County regulates onsite wastewater treatment facilities, commonly known as septic systems. Because these systems can contaminate surface water and groundwater contamination, the county requires construction permits.[3]

The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension offers classes for those who want to build their own wastewater treatment facilities.[4]


Tucson International Airport
Tucson International Airport
Jul. 23, 2013
Wikipedia Tucson International Airport
CC BY-SA 3.0
[1] Tucson Water. (2019). Annual water quality report. City of Tucson. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/files/water/docs/

[2] Artiola, J. F. et al. (2017). Well owner's guide to water supply, 2nd. ed. University of Arizona College of Agriculture & Life Science Coperative Extension. Arizona Department of Health Services. https://webcms.pima.gov/UserFiles/Servers/

[3] Pima County. (n. d.). Online wastewater treatment facilities. https://webcms.pima.gov/cms/one.aspx?portalId=169&pageId=63828

[4] University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. (2020). Onsite wastewater. https://extension.arizona.edu/onsite-wastewater

[5] Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. (n. d.). Superfund site: Tucson Airport remediation project. http://www.azdeq.gov/superfund/tucson-airport-remediation-project

What are two beneficial minerals found in Tucson`s water?
[6] Pima County. (2022). Water reclamation facilities. https://webcms.pima.gov/cms/one.aspx?pageId=52858

[7] City of Tucson. (n. d.). Water and environmental services rate increases, 2023-2027. https://stories.opengov.com/tucsonaz/published/tv7IsMRxB#:~:text=A%2010%25%20across%20

Conservation and Sustainability

Pete the Beak
Pete the Beak
City of Tucson
Used with written permission of Tucson Water

The City of Tucson and Tucson Water began conservation efforts decades ago. In 1970s local TV commercials, City of Tucson water mascot, Pete the Beak, reminded us to "beat the peak" and not water between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.[18]

Tucson's reclaimed water program began in the 1980s, making it one of the first large-scale water-reuse communities in the U.S. The system has about 195 miles of pipe and more than 1,000 reuse customers and 15 boosters. The reclamation system can deliver more than 30 million gallons a day of reclaimed water per day.[20]

By 1983, Tucson constructed a tertiary treatment plant for the advanced treatment of secondary effluenttreated municipal wastewater received from Pima County and began the pilot aquifer a body of permeable rock which can contain or transmit groundwater recharge program, which was later expanded.[21]

The Tucson reclaimed water system uses directly filtered water and recovered, recharged groundwater from aquifer storage to meet Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) requirements and to enable parks and golf courses to use reclaimed water.[21]

In 1984 the city began providing non-potablerefers to water that is not safe to drink renewable, reclaimed water, increasing the available potablerefers to water that is safe to drink water supply.[21] Reclaimed water is used by 50 parks, 65 schools, including the University of Arizona, 18 golf courses and more than 700 families for outdoor irrigation.[30]

The system uses 160 miles of pipe and 15 million gallons of surface storage in enclosed reservoirs. During the summer it can provide more than 30 million gallons per day. Using reclaimed water saves the equivalent of municipal water used by 60,000 families.[30]

Since 1985, Tucson's population grew by more than 226,000 but city water use is the same, even with 75,000 additional Tucson Water service connections,[19] and since 2000, Tucson has reduced its per-person water use by 27%.[22]

Implementing water conservation programs has resulted in a 40-year surplus of recharged groundwater. Even if Lake Mead's supply drops below critical levels our city has a Colorado Water Plan to ensure we have sufficient water for our growing population until 2050.[1]

Tucson's Water Conservation Office was formed in 1990. The city has created a website for residential and commercial conservation programs that includes resources on water reduction, rebates and local water ordinances.[2]

In 1998, Tucson created water rebate programs, rainwater harvesting grants, gray water recycling and free water audits advertised via local newspapers and TV public service announcements.[19]

The city's current water plan was created in 2004.[28] The Tucson City Council charged Tucson Water to propose a new 2023 plan to ban ornamental grass from new apartments and commercial real estate development as well as removing existing grass.

