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Observations on a Vision for Wickenburg – Part 3

We are all stewards of the past and future; whether you realize it or not, or whether you even agree. The only important question is whether we are good or poor at it – individually and as a community.

When I set out to propose a framework for a vision of Wickenburg?s future, I naively thought it could be done in a two-part article. As the research effort unfolded it became apparent that a treatment of these subjects in only two segments would be superficial at best, and might fail to inspire discussion and debate. After taking a closer look at the emerging topics I said: “Okay, I can do this in four parts.” That has turned out to be a bit naive as well.

I now commit that future segments will be limited to a single vision proposal that is short enough to be readable and not tedious, but with enough content to be substantive and (hopefully) interesting. Part 3 addresses the single topic of conservation of Wickenburg’s water resources. You have my promise that I will return to the subject of developing downtown Wickenburg when the research is completed.

Conservation of Water

Any rancher in this area (or anywhere else, for that matter) can tell you in pretty precise terms how much water they can obtain from each windmill or spring on their land. They can also tell you how many gallons of subsurface stream flow they can count on in a given wash (and for how many days) following a rain storm. They have to know that because their economic survival and their livestock depend on a keen awareness of their habitat. We, on the other hand, expect our tap water to be as automatic and reliable as a light switch and we give no thought to its quality or permanency. Without a stable and secure supply of water, there is no happy future anywhere in Arizona.

I drive past some of the fairways and greens of the Wickenburg Country Club several times a week where I see sprinklers pumping large amounts of well water onto fairways and greens that are generally vacant. As a long time desert dweller, I began to wonder how much of this vital resource is being drained from our water table and I questioned why current and future golf courses aren’t required to use treated waste water – as has been mandated in metro-Phoenix for the past twenty-four years. Based on 2006 statistics, Wickenburg generates more than 560 acre feet (182 million gallons) of waste water on an annual basis.

The Wickenburg Country Club and Los Caballeros Golf Club consume approximately 845 acre feet of groundwater per year (averaging 23.5 acre feet per fairway/green.) That is roughly 275 million gallons of what would otherwise be community drinking water. The pending construction of two more golf courses (89 North near Martinez Wash and on the Southeast side of Wickenburg in the Calamity Wash development) could roughly double the depletion of groundwater to 1690 acre feet, or 551 million gallons per year.

If you assume a very generous residential consumption rate of 250,000 gallons per year for each household (a number that would make any rancher weep), then you arrive at the conclusion that these golf courses will consume the annual equivalent of more than 2,200 homes. Another way to look at this statistic is to say that the average fairway/green in Wickenburg consumes as much water annually as you would use on your residential property in twenty-two years.

I did not set out to target our golf courses or their patrons, but this seems to be a particularly questionable use of a precious resource. In case you hadn’t noticed, we do live in the desert and we are heading into the fourteenth year of drought. The water we are pumping out of the ground today will not come back to us in your lifetime.

If you are interested in more information about the source, quality and sustainability of our water supply, please read a report titled “Arizona Water Atlas Volume 5 Central Highlands Planning Area” dated June 2007. This report is available at:
http://www.azwater.gov/dwr/Content/Find_by_Program/Rural_Programs/content/water_atlas/v5/Vol_5_overview.pdf. If you don’t want to read the entire document, just do a search using the keywords “Wickenburg” and “Upper Hassayampa.”

The report lists sixteen rural golf courses in the study area that average 402 acre feet of water consumption each per year. The two existing golf courses in Wickenburg exceed that average (422.5 acre feet per year), possibly due to our lower elevation and higher rate of evaporation. Six of the courses in the study area use 1,048 acre feet (247 million gallons) of treated waste water per year to reduce their impact on ground water supplies. Sadly, Wickenburg golf courses do not.

