Arizona Has a Problem


Last month, we made our annual-ish family-and-friends visit to Arizona. Although I have a long and varied connection with the state (going back to pre pre-school), I can’t really call it my “home”.1

But I do know Arizona has had one very large problem for long before I first passed through as a kid.

And it’s not their insane politics.

Actually, Arizona politics has always been… shall we say, offbeat, going back before my first college experience in the 70’s.

Over that time we’ve had at least two governors arrested for corruption (one convicted) along with more than few state and local “leaders”. More than a few were just plain nuts. And, not surprisingly, almost all were Republican.

Then there is the decades-long effort to dismantle public education. Between funneling taxes off to build a huge charter school industry and turning the state university system into for-profit businesses that just happen to hold classes, there isn’t much “public” left in Arizona schools. 

However, there is one problem that’s been around forever and is only getting worse.


Every time I fly into Phoenix, the metro area (now tenth largest in the country) has spread even father than last time. All of those thousands of new residents, now living in a desert, need water just to exist. Where is it coming from?

Actually, I’m very well aware that it’s mostly supplied by the Colorado River, using canals like the one pictured above.2 But, despite two pretty good winter snows in the mountains and better-than-average rainfall, the long-term trend is to have less water to go around.

On top of that, it was announced during our visit that TSMC, the huge semi-conductor powerhouse, would be building their third manufacturing plant in the Phoenix area. A factory that will require huge amounts of water to function.

Where will it come from? Maybe they can drain the lakes that every neighborhood seems to have. Or the millions of backyard swimming pools. Or shut off the fountains that seem to be everywhere. Maybe stop growing grass for all the golf courses? Yeah, right.

Anyway, as much as I enjoy visiting Arizona, I can’t help but think there will come a time when the water resources needed to support this massively spread out city just runs out. Same with Las Vegas, another area I have a history with.

I fully expect that time is not very far off.

1. That’s the fate of a cold war-era military brat who moved eight times (including outside the US) before starting college. You don’t really have a “home state” in the conventional sense.

2. The canal system that brings Colorado River water to the Phoenix area is an interesting political and engineering story. The basic foundation, called the Central Arizona Project, was started when I was in college. They’ve been expanding it ever since.

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