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ASU water policy expert addresses new drought plan for state

August 27, 2019

State will take less water from the Colorado River under a new contingency plan

The Southwest’s long-standing drought has left the state staring down a historic and first-ever Colorado River water cutback in 2020. 

Starting Jan. 1, Arizona will see a 6.9% reduction of Colorado River water under the Lower Basin Drought Contingency Plan, which was finalized in May with California, Nevada and the federal government. Mexico will give up 3% of its allotment under a separate agreement.

The cuts are part of a plan to keep Lake Mead, a reservoir at the Arizona-Nevada boundary, functional. Water levels for both Lake Mead and Lake Powell have precipitously dropped as a result of historic over-allocation and a drought that started in 2000. 

ASU Now spoke to Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, about the cutbacks and what they will mean for Arizona’s agriculture and the state’s roughly 7 million residents.

Woman in front of microphone

Sarah Porter, director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at ASU's Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

Question: Are these cuts a move that has been anticipated for some time, and should Arizona residents be worried?

Answer: Yes, the cuts have been anticipated and were agreed to by the parties to the Drought Contingency Plan or DCP. In fact, until a few months ago, we expected deeper cuts, but good mountain snowpack last winter and aggressive conservation efforts shored Lake Mead up a bit. The cuts are part of a larger plan to safeguard the Colorado River system. The plan was negotiated for several years and finalized this spring.

The Lower Basin DCP incentivizes conserving water in Lake Mead while also imposing bigger and bigger cuts should lake levels fall to certain levels. Water users on the Central Arizona Project, which brings Colorado River water to central and southern Arizona, are in line to take largest cuts because they are the lowest priority users.

The 2020 cuts won’t really be felt by Arizona water users because the state has never built out demand for all of its Colorado River supplies. For years, Arizona water managers have used “extra” Colorado River water for aquifer recharge and other purposes. Annually starting in 2015, Arizona has voluntarily conserved in Lake Mead the equivalent amount of this year’s cut.

Rather than worry, Arizona residents should continue to find ways to permanently use water more efficiently. Statewide, Arizona uses the same amount of water today as it did in the mid-1950s, though we now have seven or eight times the population and a much larger economy. There are still lots of opportunities to stretch our water supplies through conservation and efficiency measures.

Q: Who will be the first group of people to feel the sting of cuts in Colorado River supplies?

A: If Lake Mead falls below 1,075-feet elevation, Arizona will take additional cuts and farmers in Pinal County will be the first to feel the impacts. They plan to turn to groundwater (that is, water pumped from wells) to make up for some of those cuts.

Cities are in a different situation. Municipal providers that use CAP supplies tend to have high priority rights, so they would be among the last CAP users to experience cuts. Many cities in the Phoenix and Tucson areas have diverse water portfolios, including groundwater, reclaimed water and other surface water, which gives them a measure of resilience against cuts in Colorado River supplies. And since passage of the 1980 Groundwater Management Act, growth has been tied to long-term water supplies in the state’s most populous areas, so water providers must plan well in advance for foreseeable supply reductions.

Q: So if agricultural is the first to take a hit, will this mean the cost of fruits and vegetables will likely go up — and by how much?

A: That’s a question for an economist, but I will note that Arizona’s agriculture industry is not monolithic when it comes to water supplies. Right now, only Pinal County farmers are facing cuts — other Arizona farmers have higher priority Colorado River rights or get their water from other sources. Two-thirds of Pinal County’s agricultural revenues come from cattle and dairy. That production will not be directly affected by cuts in CAP deliveries. The county’s main irrigated crops are cotton and hay. 

Q: What’s the effect going to be on individual households and what should consumers be mindful of, or start practicing?

A: For some households, water rates may increase as their water providers take additional steps to ensure water deliveries in the event of decreased Colorado River supplies. In addition, some households in newer developments in Maricopa, Pinal and Pima Counties depend on groundwater and are required to pay into a fund to purchase water supplies to replenish the groundwater withdrawn for their use. This amount shows up as an assessment on county property-tax bills. As fewer supplies become available, the costs of water to meet the replenishment obligation may also increase.

We should always treat water as the precious resource it is here in Arizona. The single best way for an individual household to help is to permanently reduce the amount of water used for outside landscaping. 

Q: Is this going to be the new normal or a sign of things to come?

A: We should think of this as the new normal. Lake Mead is over-allocated. The prolonged drought has exacerbated the problem because it results in less extra water in the system. There are signs that the region is aridifying, meaning that average flows in the Colorado River may decrease.

We shouldn’t overlook the conservation efforts that are critical to keeping the Colorado River system functional. The Drought Contingency Plan includes important ground rules for conserving water in Lake Mead, and Arizona’s Colorado River Indian Tribes and the Gila River Indian Community, along with CAP, will be conserving and storing significant quantities of water in the lake.

Top photo: The Lake Mead reservoir near the Nevada/Arizona boundary. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now

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New director to keep ASU Polytechnic School on path to success

August 27, 2019

Leila Ladani looks forward to shaping the future of engineering education, research

“Analytical and goal-oriented” are the character traits Leila Ladani said best describe her.

