The burning west, leaking toilets, and desert golf courses 
Posted to Wednesday, June 12, 2002
By J.C. Huntington

The Bullock wildfire as seen from Tucson at sunrise Thursday May 31, 2002. Photo by VAL CAÑEZ/Tucson Citizen
The Bullock wildfire that exploded over 50 square miles of parched woodland in the now arid Catalina Mountains brought the on-going drought into personal focus for many Oracleans. 

The wildfire got me to thinking about the drought, the worst in 50 years, and the drought got me to thinking about water conservation.

According to a story in the June 3 edition of The Arizona Daily Star, the drought is nothing to be concerned about. 

The Star headline counsels us to "Conserve, but don't worry." 

Tucson Water Director David Modeer apparently motivated this Pollyannaish headline. "We're still in a desert, so conservation is still a message we want to get out," Modeer told the Star. "But normal conservation measures - not anything extraordinary."

Forty-four seconds of irrigation

Modeer got me to wondering what "normal conservation measures" could be, so I went to the Water, Use It Wisely web site to find out. 

The site ( was created on behalf of several Arizona cities with the goal of developing "a universal water conservation ethic," and offers 100 tips on normal water conservation methods. 

Here's Tip 28: "Put food coloring in your toilet tank. If it seeps into the toilet bowl, you have a leak. It's easy to fix, and you can save more than 600 gallons a month."

Six-hundred gallons a month sounds like a lot of water . . .  but how much is it when compared to real water usage -- for example the water consumed by a golf course? 

It turns out that the 600 gallons a month you save by fixing a leaking toilet will provide four golf courses with forty-four seconds of irrigation.

That's less time than it will take for you to pay for a packet of food coloring to put in your toilet.

So . . . where did the four golf courses come from?

That's the minimum number of golf courses the backers SaddleBrooke Ranch and Willow Springs development projects want to build in the desert. 

How is it that the SaddleBrooke Ranch and Willow Spring golf courses will drink 600 gallons of water in 44 seconds? 

Here's the numbers: 

Del Lago Golf Club, south of Tucson in Vail, Arizona. 

"We're still in a desert, so conservation is still a message we want to get out."

Tucson Water Director David Modeer,
June 200
According to the Golf Course Superintendents Association, in 1997 there were 259 Golf Courses in Arizona and they collectively consumed 28 billion gallons of water per year (see: 

Based on these numbers, the average Arizona golf course uses about 108 million gallons of water a year, or 206 gallons a minute. 

Since the developers of the proposed SaddleBrooke Ranch and Willow Springs development projects plan at least four golf courses, the average rate of water consumption by these recreational amenities would be 824 gallons of groundwater each minute. 

That would be 824 gallons a minute pumped from the rainwater fed aquifer that is the sole water supply for Oracle, SaddleBrooke, Catalina and other communities to the south of Oracle Junction.

At a rate of 824 gallons a minute, 600 gallons gets used up in forty-four seconds.

More water-saving tips

Here's some more tips on conserving water from the Water, Use it Wisely web site along with the amount of irrigation time the saved water would provide for the proposed SaddleBrooke and Willow Springs golf courses.

Tip 37: "Grab a wrench and fix that leaky faucet. Itís simple, inexpensive, and can save 140 gallons a week."

Fixing a leaking faucet will save enough water in a week to irrigate the SaddleBrooke and Willow Springs golf courses for 10 seconds.

Tip 42: "Before you lather up, install a low-flow showerhead. They're inexpensive, easy to install, and can save your family more than 500 gallons a week."

A low-flow showerhead will save enough water in a week to irrigate the SaddleBrooke and Willow Springs golf courses for 36 seconds.

Tip 54: "Turn off the water while you brush your teeth and save 4 gallons a minute. Thatís 200 gallons a week for a family of four."

If you have a family of four, practicing this tip for a week will save enough water to provide the SaddleBrooke and Willow Springs golf courses with 15 seconds of irrigation.

Tip 100: "Turn off the water while you shave and you can save more than 100 gallons a week."

Practicing this tip for a week will save enough water to provide 7 seconds of irrigation for the SaddleBrooke and Willow Springs golf courses.  However, your children -- and their children, may go thirsty.

Paying Peter while Robbing Paul

Don't get me wrong here. 

I am not saying normal methods of water conservation are foolish. 

Sustainability requires water and we all need to pitch in and conserve it.

I am saying that mining four to five-hundred million gallons of groundwater a year to water four desert golf courses is foolish.

The backers of the SaddleBrooke Ranch and Willow Springs projects will try to convince you that it is rational to use billions of gallons of groundwater on desert golf courses. 

The backers will make their argument by claiming the water taken from the aquifer to irrigate their golf courses will be replaced by CAP water.

But the facts tell a different story. 

While Arizona water law requires the water taken from an aquifer be replaced, the same law also allows the replacement water to be put back anywhere in the Tucson Active Management Area. 

This means that the billions of gallons consumed by the SaddleBrooke Ranch and Willow Springs Golf courses can and will be "replaced" at the Avra Valley or Santa Cruz CAP Recharge Projects. 

These CAP recharge projects lie many miles south of the regional aquifer. 

Since the elevation of these recharge projects is several hundred feet below the regional aquifer and because water doesn't flow uphill, this "replacement" water will never make it back to the regional aquifer. 

Effluent & massive pumping

Effluent in Pakistan
Anam Inc. will try to tell you their Willow Springs golf courses will use much less water than the average Arizona golf course, because the Willow Springs courses will be watered by the effluent generated by the 20,000 folks Anam plans to import to the first phase of their project. 

Anam won't tell you is that it will take many, many years to sell enough houses to generate enough effluent to feed the Willow Springs golf courses. 

And Anam won't tell you that during these years they will be mining groundwater to irrigate the golf courses they need to lure folks to their development so as to make the effluent they claim will sustain their golf courses.


Warning signs on the security fence surrounding the Page- Trowbridge radioactive/toxic waste dump.
Robson Inc. doesn't really want you to know that they plan to build SaddleBrooke Ranch directly adjacent to the Page-Trowbridge radioactive/toxic waste dump.

But if pressed, Robson Inc. will tell you that they have devised an ingenious scheme they say will not only water their golf courses but will also protect the groundwater from leaking toxins. 

Robson has proposed surrounding the Page-Trowbridge radioactive/toxic waste dump with high-volume pumps to feed their golf courses.

Robson claims the massive groundwater pumping will prevent leaking toxins from spreading through the aquifer. 

If there's anything more foolish than draining a desert aquifer for a few golf courses, the Robson plan to protect a desert aquifer from a toxic waste dump would have to be it.

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