‹‹ Parched

The Cost of Cheap Water

Listen Now
Parched podcast logo

What we pay for water doesn't reflect how scarce it is with climate change. Could cities get people to use less water by charging more for it? Decades ago, Tucson did this, and it worked. But the political consequences may have scared off other cities. Now, in an increasingly dire situation along the Colorado River, what if a bunch of cities priced water differently, to change our behavior? Part 7 of a 10-part series.

For more CPR News coverage of the Colorado River, visited cpr.org/parched.

Host: Michael Elizabeth Sakas
Written by Rachel Estabrook
Editors: Erin Jones, Joe Wertz
Production and Mixing: Rebekah Romberg
Theme song by Kibwe Cooper. Additional music via Universal Production Music.
Artwork: Maria Juliana Pinzón
Executive Producers: Kevin Dale, Brad Turner
Additional Editorial Support: Alison Borden, Kibwe Cooper, Jo Erickson, Luis Antonio Perez, Taylar Dawn Stagner, Andrew Villegas
Thanks also to Sarah Bures, Hart Van Denburg, Jodi Gersh, Kim Nguyen, Clara Shelton, Arielle Wilson.
Parched is a production of the Climate Solutions team of CPR News and Colorado Public Radio’s Audio Innovations Studio — part of the NPR Network.

Margot Garcia sits in her Tucson home’s dining room, January 10, 2023. She was among city council members in the 1970s who passed tiered pricing system for city water, charging more for water going to homes further from, and higher than the central city. She was recalled, but the system remains in place.
The sun sets behind the mountains of Tucson, January 9, 2023. The city began using Colorado River water via the Central Arizona Project in 1992. Up until then, it relied on water from local rivers and groundwater, and in the 1970s developed what many consider to be the first tiered pricing system for its water, charging more for water going to homes further from, and higher than the central city. The city council members who crafted that law were recalled, but the system remains in place.
The Central Arizona Project’s aqueduct near Vicksburg, Arizona, February, 2023. The CAP delivers Colorado River water impounded behind the Parker Dam at Lake Havasu to more than 60 customers to the east and south, including the cities of Phoenix and Tucson.
View Transcript