Most of the surface water that flows through the Wickenburg area drops through a fault line at “The Narrows” about seven miles south of town and ends up in an aquifer south of us in the Gila River watershed. If I have properly interpreted recent reports, this is water that Surprise and/or Buckeye will eventually tap into as they expand north toward our town. The growth plan for the city of Surprise visualizes the development of approximately 200,000 homes in the space between their current city limit and Morristown. I wouldn’t bet on Wickenburg ever seeing a drop of water from that aquifer.

Here are some questions for you to ponder:

  1. Can you or our town leaders describe, in quantifiable terms, a positive community offset to the perpetual consumption of 551 million gallons of groundwater per year by four golf courses? Hint – the sale of golf balls at the country club doesn’t count.
  2. Will the revenue from increased property and sales taxes (prompted by the recreational use of ground water) create new water? (No.)
  3. What is the future economic impact to Wickenburg when we eventually have to start digging deeper wells?

Vision Statement

As a vision for healthy and sustainable growth, I submit that responsible stewardship of our water resources requires that Wickenburg become more efficient in its use of residential, commercial and industrial water than we provide today. That includes mandating the use of recycled water for recreational purposes. It would be easy to open a debate about who should underwrite the cost of the infrastructure that would deliver treated waste water to golf courses; but that is a topic that should be discussed after we have established a workable vision.

Finally, Wickenburg must be particularly careful about the water consumption of future industry that we attract to our town. Some types of industry can be prodigious consumers of water and it is possible that we can’t afford to have some of them in our area. As a community we need to have an objective means of determining how to manage the trade-off between sustainable growth and conservation. That is one reason why (in Part 1) I suggested that we recruit knowledge based and “green” enterprises as we grow in population and business diversity.

As with the two previous articles, I encourage to you respond with your own thoughts for a vision of Wickenburg’s future.

Last 5 posts by Allan Hall

16 comments to Observations on a Vision for Wickenburg – Part 3

  • Daryl

    Great Article, Allan! How do we convince city leaders to mandate use of reclaimed water on golf courses? It appears that Mr. Gant and Mr. Ringwood are powerful men in town, and such a proposal would undoubtedly cost them a lot of money in the short term. I wonder if Wickenburg’s water rates were tier-priced, would that provide enough economic impetus?

    Does anyone recall how other Arizona towns and cities were able to address this?

    There are also some newer forms of artifical turf barely distinguishable from the real thing. Perhaps the use of such on fairways, etc., while allowing greens to stay real, would save enough in reduced water usage and maintenance to pay for the intial capital outlay.

    Or we could convert to sand courses, like in the north and east valley of the Metro Phoenix area.

    Thanks!

  • […] You can read the rest of this blog post by going to the original source, here […]

  • Allan Hall

    Daryl,
    I don’t particularly care how powerful Mr. Gant and Mr. Ringood think they are. I also don’t care whether other people fear them. The facts are abundantly stated in my article and the “Arizona Water Atlas Volume 5” report. They are welcome to respond to the article. I would much prefer to see a reponse from the town leadership and our citizens…
    Best regards,
    Allan

  • Daryl

    I agree with you. Just wondering how to get the town to recognize and address these issues. It seems we can’t even get anyone to care about the upstream Hassayampa oil spill.

    I’ve spent most of my life in the desert and realize water is more precious than gold.

  • Allan Hall

    An editorial titled “Heavy water users should pay,” appeared in the Arizona Rrepublic on Nov. 17th. The article reports that Paradise Valley is adding a surcharge of $35 per month for all homes that consume more than 25,000 gallons of water. Carefree residents pay a heavy usage fee, which starts at $100 per month, for usage that exceeds 16,000 gallons.

    The editorial makes the following observation about our attitudes and wasteful water habits: “As long as the water flows when you turn on the tap, there is no drought.”

  • Town water rates were restructured during the past year to charge heavier users more. The change caused a lot of criticism, mostly from senior citizens.

  • Allan Hall

    Mr. Pulis:
    It would be a great service to the community if the Wickenburg Sun would publish an article or series about water use and conservation. The Sun is in an excellent position to inform its readers and help influence policy.

