Plight of Phoenix: how long can the world’s ‘least sustainable’ city survive? by Joanna Walters

A lot of plans are on the drawing board, especially in California and the Southwest, that assume plentiful water. That is no longer a valid assumption. From Joanna Walters at

Jennifer Afshar and her husband, John, pushed their bikes across the grass and paused to savour the sunshine, while their two boys went to look at the duck pond. Other kids were playing soccer or doing tricks in the skate park, and families picnicked on blankets or fired up a barbecue across from the swimming pool.

“We moved here from Los Angeles, to get away from the rising cost of living and the traffic,” said Jennifer. “When we saw this park, we thought they were punking us it was so good. There’s low crime, the home owners association takes great care of the grass and trees – we like it.”

The Afshars live in the squeaky-clean suburb of Anthem, Arizona. It’s part of a giant conurbation of satellite towns surrounding Phoenix, and is a classic example of why this metropolitan – or “megapolitan” – area is tempting fate.

Twenty years ago, Anthem sprung out of virgin desert, a community “masterplanned” from scratch with schools, shops, restaurants and spacious homes – many behind high walls and electronic gates – and its own country club and golf course. It now has a population of 30,000.

To look around Anthem would be to imagine there is no such thing as a water shortage. But the lush vegetation and ponds do not occur naturally. Phoenix gets less than eight inches of rainfall each year; most of the water supply for central and southern Arizona is pumped from Lake Mead, fed by the Colorado river over 300 miles away. Anthem’s private developer paid a local Native American tribe to lease some of its historic water rights, and pipes its water from the nearby Lake Pleasant reservoir – also filled by the Colorado.

That river is drying up. This winter, snow in the Rocky Mountains, which feeds the Colorado, was 70% lower than average. Last month, the US government calculated that two thirds of Arizona is currently facing severe to extreme drought; last summer 50 flights were grounded at Phoenix airport because the heat – which hit 47C (116F) – made the air too thin to take off safely. The “heat island” effect keeps temperatures in Phoenix above 37C (98F) at night in summer.

To continue reading: Plight of Phoenix: how long can the world’s ‘least sustainable’ city survive?


2 responses to “Plight of Phoenix: how long can the world’s ‘least sustainable’ city survive? by Joanna Walters

  1. If the city and state had any brains it would be creating pipelines to the rockies to secure adequate water supplies. I remember Phoenix in 1960 when it had a population of maybe 100,000. Today I believe it is the tenth largest city in the USA.

    But compare it to the crime ridden, and disease ridden cities of Crazyfornia. Arizona has much better prospects than the slow insanity that infests Crazyfornia.


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