Tucson Water also helps customers determine how much water we use and how we can reduce that amount by repairing leaks, installing low water-use toilets and irrigation systems, xeriscapinglandscaping requiring little or no irrigation and learning to read our water meters and water bills.[3],[25]

Free Water
A. Brown
Feb. 24, 2013
Embedded video, no copy made
In addition to saving water xeriscaping is low-maintenance, avoids the use of pesticides, increases property values and provides wildlife habitats. The seven principles of xeriscaping are

The city also provides water conservation kits. Users can request a free low-flow showerhead, 5-minute shower timer, toilet tank bag, toilet leak detection dye tablets and bathroom faucet aerator.[4]

Tucson Code 27-15 Water Waste Ordinance states:

because safe, high quality potable water and reclaimed water are a precious resource, the general welfare requires that the water resources available to the city be put to maximum beneficial use, and that the waste or unreasonable use, or unreasonable method of use, of water be prevented.

The ordinance prohibits

Any person who violates any portion of this section is guilty of a civil infraction, and shall be fined upon the first offense, a minimum of $250.00. For a second offense within three years and upon each subsequent conviction, a minimum of $500.00 will be assessed.[29]

The City of Tucson Water Department developed the Green Stormwater Infrastructure (GSI) Mini-Grant Program, administered by Tucson Clean and Beautiful. The program enables Tucson neighbors and community groups to install stormwater harvesting features in their neighborhoods. Each Tucson council ward can provide up to $45,000 per year.[17]

One of Tucson Water's most interesting water conservation efforts is the Zanjero Program. Tucson Water customers can request a free visit by a Zanjero, a water expert with extensive training in indoor and outdoor water conservation and efficiency. The audit includes checking for excessive water consumption, measuring showerhead and faucets flow rates, looking for special water uses such as spas, pools, or misting systems, and analyzing outdoor irrigation efficiency.[5] Zanjeros can also provide the same water-saving devices accessible from Tucson Water's conservation kits.[5]

There are many household steps we can take to reduce water use:

Curb-adjacent stormwater collection basin
Curb-adjacent stormwater collection basin
5500 block of East Alta Vista
Green Stormwater Infrastructure Grant Project
D. Meeks
Oct. 26, 2021
Image taken by and used with
permission of the author
CC BY-SA 4.0
Daily Water Consumption[3]
activity conventional
tooth brushing 2 or more 1/4, tap off,
use glass
shaving 20 gallons,
tap running
1 gallon,
fill sink
showering 50 gallons,
conventional showerhead,
5 gallons/minute
12.5 gallons,
water-saving showerhead,
2.5 gallons/minute,
5 minute shower
bathing 36 gallons,
full tub
18 gallons,
half-full tub
flushing toilet 2.5-5 gallons/flush,
conventional toilet
1.6 gallons/flush,
low-water consumption toilet
washing dishes by hand 30 gallons, tap running,
3.5 gallons/minute,
conventional faucet
5 gallons, use dishpan,
2.5 gallon/minute,
dishwasher 16 gallons/load, full cycle 9 gallons/load,
light wash or short cycle
washing clothes 35 gallons/load,
high water level,
partially loaded
25 gallons/load,
lowest water level
adjusted to load
The Arizona Municipal Water Users Association (AMWUA) provides information on how to read a water meter, check for and fix internal and external water leaks and improve water efficiency.[24]

The online HomeWaterWorks[6], Water Footprint,[7], and DripTap.org[8] calculators are other resources available to residential consumers to estimate household water use.

