From the Payson Town Council to the man on the street, water is easily the number one issue in the Rim country, and our prolonged drought has made it an even more timely subject. Just about everybody has an opinion, theory or attitude.
I asked Payson Water Resource Specialist Jeff Durbin about a couple I've heard more than once this summer: "I have my own well so I can use as much water as I want," and, "Pine is the only place that has a serious water problem."
"Those are myths," Durbin said emphatically. "We're all in this together. There are wells going dry every day, and when your neighbor's well goes dry, you're next."
With the big 4th of July weekend just around the corner, the Town of Payson is holding up fairly well so far. Some outlying communities haven't been as fortunate.
Pine and Mesa del Caballo have been under mandatory usage restrictions since before Memorial Day. Parts of Whispering Pines have run out of water a couple of times this summer. Wells have run dry and some people have noticed sand in their water in Freedom Acres and Wonder Valley.
Durbin believes the Rim country can make it through the summer if everybody pitches in and conserves. "We believe in education, not regulation," he said.
That's why Durbin spends much of his time visiting schools and businesses to try to involve everyone in the effort to make our limited water supply go as far as possible. Armed with T-shirts, bumper stickers, window decals, restaurant tent cards, coffee mugs, and loads of information, Durbin encourages young and old alike to use less water.
He also takes along Willie Water, a happy-faced blue water droplet that comes complete with arms and legs. "What we're trying to emphasize to people is that this has been the worst year for drought ever in the state of Arizona," Durbin explained. "Some forecasts say this is the beginning of a 10-year cycle of way below average rainfall. If that's true, the Rim country is going to be in real trouble."
And we're not alone. Drought conditions throughout Arizona have caused serious groundwater depletion in Prescott, Tucson, and elsewhere. A record drought in Nebraska has resulted in rationing in more communities than ever before. The Great Lakes are approaching all-time low water levels. And in Sao Paulo, Brazil, the biggest and wealthiest city in South America, millions of residents face a rationing program of two-days-with-water, one-day-without for the next five months.
The bottom line is that our planet has a limited supply of fresh water. While half of the drinking water in the U.S. comes from groundwater, it takes hundreds of years for large amounts to accumulate. In many parts of the country, groundwater is being used up faster than it is being replaced.
That makes it incumbent on all of us whether we live in Pine or Pinetop or Paradise Valley or Pittsburgh to do a better job of conserving. That's what Jeff Durbin is trying to help us do.
In his presentations, Durbin emphasizes the more common ways you can save water: by landscaping with drought-tolerant plants, eliminating leaks, taking shorter showers, doing only full loads of dishes and laundry, saving water that runs while you're waiting for it to get hot, not letting water run any longer than necessary, sweeping rather than hosing driveways and sidewalks, and teaching kids that hoses and sprinklers are not toys.
My personal favorite is one that has been around forever, installing gutters to catch rainwater off your roof for outdoor watering. Since the Town of Payson can't officially endorse gutters, Durbin suggested I talk to somebody who can.
One such person is Bill Shreeve of Arizona Custom Gutters.
"You can catch water in barrels that are linked together, or you can install underground tanks that hold thousands of gallons," he explained.
Gutters aren't a bad do-it-yourself project, or you can have a company like Shreeve's install them for you. "If we do it, you can expect to pay from $3.85-$4 a foot for both horizontal and vertical gutters," Shreeve said.
Today's gutters are also a lot better looking and need a lot less maintenance than those your father used to curse as he scraped off flaking paint. Shreeve's gutters come in 64 colors, and feature a baked finish on aluminum. "They're low maintenance and highly efficient," he said.
Ads for Arizona Custom Gutters in The Payson Roundup feature the smartest of the Three Little Pigs standing in front of his brick house, which is sporting a brand new set of gutters.
A smart pig and a happy drop of water: two reminders that we all have to do an even better job of conserving a disappearing natural resource.
All of us.