Thirsty wildlife keep state busy filling water basins in AZ

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Thirsty wildlife keep state busy filling water basins

Marty Sauerzopf, The Arizona Republic

June 26, 2002

Two miles into the White Tank mountain range, Mark Vaughan walked into a small swarm of bees and dipped a tape measure into a concrete watering hole built 35 years ago to help the local wildlife.

The murky drinking water supply was only 4 inches deep. With the searing heat and thirsty bees, the level would be dropping quickly - a drought-fueled trend that is stretching the state's financial ability to keep the basins filled.

"We're going to keep those water trucks running constantly," said Vaughan, a wildlife habitat construction technician for the state Game and Fish Department.

Vaughan on Tuesday connected a hose to his tanker truck and pumped 1,400 gallons of water into the basin's 3,500-gallon tank.

The water refill will only last about two weeks, but will provide water to the mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, badgers and other wildlife that roam the West Valley mountain range.

Drought conditions have been rapidly drying out the state's more than 720 wildlife watering basins around the state, and the Game and Fish Department is making daily water hauls to keep them filled.

In the summer of 1996, the department's worst drought year, tankers and helicopters hauled a record 1.4 million gallons of water to its tanks. This year is already worse.

"We're pretty sure at this point that we've already surpassed that number," said Ron Christofferson of the department's development branch. Christofferson said the water tankers normally run for eight days then take six off. But now they are running every day. Vaughan will hit three or four basins a day, filling the truck tank along the way wherever he can, usually by working with fire departments or farmers.

On Thursday, a helicopter will haul water into the Eagle Tail Mountains in western Maricopa County, where a heavy sheep population can rapidly drain the basins.

Maintaining the basins, fueling the trucks and hauling the water normally cost the department about $400,000 a year, Christofferson said. But he can't even guess how high the costs will be this year.

"This area can go through 80 gallons a day," Christofferson said. "There are other places west of here where we've documented 200 gallons a day."

How to help:

Donations can be sent to "Water for Wildlife" Fund/ c/o Wildlife for Tomorrow Foundation / 2221 W. Greenway Road / Phoenix, AZ 85023.
 
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