At the top of the Catalina Mountains, families are waiting for winter snow and rain to help get them out of a serious drought. People in Summerhaven had already been in Stage 2 water restrictions before Oct. 21…
The next day, the Mt. Lemmon Water District confirmed its now worse: Stage 3 and they dont know when things will get better.
KGUN 9 took a trip up the mountain to see how people like Sean and Barb Magee are cutting back inside their cabin. They said as neighbors try to come up with a longer-term solution, they also hope visitors who come to enjoy mother nature play their role in conserving precious water.
(We unscrewed) the the little trap underneath the bathroom sink so we can catch that water,” Sean Magee said, pointing inside his cabin’s bathroom. This was one of several creative ways Magee is getting the most out of a finite and dwindling water supply in Summerhaven.
If the Magees want to eat: “We’re eating off of paper plates,” Sean said. “We’re not wearing, changing clothes every afternoon.” If the couple want a hot shower, they have to make the drive down into the valley.
We take our weekly shower in Tucson to do our part and and save water the best we can.”
Magee said it is still worth it to adapt, if it means living in a quiet, tight-knit community. “People are just wonderful,” he said. “I know all my neighbors. In California, I couldn’t tell you the guy across the street, knew what his name was. But here, we know everybody.”
Magee said he also understands the power of natures call. That is what brings thousands of visitors up to Mt. Lemmon and Summerhaven every year. But right now, he said, he hopes they understand the gravity of the communitys potable water shortage.
“If we go to Stage 4 and beyond, everything’s gonna get shut down,” Magee said. “You’re not going to be able to come up here.”
Another example underscores the shortage. If a day tripper needs to use the town’s community center restroom, they cannot use the sink to wash their hands. The water district put up a sign warning guests about the Stage 3 curtailment and mandatory 50% cut.
“It’s not that we don’t want you to use these things,” Magee said. “We’re just in the middle of a crisis right now. We try to keep it positive because we want to positively reinforce good behavior.”
On our trip to the Magee’s cabin, KGUN 9 also met long-time neighbor Mike Stanley. Stanley is retired, but he worked for the water district for years. He knows knows the history of drier monsoons and lingering droughts.
“It’s Arizona; we’ve had droughts before,” Stanley said. “We’re kind of… not immune to it, but we’ve learned to operate within that system.”
Stanley said most of the town’s residents get their potable water from storage tanks that can hold two million gallons of spring water, rain and snow runoff. “We figured that we needed three million during the pre-Aspen Fire time.”
The problem for Summerhaven, Stanley said, is people’s homes depend on a spring-water systems because they do not have a well they can turn on and generate a couple of 100 gallons of flow in a minute.
“Our springs in the wintertime, with runoff, we can get 35-40 gallons a minute,” Stanley said. “Right now, we’re flowing at about four, four and a half (gallons a minute).”
This low flow also puts bigger businesses in a pinch. Inside the recently-opened Mt. Lemmon Lodge, general manager Jeremy Gassen said the staff has already taken some proactive steps.
“All of our laundry,” he said, “now goes to Tucson to be laundered, and that’s all guests’ laundry: sheets, towels, linens, everything. We switched to all low-flow shower heads, all low-flow toilets. Those will be permanent solutions that just stay in place.”
Gassen said if potential guests call to book a room, employees are up front in telling customers they have to play a crucial role in conserving water. “(We) ask them to limit shower times, simple stuff: turning off the faucets when you’re brushing your teeth to shaving.”
“I think they understand the unique nature of this place,” Gassen said.
So what’s next? Magee said he’s trying to secure grant money and have elected leaders help Summerhaven build more tank space for their water. That way, they can at least store a maximum of three million gallons, as Stanley suggested.
Stanley said, perhaps in the longer-term future, Summerhaven and Mt. Lemmon can build the infrastructure to use treated wastewater as a supplement for the water people use to shower or drink.