Phoenix water conservation practices keep it afloat

Phoenix water conservation practices keep it afloat

by Liz Vernon

In a city where the sun seemingly never sleeps and temperatures routinely exceed 100 degrees, there's one thing Phoenix residents don't sweat about: Drought.

Officials in this desert city say 100 years of planning have positioned them well for the future. "If you look at the whole picture, I'd say we've implemented some good conservation measures," says Herb Guenther, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. "We're on the positive side of the curve."

Phoenix has negotiated rights to multiple sources of water, including groundwater from aquifers and surface water from the Salt, Verde and Colorado rivers. What's more, the city, which is one of the fastest-growing in the nation, is acquiring and managing water supplies to make sure there will be enough to accommodate growth for 100 years.

"The majority of water use in the urban setting is for landscaping," Guenther says. "We try to educate [residents] about low-water-use plants and how to minimize on turf."

Don Titmus of Mesa is a horticulturist who uses his home as a classroom complete with arid-adapted plants and 400-gallon cisterns, 55-gallon drums and 5-gallon buckets for rainwater. "[The plants] don't need a lot of water but give foliage and color," Titmus says. "A drip system waters them. I do need to spray my vegetables and flower gardens, but I have sprinklers with 30 percent less evaporation than pop-up sprinklers."

Mick Dalrymple, a partner with A-rated AKA Green in Scottsdale, says many customers buy moisture sensors for their irrigation systems. Others install desert-adapted landscaping. Dalrymple recently transformed his front yard, building a retaining wall, filling it with compost and putting in desert landscaping. "It's a lush desert - I wanted to dispel the myth that xeriscaping is all rock," he says. "I probably cut water use in the front yard by 70 percent."

And residents who don't have the money to make major landscaping changes should remember that even small efforts help. Jo Cook, communications coordinator with the Arizona Municipal Water Users Association, suggests people check their irrigation systems for leaks and plant desert-adapted trees on the southwest side of the yard that provide shade in the summer and, once they've lost their leaves, let sunlight into the house in winter. Inside, she suggests low-flow toilets and showerheads as well as aerators on all faucets.

Member Andrew Kopolow, who has a desertscape front yard and backyard at his Gilbert home, says conservation takes cooperation. . "It's a community issue, not an individual one," he says. "It's just a matter of being conscientious. Know how scarce water is and act accordingly."

Despite all the efforts, Guenther does have concerns. "They key is getting into a situation where you have sustainable supplies," he says. "We're not there yet." One suggestion he has is desalination: "It's the only truly drought-proof option."

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