Kyl Center for Water Policy

Mission statement

The Kyl Center for Water Policy at Morrison Institute seeks to generate policy proposals for public evaluation and subsequent consideration for possible action or adoption. An Arizona State University resource, the Kyl Center promotes research, analysis, collaboration and open dialogue to identify opportunities for consensus to ensure sound water stewardship for Arizona and the Western region for generations to come.

– Kyl Center for Water Policy at Morrison Institute:
   Seeking water solutions through consensus

– Sarah Porter named inaugural director

– Arizona’s Water Future

Kyl Center for Water Policy Board of Advisors




Arizona Department of Water Resources

Arizona Municipal Water Users Association

Central Arizona Project

Future H2O

West Valley Water Association


The Price of Uncertainty

By Kathleen Ferris, Sarah Porter, Grady Gammage Jr.

What water-related questions do people at the cutting edge of economic development ask when evaluating a site for potential investment? To find out, the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Morrison Institute surveyed corporate site location consultants and real estate developers who work in Arizona. The results of this survey are presented in the Kyl Center’s new report, The Price of Uncertainty.
Our surveys confirmed that today there is a heightened awareness of the importance of secure water supplies. But our survey respondents also made clear that they don’t have time to work through complications regarding water rights. Sites with uncertainty regarding the legal availability of water “eliminate themselves.”
Unfortunately, many Arizona land owners and communities lack the water supply certainty, and this stands to impair economic development and sustainable water stewardship. One of the biggest impediments is the Gila Watershed Adjudication, a court proceeding to determine the nature and priority of some 57,000 water rights claims. The Price of Uncertainty explores how the Gila Adjudication clouds the water certainty individuals, businesses and communities need for sound water stewardship and future prosperity.



Porter: Day Zero and the Politics of Water

By Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at the Morrison Institute.

Recently, I got an email from a producer of a national television news show, subject line, “On deadline for tonight!” (They always start by saying they’re on deadline.)

She was working on a story about “Day Zero” in the South African city of Cape Town. A metropolis of 3.7 million people, Cape Town is in the throes of a severe drought and close to exhausting its stored water supply. “Day Zero” is the projected date when the system runs dry, the taps are turned off and residents will be reduced to extremely limited rations of hauled water.  

The news producer was interested in identifying Arizona cities which, “while not in dire straits,” are also vulnerable. “A little research” she wrote, had led her to Phoenix and other nearby cities that rely on water from the over-allocated, drought-stricken, climate change-impacted Colorado River. She asked me to confirm “in broad terms” that this was accurate and provide “a short synopsis (a few sentences) about the issues.”

It isn’t unusual for me to receive an inquiry like this. Seemingly any news story about a city experiencing water stress can trigger a journalist’s interest in what’s happening in the Phoenix area, and a little research will naturally take him or her to ominous news stories about the Colorado River.  

Instead of sending the short confirming synopsis, as requested, I sent a 600-plus word reply explaining why comparing Phoenix to Cape Town was inapposite. Yes, Colorado River supplies are vulnerable, and the Central Arizona Project (CAP) has junior priority, so Central and Southern Arizona would be first in line for cuts. But that’s only part of the story. In the event of a shortage declaration, cuts would fall first on agricultural users of CAP water, not municipalities.

Moreover, Phoenix and other larger, older Valley cities have diverse water portfolios that include Salt-Verde system supplies, groundwater and reclaimed water (effluent) in addition to Colorado River water. In most of these cities, available water supplies exceed demand, a buffer against shortage. In addition, Valley cities, the state and other entities have been banking reserve water supplies. And, finally, Arizona, Mexico and the other Colorado Basin states have been working on measures to avoid a disruptive or catastrophic shortage scenario.

The news producer wrote back to ask my thoughts on what happened to make Phoenix’s situation so different from Cape Town’s. What did each city do or not do? I replied that I’m no expert on South Africa’s water issues, and the reasons Day Zero now looms are no doubt complex. But Cape Town sits on a coast and is surrounded by agriculture. That the city has become so severely water stressed when ocean desalination and water sharing appear to be viable may point to political dysfunction. At least one commentator blames partisan politics.

