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Willow Springs Ranch & Surrounding Area
Posted January, 2001
Willow Springs City & Surrounding Area
Willow Springs City Site & Surrounding Area [click on image for larger view]
Anam Inc., a privately owned Canadian corporation, has decided to create a very large development between Oracle Junction and Florence Arizona.  The site of the proposed development is one of Anam's holdings in Arizona, the Willow Springs Ranch.

The map to the right shows the location and size of the site relative to central southeast Arizona. The inset at the upper right of the image shows a close up of the site. 

[N.B. unless otherwise noted, all maps on this page were developed from maps found in Willow Springs Planned Area Development Draft PZ-040-00/PZ-PD-040-00, Dated August 2, 2000, submitted to Pinal County P&Z by Cornoyer-Hedrick for Anam Inc., August 21, 2000; Re-submitted August 21, 2000]

Proposed site for Willow Springs
Larger view of the site for the proposed Willow Springs City [click on image for larger view]
A larger view of the inset is shown to the left and illustrates the size of the site, which measures some 30 miles wide by 17.5 miles deep. 
Land Ownership: It takes a village to build a city
Land ownership
Land Ownership
[click on image for larger view]
The map to the right shows the land ownership within the site proposed for Willow Springs city.  The blue areas show the land Anam owns. 

As can be seen from the map, the Anam land holdings are separate islands embedded in a sea of state trust land. 

Anam owns 19,200 acres of the 182,000 acre site with the remaining acres being either state lease land or federally owned (BLM) land. 

Anam leases the state and federal land to run cattle.

The Anam "Villages"

Anam intends to develop their deeded holdings, and refers to collections of the islands of property it intends to develop as "villages." 

Anam promises to retain open space by not developing the land between the Anam holdings, and says that horse and bicycle trails and a few roads will interconnect the various developments. 

The picture painted by Anam is that of a few quaint desert villages interconnected by the occasional horse trail.  The reality is quite different.

A Hollow Promise

The problem with the promise to retain the open space between the "villages" is that Anam Inc. doesn't own the land between the "villages."  Most of the land between the Anam "villages" is owned by the state of Arizona.

Arizona law guarantees that state lease land will be sold as soon as the value of the land exceeds a certain point. 

The Arizona State Constitution requires that Arizona make the best use of the state land.  The interpretation of "best use," is to use the land as a source of revenue.  If the land is not valuable enough to sell, the state leases it to ranchers to graze cattle (Anam Inc. now leases this land to run their cattle on); when the land becomes valuable enough to sell, the state sells it to the highest bidder; the highest bidder is always a developer.

Thus it is a certainty that the land Anam promised to keep open will be sold and developed.  Here's the sequence:

  1. Once the Anam land is re-zoned, the value of that land will increase 
  2. The increased value of the Anam land will increase the value of the state trust land between the Anam "villages." 
  3. Once the value of the state land between the "villages" exceeds a certain threshold, the state land will sold to the highest bidder and developed. 
Alex Argueta, the professional hired to manage the development of the Anam holdings at Willow Springs, knows the above yet still promises that Anam will conserve open space by not developing land that they do not own. 

Argueta first made the commitment to retain open space by promising to not develop land Anam doesn't own at a meeting with Oracle residents in September of 2000.  At that meeting it was pointed out to Argueta that state law makes it a certainty that the state trust lands will be sold and developed and that he could not reasonably promise to keep these lands open.

Nonetheless,  Arqueta continues to make this promise. In a letter published in the Jan. 2001 edition of The Oracle newspaper, Argueta again promised that "most of the land at Willow Springs Ranch will remain, as it always has been, a rich and diverse desert environment." 

This is a hollow promise and Argueta knows it. 

Changing Arizona Land Law

At a meeting with Oracle residents in Jan. 2001, Argueta was asked to explain why he continues to promise that Anam will assure that the space between the Anam "villages" will remain open even though it is a certainty the land will be sold and developed.