The University of Arizona College of Agriculture Cooperative Extension and the Water Management Group provide residents with free classes and information on rainwater harvesting and rainscapes.[9],[26] Tucson Water has an extensive rainwater harvesting guide.[27]

Where were the first municipal water filtration works?
Rainscapesestablished landscapes that rely on rainwater and recycled gray water, if available reduce reliance on water supplies that would otherwise be used for drinking and bathing. Landscape water can account for as much as 50% of a residential water bill so rainscapes conserve water and save money.[10]

Even though most of Tucson's rain occurs during the summer monsoon, during a one inch rain, a homeowner could collect 600 gallons from a 1,000 square foot roof.[10] Rain harvesting works hand-in-hand with passive water harvesting. Homeowners can build mounds, infiltration basins composed of small rock and sand, small stream beds made of large rock, and gravel trenches to collect rainwater.[11]

Sweetwater Wetlands Virtual Tour
Tucson Water
Aug. 27, 2020
Embedded video, no copy made
In order to use gray waterwastewater collected separately from sewage flow originating from a clothes washer, bathtub, shower or sink, but not from a kitchen sink, dishwasher or toilet, homeowners need to obtain a Reclaimed Water Type 1 General Permit, which allows gray water to be used only for drip or flood irrigation.[12]

Sweetwater Wetlands is a critical part of Tucson's reclaimed water system. It was constructed in 1996 to deal with backwash water from the reclaimed water plant.[13]

Sweetwater Wetlands now has more than 2.5 miles of pathways. The west entrance is accessible from the bicycle path along the east bank of the Santa Cruz River, where there is a drinking fountain, water bottle filling station and handwashing station.[13]

Tucson Electric Power (TEP) also conserves water. In 2019, With TEP replaced two units at its Sundt plant with 10 new natural gas-fired reciprocating internal combustion engines (RICE) the are expected to reduce annual water use by 70%.[14]

The RICE generators 40% more efficient than previous generators, reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by 60%, and support TEP's intermittent wind and solar energy.[14]

TEP's Springerville plant is a Zero Liquid Discharge facility. All of its water is recycled and put into holding ponds now home to birds.[14]

TEP's headquarters in Tucson were built in 2011 to LEED Gold standards. The building uses low-flow toilets, motion-sensor faucets and captures 191,000 gallons of rainwater annually from the cooling tower and is used for irrigation.[14]

Arizona Project Wet is a joint program between the City of Tucson and the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, Water Resources Research Center and Environmental Science. The program provides free water education resources to Tucson's teachers and students.[15]

Sweetwater Wetlands
Sweetwater Wetlands
D. Meeks
Mar. 19, 2022
Image taken by and used with
permission of the author
CC BY-SA 4.0
A recent water conservation effort is the 40-acre Southeastern Houghton Area Recharge Project (SHARP) located west of Houghton Road on East Drexel Road. It's purpose is to replenish the aquifer by releasing recycled water from the Houghton Reclaimed Reservoir into the SHARP recharge basin, which can recharge 1.3 billion gallons of water per year.[16]

The facility also includes 1.6 miles of walking and biking trails, ramadas, benches and more than 1,500 low water use desert plants and 500 trees irrigated with reclaimed water.[16]

In November, 2022 30 cities and water districts, including Tucson and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District, signed a water conservation agreement that includes:


[1] American Rivers. (n. d.). Colorado River: Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, California. https://www.americanrivers.org/river/colorado-river/

[2] City of Tucson. (2020). Conservation programs. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/water/residential-and-commercial-conservation

[3] Tucson Water. (n. d.). Homeowner's guide to using water wisely. City of Tucson. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/files/water/docs/homeowner.pdf

[4] Tucson Water. (n. d.). Free water conservation kits. City of Tucson. https://www.eeexchange.org/twconserve

[5] Tucson Water. (2020). Free water efficiency audit through the Zanjero program. City of Tucson. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/water/request-audit

[6] HomeWaterWorks. (n. d.). Home water use calculator. https://www.home-water-works.org/calculator

Mounds and dips are also known as?
[7] Water Footprint. (n. d.). Dive deeper. https://www.watercalculator.org/

[8] DripTap.org. (n. d.). Drip calculator. https://drinktap.org/Water-Info/Water-Conservation/Drip-Calculator

[9] University of Arizona College of Agriculture Cooperative Extension. (2013). Residential & rebate classes. https://cals.arizona.edu/pima/smartscape/smartscape-residential/

