The old prospector's cry of "Thar's gold in them thar hills" is now "Thar's water in them thar hills." So far, seven water bladders and eight culvert tanks are placed, filled and waiting to be used, and at least one more set will be up within the next week. They are strategically placed from Strawberry and Pine across the Control Road to Kohl's Ranch, Christopher Creek and Colcord, and down to Round Valley.
They are interspersed among other available water sources to allow for a quick turn around trip in a helicopter from water to any start-up fire in Rim Country. The primary goal is to either douse a small fire or hold a larger one in place until other resources can be brought to bear on the situation.
Each bladder holds 20,000 gallons of water and each culvert tank holds 8,000 gallons, making each a 28,000-gallon water site. At that rate, there are about 232,000 gallons of helicopter-available water ready for immediate fire-fighting use, and our water trucks are standing ready for refilling.
Just imagine a quarter of a million gallons of "new," close, very strategically located, first response wildfire fighting water that can be accessed both by helicopters of all size buckets and nozzles, and also by regular fire fighting apparatus.
The bladders look like giant tan water beds and the culvert tanks are a 10-foot tall piece of 10-foot diameter culvert with a metal bottom welded on, a three inch fill pipe running up the side and black plastic pipe hose-clamped around the rim (we fondly call them "the result of our redneck ingenuity").
We will have our first helicopter dip-test out of one of them on Monday.
These setups are located behind locked gates and are signed "Wildfire Protection Water -- Do Not Disturb. Our ability to help protect your safety depends upon your helping us protect the safety of this water source."
The sheriff's posse is making regular rounds to check on them, and I'm asking for your help in keeping them safe and ready to use.
If you happen to see one of these setups, please take a minute to notice if the bladder is full, if anything is leaking and if anyone is disturbing the site. If there seems to be a problem, please report it either to my office at 474-2029 or our sheriff's office at 474-0614.
Our ability to help protect your safety really does depend upon your helping us protect the safety of these water sources, which you, technically, own since they were bought and paid for with your tax dollars.
Now for an answer to the question "What's next?"
In my mind, the county is taking these measures to help keep us, our communities and our forests from burning down this summer so that beginning this fall, we can finally start to very aggressively clean out what is called the "wildland-urban-interface" (or WUI and pronounced "wooee") and ultimately restore health, functioning and productivity to our forests and watersheds.
Eventually, I believe this needs to be accomplished with what is called "environmental economics" whereby the clean up pays for the restoration. This leads into discussions about social, economic and environmental sustainability (or the "triple bottom line"), biomass industries, economic development, and so on, which we will begin to have in the near future (more on this later).
But first, we need to talk about how to lobby this idea into real start up dollars. At our urging, Senator Kyl has put forth an appropriations request to begin forest cleaning in the NEPA-ready (National Environmental Protection Act) Forest acres in northern Gila County. We are very grateful to him since it is this area's first-ever direct appropriations request. And while this represents a huge first step, it is still a first step in a multi-step process. But, there are ways for us to help make the actual funding possible.
Here, again, is where I need your help. As a start to this process, if you know any United States Congressmen or Senators (in or out of Arizona) well enough to get me an appointment, please call my office at 474-2029. This problem belongs to all of us and it will take all of us working together to solve.