Argueta first explained that much of the land is not developable anyhow (e.g. the tops of the  mountains and the bottoms of washes), then went on to promise that Anam would try and work with the state to change the laws regarding sale of state land.

Argueta did not elaborate on Anam's strategy to change these laws, nor did he clarify how the state trust land would be held off of the market until Anam succeeded in doing so.

This lack of clarity on how to make good the promise to conserve space by not developing state owned land has lead to some skepticism.  Some residents are saying the promise to preserve open space by changing Arizona land law is akin to proposing to build a radically new aircraft by simply promising to change the law of gravity . . .  somehow.

Potential Size of Willow Springs City
Willow Springs City
Relative size of potential city at Willow Springs [click on image for larger view]
Should it come to pass that Anam fails in their endeavor to change the Arizona land law (based on the Arizona Constitution) in time to prevent the sale of the land between their proposed "villages" from being sold to other developers, the promised open space between the villages will disappear, and a very large city will emerge.

The map to the left may give readers familiar with Tucson a sense of the potential size of the city at Willow Springs if the land between the Anam "villages" is sold to the highest bidder and developed. 

The map was constructed by transplanting a map of Tucson to the Anam site and scaling it appropriately.  Note that metropolitan Tucson is smaller in size than the Willow Springs site. 

Willow Springs City
Relative size of potential city at Willow Springs [click on image for larger view]
By transplanting a map of Phoenix, parts of Tempe, Mesa, Chandler and Awatukee to the Anam site, readers familiar with the metropolitan Phoenix area may get a sense of the potential size of the city at Willow Springs if the land between the Anam "villages" is sold to the highest bidder and developed.

This map was constructed by transplanting the Anam provided map of showing sections of Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa, Chandler and Awatukee to the map of the site.

The South "Village"
Size and location of the South Village
Relative size of South "Village" of Willow Creek Ranch [click on image for larger view]
In October of 2000, Anam presented the Willow Springs Ranch development to the Pinal County commissioners, seeking their recommendation that the Pinal County board of supervisors hear the re-zoning request to allow development of all of the Anam holdings.

The commissioners failed to recommend that the board of supervisors consider the rezoning proposal, characterizing the proposal as land speculation.  However, the commissioners told Anam that a request for a smaller development would be looked on favorably.

As a result, Anam has scaled back the re-zoning request. 

The new, "scaled back" proposal includes only three of Anam's islands.  These three islands are called the "South Village" and total 4,600 acres meandering over 26 square miles of desert. 

Anam plans to seek re-zoning of this smaller portion in February or March of this year.

The figure above will give the reader a sense of the size and location of the scaled back South "Village." 

The figure also shows the proposed SaddleBrooke Ranch retirement community located on the north boundary of highway 77. 

SaddleBrooke Ranch, if built, would be a large development intended to house 12,000 souls. Even though SaddleBrooke ranch is a large development by any standard, it appears dainty when compared to the scaled back South "Village" of Willow Springs.

Water Resources

The Page-Trowbridge Aquifer & The Water Supply For the South "Village"

In September, 2000,  Argueta promised Oracle residents the water for Willow Springs development would come "from a different aquifer" than the aquifer that lays under the Page-Trowbridge radioactive/toxic waste landfill.

This promise was also made in a flyer mailed to Oracle residents in early September, 2000.

As it turns out, this promise was every bit as valid as the promise to conserve open space by not developing state owned land.

Another Hollow Promise

Location and size of aquifer for the South Village
The South "Village" Of Willow Springs  & The Aquifer [click on image for larger view]
During a meeting held with Oracle residents Jan. 8th, 2001, a representative of Montgomery and Associates, the hydrogeology consulting firm hired by Anam, was asked where the water for the South "Village" would come from. 

The hydrologist contradicted the earlier promise by Argueta that the water for Willow Springs would come "from a different aquifer," by stating that the water supply would indeed, come from the same aquifer that provides the sole source of water for Oracle and SaddleBrooke. 

