Havasu’s desert oasis has driven industry, tourism
For an approximately 55,000-population community in the middle of one of the hottest and driest deserts in the United States, water is gold.
Along with its full-time residents, Lake Havasu City caters to thousands of visitors and seasonal residents each year, which are not included in its population totals.
Therefore, having an adequate supply of water is important to the city’s survival.
Doyle Wilson, water resources coordinator for the city, said the lake itself was landmarked 80 years ago following the completion of the Parker Dam. He added that, since the installation of hydroelectric power on the dam during World War II, the level of the lake has remained between 445 and 450 feet in elevation.
“That (Lake Havasu) is why the city is where it is, it attracted Robert McCulloch…it drew him out here to make a land deal with the federal and state government to buy land so they could master plan this community,” he said.
With help from Disneyland designer C.V. Wood, McCulloch created Lake Havasu City, which was incorporated in 1978. This year marks the 50th anniversary of McCulloch’s purchase of the London Bridge from the City of London, which is considered Havasu’s claim to fame.
Tourism resulted in more than $1.3 million in restaurant and bar taxes and $970,000 in hotel/motel taxes last fiscal year alone.
While the lake is used by many for recreational purposes, the city’s water consumption is supplied by the neighboring Colorado River. According to Wilson, the city received its contract for water allotment from the river in 1968 and, today, can ask for up to 28,500 acre feet of water.
“We are using about half of that allocation for a population of about 55,000 people. If water uses stayed about the same that would mean that we have enough water for 110,000 people vs. a build of 96,000,” wrote Mayor Mark Nexsen in an email. “Notwithstanding the math, we have conservation measures in place today that are primarily educating the public.”
According to City Manager Jess Knudson, chapter seven of the city’s code outlines water conservation measures and rules. Things like restaurants serving water unless requested by a customer and the use of outdoor misting systems to cool public areas is considered a waste of water and prohibited, the chapter states.
Wilson explained that of all the water used by Havasu homes, businesses and irrigation, 25 percent goes down the sewer while 75 percent is a one-time use. Of that 25 percent, he added, about half gets reused.
“It is safe to assume that there will be advances in technology over the next several decades that will help Lake Havasu City conserve water at a greater level than we already do today,” wrote Knudson in an email.
“As of now and the foreseeable future, I don’t see a whole lot changing immediately,” added Wilson. “If we can reuse more of our treated wastewater and take more potable water off irrigation that will drive down our overall percentage of irrigation with potable water which means there’s more to use for other things, other consumption types, other categories of use that we might want.”
He said things like a possible water shortage in 2020 and the Central Arizona Project’s desire to take water from Colorado River users has the potential to affect the city’s current contract for water.
He added that, based on historical projections, he does not believe the city will hit a population of 96,000 people until approximately 2060.
“If the economy is just right and developers want to come in and mass build like they do in other places…they could buy state land on the north side of the city, gobble up all that land and put houses on it and within no time at all we could have a ton of homes here that could fit people in them so there’s no crystal ball but basic economics say we’re probably not going to get to that population anytime soon.”