July 6, 2004
Theresa Hartgraves doesn’t have as many reasons to come to the East Valley as she used to. She services flood irrigation systems — still found in older neighborhoods — where many lots are larger and landscaping choices aren’t limited to desert-friendly vegetation.
"In Tempe, I have an individual," she said.
The practice of covering yards with blankets of water to nurture thirsty lawns and citrus trees is evaporating — albeit slowly. Salt River Project has 22,000 "urban" irrigation customers, 6,000 fewer than it did in 1972.
Building new subdivisions with the maze of pipes needed to tap into SRP’s network of canals is too expensive for today’s developers.
But for those who already live on top of the system, flooding is more affordable than sprinklers or drip irrigation. A year’s supply for a one-acre lot costs $119.36.
Opinions differ on whether flood irrigation is more or less water-efficient than other watering methods. The U.S. Geological Survey considers flooding to be less efficient, but Cleota Brow, who’s been watering her Mesa yard for 34 years, isn’t so sure.
"It uses a lot more water when you use sprinklers, though a lot of people don’t like to admit that," she said.
But Kai Umeda, a turf grass extension agent for the University of Arizona’s Maricopa County Extension Service, said that’s usually true unless a sprinkler system is skillfully installed, where the right amount of water goes to the plants and little, if any, blows onto the sidewalk.
But homeowners do have much more control of the sprinkler systems than they do over SRP’s water deliveries, which can arrive at any time of the day or night and usually do.
"This is unusual," Brow said Friday while waiting to turn on her valve at the godly hour of 10:30 a.m.
But she won’t hire a contractor like Hartgraves, who would man the valves for her. "I get to play in the water," she said. "Even if it’s at 2:30 in the morning."
SRP customers get 16 water deliveries per year, spokesman Scott Harelson said.
Due to the drought, SRP has dropped two deliveries the last two years, and is in the process of deciding whether it will extend the schedule a third consecutive years, Harelson said.