Sustaining the Oasis


We understand the importance of water. You can’t live through a summer in Phoenix without understanding that water is a matter of life and death.

Colorado River

The flow of the Colorado River has dwindled to historically low levels, threatening the future of the entire American West.

Population Growth and Water Use in Phoenix
line graph
pie chart shows 71 percent


of Water Use is Residential

pie chart shows 20 percent


of Water Use is Commercial

2020 The Water Game


The Water Game

Phoenix’s leadership in water planning and conservation has equipped it to face a hotter, drier future. Yet the threat of a water shortage could put a damper on the flow of newcomers that has allowed the city to thrive.

2003 Just Add Water


Just Add Water

The economic model for Phoenix over the last few decades was based on growth, with the real estate and construction industries acting as primary drivers. The availability of cheap and plentiful water was a big part of that model.

At the end of the day the challenge of sustainability for Phoenix—maybe for everywhere—is not a challenge of geography or of climate. It’s a challenge of politics.

Deconstructing Phoenix

An economy based on growth made the city vulnerable to the housing crash of 2008. But the recession is resulting in a more diversified economy.

person icon


Arizona Jobs Lost

pie chart shows 11 percent


Arizona Jobs Lost in Recession

Arizona Jobs by Industry
bar chart shows job loss and gain by industry

They know this place. And with that comes a resilience and adaptability to this environment.

Resilient and drought-tolerant, tepary beans are native to the desert Southwest, grown by Native peoples since pre-Columbian times. But when the Pima and Maricopa tribes of the Phoenix region lost access to their water, cultivation of the beans nearly disappeared. Now, with water restored, the beans are making a comeback—and so are their growers.

Seeds and Water

Helping to Secure Our Water Future

Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy

A bright and sustainable future in the West requires that communities integrate land and water policy decisions. The Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy is working to secure our water future.

Water Meets Land

Anthony Flint

As the global water crisis intensifies, the Colorado River Basin is poised to become a model for how to bring together stakeholders representing agriculture, urban areas, and the natural environment.

The Hardest Working River in the West

Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy

With a widening gap between water supply and demand on the Colorado River, the water resources upon which land use, planning, and development depend are more vulnerable than ever. This StoryMap is a primer on the river's challenges and opportunities.

Beyond Drought: The Search for Solutions as Climate Impacts a Legendary River

Matt Jenkins

Nineteen years after it began, a record-setting drought is still choking the Colorado River Basin. The so-called “Millennium Drought” is now recognized as the worst of the past century.

Current Issues and Perspectives in Urban Water Demand Management

Ray Quay, Zachary Sugg, and Faith Sternlieb

The Urban Water Demand Roundtable (UWDR) is a convening of practitioners, consultants, and academics engaged in water demand research. The results produced by UWDR offer a unique synthesis and dissemination of expert knowledge, opinions, and insights.

Incorporating Land Use Into Water Efficiency Planning

Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy

The initial configuration of new development has a significant influence on overall water use. It is essential that water demand be incorporated in an early stage of the development approval process to create more water-efficient communities.

2003 Anthem



Leap-frog development takes advantage of tax-financed highways and infrastructure to treat desert landscape as an inexpensive commodity—rather than an irreplaceable resource.

2003 Costs of Anthem


Costs of Anthem

A manufactured sense of place in developments like Anthem comes at the cost of long commutes, traffic, pollution, and loss of open space and desert habitat.

2003 A Threatened Desert


A Threatened Desert

Once altered by development, what may be the world’s most biodiverse desert will never be the same.

2020 Superstition Vistas


Superstition Vistas

In a first for the Phoenix region, a coordinated effort by diverse stakeholders prioritizes dense, sustainable design and the construction of a massive new development, with the goal of preserving open desert and conserving resources.

We build communities; we provide an enhanced piece of shelter. It’s not just four walls; it’s four walls plus a lifestyle.