What percent of indoor water use occurs in the bathroom?
[10] University of Arizona College of Agriculture Cooperative Extension. (n. d.). Rainscapes. https://extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/pubs/az1539.pdf

[11] Daily, C. & Wilkins, C. (Oct. 2012). Passive water harvesting. University of Arizona College of Agriculture Cooperative Extension. https://extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/pubs/az1564.pdf

[12] Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. Using gray water at home. https://webcms.pima.gov/UserFiles/Servers/Server_6/File/

Three ways of conserving water in municipal landscaping?
[13] City of Tucson. (2020). About Sweetwater Wetlands and access. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/water/about-sweetwater-wetlands-and-access

[14] Tucson Electric Power. (Sep. 2020). Wringing value from every drop. https://www.tep.com/news/wringing-value-from-every-drop/

[15] City of Tucson. (2020). Arizona Project Wet. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/water/arizona-project-wet

It is illegal to capture water in natural channels unless?
[16] Tucson Water. (2022). Southeast Harrison area recharge project. City of Tucson. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/water/SHARP

[17] Tucson Clean & Beautiful. (n. d.). Green stormwater infrastructure mini-grant program. https://tucsoncleanandbeautiful.org/trees-for-tucson/gsi-mini-grants/

[18] City of Tucson. (2022). Pete the Beak. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/water/pete-the-beak

Who constructed a canal system 2,000 years ago in the Salt River Valley?
[19] Water Alliance. (2022). Tucson water: Efficiency means avoided costs. https://waternow.org/2020/02/05/tucson-water-efficiency-means-avoided-costs/

[20] Scott, C. (Jul. 21, 2021). Tucson is leading the nation in reclaimed water use. 12News. https://www.12news.com/article/news/regional/scorched-earth/city-of-tucson-is-leading-the-nation-in-reclaimed-water-use-to-secure-water-future/75-687a56ef-1889-424e-97f4-cbb0eeb07f86

[21] Westerling, K. (Nov. 1, 2021). Water Online. https://www.wateronline.com/doc/solving-water-scarcity-with-reuse-the-tale-of-tucson-0001

The laws governing the Colorado River are collectively known as what?
[22] Davis, T. (Nov. 21, 2022). Tucson, other cities commit to long list of water-saving goals. tucson.com. https://tucson.com/news/local/subscriber/tucson-other-cities-commit-to-long-list-of-water-saving-goals/article_f84facfc-66b3-11ed-87b7-172dd80abf02.html

[23] Sensorex. (n. d.). The seven principles of xeriscape gardens. https://sensorex.com/2020/12/21/xeriscape-gardens-principles/

Most of the copper in Tucson water comes from what source?
[24] Arizona Municipal Water Users Association. (n. d.). Smart home water guide. https://www.smarthomewaterguide.org/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

[25] City of Tucson. (2023). Reading your water meter. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/water/how-to-read-your-meter-and-detect-leaks?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

[26] Watershed Management Group. (n. d.). Classes & tours. https://watershedmg.org/learn/classes

Length of all pipelines and aqueducts in U.S. and Canada?
[27] City of Tucson Water. (Sep. 2013). Harvesting rainwater: Guide to water efficient landscaping. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/files/water/docs/Rainwater_Harvesting_Guide.pdf

[28] City of Tucson. (Nov. 22, 2004). Water plan: 2000-2050. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/files/water/docs/waterplan.pdf

[29] City of Tucson. (2023). Water waste ordinance. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/water/water-waste-ordinance

[30] City of Tucson. (2023). Reclaimed water facts. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/water/reclaimed-water-facts#:~:text=50%20parks%20and%2065%20schools,reclaimed%20water%20for%20outdoor%20landscaping.


