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Saving Sedonaís water supply

by Paul Chevalier

Paul Chevalier Sedona ArizonaEditorís Note: Chevalier is the Chairman of Sedonaís Art and Culture Commission. He is a retired Senior Executive of a major retailer where he was responsible for law and personnel. He holds a Degree in Government from Columbia College, a Law Degree from Columbia Law School and Business Degrees from both Columbia and Harvard Business Schools.

In early June, President Bushís administration sent a report to the United Nations detailing far-reaching effects global warming will inflict on the American environment in the very near future. For the first time the United States government put most of the blame for recent global warming on human actions - mainly the burning of fossil fuels that send heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Sedona Arizona golf course

This report states that the U.S. environment will be changed substantially in the next few decades. Americans living today, this report states, will ďvery likelyĒ see the disruption of snow-fed water supplies, more stifling heat waves, and the permanent disappearance of Rocky Mountain meadows and coastal marshes. This is pretty scary stuff, particularly when the report is coming from a presidentís administration that is not considered by many Americans as environmentally sensitive.

Unfortunately, the report does not suggest any shift in the administrationís policy on greenhouse gases. The U.S. government is not ready to come to the rescue. So what do we do?

In my opinion, there is a need for Sedona, and every other community, to do what it can to protect its environment, and, in particular, to conserve its ground water. With the all-too-possible future disruption of Colorado and Arizona snow-fed water supplies, Phoenix may become more dependent on ground water and could tap some of the same ground water sources that Sedona uses in Northern Arizona.

Sedona is dependent on ground water. If it disappears, Sedona may become a campsite.

Today, the way that some of the ground water is being used in Sedona is unnecessarily wasteful. For example, to benefit a small number of people, current law allows desert-built golf courses to use more ground water in one day than most Sedona homes use in one year.

A Sedona resident, Sandy Ezrine, recently monitored the amount of water that the Four Seasons Golf Course legally obtained from a fire hydrant on Thunder Mountain Road during the one-week period, beginning May 5, 2002. During that period, Ezrine reported, the Four Seasons Golf Course obtained 1,099,700 gallons of water from that hydrant - ground water that came from a Sedona well. Thatís a huge amount of ground water to spill onto a golf course in the middle of a high desert.

And not all the blame for excessive use of ground water can be placed on golf courses. Too many Sedona businesses and homeowners have not focused on the water needs of plants, trees, or grasses when they choose their landscaping.

There are concerned citizens who live in Sedona and nearby communities who have studied water conservation. One of them is our mayor, Dick Ellis. I believe some of these concerned citizens, with water conservation expertise, should be invited to form a City Council Water Advisory Committee and to make both voluntary and mandatory water conservation recommendations specific to Sedona.

Like many of you, I have heard suggestions about possible actions that Sedona should take to improve the way ground water is conserved in our city. Here are a few suggestions I have heard that I think should be considered by our city government:

1. With regard to the Four Seasons Golf Course, which is technically not located in Sedona, our city should offer to give the Four Seasons the cityís effluent water that is being wasted every day along Highway 89A.

For the effluent to be used by the Four Seasons, it will be necessary to build a pipeline from the Red Rock High School to the Four Seasons golf course, Our city should give this effluent water for free, in return for the Four Seasons a.) building a pipeline from the High School to its property, and b.) maintaining the pipeline from the pumping station to the Four Seasons property.

The Four Seasons, by accepting such an offer, would have an up-front expense in building the pipeline, but it would guarantee itself a regular source of water, even if future draught conditions result in some government entity limiting golf coursesí use of ground water (which could happen). It would also gain the good will of the community.

2. Thoughtful landscaping for Sedona should be made a priority by our City Council. Some members of our City Community Development staff and the Planning & Zoning Commission have been considering this issue. The Planning & Zoning Commission may recommend a comprehensive Landscaping Ordinance for Council action. I hope it does this soon.

A Sedona Landscaping Ordinance should, in my opinion, protect its citizens in four ways: first, by requiring that all new landscaping need little watering; second, by specifying the kinds of grasses, plants and trees that may be used in future landscaping to maintain a native look; third, by prohibiting the planting or transplanting of allergy-creating grasses, plants and trees to protect our health; and fourth, by imposing outdoor-watering daily time limits. For example, in Las Vegas and Albuquerque, residents are not allowed to water outdoors between noon and 7 p.m. This doesnít seem like much of a hardship to me and itís better for many plants and grasses not to be watered when the sun is high.

3. Our city should require that all outdoor pools and spas have covers on them when not in use. An average pool without a cover loses 16,000 gallons of water a year to evaporation, according to the Arizona Republic. Thatís a lot of ground water to waste. Having a pool or spa cover not only saves ground water, but it saves the pool/spa owner money each year in water payments (unless he/she is using his/her own well), and it also saves the owner the headache and expense of debris removal from the pool/spa.

4. Voluntary water conservation through education, incentives, and peer pressure should be strongly encouraged. Letís start with education.

Most of us know some of the basic ways of conserving water in our homes, such as replacing shower heads with low-flow heads and adjusting toilet tanks to save water. Even if we know all the basics, which I doubt, it could spur some citizensí actions if they are reminded regularly, through public service ads, of basic water conservation actions they can easily take.

Financial incentives also should be offered by the water companies, and/or our city government, to citizens who install timers on drip or sprinkler systems, and to landowners who convert existing grass lawns to water-conserving landscaping. Both of these suggestions have been implemented in other communities.

Finally, peer pressure can be a positive important factor. It starts with the water conservation example that you and I set for our neighbors and friends.

None of the above approaches would damage our cityís reliance on income from tourism. True, a landscaping ordinance will limit our right to landscape private property in any way we see fit. If written sensibly, I believe most of us would be okay with limiting our behavior to conserve our ground water.

In my opinion, ground-water conservation can start in the community. Why not begin it right here in Sedona?

If many communities do what they can to preserve water in an intelligent way, then more water will be available for our future and the future of our children and friends.

We are a small community and our actions alone cannot significantly change the water availability of the state of Arizona. But, by Sedona setting a positive example with ground water conservation, we may influence other communities to follow our lead. Whether or not other communities follow our example, we, at least, will have done what we can do.

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