Guest Opinion

Winterhaven's leaders need to realize our region is in the midst of a severe drought

I live in Winterhaven, and I have a major concern that needs to be brought to the attention of all Tucson residents.

This concern: the negligent and irresponsible water usage in the Winterhaven neighborhood. As most of us are aware, the National Weather Service's Southeast Arizona Drought Monitoring data clearly indicates that all of Pima County is in a severe drought.

The reason for my alarm pertains to the various water companies and communities that utilize—and waste—more water than others from the main water aquifer that sits beneath Tucson. There are numerous water companies serving Pima County. Some companies are big, but many are small—and there is one particular water company that flagrantly disregards the drought situation in Pima County. This company belongs to Winterhaven and is known as the Winterhaven Water and Development Company (WWDC).

The WWDC board of directors meets regularly and often; the members seem overly consumed with making sure that the landscape and building/painting bylaws given to each homeowner are followed, especially since Winterhaven became recognized as a historic neighborhood. As everyone in Tucson knows, Winterhaven is the one neighborhood you can drive through where 95 percent of the homeowners maintain fairly large grass-based lawns. About a decade ago, the WWDC passed a ruling that residents must maintain at least 50 percent of their front yard in grass, with the other 50 percent having WWDC-approved landscaping materials and foliage. Many homes were grandfathered and did not have to follow this regulation. Hence, there are a couple of homes that have been xeriscaped, which is exactly what we need since we do live in a desert community.

This winter, the scuttlebutt in the neighborhood is that the WWDC wants to propose a new rule that would require homeowners to maintain their grassy yards throughout the winter, most likely by requesting a seeding of winter rye. Sure, this sounds nice, having beautiful green lawns throughout the year, but let's not forget the enormous amount of water that is needed to keep these grasses green all year long, not to mention the related costs of maintaining these lawns.

The average Tucson homeowner with a family of four uses around 15,000 gallons of water each month for cooking, bathing, flushing toilets, watering their yards and doing laundry. When they use more water, the increase in their monthly bill is very noticeable. However, in Winterhaven, each homeowner is allotted 40,000 gallons per month, and it costs only $54—and that includes trash pickup. Only about a third of the $54 per month goes toward supporting the WWDC to supply water to their residents; essentially, each resident can use 40,000 gallons each month for a direct cost of less than $18.

With Pima County being in a severe drought, the fact that the WWDC is allegedly proposing that each resident continue to use that maximum amount of water throughout the year to keep their lawns green is preposterous. Although the WWDC has suggested that residents install certain kinds of sprinkler systems or change to low-flow toilets, the reality is that the WWDC is unrepentant and uncaring in helping to solve the problem of conserving water. While many homeowners would like to xeriscape their yards, the WWDC requires a costly and lengthy review, which ultimately leads to a negative response. The WWDC wants lawns, period.

If certain climatic conditions improve, the drought of Pima County may change, possibly for the better, but it is more likely to remain as it is, or even worsen as time goes by. It is time for the WWDC to allow its residents to conform to living in a desert environment. The WWDC will not listen to its own residents, so perhaps the cries of thirsty Tucson residents would demand some restraint on behalf of the WWDC.

The neighborhood that once reminded many of us of where Ozzie and Harriet lived is long gone. It is time to request a responsible conservation effort by the WWDC regarding the one factor that enables all living creatures to survive: water. Essentially, the WWDC needs a wake-up call. We live in a desert. We are in a severe drought. The need to be responsible and take the necessary actions to conserve water and not waste it on lawn-based landscaping has long passed.

Open your eyes, Winterhaven. The aquifer that sits below the region will not survive with your elitist sense of entitlement.

Ken Mowbray is a paleoanthropologist who has traveled the world in order to better understand human and nonhuman primate evolutionary pathways. Dr. Mowbray has written and/or collaborated on numerous publications in scientific journals. He is a native Tucsonan.

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