In enacting the 1980 Groundwater Management Act, Arizona tied growth in the Phoenix and Tucson areas to long-term water supplies. Over the years, cities and water utilities have made significant investments in water storage and, more recently, water re-use. As a result, Arizona water managers have long timelines for anticipating shortfalls and planning for future supplies. But this comparative water resilience didn’t come easily. Each step along the way required persistence, hard compromises and a shared commitment to future generations.

The Cape Town story ran without any mention of Phoenix. And since then, Day Zero has been pushed back to July, thanks to extreme conservation (residents are limited to 13 gallons per day), the donation of surplus water supplies by regional farmers and other measures. Cape Town is now rushing to complete construction on temporary ocean desalination plants to augment the water supply.

With luck, the antipodean winter wet season will bring relief.

Porter: The future of desalination in Arizona

By Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at the Morrison Institute.

Is desalination the answer to Arizona’s future water supply challenges?

According to the expert panelists at last week’s Kyl Center for Water Policy Leaders Roundtable, desalinated water is not likely to become Arizona’s next major water supply, but it may become a bigger part of some Arizona communities’ water portfolios.

The Kyl Center’s Leaders Roundtable brings together elected officials and policy makers from across the state for a discussion of Arizona’s water challenges and their solutions. Moderated by ASU law professor and Kyl Center Senior Research Fellow Rhett Larson, The Future of Desalination Roundtable featured four expert panelists representing private industry, academia and a public agency.

While high profile ocean desalination plants in the Middle East, Carlsbad and elsewhere have captured public imagination, the Roundtable panelists explained that desalinating groundwater may provide more immediate opportunities for Arizona. The state’s aquifers contain significant quantities of brackish (or high saline) water. Indeed one study concluded that the state’s aquifers hold 600 million acre-feet of recoverable brackish groundwater – that amounts to over eighty times the state’s total current annual demand.

With advances in reverse osmosis (RO) technology, construction of brackish desalination plants has surged in the United States over the last twenty-five years. Today, there are over 300 inland brackish desalination plants providing water to US municipalities, with two-thirds of those plants located in three states: Florida, California and Texas. In contrast, there are only about twelve seawater desalination plants in the US. As of 2010, Arizona had fewer than a dozen municipal desalination plants, the largest operated by the City of Goodyear. (The very first municipal desalination plant in the United States was operated by the Town of Buckeye from 1962 to 1988.)

But, as the panelists emphasized, desalination involves challenges.

One of the biggest is brine, the wastewater byproduct of desalination, which is typically heavy in salts, metals and other constituents. Seawater desalination plants can discharge this byproduct back into the ocean. Disposing of brine from an inland plant is more challenging. The two most common disposal methods, evaporation ponds and deep well injection, are costly and disposal sites are limited. Goodyear has been experimenting with using constructed wetlands to filter brine, a potentially economical and environmentally friendlier solution.

Another challenge of desalination is cost. In comparison with other water sources, desalination tends to be expensive: Plants require a large capital investment; the RO process is energy intensive; brine disposal adds cost.

Panelist Shawn Bradford, EPCOR Water USA Vice President, pointed out that public-private partnerships can be structured to potentially spare municipalities some of these costs and transfer some of the risks from the public to the private partner.

Co-panelist, Sharon B. Megdal, PhD, Director of University of Arizona’s Water Resources Research Center, highlighted Israeli desalination projects, which now provide over forty percent of the country’s water supply. Israel’s newest RO plants are producing larger quantities of desalinated water and more efficiently than ever.

