DATE: October 4, 2019
SNIP: August is normally Arizona’s wettest month.
Not this year, though. The usual monsoon season failed to arrive, and just 1.5 inches of rain fell sporadically on the state throughout the month — the same period that the city of Phoenix experienced record high temperatures of up to 114 degrees Fahrenheit.
It’s also driven wildlife managers to fret over whether the state’s abundant wildlife — which rely on infrequent rains — will have enough water to survive.
“As the drought has deepened, the waters that wildlife traditionally used are going away or have completely disappeared,” says Kevin Woolridge, a teacher at Blue Ridge High School in Arizona who, with his students’ help, has collaborated with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to monitor the drought and its impact on wildlife.
Meanwhile a new manmade threat to Arizona’s water has cropped up. The Trump administration has begun construction on a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border wall at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a UNESCO biosphere reserve. As part of construction, the Trump administration plans to pull up some of Arizona’s precious groundwater — not to hydrate people or animals, but to mix with concrete to build a 44-mile section of the border wall.
While the federal government spends billions on its wall across the border and sucks up some of Arizona’s last remaining ancient groundwater in the process, Arizona wildlife officials are asking the public for millions of dollars in donations to fund the delivery of water to animals in parched areas across the state.
Beginning in the 1940s, long before the world was aware of climate change, ranchers in Arizona made the arid landscape more hospitable to their cattle by building concrete rain catchments.
At the same time, Arizona wildlife officials began doing the same thing to provide supplemental water to game birds such as quail and dove. When they noticed that all kinds of wildlife — including insects — were also drinking from catchments, they built more. In total 3,000 units for all species have been constructed across the state.
For decades rainwater was enough to fill the catchments regularly. But as the global climate has continued to warm, Arizona fell into a long-term drought, and many catchments are now dry. With natural water sources also drying up, and animals going thirsty, officials with the Arizona Game and Fish Department have resorted to trucking out water to fill these catchments at a rate of 1.5 million gallons annually. They rely on donations from the public to keep the $1 million-a-year water deliveries going.
Experts say humans are the clear culprits for this water loss and need for water delivery.
“It’s hard not to see the effect of urban development on natural streams in Arizona,” says Hector Zamora of the University of Arizona, who has studied watersheds in southern Arizona. “Rivers that used to freely flow in the 1900s — such as the Gila River, the Sonoyta River and the Santa Cruz River — are now bone dry. Climate change will likely further degrade these already stressed systems.”
Arizona Public Media reports that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection estimates building along Organ Pipes Cactus National Monument will require at least 84,000 gallons of water per day pumped from the ground around Quitobaquito Springs and other natural water sources along the border. Ancient waters feed the springs, meaning that they’re not currently being recharged, says Zamora. Once the water’s gone, it’s gone.