Water, Water, Everywhere…

“Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.” Coleridge had a point, though it might not be apparent here in the arid southwest. We don’t see water anywhere, when in fact we are flush with wet, but can we drink it? Maybe not yet, but soon thirsty folk will be less particular and there are plenty of other sources besides toilet to tap. The panic over the shrinking Colorado might be the source of our redemption … I mean more than just reclamation—it forces us to look elsewhere.

As Desert dwellers, water is always on our minds, in fact when I brought my husband to Arizona from the upstate of South Carolina (where they get roughly 100 inches of rain a year), he was astonished at how occupied we were with leaking roofs and floods given our occasional total of 11 inches. It’s not the size that matters, I said with a wink, it’s the intensity. Monsoons made my point. Nevertheless, as Real Estate Agents, we must have answers to the concerns our clients express with regard to our water supply. But, as I usually do, I want to take a deeper, perhaps more historical view first, just to get some perspective.

But how far back? Okay, I am not going back to the Precambrian, or even to the Jurassic, when Arizona was an edge to an ocean or when it was a part of a lake off Gondwanaland, but how about when people began living here in the Holocene, a mere 11-13,000 years ago. Sounds like a long time, but it’s just the blink of an eye for the earth itself. Having found a clovis point, when walking with my son in the Rincon Mountains, I feel a little kinship with our early ancestors: a tool of theirs to hand my son. That tool is what those people used to hunt tapir, bison and Columbian mammoths. Can you imagine such behemoths wandering around Marana or Tempe? Mammoths weighed almost ten tons, with tusks 16 feet long! My point? There was ample water then to support such large herbivores, and some of that is still here…deep in the ground.

Later, just 3,500 years ago, the Hohokam (and others) built canals and rudimentary aqueducts off the Salt, the Gila and the Santa Cruz rivers. These Acequias, as later inhabitants would call them, were maintained, and used for agriculture until roughly the 1450s…which was before the Spanish arrived to name the ditches. Again, water was here, relatively ample, and above ground. More recently, in the 1880s Tucson enjoyed a lake made by damming the Santa Cruz River. It sported bath houses, a hotel and a pavilion, all of which washed away in a flood. Water, water, everywhere.

The watershed of both north-flowing rivers, the San Pedro and Santa Cruz, saw big changes through the earthquake of 1887. Some feeder streams doubled their flow and others dried up. Lakes and artesian springs burst into being while a few lakes disappeared altogether from the quake.* The underlying aquifer gave up its bounty one place and reclaimed it elsewhere. The earth below our feet, which seems so solid, is more like a sponge than a brick, squeeze it here, water comes out there, let the pressure off and it soaks the water up. This is the essence of recharging. But wait, there’s more:

I arrived here in 1963 when the paper ran an article about Nukes to Plowshares, proposing we set a Nuclear Bomb off under the earth, out in what is now Marana. The idea was to blow a huge cavern with The Bomb and let the monsoon runoff flow into it from the Santa Cruz River. Happily, better heads prevailed, because, as we now know, recharging the aquifer does not need a nuke.

Recently, Tucsonans and Phoenicians began to look at how we use our water, traded lawns for xeriscapes, covered their pools or learned to live without a dip, and began using drip to irrigate instead of those durn acequias. We also discovered that curb cuts and swales could help regenerate our water storage in the earth. Now, we harvest rainwater, we use low flow toilets and irrigate our golf courses with effluent. I read recently how water is being mined from the air itself in Arabia…if it works there, we will see it here soon enough…Perhaps instead of swamp coolers we will have cool swampers on every roof, run by the sun.

All of this is not to say that climate change is not an issue, nor am I taking a “what me worry” approach to the increasing use of the limited supply of water from the river up north, no. However, there have been floods of biblical proportions before, other droughts and even ice ages …so this drought too will change. Nor am I immune to the argument that civilizations fail through oversight, hubris, and failure to adapt…just look at Easter Island, the Maya, the Roman Empire, maybe even the Anasazi? However, I do believe it is possible we are at a tipping point…not with global warming so much as with global awareness. The fact that we even have such discussions is key. Little efforts by many, make big changes for all.

So, how am I wrapping this back to Real Estate? Simple…it’s in the words to our clients: Don’t panic, we have sufficient resources for now: from the Colorado, the Salt, the Gila, rain from the sky, in the earth: both in our recharged aquifers and in those from ancient times, in our wastewater and even in the air itself. So, with judicious care, sensible use and thoughtful building we have enough for (at least) the near future. We are getting smarter and will use our resources better. Most of all we have the great minds of the young and old working on this issue in a way that has never been possible before. Water, water, everywhere, enough for us to drink. If we are wise in the way we use it, if we build with conservation and reuse in mind…if we live thoughtfully, then a sustainable future is available.


Requiem for the Santa Cruz: An Environmental History of an Arizona River (University of

Arizona Press, 2014)



*An Earth Shaking Experience, by Janice Hendricks, Tombstone Information, Tombstone Times

“The 1887 Earthquake in San Bernardino Valley, Sonora: Historic accounts and intensity patterns in Arizona” by Susan M. DuBois and Ann W. Smith

John Mijac
Managing Broker
Long Realty Foothills