The panelists addressed possibilities for Arizona to benefit from a seawater desalination plant, most likely through an agreement with Mexico or California in which Arizona would take a larger share of Colorado River water in exchange for helping to finance a plant. Panelist Chuck Cullom, Colorado River Programs Manager for Central Arizona Water Conservation District, noted that there is potential for the planned Rosarito seawater desalination plant near Tijuana, Mexico, to serve Otay, California through a binational exchange. As an additional example of international cooperation, Megdal cited the Red Sea-Dead Sea Project in Israel, a multi-part desalination and water exchange project which will result in new water supplies for Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

Panelist Robert Lotts, Water Resources Manager for Arizona Public Service Co. and Chair of the Desalination Subcommittee of Governor Ducey’s Water Augmentation Committee, observed that “the drought starts the day after it rains.” Given the likely ten to fifteen year timeline from concept to completion of a desalination plant, Lotts said it is not too soon for Arizona communities to seriously consider whether desalination should be part of a future water portfolio.

Arizona Capitol Times, Thursday, April 21, 2016
Gysel: Arizona’s voice in national water policy discussions

By Joe Gysel, president of EPCOR Water USA and Kyl Center Advisory Board Member

The drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is a stark reminder of how we need to be vigilant when it comes to managing our water supply and planning for its future. Just recently, I had the privilege of testifying on this very topic on Capitol Hill in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

I stressed to the chairman, Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, and the rest of the committee, the importance of advancing sustainable solutions to meet the nation’s current water infrastructure needs and to ensure the delivery of the most basic need for millions of Americans. Aging and deteriorating public water systems threaten economic vitality and public health.

Estimates for maintaining the nation’s water infrastructure are staggering – the EPA and the Government Accountability Office estimate the current funding gap to be as high as $1 trillion. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives the nation’s water infrastructure a D grade. Communities around the country are faced with massive fiscal challenges to replace critical infrastructure, as we saw in Flint.

I testified to the committee in my role as president of the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) Board of Directors, a Washington, D.C.-based group that works with its state and regional chapters and with legislators at every level to support policies that increase public and private investment in water infrastructure.

NAWC has member utilities that range from large companies serving millions of customers in multiple states to utilities that serve just a few hundred connections. No matter the size, our goals are clear: Supply safe and reliable, high-quality water that we need every day to survive and thrive.

It is fortunate that at this moment in time, the leadership role on the NAWC board is coming from the Southwest. We know that water is an especially valuable commodity in our region and requires strong, sustainable management to preserve current resources and plan for our future.

As Governor Doug Ducey mentioned in this year’s State of the State address, “We sit in the Capitol city in one of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation in the middle of a desert.” In that speech, the governor directed a team of water experts to look at new, long-term sources for water here, to explore additional conservation opportunities and to identify future infrastructure needs.

He is making it a policy priority that clean and reliable water is foundational to Arizona’s economic engine and its quality of life. This will require investment to maintain and improve current systems as well as looking for new resources and programs to augment our current supply. Here at EPCOR, we take Governor Ducey’s charge to heart.

We are investing $500 million over the next 10 years in infrastructure. Along with other private water utilities in Arizona, this is a top priority. These are needs we can’t afford to ignore. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers’ most recent report card estimates that Arizona’s water and wastewater systems will need nearly $13 billion in infrastructure improvements, upgrades and repairs over the next 20 years.

In Arizona, private water companies provide service to 1-in-5 people. Private water companies in the U.S. serve more than 73 million people and their water systems produce 4.6 billion gallons of water a day that are used by our children, our businesses and our communities. They understand the challenges and the responsibilities that come with providing clean, safe and reliable water.

EPCOR and private water utilities across the country share a deep commitment to responsible stewardship of our resources as we face crucial challenges such as lingering drought and aging infrastructure. We continue to work with the federal government on funding programs that, when combined with the private sector, can deliver much-needed resources for water sustainability now and in the future.

Drinking water needs to be protected from source to tap to wise re-use. EPCOR recently participated in the Arizona Capitol Times’ “Morning Scoop” panel on this very topic and other water-related issues. I’m honored to also serve on the advisory board of Arizona State University’s Kyl Center for Water Policy and on the Water Resources Research Council External Advisory Committee at the University of Arizona.

Organizations like these provide a vital Southwestern point-of-view to the national water policy conversation. At EPCOR, we look forward to making sure these discussions lead to the sustainable future that Arizona deserves.

