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:
- 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.
- Will the revenue from increased property and sales taxes (prompted by the recreational use of ground water) create new water? (No.)
- What is the future economic impact to Wickenburg when we eventually have to start digging deeper wells?
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
- Wickenburg Hospitality Comes in Many Forms - December 15th, 2010
- Calliandra Eriophylla is Native to the Wickenburg Area - December 9th, 2010
- Goodbye, Old Bridge - November 29th, 2010
- Abandoned Mines Part III: Preserving the "Whispering Ranch" Mine - March 25th, 2010
- Abandoned Mines Part II: Protective Closures - March 10th, 2010