CAP and Climate Change

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CAP Climate Adaptation

From time to time, I get questions from CAP constituents, employees or even Board members about things like use of solar power at CAP headquarters, replacement of CAP vehicles with electric or hybrid vehicles, CAP’s carbon footprint and so forth. These questions arise out of concerns we share about climate change.

So, what is CAP doing about it? And as a cost-of-service water utility, what should CAP be doing about climate change? Turns out there are a number of actions we have taken and will continue to pursue to protect the Colorado River system in order to provide a reliable and resilient water supply to central and southern Arizona.

Providing Leadership

Recently, CAP became the Chair of the Water Utility Climate Alliance (WUCA), a role we will fulfill through the end of 2021 after serving as Vice-Chair for the past two years. WUCA’s mission is to collaboratively advance water utilities’ climate change adaptation. CAP joins 11 of the largest water utilities in the United States to identify leading practices in climate adaptation. 

The leading practice that stands out to me as an overarching guiding principle –and one that puts all the other leading practices in context –is to focus on your organization’s responsibilities first.

For CAP, a primary responsibility is to deliver a sustainable supply of water that enhances Arizona’s economy and quality of life. We must do that in a safe, cost-effective and environmentally sound manner.  It is through this lens that we determine how we can best advance climate change adaptation strategies. 

Developing CAP’s Climate Adaptation Plan

Accordingly, CAP’s Climate Adaptation Plan, published last year here, focuses directly on CAP’s water delivery mission and considers the effects of climate change on CAP’s ability to accomplish this mission that go beyond the obvious water and power implications. The plan, using scenario planning techniques, identified a number of drivers, implications and adaptation strategies, and evaluated the achievability and effectiveness of each of these strategies across each CAP function.

Reducing Carbon Footprint of CAP’s Power Portfolio

Strategies for reducing CAP’s carbon footprint show up as they directly support CAP’s resiliency or adaptability to climate change in the pursuit of our water delivery mission.

One case in point is CAP’s power portfolio. CAP is the largest consumer of electricity in the state of Arizona, and until this year, has been largely reliant on a coal-fired power plant, the Navajo Generating Station. When the NGS owners decided to close the plant in 2019, CAP’s carbon footprint was dramatically reduced, but we were also left with the responsibility of developing a power portfolio that meets our primary need to move large volumes of water around the clock. The majority of the energy we need is for base-load power, which must be uninterruptable, an attribute that the primary sources of renewable electricity (solar and wind) do not have.

Despite this challenge, we have maximized the amount of renewable power we can into our post-NGS portfolio subject to cost, availability and reliability considerations.

CAP was able to successfully include two renewable sources of energy in our post-NGS portfolio. The first will supply 30 megawatts of solar power and the second will generate 20 megawatts of solar power for CAP. These sources meet our cost and reliability requirements, and have the necessary back-up supplies to guarantee energy supply from other sources in the event of poor sun condition, to support CAP’s water delivery mission first, with the added benefit of being renewable and having a low carbon footprint.

Contributing to Science Research

Another exciting development during 2019 was the receipt by CAP and Arizona State University (ASU) of a $1 million grant from NASA’s Earth Science Division to study land-use changes and how this, in conjunction with climate change, impacts the Colorado River Basin. CAP, ASU and others will devote considerable time and resources of their own in support of this study.

Data for the study will come from Earth-observing satellites and also ground-based data from the US Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). This data will be incorporated into hydrological modelling tools to improve forecasting and decision making. The results of this study will be shared with colleagues throughout the Colorado River Basin.

Participating in Legislative Climate Change Town Halls

Finally, CAP was proud to support several climate change town hall events recently that featured members of the Arizona Congressional delegation and their staff sponsored by Arizona Forward through a grant by the Environmental Defense Fund.  Congressmen Tom O’Halleran and Greg Stanton and Senator Kyrsten Sinema staff member Gary Gold were joined at these events by CAP Board member Jennifer Brown and CAP staff.

CAP Providing Reliable and Resilient Water Supplies

As we move into this next decade, CAP will remain at the forefront of proactive, responsible and innovative climate change adaptation and be a leader in identifying and implementing climate adaptation strategies that support and enhance CAP’s water delivery mission.