Storm Water: From The Streets To Your Rivers and Parks



Storm water drains directly into rivers, washes and parks.

Storm water drains directly into rivers, washes and parks.

By Kathleen Ferris

As if you needed a good reason to pick up after your dog, here is yet one more: storm drains. Phoenix, a city of blue skies and sunshine, maintains an 895-mile storm drain system. Desert storms are few but the hard and fast rain rushes across yards, driveways, sidewalks and streets. The torrents carry away oil from dripping cars, goop from open dumpsters, fertilizers from gardens and lawns, bits of tires, trash from parking lots and whatever your dog leaves behind on the sidewalk. The rain rushes into 18,641 catch basins cut out of sidewalks and along the street or, in older parts of town, into grated dry wells often located in parking lots.

The water doesn’t go to a treatment plant where it is cleaned, unlike the water from kitchen and shower drains or toilets. Storm water isn’t treated. Most of it empties directly into the Salt River. Some of it flows into washes and retention basins in city parks.

The storm drain system is built below the city’s water and sewer lines. Some storm drainpipes are big enough to drive a truck through, while a few are as small as 8-12 inches. Phoenix’s Street Transportation Department is in charge of keeping the system’s pipes clean and free of clutter. For example, the street department operates a fleet of street sweepers equipped with vacuums that pick up street debris so it doesn’t end up in the air or in the storm drains.

Each catch basin is marked with a small plaque on the sidewalk that reads “No Dumping Storm Drain.” Most people never notice them, a few use them as convenient spots to dump oil, paint and other bothersome leftovers. To discourage this kind of polluting, the city invites residents to drop off such household hazardous waste once a month in different locations.

City inspectors make sure businesses are keeping toxic chemicals off the ground and building managers are keeping their dumpster lids closed. Inspectors also examine liquids coming out of storm drain outflow pipes when it hasn’t been raining. Sometimes the outflow is allowable irrigation water. Other times it’s a polluting substance that inspectors then must track back to the source.

Inspectors once discovered water with a high content of lead and copper discharging from an older building’s cooling tower into a storm-drain pipe.  Inspectors also found a hotel sending waste juice from its industrial compactor into a storm-drain pipe instead of into the sanitary sewer where it could be treated. Sometimes residents, not inspectors, find the problems. Neighbors reported that a small stone-cutting shop was allowing its wastewater with fine sediment to run into the street and, eventually, down a storm drain.

Keeping storm water runoff clean is a community effort that begins long before it rains. Picking up after the dog is a good start. For more information visit the city’s website.

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit

Can Bucket Masters Save The Valley’s Water?

Haley Paul, conservation specialist for Gilbert, takes her message to the classroom.

Haley Paul, conservation specialist for Gilbert, takes her message to the classroom.

By Kathleen Ferris

Every fourth grade scientist wants to be the Bucket Master. Who wouldn’t?

The Bucket Master is in charge of using a red bucket to catch water that is dripping from a perforated plastic jug designed to mimic a leaky faucet. (Being responsible for the leaking jug is not a coveted position.) The Timer gets a stopwatch and is in charge of letting the drips fall into the bucket for exactly one minute. The Measurer uses a graduated cylinder to determine how much the Bucket Master has collected. The Data Keeper writes down the number.

It’s all fun and games as Gilbert fourth graders break up into water science teams, but then they must come back together for a group math lesson. Milliliters must be averaged and converted to gallons and minutes must be converted into hours and hours into days, months, and years. This is how students learn that one leaky faucet can waste 90 gallons of water each month, or 1,080 gallons a year.

Since 2007 Gilbert has been sending its water conservation specialist into fourth-grade classrooms to teach lessons about rainfall totals, the water cycle and conservation. Scottsdale also offers hands-on lessons for grades 2 through 6 on a range of weather and conservation topics. Valley cities and schools work together to create water conservation lessons that do not take up precious teaching time, but reinforce existing math and science teaching goals.

Many cities in the Valley enhance the water conservation message to students through assemblies featuring puppets and magic or through field trips to community water festivals.

Kids get a lesson in desert living from Zoner and Drip of the Great Arizona Puppet Theater.

Kids get a lesson in desert living from Zoner and Drip of the Great Arizona Puppet Theater. 

  • For 20 years, the Great Arizona Puppet Theater has helped students learn about conservation with the help of water-smart puppets Drip and Zoner. This year, the theater presented 140 shows to about 11,000 first through third grade students, most of them in Mesa, Chandler and Glendale.
  • Since 1989, magicians from Abracadabra Productions have been making water disappear and reappear, putting enchantment into water conservation for kindergarteners through fifth graders. This year Abracadabra presented 149 magic shows for 29,000 students and teachers in Tempe, Surprise, Avondale, Peoria and Chandler. After the show, students receive a workbook with puzzles and games about saving water.
  • Arizona Project WET is hosted by University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. The organization’s main goal is teacher training and building K-12 science and math curriculum about water. Project WET also organizes community Water Festivals. The Water Festivals include a day’s pre-training for teachers to help them prepare their students for the learning activities at the festival and to continue their students’ learning after the event. This school year Arizona Project WET organized three Valley Water Festivals for 2,590 fourth graders in Gilbert, Chandler and Glendale.

