Pipeline Waters Arizona’s Thirstiest Wildlife
By Clair Harris, Arizona RMEF Volunteer Coordinator
What do you do with several thousand gallons of treated wastewater, 12 miles of pipeline and hundreds of RMEF volunteers? You make sure Arizona’s elk and other wildlife always have something to drink, even in one of the driest corners of the state.
This fall, Elk Foundation volunteers helped put the finishing touches on a landmark project 17 years in the making. It all started back in 1992, when Lyle Button, then Arizona Regional Director, Tom Britt and Rick Miller from the Arizona Game and Fish Department (GFD) and Vern Zarlingo from the Kaibab National Forest began developing a preliminary plan to build a pipeline to carry water to wildlife in Arizona’s game management unit 9—which lies south of the Grand Canyon. Historically this area is prone to severe and prolonged drought and has virtually no dependable water sources.
The concept sat idle for nearly a decade until a group comprised of the original members plus GFD wildlife managers Bob Birkeland and Tom Finley approached the Tusayan water board and requested use of the city’s treated waste water. The board agreed and the concept was alive again.
They had the water, now all they needed to do was figure out where it was needed most and how to get it there. GFD determined the area west of the Grand Canyon Airport was the most critical. But you can’t build a pipeline overnight. To fill the need in the meantime, GFD hired contractors to build four water catchments. But the scant rain and snow collected was not enough to satisfy thirsty wildlife, so RMEF volunteers helped GFD haul truckloads of water annually to these catchments at considerable cost while the pipeline was being built.
The pipeline begins at the Tusayan water treatment plant and is powered by a 3 hp submersible pump. There are six fiberglass water storage tanks on the line that are connected to an auto-fill drinker accessible to wildlife. Five tanks hold about 7,000 gallons of water; the last one on the line holds 21,000 gallons. From here water can be picked up by a truck and hauled to other distant catchments as needed.
GFD development crews provided the knowledge and muscle to put the materials together. John Goodwin in particular spent hours behind a desk completing the needed paperwork to get the project approved, ordering materials and making sure they were delivered to the Tusayan Ranger Station. He also served as project foreman and spent many hours behind a shovel.
Kevin Schafer, owner of Bohunk Excavating, and his crews did all the dirt work, digging the holes to put the tanks in the ground and they did it at no cost. UniSource Gas provided a welder and RMEF volunteers Richard Navarro and John Romero welded most of the fences to keep livestock out and elk off the aprons. More than 100 Elk Foundation volunteers from every chapter in Arizona put in thousands of hours to get the job done. Ron Gugliamo came all the way from Luna, New Mexico, a number of times to help. My wife Linda cooked meals and provided snacks for the volunteers at the work sites.
This project would not have come together without the dedication of those volunteers from RMEF and other conservation groups who endured long hours working in heat, dust, high winds, mud and snow over the course of the project. This doesn’t even include the stuck trucks, broken trailers and miles of bumpy dirt roads driven time and again.
After three years of construction, the pipeline delivered the first water to all six catchments on November 6, 2009. A heartfelt thanks to all RMEF volunteers who made this project possible!