The figure above shows this aquifer in relationship to the South "Village" of Willow Springs city (the aquifer is shown in dark orange in the bottom center of the image). As can be seen, the South "Village" of Willow Springs is on the northern margin of the aquifer.

The yellow square represents the Page-Trowbridge radioactive/toxic waste dump. The proposed golf-oriented retirement community of SaddleBrooke Ranch is shown just north of highway 77.

The figure was constructed by scaling and overlaying a map of the aquifer, obtained from the Arizona Department of Water Resources, on the map showing the South "Village" of Willow Springs (click here to view a scan of the portion of the ADWR map). 

Water Demand

Turf Related Demand

Example Lake and Rushing Whitewater in southwest drylands
Example of "turf related" demand for a development in the southwest dry-lands. Note the faux lake and rushing rapids built for the amusement of the residents. [click on image for larger view]
"Turf related" water use refers to the water required to maintain golf courses, parks, etc.

Demand for water by golf courses can reach extraordinarily high levels (according to Karl Polen, VP of Robson Communities, the three golf courses in the proposed SaddleBrooke Ranch will consume approximately 3,000,000 gallons of water per day during the summer --e.g. 210,000,000 gallons of water during one 3 month summer).

Since the "villages" of Willow Springs ranch will have golf courses, the question of where the water to sustain them will come from arises.

Anam: We Will Build No Golf Course Before Its Time

At the September meeting, an Oracle resident asked Argueta where the water for the Willow Springs golf courses would come from.

Argueta said that the plan is to use the effluent generated by the villagers to water the golf courses.

Asked where the water would come from until the villagers generated enough effluent to irrigate the golf courses, Argueta said that Anam's commitment to an environmentally sound development was so high that Anam would defer building of the golf courses until sufficient effluent had been created. 

Argueta said this process could take 5 to 10 years, but promised that no golf course would be built before sufficient effluent to feed it had been generated.

An Unbelievable Promise

Not surprisingly, the promise to defer building golf courses up to a decade, appears as trustworthy as the promise to keep open space by not developing state owned land and the promise that Willow Springs would use "a different aquifer."

In the first place, attempting to sell houses in a golf-oriented community without a golf course is hardly a dynamite marketing scheme. Deferring golf courses means deferring revenue generation and makes no sense.

Secondly, Arizona water law recognizes that it is not practical to defer building golf courses that are to use effluent in new developments that have no effluent.  Developers may pump groundwater for up to eight years for their golf courses if they meet certain conditions. 

Simply stated the conditions are:

  1. If the developer commits to use effluent they can begin pumping groundwater to irrigate their golf courses, and use this groundwater for four years. . 
  2. At the end of four years, if the developer has the infrastructure to deliver effluent in place irrigation with groundwater can continue for four more years (note: the developer doesn't actually have to start using effluent after four years, only have the infrastructure in place to deliver it)1

So . . . given that 

  1. Attempting to sell houses in a golf-oriented community without a golf course is an insane marketing approach, and 
  2. Anam can build their golf courses at any time and use groundwater to irrigate them, 
. . . the promise to defer building golf courses until there is sufficient effluent to water them appears to be just another promise made with no intention to keep.

Following the September, 2000 meeting with Pinal Citizens for Sustainable Communities, Anam apparently felt a need to say they were committed to the idea of sustainability.  To help realize this new found committment, Anam contacted The Regenisis Collaborative Group of New Mexico

As of this writing, the function and role of The Regenisis Collaborative Group with respect to the development of the massive Anam Holdings at Willow Springs is not clear, nor is Anam's commitment to the concepts espoused by The Regenisis Collaborative Group clear.  One possibility is that Anam has no intention to actually use Regenesis in the design of the Willow Springs city, but is using the group only as a marketing tool to sell the development to local residents.