Climate change threatens the survival
of iconic saguaro cactus in the Southwest
United Nations
Aug. 26, 2022
Embedded video, no copy made
Tucson's Drought Preparedness and Response Plan was approved by mayor and city council on November 28, 2006 and implemented on March 20, 2007. The plan is updated every five years.[1]

Minor updates to the drought plan were made in 2012 and 2017, with a major revision in October 2020 driven by the 2019 Drought Contingency Plan, an agreement among the seven Colorado Basin states.[1]

Elements of the most recent drought plan include


[1] City of Tucson. (2022). Drought preparedness. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/water/drought-preparedness


The City of Tucson has rights to how much Colorado River water per year?
While residential Tucsonans are outstanding water conservationists the city and surrounding Pima County are dealing with several water-related challenges. Groundwater pumping, subsidence, contamination, habitat loss and climate change are among some of them.

The Tucson Active Management Area (AMA) has been at or around safe-yield since 2010, meaning that the amount of water being removed is less than or equal to the amount being recharged. But outside of metropolitan areas, much of the county depends on groundwater extracted from private wells. Overdraftcondition that results when more water is pumped out of an aquifer than is being naturally recharged has caused subsidence, sinking ground, resulting in infrastructure damage. Some private wells draw shallow groundwater also supporting riparian habitats.[1]

Groundwater pumping locations often are not located in the same areas where water is recharged, causing a hydrologic disconnect,occurs when water providers store water underground in one location and recover or pump it from another location that has no hydrologic connection to the aquifer where the water was stored which affects groundwater availability.[1]

What substances does ultrafiltration remove from water?
Pima County contains eight Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund (WQARF) Registry sites undergoing or scheduled for groundwater remediation due to contamination:

These sites are associated with landfills and industry, polluted by chlorinated solvents, substances used in degreasers, paint strippers and dry cleaning. ADEQ controls the cleanup process.[1]

Pima County's two largest wastewater treatment facilities are?
A Superfund site is a federally designated area contaminated by toxic materials. The Tucson International Airport (TIA) is Pima County's only Superfund site,a contaminated site that requires cleanup, falling under the 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) with seven project areas. Groundwater contaminants include TCE,trichloroethylene, a colorless liquid with a chloroform-like odor DCE,dichloroethane, a clear, colorless liquid used to make vinyl chloride and other chemicals and as a solvent, degreaser and wetting agent PFOS,perfluorooctane sulfonate, a chemical used in stain-resistant fabrics, fire-fighting foams, food packaging and as a surfactant in industrial processes PFOA,perfluorooctanoic acid, a manufactured perfluorochemical and a byproduct in producing fluoropolymers chloroform, chromium and 1,4 dioxane compounds.[1]

CECsunregulated substances often found in pharmaceutical and personal care products that end up in sewers and that cannot be totally removed by usual wastewater treatment processes and PFASa group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals have been found in several Pima County wells and throughout Arizona. These chemicals get into the soil and the water supply.[1]

In March 2020 Tucson requested help from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to expedite a U.S. Department of Defense statewide PFAS investigation at military facilities.[3]

Davis-Monthan Air Force Base
Davis-Monthan Air Force Base
S. R. Smith/U.S. Navy
Feb. 4, 2004
Wikipedia Davis-Monthan Air Force Base
public domain
ADEQ committed $3.3 million from the state's Water Quality Assurance Revolving Fund to limit a PFAS plume forun near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. The plume, south of Tucson Water's central wellfield, is associated with decades of firefighting foam used on the base.[3]

During the next 16 months ADEQ developed a plan, conducted a field investigation, installed seven new monitoring wells and designed and constructed the Central Tucson PFAS Project (CTPP) treatment site demonstration project, which began removing PFAS on January 12, 2022. CTPP pumps remove PFAS from contaminated water at a rate of 250 gallons per minute, returning the treated water to a wash where it joins existing groundwater. Tucson Water monitors the site.[3]

Rivers, streams and lakes that have not attained federal Clean Water Act or met Arizona water quality standards, including some parts of the Santa Cruz River in Pima County, are considered impaired for wildlife, recreation and public water supply use. ADEQ monitors surface water impairment.[1]

