Environmental Flows in Tucson

Chris Brooks writes about the tension in Tucson between the use of sewage effluent for environmental flows and other uses. Tucson is in a very different situation from Albuquerque, where the effluent from Albuquerque’s sewage treatment plan is returned to a flowing Rio Grande, and is accounted as “return flows”, used to offset Albuquerque’s water consumption in the state’s Byzantine water accounting system. In other words, it’s already accounted for, and while it may provide “environmental flows”, that’s incidental to its use as supply for those downstream.

In Tucson, Chris describes an effort underway to use 10,000 acre feet per year of water for environmental flows, which is running into opposition from development interests who believe it should instead be reserved to meet future development needs:

[T]his water belongs to the entities that generated the effluent (the city and the county), who are free to allocate it in ways they believe will best benefit the region. Clearly there was some discussion within the community when the decision was made to set aside this water for environmental restoration. I don’t remember any similar discussion when the decision was made to wipe out 90% of the riparian habitat in the region so that water could be provided for the growth of the community.