What is clear is that the goals of the two design groups hired by Anam are at opposite ends of the spectrum, as evidenced by images on the web sites for the two firms:

(Above image from Regenesis Newsletter)



Cornoyer-Hedricks Concept Drawings

It is interesting to speculate what a development resulting from the work of these two different organizations would look like (assuming Anam actually uses The Regenesis Collaborative Group in any way other than a simple marketing tool).

As of this writing, Anam has not produced any details as to what the architecture of Willow Springs would look like "on the ground," except for a couple of "concept" drawings by Cornoyer-Hedricks. 

My favorite is the drawing showing the "concept" of the desert (which up until now, I had taken to be a real thing, not a 'concept').  The concept drawing of the desert is complete with arrows pointing out a "meandering wash" and a pile of boulders, helpfully added by the Cornoyer-Hedrick artist to assist newcomers in identifying these objects once construction is completed. 

Another interesting concept is that of a "wildlife corridor," which doubles as a horse trail.

Drawings showing the concept for signs appear to follow all the Regenesis precepts of sustainability, at least as nearly as I can tell.

Sign Concepts by Cornoyer-Hedricks

Wildlife Corridor, Which Doubles As A Horse Trail 
Concept by Cornoyer-Hedricks

A Concept by Cornoyer-Hedricks


Regenesis Concepts & Claims

Since The Regenesis Collaborative Group is new to the Willow Springs project, they apparently haven't had time to do any concept drawings.  However, Regenesis principle Tim Murphy spoke at length on the conceptual foundation for Regenesis at the Jan. 8 meeting, which appears to go something like this:

Regenerative design and development brings complex human and natural relationships into a mutually beneficial, symbiotic partnership.
While the Regenesis representatives failed to elaborate specifics of how the above concept relate to anything at the proposed Willow Springs golf-oriented development, they did make a couple of rather remarkable claims.

Saving The Desert Through Development of Golf-Oriented Communities

Murphy claimed that the innovative concepts of The Regenesis Collaborative Group would help "restore" the desert, which he said had been badly damaged due to the fact that Anam Inc. has seriously overgrazed the desert in their ranching operation. 

Apparently the approach is based on a concept of "in order to save the desert we must develop it," analogous to a concept promoted during the Vietnam war with respect to peasant

An Extraordinary Claim

Regenesis principal Ben Haggard stunned the audience with the claim that advanced rainwater harvesting techniques at the Willow Springs "Villages" would not only serve the large development with water, but would actually help replenish the aquifer. 

The remarkable thing about this claim is that the amount of rainfall on the South "Village" is approximately equal to the expected water demand by the villagers who will live there,  according to Cornoyer-Hedrick hydrologist Mark Cross. 

Thus, in order to replenish the aquifer, two things are necessary:

  1. All of the rain that falls on the South "Village" would have to be harvested to supply the residents, so as to make zero demand on the aquifer 
  2. Extra water would have to somehow be obtained to replenish the aquifer. 
Neither Murphy nor Haggard explained how advanced rainwater harvesting techniques could be used to achieve step 1, much less explain how they propose to obtain extra water to replenish the aquifer. 

1: AMA Overview for the Tucson AMA, chapter 5; published by the Arizona Department of Water Resources (http://www.water.az.gov/), emphasis supplied:

In the case where direct use of effluent or effluent recovered within the area of impact is committed to serve the facility and delivery of the effluent will be initiated within four years, but a longer period is necessary for sufficient effluent to be produced to serve the entire facility, the provider will receive a temporary adjustment to its total GPCD [use] requirement with no requirement to use effluent recovered outside the area of impact during the transition period.  The adjustment will remain in effect only until sufficient direct use effluent or effluent recovered within the area of impact is available to serve the entire facility, not to exceed eight years. . . . The adjustment will be terminated if the infrastructure necessary to deliver the effluent to the facility is not in place at the beginning of the fourth year after the provider commences service to the facility.

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