Originally published in Arizona Capitol Times

AMWUA, Jan. 4, 2016
Ferris: Five Actions To Secure Arizona’s Water Future

By Kathleen Ferris

2015 was a big year for headlines and stories about water and, given the nearly 16-year drought, we can expect no less in 2016. That’s a good thing because it keeps the momentum going for necessary change.

But words alone will not ensure a sustainable water supply for Arizona’s future. Here are five actions that leaders need to take in 2016 to help keep the state prosperous.

1. The Arizona Legislature should adequately fund the Arizona Department of Water Resources. By law, the department’s employees are responsible for managing all the state’s groundwater  and surface (river) water resources. The legislature has also directed ADWR to protect Arizona’s rights to Colorado River water, which is shared by seven states. These important responsibilities require the department to attract and keep the best minds in the industry. That takes money.

2. ADWR must implement Governor Ducey’s Arizona Water Initiative.  ADWR needs to hire (see above) planning and hydrology staff to identify and prioritize the areas of the state most affected by water supply challenges and work with local residents and businesses and community leaders to create solutions to meet their future water needs.

3. The Legislature and water attorneys need to agree on meaningful steps to resolve 40-year-old court proceedings to determine who has rights to in-state surface (river) water. This means we must come to grips with the fact that some well owners are pumping sub-flow (water from streams and rivers), not groundwater. This harms riparian areas and others who depend on river water. To accomplish this, we may need to augment some water supplies or offer incentives to reduce pumping from wells.

4. Arizona must find ways to finance critical water and wastewater infrastructure in rural areas.  The legislature could jump start this effort by making state funds available to the Water Supply Development Revolving Fund, which is overseen by WIFA, an agency that helps private water companies and public water departments get reduced-interest loans to build drinking water and wastewater projects.

5. Arizonans should not lose sight of the importance of groundwater management.  In many rural areas of the state, homeowners’ wells are running dry and farmers are drilling deeper and deeper for dwindling groundwater supplies. State law needs to be amended to give these rural areas the flexibility to fix the problems specific to their communities. In the more populated areas of the state, we need to shore up efforts to replace the groundwater we use and ensure that our groundwater supplies are protected for the long-term.

These are challenging actions that will take leadership, resolve and compromise.  But success on these fronts could lead to headlines that would make us proud.

For 46 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit

Originally published at

The Arizona Republic, Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016
Porter: 2 legislative priorities for Arizona water

Kyl Center, Wednesday, March 23, 2016
Porter: Arizona, we need a deeper understanding

Arizona Capitol Times, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015
Porter: Water management article overlooked key facts

Kyl Center, Friday, July 24, 2015
Porter: Getting a handle on Arizona’s water future

Kyl Center, Wednesday May 20, 2015
Porter: Putting agricultural water demands in perspective

AMWUA, Monday, April 13, 2015
Ferris: Why AZ is better prepared for drought than Calif.





Arizona Horizon, Monday, May 21, 2018
Finding solutions to the water rights fight

Kyl Center for Water Policy, Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Kyl Center welcomes new analyst

Arizona Republic, Wednesday, Sep. 27, 2017

Accord with Mexico set to prevent water crises


West Valley Tribune, Monday, June 12, 2017
Education most important in debate of water

Daily Courier, Friday, May 12, 2017
A critical look at Arizona's groundwater

Cronkite News, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017

Education crucial for water conservation

ASU Now, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017
Visiting author quenches water needs

Arizona Daily Sun, Wednesday, January 4, 2017
Havasupai Tribe asserting its water rights for first time

The Arizona Republic, Friday, Nov. 4, 2016
New Arizona Prize winner announced

Arizona Big Media, Monday, Oct. 24, 2016
The urban heat island

ASUNow, Friday, Oct. 7, 2016
The future of water in the Southwest

Arizona Horizon, Friday, Sept. 30, 2016
Documentary highlights need for water use regulations

The Arizona Republic, Monday, Aug. 22, 2016
The success of Arizona’s ongoing water challenge

