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Arizona ‘Tightening the Screws’ on Water Conservation With PM-Watering the West VI

October 3, 1986

PHOENIX, Ariz. (AP) _ When Jim and Ethel Geisler won the Arizona Lottery, one of the first things they wanted to do was build a swimming pool at their suburban home.

But these days in Arizona, that’s no easy feat.

The Geislers’ pool almost fell victim to tough new water conservation measures imposed by the state. Cities and towns are under orders to reduce water consumption, in some cases drastically.

In Youngtown, that means no new swimming pools, although town officials gave the Geislers a special OK. In Phoenix, that means only half of a landscape can be grassy lawn, and new toilets will be restricted to 1.5 gallons per flush. And in affluent towns like Scottsdale, conservation means no new ornamental lakes.

″What we’re having to do is something that’s never been done before in this city - finding a way to permanently change water habits,″ said Scottsdale water planner Leonard Dueker.

The changes are being brought about by the state’s 1980 ground water law, which says that by 2025, Arizona can use only as much ground water as naturally reaches the aquifer each year. The current ″overdraw″ is more than 2 million acre-feet a year, or about 652 trillion gallons.

In its initial phase, the conservation plan laid out in the 1980 law requires cities to reduce their average per capita daily consumption by 6 percent to 11 percent by January 1987. And that’s only the start, state officials say.

″We will be tightening the screws,″ said Kathy Ferris, director of the state Department of Water Resources. ″This is not the kind of thing you do overnight. We have to implement a long-term approach.″

Already, the state has required developers to have a 100-year water supply before building is allowed. Desert plants are used on highway medians. No new farming is allowed, and ornamental lakes using public water are out after January because ″they give the wrong message,″ said Beverly Beddow, a Water Resources spokeswoman.

Phoenix is trying to replace wasteful ″swamp cooling units,″ which cool simply by passing air through water, in low-income housing units, said water planner George W. Britton.

Toilets that use less water are a top priority, as is cutting back on turf in landscaping, Britton said. Of the 130 gallons of water used per person per day in Phoenix, half is used outdoors.

By the year 2000, Phoenix must find a way to get by on about 30 percent less water per person, Britton said.

″Nobody was into conservation here until 1980,″ he said. ″But we’re a long way from the time when we go out and kill a tree″ just to save water.

Mesa, a city of 191,000, has already met its 1987 conservation goal by reducing its daily per capita consumption to 198 gallons from 211.

Most of the savings came from the recent shift of people moving into apartments and townhouses, high-density structures that consume less water per person than single-family houses, Mesa public works director Dean Sloan said.

The city has also implemented a conservation plan that includes higher rates for large-volume users, rebates of development fees for homebuilders who design water-conserving landscapes, and educational programs in schools, Sloan said.

Of the Phoenix-area cities, only Scottsdale will fail its 1987 conservation requirement, Ms. Ferris said. The city of 110,000 is required to reduce its per capita consumption from 295 gallons per day to 277.

Scottsdale is a prime example of the Arizona oasis, a desert area turned into a green playground through voluminous water use, state officials said. Lush golf courses are major water consumers, officials say, and low-density zoning - large residential lots with swimming pools and thirsty landscaping - are making reduction difficult.

″We’re trying to change this oasis mentality,″ Ms. Beddow said.

In the past, Dueker said, Scottsdale has worrried about conservation only during droughts.

When the droughts ended, he said with a sigh, ″We went back to our old ways.″

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