Cottonwood plans its water future

COTTONWOOD -- The City of Cottonwood is already among the "most aggressive" communities in Arizona in its water management and conservation practices, but Tom Whitmer wants to take that work another step.

The Natural Resources director says his predecessor, Bob Hardy, set the city on its track toward successful conservation, first by convincing the council to acquire the surrounding private water companies to achieve better control and then plugging many system leaks. "He knew it was important to stay ahead of the game and be proactive when it came to water," Whitmer said.

"We are now using less water than we were six years ago. We are holding our own. Use is not going up."

The most successful elements of water conservation have been "improvements to the infrastructure and the cost of water," Whitmer said. The city now has a four-tier water rate system that makes higher usage of the liquid more costly.

Whitmer said, "We can't recapture outdoor water use," when drinking water is used.

The city now recaptures or re-uses 60 percent of what comes out of the tap, mainly by efficiencies in its wastewater system, and that is expected to improve in the coming years with reclaimed water lines stretching to the city's playing fields. New lines were installed recently on the way to Cottonwood school grounds and Garrison Park during the recent road construction on Mingus Avenue.

He has sampled the best ideas from numerous other communities. As part of a plan to anticipate what Cottonwood will need at build-out, Whitmer is suggesting that we flush less and be more efficient in cooling, among others.

He is suggesting Cottonwood follow examples of other Arizona communities, like Payson and Flagstaff, which now mandate low-flow toilets working with 1.6 gallons of water versus the old-style 3.5 gallons and using "waterless urinals." In the Verde Valley, the only location to currently use waterless urinals is the Sedona Library.

Whitmer also likes the idea of prohibiting evaporative coolers from new construction. He said each of those consume five to 10 gallons per hour, or up to 200 gallons per day.

Whitmer held the first of a series of outreach discussions last week at a small community gathering. That meeting was greeted with enthusiastic comment. He said additional meetings will be held after the holidays and the first of the year to sample public opinion on a long-term strategy.

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