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Science and Innovations

City of Flagstaff Weighs Options for Future Water Supply

Brady Smith, USDA Forest Service, Coconino National Forest

Flagstaff city planners are weighing several options for a new water supply. They expect to need more water to serve a growing population in about 20 or 30 years. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports.

One solution is to deliver groundwater from Red Gap Ranch near Winslow via a forty-mile pipeline. The city purchased that property more than a decade ago after a severe drought.

Another option is to treat wastewater to drinking-quality standards.  

Erin Young, Flagstaff’s water resources manager, says, "We’re not in an emergency here, we’ve got plenty of water, but reusing every drop of water as much as possible just seems logical when you want a sustainable water supply."

Young says there are pros and cons to consider. Groundwater pumping is a proven though expensive technology. Recycling water for potable use hasn’t yet been done in Arizona. 

Rob Vane of the Flagstaff Water Group supports recycled water as a solution, but he points out Flagstaff’s water demand has been steady for several decades due to conservation. 

"We think first of all that living in the Southwest we should pursue an ambitious conservation program," he says. "It’s almost certainly the lowest cost source of additional water supplies, and in our view it’s the responsible path to follow."

City planners will develop cost estimates for these options over the next several years.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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