Desperate drought: City puts tight water restrictions in place
Photo: Video by kgun9.com
CREATED Aug. 16, 2012
Reporter: Kevin Keen
SAFFORD, Ariz. (KGUN9-TV) - Watering your lawn for more than two hours? That’ll cost you $100. Installing a new pool? That’ll be a $250 fine. Giving a glass of water to every one of your restaurant customers? Add another $250.
You’re now in violation of city law in Safford, Graham County. The water shortage there is so extreme, so potentially dire that the mayor declared a “state of water emergency” for the region Thursday, outlawing specific water-wasting activities. By forcing residents to conserve, he hopes to tackle the drought and avoid drying up entirely.
“Does the city have enough water?” KGUN9 News reporter Kevin Keen asked Safford utility director Eric Buckly. “The city has enough water right now,” Buckly answered. “Our concerns are that we won’t have enough water in a few weeks if we don’t take drastic action.”
Drastic action because for two months now the Gila Valley water supply has been decreasing because of extended drought, high temperatures, empty wells, a drying up creek and little winter snowfall. Buckly said water production is at 40 percent of what it should be.
Of particular concern for officials is not having a sufficient water and water pressure to battle fires and wildfires.
It’s all compelled city officials to ask the 28,000 water customers to voluntarily conserve by not watering lawns during the day, among other things. The city’s also stepped up water audits of local businesses.
“Can those conservation measures make the difference here?” Keen asked city manager David Kincaid. “Absolutely,” Kincaid answered. “We’re pretty well convinced that a lot of water gets wasted. Just a leaking toilet on a daily basis can use a significant amount of water.”
The weeks-long campaign--called “Let’s Make Every Drop Count”--was nowhere near as effective as organized hoped. Read the latest program update, which includes water usage totals.
“It’s tough to get that message out,” Buckly said. “As long as people turn their spigot on (and) water comes out, they think everything’s OK.”
To increase public awareness of the situation, Mayor Chris Gibbs called an emergency city council meeting Thursday. The sole item of discussion: declaring an emergency state.
Gibbs said the situation boiled down to: “Would it be better to have flowers or drinking water?”
Fifty people were there, as mandatory restrictions went into effect. Residents, for example, can now only water lawns on certain days of the week and for a maximum of two hours those days. Restaurants can’t serve customers water unless they specifically ask for it. People also have to hold off on installing new pools and hot tubs, as well as planting new sod or ornamental grass. Read the full proclamation with rules.
If a person breaks the rules and police catch them, there’s a $100 citation for the first offense. Tickets after the first one are $250 each.
Gibbs said nearby towns and the county, which also use Safford’s water, may enact similar measures.
Leaders are confident the measures will solve the water problem, which is expected to be temporary.
“Probably the thing would happen next is--if it gets any more severe than it is now--we’ll have to go to some sort of water rationing. We don’t want to do that,” Buckley said, when Keen asked what steps could come next if the problem persists.
Gibbs said the emergency will last until the water supply has stabilized, as determined by the water department. That could be in the fall, when nearby farmers will be done watering crops for the season. They use the same groundwater as the city.
Officials are also looking at long-term solutions and other sources of water should this situation arise again.