The University of Arizona

Urban Water Providers | CLIMAS

Urban Water Providers


This aspect of the urban water study provides insight into the ways in which climate- and weather-related factors affect urban water systems in Arizona, as well as whether and how water providers use available information in coping with weather-related situations.

In this study, the four major communities examined in the sensitivity analysis (Phoenix, Tucson, Nogales, and Sierra Vista) were revisited in 2000–2001, this time to gather water providers' perceptions of their vulnerability to climate variability and their use of climate information.

Research Methods

In order to conduct a holistic assessment of the wide range of water providers in terms of population served, size of service area, administrative structure, water resources utilized and infrastructure available, large water providers (those serving over 250 acre-feet of water per year) in four areas of southern Arizona were investigated using a mailed survey and follow-up interviews in 2000–2001. A total of 54 surveys were mailed or faxed to large water providers in the study areas, and 28 of those surveys were returned. We then conducted follow-up interviews with 22 selected water providers.

Both the survey and interview questions were intended to address the sensitivity, adaptability, and vulnerability of each water system. Questions regarding the sensitivity of a system attempted to determine the degree to which the specific system responds to weather and climate. Those eliciting information about the adaptability of a system focused on how much practices, processes, or structures of systems could be adjusted to respond to past climactic fluctuations or a changing future climate. Questions designed to determine the vulnerability of a system provided a means to assess the extent to which weather and climate may impede its capacity to carry out its function in the future.

The survey and interviews provided both quantitative and qualitative data, which are analyzed and discussed in the report. Quantitative analysis of the database generated by the survey was conducted, and major trends were expounded upon using the interview data.


This component of the project has now been completed, and the results indicate a pronounced awareness of the impacts of weather events, but a much lower overall perception of the importance of longer-term climatic variability to water availability and use.

Our study revealed a range of perceived levels of vulnerability to weather-related situations. The weather-related event providers cited most often as causing the most disruption to urban water systems was lightning strikes, which debilitate electrical pumping systems. The second most commonly cited impact was short-term high temperatures that cause spikes in demand, which may be difficult for water providers to meet. Longer-term climatic fluctuations, such as droughts or longer periods of above-average precipitation and flooding, were seldom cited as having important impacts on water systems in the study areas.

The study also found that providers are less than eager to use climate forecasts and other related information due to their lack of information about the accuracy of available products and limited perceptions of the value of such information in improving water management. The report documented comments and suggestions from the water providers regarding potential improvements to forecasts in terms of relevance and clarity.

The results of this study are included in CLIMAS Report #CL1-03: Climate and Urban Water Providers in Arizona: An Analysis of Vulnerability Perceptions and Climate Information Use.