The costs of sprawl are also felt in once-vibrant inner neighborhoods, which have become abandoned and isolated as the city’s resources, people, and attention shift increasingly to the fringe.

2020 Roads and Rails


Roads and Rails

Transit infrastructure can help reconnect and revitalize a neighborhood like South Phoenix, but the improvements can lead to displacement of the very people they’re designed to serve.

2003 South Phoenix


South Phoenix

Determined efforts by citizens who care about their neighborhoods can attract needed investments that the market fails to provide.


Precision-Mapping Water in the Desert

Rob Walker

When the rain comes in Tucson, AZ, it often comes in the form of torrential downpours, causing damaging floods. This is a perhaps ironic challenge, given that it’s part of a larger region working to ensure that there is enough water to go around.

Planning for Social Equity: How Baltimore and Dallas Are Connecting Segregated Neighborhoods to Opportunity

Kathleen McCormick

Over the past 40 years, economic inequality in the United States has returned to levels last seen in the 1920s. This gap has become more pronounced in many cities where wealth and poverty are concentrated geographically.

City Tech: The Road to Smarter Transit Is Paved with Data

Rob Walker

The emergence of big data is making possible new measurements that can inform how state transportation agencies plan and manage their projects.

2003 Maricopa County


Maricopa County

Some problems can be solved only with a broad, regional approach, but this might require the sacrifice of local interests.

2003 Endless Sprawl


Endless Sprawl

Rather than passively accepting or complaining about the development around them, citizens who take the initiative in Phoenix have successfully influenced land use patterns.

2003 Native Considerations


Native Considerations

Thanks to their land holdings and high-priority water rights, Native Americans find themselves in an unusual position of power and influence, with some tough decisions to make.

Cities are organic, living, breathing entities, that become interesting not by fiat but by incremental growth of small, cool things and by experimentation.

Phoenix is now the fifth-largest city in America, but its modest downtown does not reflect this. Low population density and high commercial property taxes have hampered the rise of a vibrant urban core. While some city leaders are working to create a denser and more energetic downtown, others prefer a more gradual, organic approach.

Taxes and Towers

Grow with the Flow: How Planners in Two Western Cities Are Integrating Water and Land Use

Kathleen McCormick

Across the arid and rapidly urbanizing Southwestern United States, planning for the future availability of water has taken on a new urgency in the face of multiyear drought, trends toward higher temps, and the uncertainty of climate-related changes

Incorporating Water Into Comprehensive Planning

Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy

By making smart decisions about water before development begins, municipalities and counties can better equip themselves to deal with water scarcity and other challenges.

The Hidden Costs of TIF: Reconsidering a Vaunted Economic Development Tool

Anthony Flint

Molly Metzger didn’t plan to become an expert on tax increment financing (TIF), much less lead a citizens’ group focused on the issue.

Revealing the Cost of Property Tax Incentives for Business

Andrew Wagaman

Good-government advocates across the ideological spectrum are hoping a new accounting rule will shed light on the costs of property tax incentives for business, following years of public skepticism about the purported economic benefits.

Imagery in the above videos are courtesy of the following:

Roads and Rails: City of Phoenix.

Seeds and Water: Arizona Historical Society; Central Arizona Project; Gila River Indian News; High Country News; Imagn.

Superstition Vistas: Fregonese Associates, Inc.

Taxes and Towers: Arizona State University; Dibble Engineering; Pond5; Tom Carlson/Phoenix New Times.

The Water Game: Arizona Capitol TV; Arizona Governors Office; AZ Central/Imagn; Brigham Young University Museum of Art; Central Arizona Project; Pima County Arizona; Pond5; Pueblo Grande Museum, City of Phoenix, Artist’s rendition of the Hohokam canals by Michael Hampshire; Shutterstock.

Click here to watch the entire 2003 film Phoenix: The Urban Desert, a documentary film produced by Northern Light Productions and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.