The cities support these school initiatives because they want to help build a culture of conservation within the Valley’s children. Cities also hope Bucket Masters and their science teams will share the message about saving water with their parents.

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit

Upside Of A Superfund Site

Crane Co. provides free remediated groundwater to irrigate Goodyear's Community Park.

Crane Co. provides free remediated groundwater to irrigate Goodyear’s Community Park.

By Kathleen Ferris

Two companies contain and clean contaminated groundwater under the Phoenix Goodyear Airport located in the west Valley. That’s not the only good news. Now both of these companies are saving the City of Goodyear $325,000 in irrigating costs each year. The companies give Goodyear enough clean water to irrigate the town’s largest park and its Cactus League-baseball training complex.

In March, the town council approved a partnership with Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. The company pumps and treats groundwater under the guidance of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. pumps out about 1,151 acre-feet per year of contaminated groundwater. (Large amounts of water are measured in acre-feet, the amount of water it takes to cover an acre in a foot of water or provide 2.5 households with enough water for a year.) Then the groundwater is cleaned and the clean water is injected back into an underground aquifer. The cleaned water helps to contain and shrink the plume of contaminated water under the site and prevents the plume from entering the City of Goodyear’s drinking water wells.

Before injecting the water back into the ground, Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. will give the City of Goodyear 150 acre-feet or 13 percent of the treated water to irrigate the Goodyear Ball Field Complex, the off-season home for the Cincinnati and the Cleveland baseball teams. The water will save the town about $250,000 a year.

Crane Co., a manufacturing company, is cleaning up water on the north end of the airport. Crane Co. also pumps, cleans and then injects about 4,000 acre-feet of water every year back into the groundwater aquifer. Crane Co. did not contaminate the water but inherited the obligation to clean the water when it bought the company identified as causing the problem.

In 2012, Crane Co. began sharing 50 acre-feet of the clean remediated groundwater with the City of Goodyear.  The cleaned groundwater is reused at the city’s Community Park. The water saves the town about $75,000 a year.

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit

Remembering Senator Turley

image-1.cid By Kathleen Ferris

It was a golden era in state politics. Bruce Babbitt was Governor, Stan Turley was President of the Senate, Burton Barr herded the House Republicans, and Alfredo Gutierrez led the Senate Democrats. I was the Executive Director of the Arizona Groundwater Management Study Commission and new to the scene (a kid really at age 28), but it didn’t take long to realize that these were great men working together to do great things.

Among the most important achievements of this period was the visionary 1980 Groundwater Management Act that protects much of our precious water to this day.   Without the courage and will of men like Stan Turley, Arizona would be in a crisis like California, which has waited too long to manage its groundwater and where farmers and municipalities are racing to drill deeper wells to meet ever-expanding needs.

In praising Senator image.cidTurley, the Arizona Republic wrote, “greatness of leadership is often a reflection of the times.” Our times surely call for great leadership, but where are those in power willing to address our challenges? Many bemoan the lack of leadership in our legislature, and while I have opinions about its causes (term limits, the clean elections act and safe districts), opinions are just opinions. Meaningful action is all that matters and the passing of Senator Turley reminds us that we need smart and committed leaders now more than ever.

Although I never could bring myself to call him Stan, I know first-hand what made Senator Turley great. It was more than the length of his term in office or the power of his position. It was his character.

He listened with an open mind and didn’t assume he had all the answers. He invited all to participate in the crucial water discussions of his day and, while he supported his agricultural and ranching friends with a loyalty born of common interest, he also saw common interest with the mining companies and cities and sought their views.

Senator Turley was brave. When the Groundwater Commission was facing the critical stage of its deliberations, Chairman Turley decided it was time for, as he described it, the “nut cutting,” even though the agricultural representatives appeared to be losing ground. In the spring of 1979, he convened the Commission at the secluded Castle Hot Springs near Lake Pleasant to begin three days of decision-making in earnest (this in the days before cell phones). The mines and the cities collectively outvoted agriculture and the stage was set for contentious public hearings, but Senator Turley did not flinch. He accepted the findings of the majority and we continued forward.

He was also compassionate. One week before the groundwater legislation was to be submitted to the legislature, the Commission staff and I panicked. We were simply exhausted. We told Senator Turley there was no way we could finish the new law in time. Senator Turley calmly coaxed us back to the table and helped us refocus our efforts. We made the deadline.

A great man, he encouraged greatness in others. During one of the most difficult periods of drafting the new law, Senator Turley asked the negotiators to set aside their parochial interests for a few minutes. He asked them to think about what each of them needed to adequately represent his interest group. In a time when give and take was valued, not scorned, he asked each member to listen respectfully and to work in good faith toward a compromise that all could support.

As time went on, Senator Turley and I often reminisced about the Groundwater Management Act and the remarkable events leading to its passage. He was so proud of the Act, but with characteristic humility, always downplayed his role in making it happen.

In recent years, our conversations broadened. We talked about nearly everything–tattoos, yoga, his growing list of friends who had passed away, the new-fangled names of his great-grandchildren, heartbreak and love. He was interested and interesting and, right to the end, positive, telling me, “I have a big ol’ chair and a clicker and I can always find something to watch.” He loved his kids, and their kids, and their kids, and he missed his beloved wife, Cleo.

I will miss him. Bon voyage my dear friend.

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit