While the Safford water situation is far from being solved, government officials are considering relaxing the mandatory water restrictions.
On Aug. 16, Safford Mayor Chris Gibbs signed an emergency proclamation that implemented several mandatory restrictions. The regulations are mandatory for all of the Safford Water Department's roughly 23,000 customers, including those who live in Thatcher or unincorporated areas of Graham County.
The mandatory restrictions include:
• All outside watering for even-numbered addresses is to be performed on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Odd-numbered addresses are allowed to water on Tuesdays and Fridays. All outside watering is limited to two hours, and watering between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. is not permitted except for commercial nurseries.
• It is prohibited to allow water to run into city streets or to hose off pavement, sidewalks, walkways, parking lots, tennis courts, buildings or other structures.
• Water used for dust control must be reclaimed water.
• All restaurants shall refrain from serving water unless requested by patrons.
• Water customers may only wash a vehicle once a week using a bucket and a hose with an automatic shut-off nozzle. The washing must be performed on their designated watering days. Commercial car washes are exempt.
• The installation of pools and hot tubs and planting of new sod and any ornamental shrubbery shall be deferred until after the water emergency no longer exists.
• The operation of ornamental fountains or ponds is prohibited except where necessary to support aquatic life.
Those found in violation of the mandatory water regulations would be issued a civil citation resulting in a $100 fine, according to the proclamation. The fine increases to $250 for the second and each subsequent offense.
At the Aug. 16 emergency meeting, Gibbs said the restrictions could be lifted after the growing season was over in mid-September, but that time period came and went without a change.
Recent production versus consumption numbers and the onset of fall have contributed to officials considering lifting some of the water restrictions. Safford Utilities Director Eric Buckley spoke with Gibbs and City Manager David Kincaid and submitted a revised set of restrictions that increases the number of watering days from two to three and lifts restrictions regarding the installation of Jacuzzis and planting of ornamental shrubbery; the sanction against restaurants serving water unless requested by a patron and the prohibition of the operation of ornamental fountains. Buckley said he hopes the City Council will approve the revisions and place them into effect as early as Nov. 1.
Gibbs told the Courier that while the water department is producing enough to stay ahead of consumption now, he's afraid people will stop their conservation efforts if all the water restrictions were lifted.
"If we relax it completely or don't continue to really monitor it, people will forget that the same thing is going to happen next spring," Gibbs said. "We're going to be in the same situation in May."
Kincaid concurred with Gibbs and said it takes six to nine months for Safford's infiltration gallery at Bonita Creek to receive water from the headwaters of the Gila River in New Mexico.
Safford's main water source is Bonita Creek, which typically provides 80 to 90 percent of the department's supply. Due, in part, to the extended 17-year drought and continued high water usage, Bonita Creek was about 18 percent below its normal flow rate as of the end of July. The department supplements Bonita Creek with 10 other wells, and many ran or nearly ran dry this summer.
"Our wells have recovered nicely, but our infiltration gallery is still a problem and will probably be a problem through the spring or summer depending on what kind of snowpack and snowmelt we get in the upper part of our watershed," Kincaid said.
Gibbs replied that even with a wet winter, conservation will be key to avoiding drastic conditions.
"We're still going to have a problem, there's no doubt," Gibbs said. "We just didn't have enough moisture over the last 17 years, but particularly over the last couple of years. We just don't have enough moisture in our upper watershed to fill the aquifer, and as soon as they (the farmers) start watering in the spring again, the aquifer will drop again."
Gibbs said the city is considering drilling more wells, but they would still be on the same aquifer. He discounted attempting to tap into water from the Frye Mesa Reservoir area because the system up there is in such condition that it would cost as much money to reopen it as it would to locate another source of water.
"We just have to hope to change everybody's ideas as to how much usage they can get and use and keep it at that level," Gibbs said. "Over the next couple of years, it looks like we may have some brown yards – mine included – so that's the way it is."