Native fish have survived drought and flash floods but have been declining due to the introduction of non-native species and habitat loss.[1]

Evapotranspirationprocess by which water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere by evaporation from the soil and other surfaces and by transpiration from plants will continue to rise and soil moisture will continue to decline.[1]

Climate change, global warming and increasing temperatures will result in water depletion affecting the environment. As temperatures rise and cities expand, Pima County will see more extreme heat days, strong urban heat island effects, increasing water demand.[1]


What substances does chlorine disinfection remove from water?
[1] Water Resources Research Center. (2022). Arizona Water fact sheet Pima County. https://wrrc.arizona.edu/sites/wrrc.arizona.edu/files/attachment/Pima-6-page-factsheet_0.pdf

[2] Arizona Department of Environmental Quality. (Apr. 19, 2022). What is a superfund site? https://azdeq.gov/NPL_Sites

[3] City of Tucson. (Apr. 26, 2022). New pilot project sets stage for full-scale system to remove PFAS. Water Matters. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/water/water-matters/may2022/CTPP?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

Water Innovation Challenge
Pima County
Aug. 19, 2016
Embedded video, no copy made

In 2016 the Arizona Community Foundation announced a $250,000 Water Innovation Challenge prize at the WaterNow Alliance in Tempe. The prize challenged water innovators to find technological or entrepreneurial water sustainability solutions. Twenty-three teams submitted project proposals evaluated by 30 judges.[1]

The Southwest Water Campus was assembled with an expert panel of water professionals from Pima County Regional Wastewater Reclamation Department, the University of Arizona, Tucson Water, Marana Water, Carollo Engineers, CH2M, AguaTecture, WateReuse, HDR and Clean Water Service.[2] Their goal was to introduce potable reuse as a viable source for addressing future water needs within Arizona.[1]

They submitted the Arizona Pure Water Brew Challenge, selected as the winner. The treatment process begins with recycled community wastewater, which passes through ultrafiltration, reverse osmosis,when a solvent passes through a porous membrane in the direction opposite to that for natural osmosis when subjected to a hydrostatic pressure greater than the osmotic pressure UV/advanced oxidation, activated carbon,purified powdered charcoal and chlorine disinfection steps, resulting in pure water. [4]

The project engaged and educated the public about purified effluent as a safe drinking water source. The team demonstrated advanced water purification technology by building a mobile water treatment facility, where the public could view the water purification processes as the facility purified recycled water delivered to local breweries as part of a beer tasting competition.[1], [5]

Twenty-six breweries from 12 Arizona cities participated.[1] Tucson's Dragoon Brewing Company's Clear Water Pilsner was the winning brew.[3]

Water purification process
Water purification process
Pima County
Used with written permission of Pima County
The project measured public perception about direct potable reuse (DPR) using two surveys about media coverage and public perception of the water purification methods used in the mobile water treatment facility. It received significant traditional and social media attention.[1]


[1] WaterNow Alliance. (2017). Water innovation challenge. https://webcms.pima.gov/UserFiles/Servers/

[2] Arizona Community Foundation. (Jan. 8, 2018). Pure water brew challenge. https://webcms.pima.gov/UserFiles/Servers/Server_6/

[3] WateReuse. (Sep. 11, 2017). AZ pure water brew challenge winners announced. https://watereuse.org/az-pure-water-brew-challenge-winners-announced/

[4] Water Technology. (Oct. 6, 2017). Sensorex donates monitoring instruments to Arizona pure water brew challenge. https://www.watertechonline.com/wastewater/article/16212754/

Daily water consumption from all sources needed to maintain health?
[5] Pure Water Brew Challenge Information Video. (Jun. 29, 2017). City of Flagstaff. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZ-h4JORdMk


What character appeared in the late 1970s to help create awareness of water efficiency?
Aveva. (2019). Pima County implements situational awareness strategy to improve operational efficiency of wastewater facilities. https://www.aveva.com/content/dam/aveva/documents/perspectives/success-stories/pima-county-08-20.pdf.coredownload.inline.pdf

