Straining Water Supplies in the Southwest

  • Nancy and Dave Tom bought this home near Apache Junction, Arizona. They have to haul all the water they use with their pickup truck, so they quickly learned how to conserve. (Photo by Mark Brush)

Many areas in the Southwest are booming. With all this new
development, pressures on water supplies are growing. Mark Brush takes
a look at the lengths people go to, to get water in the desert:


Many areas in the Southwest are booming. With all this new
development, pressures on water supplies are growing. Mark Brush takes
a look at the lengths people go to, to get water in the desert:

Nancy and Dave Tom used to get their water from a city water supply.
That was back when they owned a home in Tempe, Arizona. Like a lot of
people in the area, they had a pool, plants that needed water year
round, and a green lawn out back. Not exactly a desert scene. It took
a lot of water to support their lifestyle.

But life in Tempe was getting crowded. And when somebody rang their
doorbell and offered to buy their house for almost twice what they paid for
it, they jumped at the chance to move to a smaller town.

(Sound of birds)

They found a house for sale just outside of Apache Junction. It’s a
small city in the desert about an hour’s drive from Phoenix. The house
is at the foot of a dry mountain range and has spectacular views. But
the house didn’t have city water service:

“When we saw this piece of property we pretty much fell in love with it
immediately. And it was stated in the multiple listings that you did
have to haul water. And that the water trailer conveyed with the
property (laughs).”

(Sound of hooking up the truck)

To get their water, Dave Tom hooks up a trailer with a big plastic
water tank. He tows the trailer about 4 miles into Apache Junction.
There’s a water filling station here. He gets about 90 gallons of
water for each quarter dropped into the machine:

(Sound of truck parking)

“I’ve got my four quarters here – we’re going to put it in the vending
machine and have at it.”

(Sound of quarter and water rushing)

He makes about two trips a week, so he figures they’re using about 600
gallons of water a week. That’s quite a bit less than the 6000 gallons
they were using in Tempe.

Some of the things they did to cut back were obvious. Since they no
longer had a pool – and they didn’t water a green lawn – that helped.
But in their new place, they also bought a high efficiency washer and
dishwasher. And, when they don’t have guests around, they cut down on
the number of times they flush the toilet.

And they’re not alone in trying to cut back on water use. Even their
neighbors who have a well are really careful with their water. Phil
Reinhart lives just up the road. He’s rigged up a system of gutters
and pipes to catch rain water:

“You see it drains the front of my house and it comes down these
gutters into these storage barrels. And then I have a little pump that
I use and a little twelve volt battery that I use to pump my washing
machine full and then my washing machine then discharges into my citrus
trees – this is a lemon – here, take a lemon back with you.”

Reinhart is careful with his water. And he’s worried that the
population boom will put a strain on his well.

(Sound of water)

The tank on David Tom’s trailer is full. He tries to shut the water

“Alright we’ll push the shutoff button – and watch out, you’re going to
get wet… no the shutoff isn’t working. We’re going to dump 25 to 30, maybe 40,
gallons of water, which to me it’s a shame they need to come down and
fix this.”

(Sound of water flowing)

A lot of this water spilling onto the ground has traveled a long way to
get here. The Central Arizona Project pumps water from the Colorado
River 230 miles away.

“Rather than a river than runs downhill by gravity, we’re a river that
runs uphill by pumps. We’re the largest electric consumer in the state
of Arizona.”

Sid Wilson is the general manager of the Central Arizona Project. He
says most of the water pumped into this region is used for farming.
But with rapid development, that’s expected to change. More water will
be used to service the new homes sprawling out into the desert.

“The CAP right now provides 40% of the water to this area, 40%, and that will increase
some over time.”

Wilson says people are going to continue to move to the Southwest. So,
future water supplies will have to be developed.

Back at their home near Apache Junction, Dave Tom has finished filling
up their underground storage tank. It’s taken him two trips with the

(Sound of gurgling)

His wife Nancy says their new home has changed the way they think:

“Life out here in the desert has given me a greater appreciation for
water. There’s a part of me that says this is how everybody should
live in the desert. That they should have that awareness of their
water usage and embrace the fact that you live in the desert rather
than trying to change it into a lush tropical paradise.”

For the Environment Report, I’m Mark Brush.

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