During the opening of the Safford City Council's emergency session Thursday night, Kevin Peck prayed for rain.
Though city officials have requested for several months that the public voluntarily conserve, consumption continues to outpace production, so conservation is now mandatory with fines attached for violations.
Those found in violation of the mandatory water regulations will be issued a civil citation resulting in a $100 fine. The fine increases to $250 for the second and each subsequent offense.
The rain fell steadily through the night and saturated the Gila Valley, but it is going to take a lot more nights like that here and in the upper part of Safford's watershed near the Gila River's headwaters before the city solves its water availability problem.
City officials have been requesting the public voluntarily conserve water for months as the city's water reservoir system teetered on not being able to maintain its capacity. After a slight dip, consumption began to outpace production, which is at about 40 percent of its normal rate, and several water restrictions have now become mandatory through an emergency proclamation from Safford Mayor Chris Gibbs.
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. Additionally, five of Safford's 10 wells have been offline during the past couple of weeks and others are performing at vastly reduced rates than normal. Recently, the water department was able to coax one well (Kempton C) back into production at a fraction of its usual amount (116 gallons per minute versus a normal rate of 750 gallons per minute), but another well (Alder Well) was deemed finished for the year, according to water production specialist Harry Williams. The water table reached within six feet of the well's pump depth, according to a study performed by the water department Aug. 9.
"We have seen trends in our weather and trends in our water production that we don't like, and we feel like we need to meet and take these drastic actions to prevent a train wreck," Safford Utilities Director Eric Buckley said. "For the most part, the public does a great job complying with our request, but for whatever reasons, our consumption demands are outpacing our production capabilities."
The situation caused Safford Mayor Chris Gibbs to take an unprecedented measure of declaring a water emergency and implementing mandatory water restrictions through his emergency proclamation. The regulations are mandatory for all of the Safford Water Department's roughly 22,000 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 shall 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.
Unlike Las Vegas, the city does not have a dedicated water police force, and regular city employees and residents will be asked to keep an eye out for those who refuse to comply with the regulations. Enforcement will still be left to the police organizations in the various municipalities.
"Basically, it's going to be everybody looking out for everybody," Buckley said.
Gibbs said he hopes the regulations will serve as a wake-up call to the situation of water availability in the Gila Valley.
"If we don't curtail our consumption, we're going to be in real dire straits," Gibbs said.
He added that the restrictions may be lifted after the growing season is over in mid-September. Even if production rises and consumption lowers to the point the restrictions are lifted, without a wet winter to replace lost snowpack in the upper parts of the watershed, the area could likely see the same problem next summer.
"This isn't Big Brother looking down your back yard," Gibbs said, "but the simple fact is, would it be better to have flowers or to have a drink of water tomorrow?"
In addition to following the mandatory restrictions, water users could curtail their water use by checking for leaky pipes and commodes in their homes. The Water Counts program promoted by the Gila Watershed Partnership offers free water audits for both residential and commercial. For information on scheduling a water audit call Susan Syfert at 928-228-8370.
Other water conserving tips include:
Outside water-conserving tips:
• Use water timers on faucets and sprinkler systems.
• Design landscape wisely, such as planting turf in easy-to-water, isolated areas and not on slopes.
• Install covers on pools and spas, and check pumps and pool for leaks often.
• Plant during the spring or fall when watering requirements are lower. Water lawns or gardens during early-morning hours.
• Use organic mulch to retain moisture, reduce evaporation and save hundreds of gallons of water a year.
• Use a broom instead of a hose to clean driveway or sidewalks (saves about 80 gallons each time).
• Use drip irrigation to water trees, shrubs and flower beds to apply water directly to roots.
• Reduce grass and plant ground coverings or shrubs instead. Use rock and granite mulching.
Inside water-conserving tips:
• Install low-flow toilets, faucet aerators and shower heads. If a bucket fills with water in about 20 seconds, change to a more water-efficient shower head.
• Don't run water when brushing teeth or washing dishes; use a filled sink for rinsing. Also use a filled sink to rinse produce.
• Reuse the rinsing water to water plants and trees.
• Only run washing machines and dishwashers when full.
• Use the garbage disposal in moderation and make a compost pile to save gallons (and grow a beautiful garden).
• Repair/replace appliances often and purchase high-efficiency washing machines and dishwashers.
• Train children to turn off faucets tightly and to use one cup a day for drinking water. Throw tissues in the trash can instead of flushing.
• Soak pots, pans and silverware instead of running under water.