KPNX/12News, Tuesday, May 31, 2016
Water experts speak out on the issues

KPNX/12News, Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Questions envelope new water-bottling plant

The Arizona Republic, Monday, May 23, 2016
Nestle Waters to open Phoenix bottling plant

The Arizona Republic, Monday, April 18, 2016
Foresight is key to water future

UANews, Wednesday, April 13, 2016
The future of water in the West explored

Mohave Daily News, Friday, April 8, 2016
Bill would change water supply rules

The Associated Press, Monday, March 28, 2016
Legislators back away from water-supply proposal

The Arizona Republic, Wednesday, March 16, 2016
Stepping up to water challenges

The Arizona Republic, Monday, Feb. 22, 2016
Years of smart water policy at risk

Arizona Daily Sun, Friday, Feb. 19, 2016
Solving the water rights issue

Arizona Capitol Times, Friday, Jan. 15, 2016
Water agency’s funding greenlighted

The Yuma Sun, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016
Kyl Center’s “Meeting Water Supply Challenges”

The Yuma Sun, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016
An agriculture tour diary

The Arizona Republic, Thursday, Dec. 31, 2015
Kyl Center director is one to watch

AMWUA, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015
There’s good news in your water bill

Western Growers, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2015
Water rights called into question

KJZZ, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015
Funding, strategy key to AZ water future

The Arizona Republic, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015
Experts explain water challenges at conference

The Arizona Republic, Thursday, Nov., 2015
Linking lifestyle decisions with water use

Arizona Horizon, Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015
’Groundwater' film debut

The Arizona Republic, Friday, Oct. 16, 2015
How Israel stays ahead of water crises

The Arizona Republic, Oct. 7, 2015
AZ We See It: Meeting water supply challenges

The Arizona Republic, Oct. 6, 2015
AZ We See It: Meeting water supply challenges

Arizona Capitol Times, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015
Kyl Center accruing AZ water leaders

Arizona Capitol Times, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015
Our water security plan

The Arizona Republic, Monday, July 13, 2015
Chandler innovative on water conservation

KJZZ 91.5, Friday, June 12, 2015
Rethinking the values of water, Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Gov. praises decades of water management

ProPublica, Wednesday, May 27, 2015
Feds' incentives impact water supply

Arizona Capitol Times, Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Poll says AZ concerned about water

Cronkite News, Wednesday, April 22, 2015
State's water agency funds dipping

The Arizona Republic, Monday, April 20, 2015
Beyond the Mirage group focused on water

Arizona Horizon, Thursday, April 16, 2015
The Water Consciousness Challenge

The Arizona Republic, Tuesday, April 14, 2015
The uncertain future of water

Cronkite News, Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Senator supports 'continual planning'

Cronkite News, Wednesday, April 8, 2015
Potential solutions for water challenges

The Arizona Republic, Thursday, April 2, 2015
'New Arizona Prize' winner announced

NBC12 News, Thursday, April 2, 2015
Water planning continues

The Arizona Republic, Monday, March 23, 2015
In AZ, every drop of water counts

Arizona Daily Star, Monday, March 23, 2015
Continuing our water conversations

The Arizona Republic, Monday, March 2, 2015
Big prize for water awareness program

KJZZ, Monday, Feb. 16, 2015
Kyl Center Director Sarah Porter

AMWUA, Monday, Feb. 16, 2015
Words matter when it comes to water recycling

Cronkite News, Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015
Reviewing water-desalination

KJZZ 91.5, Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015
Kyl Center Director On Water Policy in Arizona

The Arizona Republic, Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015
Now is the time to address the key water issues

The Arizona Republic, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015
Like water? Then don't leave agency in a drought

Courier, Monday, Jan. 12, 2015
2015 water issues top AZ agenda

Morrison Institute, Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015
Porter named director of Kyl Center for Water Policy

Morrison Institute, Monday, Jan. 5, 2015
Ferris, Larson named senior research fellows for Kyl Center

The Arizona Republic: Monday, Nov. 17, 2014
Kyl Center seeks lasting water solutions

Morrison Institute, Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014
Kyl Center for Water Policy launched