A Modest Water Proposal

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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That pesky water issue is back.

You will notice I used the word "issue" rather than "problem." Nobody can accuse me of pulling my head out of the bone-dry sand not even for one illuminating moment.

Here are the latest developments that have conspired to provoke this column:

Drought grips Rim country

How long has it been since things were normal? Depends on who you're talking to, but if we're in the early stages of a 30-year drought like some experts are starting to think, hang on to your hoses. (Memo to Gila County Health Department: Send water quick!)

Pine's summer of discontent: Is it true that residents are considering changing the name of their sleepy burg to Pineless? Ha ha, just a little drought humor. But they weren't laughing in Pine after spending a goodly portion of the summer at stage 5. Strawberry didn't think it was too funny either when their neighbors to the south started sucking them dry via the Project Magnolia pipeline. (Memo to Gila County Health Department: Send Strawberry a supply of extra-strength happy neighbor pills.)

Payson residents ignore restrictions: So Buzz Walker, Payson public works director, says, "Hey, let's play this drought smart and at least pay lip service to conserving water just in case we have 20-some more years of this ahead. The town council agreed and Paysonites were instructed to water every other day and observe a couple other minor restrictions. Unfortunately, townsfolk largely ignored the restrictions and used even more water than before. In July, for example, the first full month under stage 2 restrictions, we used 69 million gallons a 16 percent increase over July 2001. (Memo to Gila County Health Department: Lay in a fresh supply of whatever Buzz Walker takes to quiet his stomach.)

SRP steals Rim country's water: This isn't exactly a news flash, but each time it's brought up people are incredulous. The truth is, we wouldn't have a water problem if Salt River Project didn't own the rights to all the water that falls on a 13,000-square-mile watershed that includes Payson, Prescott, Flagstaff, Show Low and vast areas around and in between.

Which wouldn't be quite so intolerable if these rights were based on some semblance of the real world as it exists today. But no, it's based on the archaic National Reclamation Act passed in 1902, a decade before Arizona even became a state. (Memo to Gila County Health Department: At least you don't have to worry about standing water breeding mosquitoes that will spread the West Nile virus.)

New study says quit wasting: A new study, the North Central Arizona Groundwater Report, concludes that the best way to address northern Arizona's growing demand for water is not through developing new sources but to use proven water efficiency and conservation programs to stretch existing supplies.

The study delineates a variety of ways to do this, including repairing leaks, low-flush toilets, efficient showerheads and faucets, hot water recirculation systems, conservation rate structures, and summer surcharges. While Payson has already instituted some of these measures and is working on others, it's a long, tedious, expensive process that so far isn't doing any good.

Fortunately, Jim White and I know where the water is. It's down in the Valley.

Armed with that knowledge, I have a modest proposal that will solve our water problem once and for all. I say we go down to the Valley and get our water back.

Of course we can't just send big tankers down there because SRP would surely use its government connections to mobilize the National Guard.

Nope, my plan, called SWAB (for Steal the Water All Back), utilizes each and every Rim country citizen. What I am proposing is guerrilla warfare, the only method that allows a small force to defeat a larger one.

Here's how it would work:

Each and every time one of us goes to the Valley, we bring back a small receptacle of water, be it a drinking glass from a restaurant, a paper cone cup from a water dispenser, a bottle of water purchased at Circle K, or perhaps a jarful "borrowed" from a Valley friend's house. Drop by drop our coffers will be filled with the precious commodity whatever a coffer is. True this is a small beginning, but as the town conservation folks like to remind us, "every drop counts."

Just imagine how surprised SRP will be when they realize we have reversed a fundamental law of nature that water cannot run uphill. (Memo to Gila County Health Department: Cancel that order for water.)

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