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Updated Mar 18, 2014 - 10:27 am

Report warns of looming water crisis in Arizona

TUCSON, Ariz. -- State water officials are warning that Arizona must start looking into other drinking water sources or face a crisis as soon as 25 years from now.

A report from the Arizona Department of Water Resources predicts water shortfalls of up to 900,000 acre-feet a year by 2050 as the population grows. That's more than 293 billion gallons.

The agency advises several possible solutions, including building a water desalination plant, the Arizona Daily Star reported.

Such an endeavor could take decades. According to the report, designing and constructing a plant to separate salt from sea water could take as long as 20 years. While it could be expensive, the report notes that desalination costs have dropped because of better technology.

Another idea the report suggests is desalting brackish, salty groundwater. Christopher Scott, a University of Arizona water policy professor, said groundwater has less salt so the process would use less energy.

Arizona House Speaker Andy Tobin said he hopes lawmakers will approve legislation to set up a loan program offering $30 million for water infrastructure, with an increase to $100 million over the next few years.

``I would like to see the Legislature start having conversations about desalination now so people can clearly see the costs,'' Tobin said.

The report was commissioned by Gov. Jan Brewer.

Andrew Wilder, a spokesman for Brewer, said she isn't supporting any particular solution at this point.

``The governor wants to start the dialogue now and not have to act because of a crisis,'' Wilder said. ``Moreover, the `vision' offers a menu of solutions. Some can be achieved locally, others statewide, some regionally or a combination.''

Michael Lacey, Arizona Department of Water Resources director, said there is still time before a crisis for a coalition of elected officials and business leaders to come together and implement a plan.

``It's really a question of what the state's destiny will be -- whether we limit ourselves to the water resources we have available today, or whether we choose to develop water supplies to allow the state to continue to grow,'' Lacey said.

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Information from: Arizona Daily Star, http://www.azstarnet.com

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