  • I don’t determine what the Wickenurg Sun writes. But, FYI, The Wickenburg Sun covered the information about he progressive water rates completely.

  • John Wemesfelder

    As a point of clarification, while what Mr Pulis said regarding tiered rates is correct, I would like to point out that only those Wickenburg residents who use the municipal water system pay those rates. All with private wells pay only the cost to run their pumps.

    That being said, any large volume consumer (as say..a golf course)sees no penalty other than higher electrical bills..unless that consumer is connected to the municipal water system.

    So the question becomes: Are They?

    It appears to me, that a far greater threat to the Upper Hassayampa Aquifer is the possibility that one of the adjoining communities might manage to include a portion of the Hassayampa drainage, upstream of the Narrows in an annexation. That action would allow that community to begin pumping from the Upper Hassayampa Aquifer.

  • Moose Brigade

    John:
    The entire Hassayampa drainage area is comprised of 1470 sq. miles – most of which is east or south of Wickenburg. Based upon the water studies that have been published by the state, we are located on the western margin of the Upper Hassayampa Basin and most of the ground water is beyond the political reach of the town.

    Martinez Wash, which is north of Wickenburg, flows into the Hassayampa River and (based upon state documents), is a northern component of the overall basin.

    The planned golf course on 89N near Martinez Wash will indeed pump ground water from this source.

    I am somewhat less inclined to call this source an “aquifer” since I have spoken to engineers who say that what we actually rely upon is “seep” water. My understanding is that the “real” aquifer is south of The Narrows below Wickenburg.

    If anyone has more authoritative information they are welcome to respond. The Arizona Water Atlas Volume 5 does not appear to describe our local area as an aquifer. If I can develop additional factual information I’ll let you know.
    Best regards,
    Allan

  • I attended several meetings in Yavapai County when the proposed Wickenburg Ranch golf course was discussed. I know for a fact that they will use treated waste water to water the golf course as it becomes available from project.

  • Allan Hall

    Art:
    Thanks for your feedback. That is an encouraging sign. Of course, the question remains how long it will take this new golf course to tap into the supply of treated waste water. As you indicated, they will use it “as it becomes available…” Has a time line been established for requiring the use of waste water?

    Even if the new Wickenburg Ranch course relies entirely upon treated waste water, we still have the two existing Wickenburg golf courses and the new one at the Calamity Wash development. We are still left with an annual depletion of 412 million gallons of ground water to account for.

  • I don’t know about the time line. I know it was discussed during the approval process and the planners seemed satisfied.

  • John Wemesfelder

    Allan,

    There are some interesting sources on the internet:
    Az Dept. of Water Resources 2007 annual report

    http://www.maricopa.gov/planning/compln/water.pdf

    ci.wickenburg.az.us/index.asp?NID=122

    The EPA, when addressing remediation studies for the Hassayampa Landfill, speaks to the “upper alluvium” unit’ which is the uppermost waterbearing part of the regional aquifer’ (quotation marks are mine)

    Neither you nor I are listed in the local telephone book. Perhaps Maria can put us together when she returns.

  • Shane

    I think the main problem is that too many people just don’t give a rip. They are so pre-occupied with “livin’ it up” and so consumed with themselves that they don’t take the time to think about the consequences of their actions. There’s nothing inherently wrong with golf courses in the middle of the desert per se…, but as someone mentioned in another response, why can’t we make adjustments as some other golf courses have and use sand to landscape the fairways, or the artificial turf (which HAS come a long way)? It’s real simple, if we use all of the water, the golf courses, as well as every other business and residency, will no longer exist. And places like Wickenburg will literally and figuratively dry up. If some folks demand that their golf courses be comprised of “the real thing”, may I suggest that they move to Florida or Colorado or Georgia…and let our desert be?

    I believe in freedom, and I believe in liberty, and I also believe in common sense conservation. Especially in the desert…water must be used with care and not wasted with such recklessness.