She recalls exhibiting those proclivities at an early age when she was drawn to math and science in her first years of school — and in later years when she chose to pursue an engineering career.

From such personal characteristics sprung a “passion for learning and love for education,” Ladani said, that have led to success in her career as a scientist, researcher and leader in her profession.

More recently, that zeal guided Ladani’s decision to accept an offer to become the director of The Polytechnic School, one of the six schools in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. The Polytechnic School is home to seven academic programs, more than 5,500 students and 200 faculty and staff members.

In her analysis, ASU is taking academics and research in the directions they need to go to help the world overcome its numerous and varied challenges.

“I chose ASU because of its culture, which promotes innovation and access to education for all,” Professor Ladani says. “This is a place where change and progress is expected and encouraged.”

Especially enticing to Ladani is the progress being made toward fulfilling ASU President Michael Crow’s vision for the university.

“ASU is a world-class research institution that is also providing a high-quality education and research opportunities to a wide spectrum of students from many different backgrounds,” she said. “I find that inspiring.”

Ladani sees another encouraging sign in the university’s break from traditionally strict separation of academic disciplines and research endeavors. That multidisciplinary approach to both education and research is in ascendance at The Polytechnic School, she said.

“There are engineers working with psychologists to come up with ways for soldiers to achieve higher performance on the battlefield,” she said. “That is only one example of research collaborations that have the potential to be transformative for society in the near future.”

Ladani points also to engineers working with physicians to develop self-sufficient mobile clinics to provide medical care during disaster response efforts and projects to educate future leaders in the design and development of citizen-centered smart cities.

“These are ways we are going to impact the world,” she said. “It is truly inspiring.”

Fulfilling research and teaching aspirations are high priorities

For her part, Ladani will be continuing to make her already notable mark on education and research in the mechanics of solid materials and manufacturing. Her research focuses on developing new, more efficient manufacturing methods and materials — specifically in the fast-emerging field of additive manufacturing based on using applications of 3D printing in a “bottom-up approach” to making new materials, structures and components.

Her work has earned support from NASA, the National Science Foundation, the research offices of the U.S. Air Force and Navy and from industry, including major tech companies such as Honeywell and Pratt & Whitney.

She has authored more than 120 refereed research manuscripts and guided numerous students through studies and research to earn graduate degrees.

Ladani is particularly excited about the opportunity to expand manufacturing at ASU. The Polytechnic School’s Innovation Hub is equipped to develop solutions that promise significant additive manufacturing advances, she said.

Beyond her lab work, Ladani is looking forward to her time in the classroom.

“I love teaching and interacting with students,” she said. “I take pride and joy in seeing my students learn and flourish in whatever area they’re learning about.”

Ladani’s students should expect to be challenged to do more than listen to lectures and take notes.

“Be prepared to engage in class and to answer questions,” she said. “I will ask a lot of questions.”

Students will get the benefit of the experiences of a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees in mechanical engineering — one of them from the highly ranked engineering program at the University of Maryland, College Park, from which she also earned a doctoral degree in the field.

Professional accomplishments raise expectations of progress

Her credentials are also bolstered by dozens of awards, honors and distinctions bestowed on her over the past two decades that recognize her contributions to education, research advances, scholarship and leadership in her field.

The stature Ladani has attained is indicated by more than 30 invitations in recent years to give talks to her professional peers. Most recently, in July, she gave a keynote speech about digital twin technology at an international symposium in Melbourne, Australia, on new computational techniques being used in additive manufacturing.

She was also among the invited participants at the National Academy of Engineering’s Frontiers of Engineering conference.

Ladani has won the American Society of Mechanical Engineers Electronic and Photonic Packaging Division’s Women in Engineering Award. She was also a finalist for the Connecticut Technology Council’s Women of Innovation award in the Academic Innovation and Leadership category during her time as faculty member at the University of Connecticut.

Most recently Ladani was on the faculty of the University of Texas at Arlington, where she directed the Manufacturing Innovation and Catalysis Center.

She is the editor of a prominent research publication in her field, the Journal of Materials Science and Engineering.

“We’re excited to have Leila Ladani at the helm of The Polytechnic School,” said Professor Kyle Squires, dean of the Fulton Schools. “Her experiences, accomplishments, leadership and passion for student success and faculty excellence will be vital to advancing the school and ensuring its future successes.”

Ladani “is off to a fast start and is bringing great energy to the director’s role,” said Fulton Schools Professor Ann McKenna, who led The Polytechnic School as director for the past five years and is now the Fulton Schools vice dean of strategic advancement. “With her enthusiasm, drive and background, the school is going to continue to achieve great things.”  

When taking time away from the demands of her new job, Ladani will pursue her interests of hiking, swimming, reading and traveling.

Add to that some special ways Ladani says she loves to spend her time: doing science experiments with her 8-year-old daughter, Susan, and guiding her son, Sam, on his journey toward a degree in biomedical engineering.

Top photo: Leila Ladani is the new director of The Polytechnic School, one of the six Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

Joe Kullman

Science writer , Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-965-8122