New pipeline delivers water to Arizona elk country
MISSOULA, Mont - Elk and other wildlife on the parched Arizona landscape now have six new, reliable watering sources thanks to a landmark pipeline project spearheaded by the Arizona Game and Fish Department and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation.
The partly buried 1-inch pipe, 12 miles long, delivers useable wastewater from the town of Tusayan to areas south of the Grand Canyon Arizona's famous Unit Nine hunting area.
As part of this project, seven stand-alone water catchments also were built in the area.
The Elk Foundation expended $348,000 on this project using contributions from donors, proceeds from Arizona hunting permit raffles and grants from RMEF banquets and other fundraisers across the state. The Arizona Game and Fish Department provided $520,000. Other groups supported the project with volunteer labor and in-kind services.
Across the Southwest, water often is the missing ingredient for healthy habitat. In an average year, conservation agencies and organizations in Arizona annually spend over $100,000 hauling water into elk country. Severe drought can drive expenses way up.
"It took six years to design, facilitate and build this pipeline system but the valves are now open and water is flowing. From now on, in all but the most extreme drought years, we shouldn't have to haul water into this region," said Clair Harris, an RMEF member from Flagstaff, who helped organize volunteer labor for the project.
Harris said more than 100 volunteers from every RMEF chapter in Arizona helped build the pipeline and catchments.
Over the years, RMEF funds and volunteers have been involved in the construction or renovation of over 30 watering sources across Unit 9. With the new additions, biologists agree the area now has a good minimum supply of water.
"Wildlife in this area is absolutely tied to these water developments and the new pipeline provides an efficient, reliable distribution system that will be beneficial for many species including elk, deer and other big game," said John Goodwin, habitat specialist with the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
Goodwin said the pipeline is supplied from a runoff pond at the Tusayan water treatment plant, supplemented with reclaimed effluent, snowmelt and rain. The pond is heavily used by local wildlife. A pump moves surplus water through high-density plastic pipe that won't crush beneath vehicles, break from freezing or degrade in sunlight. The line is buried where soils are deep and runs along the surface where the ground is rocky. Water flows into six strategically located, fiberglass storage tanks averaging about 7,000 gallons each. Each tank is then connected to an auto-fill drinking device accessible to wildlife.
Stand-alone catchments are designed to collect rain and snowmelt on site, store water in 20,000-gallon holding tanks, and dispense water into drinkers.
Officials with the Kaibab National Forest approved the project after lengthy environmental analyses.
Goodwin credited the Elk Foundation and especially Harris as "a tremendous asset for coordinating progress on the ground and rallying volunteer labor so the project didn't have to rely on contractors or paid employees."