U.S. Water News Online
PHOENIX -- Stephanie Hanley pauses for a cigarette at a
downtown coffee shop, kept cool under a wet haze created by a mister
spraying a light shower on patrons.
The Maryland transplant talks about her pool here and her lush
yard filled with oleanders, rosemary and birds of paradise. She, like
many others in this desert city, doesn't worry much about water.
``In 100 years, we might have a problem,'' Hanley said. ``Is it
going to affect my generation? I don't think so.''
As cities in other parts of the West struggle to conserve water in
the face of a drought that has been gripping the region for years,
Phoenix is going about business as usual.
Not only are there no mandatory water restrictions, but some
people who let their lawns die from lack of watering are ticketed.
Some homeowners associations are requiring lawns even to be kept up
during winter, said Dallas Reigle, senior hydrologist with the Salt
River Project, one of the city's water suppliers.
``The irony is that a city in the desert in the middle of one of
the meanest droughts we have ever had is telling a citizen he has to
water his land,'' Reigle said.
Phoenix isn't as vulnerable as some cities to running out of water
because multiple sources supply the metropolitan area of about 3
million people: Water is pulled from the Colorado, Salt and Verde
rivers, and groundwater is pumped from wells.
Even with the summer heat fading, much of the West -- southwestern
Colorado, most of Utah, western Montana, western Wyoming and parts of
New Mexico -- is still stuck in an extreme drought, according to the
National Drought Mitigation Center in Lincoln, Neb.
This July was the hottest and driest in the Southwest in 109
years, said Douglas LeComte, senior meteorologist with the National
Drought Mitigation Center.
In Phoenix, the average temperature was 90.6 degrees in September,
which was 4.2 degrees above normal for the month, according to
Raymond Rabe, a National Weather Service spokesman.
But even with the searing temperatures, including days on end of
triple-digit heat in Phoenix and a lack of rainfall, you can
sometimes almost forget that the nation's sixth-largest city rests in
the middle of miles of sand.
Before they even land, people flying into Phoenix Sky Harbor
International Airport can see a 560-foot jet of water bursting from
an artificial lake. The jet is listed in the Guinness Book of Records
as the highest fountain.
Once in the city, people can play at golf courses that are watered
year-round, lounge at one of about 200 parks -- 50 of which the city
irrigates -- or take a dip in one of the city's 28 public pools.
Most restaurants have misting systems that make it possible to
dine outside even in triple-digit heat. Paddle-boaters and kayakers
can enjoy suburban Tempe's man-made Town Lake.
The conspicuous consumption doesn't stop there.
About 20,000 Phoenix residents have their lawns drenched by a
flood-irrigation system, said Tom Babcock, the city's water
conservation coordinator. Besides having lush yards, many people
here, like Hanley, own pools.
It's possible to afford such luxuries because water is cheaper
here than in many other places, said Jeff DeWitt, the city's
assistant financial director. On average, single-family households in
the city use 11,200 gallons per month at a cost of about $19.64,
before taxes and fees are added.
Nationwide, single-family households on average use 11,220 gallons
per month at a cost of about $25.05, before taxes and fees are added.
``As a society, we tend to waste what is the cheapest, DeWitt
said. ``We don't respect it until it is too late.''
Phoenix's water use has soared over the past century as growth
here has surged and people from less arid climates have been bringing
in their non-desert attitudes, habits and ethics, Babcock said.
``Phoenix sees itself more an oasis in the desert rather than a
community living with the desert,'' he said.
Reigle takes a longer view.
``This land was a desert before we got here and it will be a
desert when we leave,'' he said. ``We can't change that. We can only
change how we conduct our personal business.''
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