City of Tucson. (2016). Floodplain management plan TSMS Phase V. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/files/pdsd/Resolution-22619_TucsonFMP.pdf

City of Tucson. (2023). Flow monitoring devices. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/water/flow-devices?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

City of Tucson. (n. d.). GIS map Tucson. https://maps2.tucsonaz.gov/Html5Viewer/?viewer=maptucson

City of Tucson. (2023). Water conservation rebates, incentives, and services. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/water/apply-for-rebates?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

City of Tucson. (2020). Water quality reports. https://www.tucsonaz.gov/water/water-quality-reports-and-publications

Saguaros thrive in Tucson's dry climate
Saguaros thrive in the Sonoran Desert west of Tucson
D. Meeks
May 9, 2019
Image taken by and used with
permission of the author
CC BY-SA 4.0
Davis, T. (Mar. 19, 2023). U.S.'s $250 million for Lake Mead could delay CAP cuts to Tucson. tucson.com. https://tucson.com/news/local/subscriber/u-s-s-250-million-for-lake-mead-could-delay-cap-cuts-to-tucson/article_53a0addc-c207-11ed-8be5-9fd7b2d60e1b.html

DrinkTap.org. (n. d.). Water conservation. https://drinktap.org/Water-Info/Water-Conservation

Drought.gov. (n. d.). Arizona. https://www.drought.gov/states/arizona

Environmental Protection Agency. (2021). Community guide to reactive permeable barriers. Office of Land Emergency Management. https://semspub.epa.gov/work/HQ/401613.pdf

Environmental Protection Agency. (n. d.). Detect and chase down leaks. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2017-02/documents/ws-ourwater-detect-and-chase-down-leaks-checklist.pdf?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

Environmental Protection Agency. (Mar. 16, 2023). Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS): Proposed PFAS national primary drinking water regulation. https://www.epa.gov/sdwa/and-polyfluoroalkyl-substances-pfas#:~:text=Proposed%20PFAS%20National%20Primary%20Drinking%20

Foster, B. (Jan. 16, 2023). How much will the Tucson rainstorms affect the current drought? KOLD-TV. https://www.kold.com/2023/01/17/how-much-will-tucson-rainstorms-affect-current-drought/

Lancaster, B. (2023). Rainwater harvesting for drylands and beyond. https://www.harvestingrainwater.com/

When did the City of Tucson begin using reclaimed water?
Pima County. (2022). Wastewater reclamation. https://webcms.pima.gov/government/wastewaterreclamation/

Schalau, J. (Aug. 2020). Laboratories conducting soil, plant, feed or water testing. University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. Arizona Department of Health Services. https://extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/pubs/az1111-2020.pdf

Schladweiler, J. C. (2022). The history of sanitary sewers. Arizona Water Association. http://www.sewerhistory.org/

tucsonaz.gov. (2022). Tucson Water's reclaimed customers story map. https://cotgis.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=98750cf9e3864443b40a2dca8ca56dca

Tucson Water. (2022). Tucson Water runs deep. https://responsible-desert-dwelle-78c9947cb4a79.webflow.io/heritage

Lack of bodily water causes?
University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. (Sep. 2019). Radon in drinking water and Arizona domestic wells. Arizona Department of Health Services. https://extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/pubs/az1798-2019.pdf

University of Arizona Cooperative Extension. (Sep. 2019). Sodium in drinking water and Arizona domestic wells. Arizona Department of Health Services. https://extension.arizona.edu/sites/extension.arizona.edu/files/pubs/az1799-2019.pdf

Watershed Management Group. (n. d.). Green infrastructure training manual. https://watershedmg.org/webform/green-infrastructure-training-manual

Youmshajekian, L. (Jan. 30, 2023). You're probably awash in 'forever chemicals.' Here's why that matters. ScienceLine. https://scienceline.org/2023/01/youre-probably-awash-in-forever-chemicals-heres-why-that-matters/

Denise Meeks, dmeeks@arizona.edu